2015 is shaping up to be Dr. Millionaire’s year. This RVA hip hop veteran’s kept a relatively low profile over the past few years; a couple of singles, a few features, but he hasn’t released a project since 2011’s Dr. Hovey And Isaiah The Gentleman, when he was still working with producer Hovey Benjamin as part of the duo Isaiah And Hovey. Over the three and a half years since, the man born Isaiah Clements has evolved into Dr. Millionaire and seen his rap talents blossom. Now the world’s about to learn exactly what Dr. Millionaire has in store for us all.
This article ran in RVA 21 Summer 2015, to check out the entire mag – CLICK HERE
This summer kicks off with a bang, with the release of the first official Dr. Millionaire solo release. My First Million is an 8 song cassette, which will be released on NY/LA label Imaginary Friends. The songs on the EP show Dr. Millionaire to be the cocky, hard-partying ladies’ man he’s demonstrated himself to be on older singles like “Alt Bitcs” and “Pearl Necklace.” “Snapchat Screenshot” could be a sleaze-saturated ode to internet creepitude in lesser hands, but Dr. Millionaire infuses it with enough wit and charm to make his attempts to get nudes sent to his iPhone amusing rather than gross. “More Songs Than Pac” has a menacing sound due to the spooky piano loop Hovey Benjamin contributes to the track, but features wide-ranging cultural references from Larry Bird to Paul Auster. However, on tracks like “Nigga From Maine” and the moody requiem “Old Friend,” Dr. Millionaire shows he can dig deeper, tell true stories and express real emotions, and still leave the listener spellbound.
The intriguing, multilayered tracks on My First Million are just the beginning. The Millionaire has plans to follow up this EP with an end-of-summer release featuring beats entirely by Avers guitarist JL Hodges–an unexpected pairing, but one that makes a good deal of sense once you hear Hodges’ sick head-nodding beats. Meanwhile, further collaborations are on the horizon; most intriguingly, a working relationship based on mutual respect has recently developed between Dr. Millionaire and Jellowstone Records’ one-man wellspring of creativity, Devonne Harris, aka DJ Harrison. At a recent Dr. Millionaire live performance, DJ Harrison manned the beat station, while Dr. Millionaire dominated the stage, tirelessly spitting rhyme after rhyme and song after song, keeping the crowd begging for more even after multiple encores. This partnership should soon bear fruit in the studio as well–but you can read more about that, as well as Dr. Millionaire’s roots in hip hop and literature, and exactly why it’s been three years since his last project came out, in our conversation below.
You’ve been Dr. Millionaire for a couple of years now, but you were rapping before that as part of Isaiah and Hovey. Why’d you go from being Isaiah to being Dr. Millionaire, and do you consider them to be two different characters?
No, I wouldn’t say two different characters. I would say, it’s just kinda who I became. I’ve been rapping since I was pretty young–16 or 17. I was freestyling. I wasn’t writing songs or anything, [but] I was battling people and I was pretty good at it. And then my sophomore year at VCU, I started working with Hovey. He had a microphone and shit, and was making beats. We started making songs. So that’s how Isaiah and Hovey came to be, and at that point I didn’t have a rap name, I was just Isaiah from Isaiah and Hovey. So we did two albums together. We almost got signed to a label, and the label was like “We think you should change your name.” So we started brainstorming new names and came up with Dr. Millionaire, which was actually the name of a song on [the second Isaiah and Hovey album, Dr. Hovey and Isaiah The Gentleman]. I guess I just kind of evolved into it. Now it’s almost weird to me that I wasn’t the Millionaire the whole time.
When you were young and you first discovered rap, was that your first big musical love?
My first experience with music at all was… I grew up with my mom, and she’d ride around listening to Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh. So that was the first music I ever heard. My big sister, Stephanie, was a huge rap fan. She loved Tupac and Bone Thugs N Harmony, and she also put me onto some other groups, like Lost Boyz. As I started coming into my own, I was real into Busta Rhymes. The foundation of music, for me, was rap. That was just all I listened to growing up. Not until I was probably 16 or 17 did I ever really consider any other genre of music.
When you started rapping, what were you taking as influence? Which rappers did you look at as role models?
It’s difficult to say, because when I was younger, middle school and high school, I was real into Talib Kweli, Mos Def, more of the conscious political stuff. I felt like they were the best ones, they were actually saying something. When I got a little bit older, mid-late high school, it was all about Jay Z and Lil Wayne. I would say Lil Wayne is probably the guy who influenced me the most. I remember when Da Drought 3 came out, and he kept on saying how he was the best rapper alive. I was like “I don’t know if he is the best rapper alive, but I know that he knows that.” He truly believes that, and that’s why this shit is so amazing. Because he just has all the confidence in the world. That was something I felt like I needed if I was ever gonna do anything.
What’s your process coming up with lyrics? Do you go in with a concept in mind, or is it more freeform than that?
I write to the beat. It’s stream of consciousness. I throw the beat on, pull out my laptop, and stuff starts happening in my head. I just go with it.
I noticed you mentioned some of your favorite authors in “More Songs Than Pac.” Did you grow up reading, or was it something you came to later?
I would say I grew up doing it. I was never the type of kid who’d be reading with all their spare time–I was more into TV and video games. But language has always, to me, sense of language and sense of humor are the two things I kind of naturally have, you know? I could always kill it in spelling bees, and was always very intrigued by words. I was the little kid who spoke like someone much older and nerdier than him, when it came to my language.
Do you pull stuff from books? Do you feel like reading increases your lyrical lexicon?
You know, I used to more than I do now, because I don’t read as much fiction as I used to. I read a lot of nonfiction now. But definitely back in the day, I remember in The Picture Of Dorian Gray, there was a character called Lord Henry Wotton, and he was the most delightfully insightful and hedonistic guy. It was a lot of stuff that I could use for the purpose of rap music.
You’ve rapped about the experience of growing up mixed race. In “Air Is Nice” you talked about having to fight black kids because you were half-white, and white kids because you were half-black. Do you feel like race still affects your position in the hip hop scene today?
[long pause] I don’t know. I don’t know. In real life I think it does, but in the hip hop scene, I think… I think it did initially. Especially back in the Isaiah and Hovey days, having a white partner, and I definitely hung out with more white people than black people in general. That kind of had an effect on me. But now, at this point, I think people kind of understand that I’m just who the fuck I am, and I’m kind of one of the best people doing it.
We should talk about that, because at this point it’s been, what, three years since you last put out a real project. So what’s been responsible for the delay?
Oh man. A number of things. Depression I suppose was the real big thing. I split off with Hovey…
Are you guys still cool?
Kinda. Musically we’re cool. On a personal level not so much. So that made it really difficult for me. It [was] just a bummer. I’m also a really indecisive person, which doesn’t help. I make all these songs, and one of my biggest fears is having my shit get overlooked. Because I like it so much, you know? All the releases that I have had, even though they haven’t exploded on a national level, they’ve been [received] quite well amongst the people who have heard them. So I’ve grown accustomed to that–to getting a lot of feedback, putting out a project and having people really fuck with it. I’ve just always been scared that I’ll bungle the whole thing. I’ll put out this thing at the wrong time, miss the wave, and nobody really catches wind of it. On top of that, I’ve had a few different situations that have fallen through, as far as “We want to help you do this, package your shit and put it out,” and then that didn’t work, and I’m left with all these songs.
I just heard your song “Nigga From Maine” on a Passion Of The Weiss podcast, as part of an interview with the Imaginary Friends label. Is that project still happening?
Yeah. I’m putting out a cassette with Imaginary Friends. My First Million is the name of the project, it’s an 8 song EP. “Nigga From Maine” is coming out in early June, and the tape itself should be coming out in late June.
So did you work with different producers? How’d you put that together?
Yeah, it’s all different producers. I haven’t stopped making music since Dr. Hovey And Isaiah The Gentleman, so I have quite a few songs amassed. But this project is gonna be mostly stuff that was written in 2013. Some 2014 stuff, [and] I think there might be one jam from this year that I made. All sorts of different producers. People have just been sending me beats.
Who are some people you really like getting beats from?
I have two beats from Conrizzle on [My First Million]. He’s always great, always gives me some heat. Gray Matter Beats–really awesome. He’s got more of a traditional MPC boom bap feel to him. Baby Nate is a dude who lives in Baltimore. One of my good friends. I love getting beats from him; his beats are real weird. I don’t know–people send me beats all the time. Right now I’m doing a project with this guy named JL Hodges.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. What do you think of JL’s beats? What kind of thing is he doing?
I think very highly of his beats. He does all sorts of different sounds. We have one song that’s almost like an EDM beat. I don’t know man, he’s just got some fucking fire. I don’t even know how I would describe it. I’m not that good at describing music, to be honest, but it’s very versatile and very high quality. Really impressive stuff.
When I saw you recently, DJ Harrison was your DJ. Are you guys working together a lot right now?
Not necessarily. I fuck with him real heavy. Pretty much everything that came about was due to Overcoast Studios [JL Hodges and Travis Tucker]. It’s the same place where we’ve been doing the shit with JL. Travis hit me up and was like, “Hey, I think it’d be really cool if we did a video, you got some people to come in, and you guys just make a song and record it in the studio. We’ll film it, and it’ll be a cool behind the scenes type thing.” So I chose to hit up DJ Harrison to make the beat, and I brought in another of my rapping friends named Jawnii-Abhi [who is in] Sons Of THNDR. So we did that project, and DJ just started sending me beats. I really dig his whole style. He’s a hardworking guy, eats sleeps and breathes music, probably more than anyone I’ve ever met, which is really commendable, so I just like being around him. After we did the video, Travis approached me. He was like, “How would you feel about you and DJ coming in and cutting a whole EP in our studio?” So ever since then, we’ve been connected. He’s sending me beats all the time, and we’re making some pretty cool stuff.
So what are you going to do with all these other things you recorded over the years? Do you have any plans for those older jams?
I know once we drop My First Million on cassette, we’re going to do a digital version with a few bonus songs on it. We’ll use a few of those for that. I’m kind of in talks with some labels, and a management company, so I think it’s pretty enticing to them that I have all these songs just sitting around. So I’m going to see what happens with that.
Fair enough. You were talking before about having projects that fell through with other labels–what went down with that?
Nothing too official, just people that approached me, and we kinda formed an idea of what was gonna happen… then it just fizzled out. For me it’s not that difficult to tell what people’s intentions are. But yeah, there are plenty of people with questionable intentions that try to contact me all the time.
Do you feel like you’re pretty well able to navigate that at this point?
A lot better than I once was, yeah. When you’re young and dumb and really excited about your shit, it’s really easy to believe that anyone else is gonna be really excited about it, and wanna do stuff with you. And when you’re not making any money off your music, it’s difficult to believe that someone’s gonna try to take advantage of you for the sake of capitalizing off you.