While many of his peers drop mixtapes with the same frequency that AT&T drops calls, Donnis has released only four tapes over the last three years, a signal that the ATLien seems to prefer quality over quantity. His latest release, Southern Lights, (DOWNLOAD HERE) quietly speaks volumes, with crisp production and cool wordplay that could earn him more shine in due time.
With a little bit of everything we’ve grown to love about Southern rap, from cars (“Ford Mustang”) and coochie (“Ring My Bell”) to party anthems (“Eyes Low”) and swag songs (“Rayban Vision”), Lights proves Donnis has the blueprint down pat. On the surface, the tape seems to play up on his penchant for drinking, drugs, sex and slacking, with tracks like “Everybody” and “Y.W.I.” serving up big doses of irreverence and intoxication. But there are also plenty of moments when Donnis’s desire to be one of the leaders of “the New South” manifest in earnest soul-searching.
When he steps away from standard-issue southern rap fare, we see where his heart really is: “PSA,” melancholy title track “Southern Lights” and a remake of Mista’s mid-nineties hit “Blackberry Molasses” all find him contemplating whether he’ll ever be able to use that blueprint to build a rap career where success is less a dream and more a reality. Still, he manages to stay motivated, and fiery album opener “Get Up Get Out” and “Penthouse Suite” play like anthems for his ambition.
But if there’s one thing we know about the new generation, it’s that they work hard and play even harder. “We don’t want to work, we just want a record deal,” Donnis quips, but as many a rapper can attest, record deals require just as much effort as a nine-to-five. Despite a preoccupation with extra-curricular activities, Donnis raps like he’s been putting in work, his southern twang gliding over tracks with ease, delivering steady streams of understated yet witty one-liners that effortlessly win you over. His beat choice is calculated, making the mixtape cohesive without being boring, and the slight electro edge of many of the songs nicely balances a spastic, space-age energy with bass and beats banging enough to illicit hip hop-worthy headnods. On songs like “Everybody,” “Me and My Boo,” and “Rayban Vision,” he sounds comfortable taking a musical road that’s typically less traveled, especially among Southern spitters. Walking a path that’s slightly unique yet somewhat familiar could definitely help Donnis gain respect and recognition for helping reshape the sound of bottom-of-the-map rap. Lights is a decent step in the right direction.