Damu The Fudgemunk is an anomaly in the modern music industry. With no Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter presence to speak of, the DC native keeps a remarkably low profile and lets his music speak for itself. Instead of trying to produce album cuts for well-known rappers, he focuses on making his own full-length instrumental albums. Preferring to work on his craft or study other musicians instead of search for the limelight, Damu often avoids interviews. Yet despite a total disinterest in the relentless self-promotion that so many artists and musicians feel compelled to take part in, Damu has successfully built a very loyal and supportive fan base by creating a broad and impressive discography of 24 top-notch releases.
His most recent effort Vignettes is an act of defiance against the shrinking attention spans of modern music consumers. A beautiful, diverse, and sprawling feat of musicianship, the almost entirely instrumental album plays for an unprecedented two hours and features several tracks that extend beyond the 12 minute mark. Well aware that such an intense listening experience may be too much for the average listener, Damu asks people to view the album as they would a film. “I recommend to anyone playing the album, it’s best consumed in its entirety with undivided attention. The experience of Vignettes is similar to committing your attention span to a two-hour movie. I approached its composition like a director,” he said in the Vignettes press release.
Having the freedom to create outside the public eye and make music you believe in may sound like a fulfilling, peaceful existence, but several unexpected challenges during the summer of 2016 made the creation of Vignettes one of the most difficult periods in Damu’s life. “There was a lot of family stress and personal stress going on at the time,” he tells me.
While Damu would prefer to keep the particulars of the family situations quiet, they took a heavy emotional toll on him. Then, in addition to the difficulty of navigating such personal matters, unexpected technology issues put Damu’s entire catalog in jeopardy. “Both of my computers crashed. A lot of my life’s work, I was pretty much preparing to say goodbye to it. A lot of my hard drives were failing. Most of it was pretty much unsalvageable,” Damu explains.
“‘We’re not going to overthink it. We’re just going to spontaneously make music out of necessity.’”
Damu’s fans can rest assured that all of the at-risk material was eventually rescued, but the initial scare and ensuing headache of salvaging years of hard work threw off his usual recording schedule. That strain, coupled with the aforementioned family stress, saw him “just trying to regain my life” when the dust had settled.
As he tried to bring some order to the chaos, a sobering realization set in — he needed to get to work on a new project for the sake of his label and his career. “I was really in need of working on another project for the business and just for my catalog. I said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to overthink it. We’re just going to spontaneously make music out of necessity,’” he says.
Giving himself permission to be spontaneous and create amidst such tremendous personal strife led to “Openings”, the first song Damu completed for Vignettes. With the “sense of urgency” driving the album, Damu knew Vignettes would be an instrumental project. But something about “Openings” felt different, so he decided to add another layer to it. “As soon as I made it, I was like ‘I’m giving this to Raw Poetic,’” Damu says.
“The experience of ‘Vignettes’ is similar to committing your attention span to a 2 hour movie. I approached it’s composition like a director.”
A close friend and longtime collaborator of Damu’s, the producer knew that Raw Poetic’s rhymes were the ideal match for the somber emotions his instrumental evokes. “I hit him up and said, ‘Look, I just made this beat. It’s crazy, it’s for you. I hear you on it, I can feel your presence on it,’” Damu tells me.
Just as Damu was maintaining through tough times and working on his new project, Raw Poetic was also going through his own struggles. “Ironically, he had been going through a lot in his personal life. And he had put a lot of his current, past, and future life in perspective. A lot of the things that were going on around us manifested themselves into the lyrics,” says Damu.
After Raw Poetic laid down his verses, Damu was about halfway through the album. Upon giving the vocals a close inspection, Damu felt he could add yet another layer of meaning to the song by weaving in vocal samples from prominent historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. This combination of topical, political lyrics from Raw Poetic cast alongside reinvigorated samples from the past gives the listener a surreal sensation of history repeating itself.
“I hit him up and said, ‘Look, I just made this beat. It’s crazy, it’s for you. I hear you on it, I can feel your presence on it.’”
As Damu opens the song with a somber voice saying, “I do not believe in utopias. Man may achieve all but perfection. Paradise is not for this world,” it sets the perfect tone for Poetic’s microphone mastery as he spits lines like, “Speed away from fakeness, embrace awareness. Earth steady quakin’ from man made mistakes.” The final result is a haunting, immersive musical experience that begs for repeat listens.
Perhaps the rich complexity of “Openings” is the reason Damu feels such a special connection to the song. When asked about Vignettes as a whole, however, it is clear his attachment to the project goes well beyond one song. “Coming home every day, working on this album, and spending every bit of my free time — if I didn’t have that, who knows what I would have been doing? But I needed that distraction from everything that was going on,” Damu admits. “It needed to take me to that place.”
Want more engaging narrative non-fiction music journalism and curated playlists? Sign up for the Micro-Chop Substack newsletter.
If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my Micro-Chop publication.