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Tanya Morgan: Sons Of the Native Tongue

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This is an interview with the hip-hop group Tanya Morgan right after Barack Obama was elected for president. The group speaks about their music and hip-hop in the era of a black president. Most recently, group members Von Pea and Donwill have produced music for Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

Maybe there's a cohesive energy that dwells in the waters of the Ohio and East Rivers. Just like the collaboration of Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek) before them, the hip-hop trio Tanya Morgan, which consist of Brooklyn emcee/producer Von Pea (Devon Callender) and Cincinnati emcees Donwill (William Donald Freeman Jr.) and Ilyas (Ilyas Shakir Nashid Jr.) -- respectively, have set out to craft a signature sound of music that stands apart from the industry standards.

After meeting online at okayplayer.com and sharing beats and vocals over the internet, the group eventually came together to record their critically acclaimed Solar Suite: the online mixtape, Sunlighting, their 2005 EP, Sunset and their 2006 album, Moonlighting.

After catching the masses off guard with their quirky moniker, Tanya Morgan has resuscitated the breathy voice of true hip-hop with their harmonious production, thought-provoking wordplay and energizing live performances-all which peeks through on their latest work, Brookynati.

Through your travels in hip-hop, who or what has been the biggest influence on your sounds and styles?
Ilyas: Of course the obvious groups, being that I know how to emcee a little bit; but I listened to TOOL, Marilyn Manson, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, etc. a lot and I've always admired the energy and bluntness that artists in that genre have addressed [in their] topics.

Donwill: Yeah, I pull my influence from a lot of groups that don't really relate to one another, for the most part. When I first got into really rapping and producing, I was playing a lot of Luscious Jackson, Fiona Apple, Eminem, Blackalicious and s**t like that.

Von Pea: Everyone from N.W.A. to the Native Tongues to the Roots has influenced our sound. Just being a fan and student of hip-hop helped us become who we are.

How would you guys describe your sound?

Donwill: Good music; urgent, tactful, [and] to the point.

Ilyas: It's what happens when three potent energies join and become a moving force. Basic physics (laughs).

Where did the name Tanya Morgan actually come from?

Von Pea: The name just represents the need to stand out and do our own thing, it means expect the unexpected.

Ilyas: F**k normalcy!

What do you guys think about the state of hip-hop today? Where do you think it's going in the future?

Donwill: I love hip-hop; it's still as good as it ever was. Maybe the fact that I don't have cable or play the radio and am only exposed to what I choose to further inform myself about plays a big role in that though. These people talking the hip hop is dead stuff gave up on looking for their own entertainment.

Von Pea: I think hip-hop is alright now, but there needs to be more outlets for independent artists to be seen. I honestly have no idea where it's headed, but it will be interesting to be apart of the next chapter.

Ilyas: Yeah, real hip-hop never dies; just like true jazz never did. It just went underground. The primary people yelling that are disenfranchised mainstream artists or starving underground artists. If one person is still reppin' hip hop, it's still alive. You can't say something is extinct until it's out of existence.

With the music industry in a bit of a reconstruction era due to low music sales and overall economics, how do you guys feel about being independent?

Ilyas: Honestly, it sucks a bit in the present, but I feel history has proven the indie artists on the come up as the mainstream fades always become the new mainstream. So, we'll be alright.

Von Pea: I think the difference is only resources. It's harder to be indie because the indie labels are taking a harder hit in this economy. It's harder for them to put music out without going broke.

Donwill: I feel like if you can maintain a direct connection to your fan base, and more importantly expand your fan base, then you create your own industry. I'd love to see some of those major label checks though, can't even lie about that; but there are millions of revenue streams out there.

It seems like artists such as you guys, Lupe Fiasco, Common, Mos Def, etc. are really being pushed to bring hip-hop back to its golden era days. Why do you think that shift is happening?

Ilyas: Yeah, the golden era was cool but it had two sides. During its sunrise it was bright, but as the sun set we lost Big and Pac and now it's been dark for a minute. Now it's the dawn of a new era and I'd like to think of Tanya Morgan as three of the beams of light coming through that darkness during the new sunrise. This is the next step so, ironically, I call this the platinum era.

What do you guys think about the recent election of Barack Obama as President?
Donwill: I think it's gonna be amazing for a child to be born and have a black president. That alone is incredible to me, knowing that the way a new generation views the world will shift.

Ilyas: Not to sound skeptical, but I feel that remains to be seen in many respects. Most voters were motivated by [the] fear of Bush-era politics and not acceptance of blacks in general. It's dope to see as a man of color, but I'm not one to really play into the propaganda they throw out there. Something big is about to go down and America needed someone like Obama in office to talk us through it. Point, blank, period.

Do you think his election will change the freedom of speech approach of hip-hop? Do you think some artists will become more political in their themes of music?

Ilyas: Not really. It will definitely cause a shift in pop culture consciousness. The most popular black people in America went from rappers and athletes to an intelligent brother. With that in mind, these clown images mainstream America has accepted of black men will need to shift. Think about it, don't a lot of these pant sagging, "I'll shoot yo mama," goons just look silly next to Barack [laughs].

Donwill: I've seen worse fads that being political

Do you think Obama represents hip-hop?
Donwill: I'd say hip-hop represents Obama. He represents change and that's what hip-hop is all about right? It started out a grassroots movement and it always will be.

Von Pea: He's young enough to be somewhat apart of the hip-hop generation, so I'd say yes.