Mekka Don returns with new, worldlier perspective on ‘Still Dope’
An accompanying video for the song, released last month, will premiere online this Tuesday
Mekka Don had big expectations coming into 2019. His 2018 single, “Nip and Tuck,” achieved viral success, soundtracking an Instagram dance craze that came to be known as “The ‘Nip and Tuck’ Challenge,” with hundreds of users creating and posting videos of themselves dancing to the song.
Before the Columbus-born rapper could capitalize, though, he badly injured his foot in an early 2019 car accident, which required surgery and a prolonged period of rehabilitation that sidelined him for a bulk of the year. The coronavirus pandemic followed closely on the heels of this recovery, shuttering much of the live music industry for more than 14 months beginning in March 2020 and again leaving Mekka Don reeling.
“I couldn’t write anything, and I was going through a bit of a depression, which I think a lot of us were,” said Mekka Don, whose headspace was further impacted by a reenergized Black lives matter movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020.
In the weeks and months that followed, a tension started to develop within the rapper, who felt a need to make his voice heard but couldn’t find the necessary focus or inspiration amid the social turmoil and overall heaviness of 2020.
“Finding the inspiration amid that sadness and sorrow and anger and rage … was a struggle," he said. "And then even trying to figure out where I attack it from, and what perspective should I come with.
"Being a lawyer, people want to hear my legal perspective on certain things. Being an artist, people want to hear that perspective. And then also being a Black man and a father, there were so many angles it was sometimes hard to master my own feelings and thoughts, let alone put them out there for the world to consume.”
But in the fall of 2020, something clicked while Mekka Don was online sampling different beats posted by Columbus producer Jack “Tha Audio Unit” Burton. “And I heard the beat for this one, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I think I have something,’” he said. “And I started writing.”
Initially, the rapper envisioned the resultant song, “Still Dope,” as a celebration of self, marking his return to music-making following a long layoff. As he worked, though, a different idea started to take shape, one that championed the strength and perseverance of the Black community as a whole.
“I was starting to say, ‘I’m still dope’ … and then as I continued to write, it was like, ‘You know what, this is not what this is supposed to be, and this is not what I was supposed to take from this time,’” said Mekka Don, who discovered hip-hop at an early age and initially patterned his lyrical style after DMX, who remains a source of inspiration. “This was something that was needed more for the people, and for the people who were feeling the same way I was.”
In turn, the song opens with a voice recording from Mekka Don’s grandmother-in-law, a nod to the generational aspect of the struggle for justice, before the MC barrels into the opening verse, calling out the historically limited pathways to Black success in American society. “Ain’t good enough for those boardrooms/You only good enough for that circus,” he raps. “Better jump high, better run fast, better rap good, better kiss ass...”
Gradually, though, the picture presented becomes one of pride and perseverance, Mekka Don recalling the various indignities and injustices to which Black Americans have long been subjected, t gradually shifting his focus to how these accumulated wrongs have done little to dim the Black community’s shine and future promise.
The rapper said this overarching idea was fueled by a change in how he has come to view his own purpose amid the struggles of these last two years.
“There’s a difference in mindset when you’re making music for yourself versus making music for the people,” he said. “And it’s not that those things can’t overlap sometimes, which they do. And it's not that this is the first song I’ve made that can reach the people, per se. But I feel like I’m older now, and I’m not a young dude trying to enter the game. I’m a person who has developed an even bigger voice in certain areas since all of this happened, and I realize people are looking to me for my opinion on race relations, and what it means to be a Black man. ... With this, once I sat down, it was like, ‘OK, if you’re going to be an artist, you need to speak to these times and what’s going on.’”
Watch the video for "Still Dope" below.