The Same Story, Delivered Differently: Sonny Dulphi’s ‘Just Don’t’

We spoke with Sonny Dulphi last week, diving into the album he released over the Thanksgiving holiday: Just Don’t… !

This Ypsi-based emcee/producer/multi-instrumentalist and singer (otherwise known as Matt Hughes) released his first proper full-length under his electro-R&B-inclined moniker: Sonny Dulphi. Having already set his signature upon the local hip-hop scene these past several years as rapper Rill Ill, Hughes unveiled the melodic and meditative grooves of Sonny Dulphi earlier this year with a debut EP called Ish.

Raised in Detroit, Hughes wound up moving Ypsilanti and studied graphic design at EMU. He’s been in the music game for a little more than a decade, counting local maestros like Evan Haywood (Man Vs. Indian Man) and King Milo as his contemporaries. Intrepid, intuitive and always motivated, Hughes dug into his own groove and went the DIY route, finding his own samples (sometimes from used wax in bins at the Salvation Army) or creating them on his own, with spacey/funky guitar riffs or shuffling drums fills.

Meanwhile, Hughes and hip-hop artist Pat2Dope (a.k.a. Patrick Shepard), forged a collaboration way back in their first year of high school called Paper Rockets, a performance moniker as well as a sort-of record label. In fact, the goal is to build it up into a multi-media company. For now, you can anticipate more Paper Rockets releases in the near future. Let’s start with Just Don’t…

The pulse of this record is calming, even if occasional verses flair up into cathartic kicks. The synths drone delicately in a spacey stitching around buoyant beats, while the guitars spill and softly splash their psychedelic residue of resplendent reverb. The bass is a steady heartbeat, the handclaps feel holistic, the nervy synth melodies stimulate the brain but the vocals, pure and poignant, unyielding in some of their earnest confessions, evoke an almost instant relatability.

You enter the room and you’re skewed a bit by it not sounding entirely like funk, not sounding entirely like soul or psych-rock, and yet all these elements are palpable, poured upon an R&B groove and a coiling of ambient-electronica. You enter this room, and somehow you’re at ease. And that could be from the measured tempos, it could be the smooth intonations, or it could be the dude’s voice – it’s probably all three! Above it all, the sincerity is evident, spilling out in these inward-searching, philosophical lyrics that orbit a sonic galaxy galvanized by the production.

Meanwhile, let’s chat…

Take us in to the essence of your process, or your typical mindset when you’re making music. What are you striving for, usually?

I’m always striving to present myself sincerely. Whenever I write lyrics I never hold back. What you hear on the album is the inner most me, the Me that I don’t often present to the world. It’s all really just a way for me to be able to look at myself outside of myself and try to work through whatever I happen to be going through at the time. I feel like Just Don’t… was really a series of cautionary tales dealing with my particular experience.

This album can be a kind of intense unpacking of one’s subconscious. It reminded, a bit, of Flying Lotus’ 2014 album that had a similar existential tract (You’re Dead). Talk about what this album means to you and what it was like to have your heart out on the sleeve for some of it…

I’m a huge Brainfeeder fan so that’s a big compliment for me. For me this album is my growth and experience over the past year in tangible form. Throughout 2016 I encountered a great deal of change, a lot of it very painful, I was really forced to stand eye to eye with myself, and making this album made that bearable for me, as I’m someone who keeps to himself quite a bit in personal life I spends a lot of time with just me and my thoughts, so it’s good getting it all out.

I love the little touches, the subtlety of all of this. The chimes in “Anatomy” or the guitar in “Down But Not Out.” Are there artists you looked to that helped show you the new definitions that could be applied to R&B? Or…, just, what are the sounds and aesthetics you’ve always found yourself drawn to?

Just that: subtle details! That’s always been what’s drawn me in, be it lyrically or sonically. That’s where the artist’s personality and individuality comes into play, because there are only so many chords and notes and scales, but there’s an infinite number of ways a musician can deliver music. Personally, my favorite sound is very open and spacey, bordering on epic (think Nangs by Tame Impala), but I also enjoy a good groove, but in any case there’s nuance and there’s texture to the sound. Lyrically I like to think, my favorite MC is MF Doom who’s a master of this, crafting his verses like a puzzle. Everything just links together.

What’s distinct about the way you would approach the lyricism of Sonny Dulphi…vs Rill Ill?

The two are the same story, just delivered differently. My Rill Ill material comes more so from a place of frustration and aggression. I’ve been told in the past that I rap angry, especially when freestyling, and that’s because I am. It’s fuel. Now for my Sonny Dulphi material, I approach that more so from a position of introspection. It’s the same experiences that I rap about, but dealing more so with how it affects me on a human level and how I can grow from it, really looking at it all closely. I have my seasons. Sometimes the rap comes to me easier, sometimes the R&B does. However, I definitely feel much more closely bonded to the R&B music because of the sheer amount of time I have to spend with it to make it, I really feel that I grow from it.

And you did this whole thing yourself, at home?

I record, engineer, and mix all my music myself in my home. I’ve tried to record at other locations, but…I dunno, I guess the whole funk that is Sonny Dulphi just lives there.

How about Ypsi/A2? What’s your take on the local music scene, right now?

It’s a pretty volatile place; you have your different factions and ideologies within it. It’s a college town so people come and people go, trends come and go, but there’s definitely some standout talent sprinkled around, young talent at that, and don’t get me started on all of the OGs that are masters of their craft. Ypsi is small, but potent.

And what’s next?

In the near future I want to take my music to the national level, so for now I’m just gearing myself up for that, and building up Paper Rockets, and whatever else gets thrown my way. …So yeah, that’s me.


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Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

Jeff Milo
Jeff Milo
Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

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