Damian Lillard, or to be more specific, Dame D.O.L.L.A., is still proud of his debut album, “The Letter O,” which he released late in the summer of 2016. After dabbling in music for years, the process of recording and releasing “The Letter O” gave Lillard an opportunity to learn the specifics, often through trial and error, of what it takes to create a full length album. The project, which was generally well received, was a validation of sorts for the Oakland native, as it proved he had the chops to do more than string together four bars once a week on Instagram.
But while he could appreciate what he accomplished with “The Letter O,” he also knew there was still plenty of room to grow as an artist. Lillard’s second album “Confirmed,” which is now available on most major digital music platforms, is proof of that the 6-3 guard out of Weber State isn’t any more interested in resting on his laurels in music than he is in basketball.
“I’m really excited about (“Confirmed”) because it’s a level up from the first (album),” said Lillard. “I think the first one was kind of an experiment, it was me just really wanting to show people that I was serious about it, it’s a real interest of mine. And also that I can really rap. I’m not just a guy that’s going to be putting out freestyles, doing it because it might be cool. It’s something that I’m really passionate about, something that I care about, and this one is a level up. It’s better production, I’ve got great features on it again and the process was a much more comfortable process.”
That process really got underway went Lillard arrived in Los Angeles in the first week of August. For ten days, Lillard would work out in the morning with his trainer Phil Beckner and then spend the rest of the day in the studio writing, recording and listening to beats from 1 pm to 3 am. He left the studio on a few occasions to get in a workout at a local boxing gym, only to return a few hours later, or to attend a Kendrick Lamar concert, which could be considered research as much as recreation, but other than that, Lillard would stay in the studio until it was time to go to bed.
“It was 1 pm to 3 am every day, listening to beats for hours, just trying to put a package of beats together, pick the ones that I wanted to use,” said Lillard. “One day Scott Storch came in that was just making beats and I was in there like ‘Yeah, I don’t like that one’ or ‘I like this one, I like that one.’ Then he had a guy who’s a singer and songwriter and he was like singing stuff. Me and him was just in there bouncing (stuff) off each other, just going back and forth like ‘Yeah, I want to say, I like that.’ Then we’d put a hook together and then there was another guy named Micah that came through and he like a beatmaker, he produces and he sings as well. We did the same thing, kind of going back and forth and then we came up with a song.
“Later on that night we’d order some food, we was in there eating and just kind of messing around, laughing and joking. Next thing you know a beat would come on and I’d just start writing to it and I’d be like ‘Let me go record this right quick, I just thought of something cool.’ That’s what it was for ten days. The last couple days we just tightened everything up. We went in like ‘Alright, let’s re-record this and do it tighter’ because I kind of heard it a bunch in the studio, we done listened to it a bunch of times so I kind of know it by heart a little bit, now let me say it without reading it.”
The result is an album that sounds markedly different from “The Letter O.” In recording “The Letter O,” Lillard relied on the expertise of others, which, while necessary, resulted in a sound that wasn’t exactly as personal as what he was striving for. But armed with that experience, Lillard was able to take “Confirmed” more in the direction he wanted to go with the first album.
“It was a smooth process. Last year it was like, I didn’t know what to do,” said Lillard. “It was kind of like they was telling me what to do. I had my two artists there, Brookfield Deuce and Danny from Sobrante, last year they was like ‘Nah, you got to do this, you’ve got to do that.’ I kind of was just following instructions, I didn’t really know what kind of sound I was looking for, I didn’t really know what to do. But this year I was more in control, like ‘Alright, I want to do this.’ Then I’d do it and like ‘Nah, I want this part to sound like this. I want a break right here. I want to add an ad-lib right here’ or ‘I want to record and then I’m gonna leave it open then I’m gonna come back and punch in on this spot.’ I just kind of had a better idea of how to put a song together, a better idea of how I wanted it to sound… It’s way more up-tempo, it’s not as chill, the beats are harder, they slap harder. You gonna hear the difference in the production right away, it’s way better.”
Lillard said the subject matter on “Confirmed” also diverges from much of the topics on “The Letter O.” He still avoids cursing to make it more accessible to his younger fans, just as he did on the first, but the subject are a bit more adult and less focused on his life as an NBA athlete.
“The first album people were going to relate to it because if I was a college athlete, I would love that album,” said Lillard. “But now it’s like, just as an artist, I hardly even mention hoop in the entire album or my career. Like when I listen to my first album I still like it a lot, I’m still proud of it, but I can really tell the difference in this new one. You can also hear the difference in like ‘This dude is famous and he deals with this, but he’s like this.’ You can listen to it and i think people gonna respect it because it ain’t just extra positive like ‘Do the right thing!’”
But like “The Letter O,” “Confirmed” features a number of tracks featuring from some of the biggest names in rap, including “Run it Up” with Lil’ Wayne and “Anomaly” with 2Chainz. Lillard also included up-and-coming artists, including BJ the Chicago Kid and Nick Grant along with artists Brookfield Deuce and Danny From Sobrante, who are signed to Lillard’s Front Row Music label.
Between the stepped up production values, more mature subject matter, harder beats and impressive featured artists, Lillard is hopeful “Confirmed” reaches a larger and more diverse audience than “The Letter O.” While he’s honored and appreciative of the support he gets from the fans who consume his music primarily due to his play on the court, he feels like the strides he’s made since the first album will result in the music being judged on its merits. No gimmicks, just artistry.
“I want people to appreciate the music, I think people will hear the growth, me just having that understanding that my rap career might not have kicked off as smooth if I wasn’t an NBA player. I understand that, but I want people to say this music would be appreciated regardless,” said Lillard. “I want people to receive it like, as a rapper, this is cold. In my first album, if I’d go to a lounge or something in Portland they would see me there and they’ll try to play songs from “The Letter O” and I’d hear it and I’d be like this ain’t really a song that you would play here, you know what I’m saying? It’s kind of forced.
“And then the other night I was at home watching TV and a couple of my cousins was downtown and they played “Run It Up” in the club and they Snapchatted it to me. It fit! It sounded like it. And I was like, I got a couple songs that will fit. Getting radio plays, getting played at the club or getting played in the lounge, they will fit. I think that tells the story and I wasn’t trying to make songs for that. But that just tells you that it’s more uptempo, it slap harder. That kind of told me what I needed to know.”