I first heard D.FRENCH because he approached me looking for critical feedback. That almost never ends well, but he surprised me — dude was actually looking for critical feedback. That’s rare. While I wasn’t feeling the video he sent me (“2Fly2Lit”), it was impossible to miss the careful, seemingly effortless symmetry of his writing. As it turned out, D.FRENCH cooks up serious bars, and these days I’m a straight up fan.

I’m far from alone: D.FRENCH was one of the nominees this year for the Seven Daysies “Best Hip Hop Artist” category. (Remarkably, his brother Isaac French is a nominee for “Best Pop Artist or Group” — more on that in a minute.) It’s a been a long road to his forthcoming debut LP, Highest Lows, and this is a talk about St. Albans rap history, making time for music as a family man with a demanding career, and how to refine yourself as an artist.

VTHH: Do you remember when you first decided to be a rapper?

D.FRENCH: Real shit, I probably wrote my first rap as an attempt to be funny in class back in 5th or 6th grade.  I’ve been a part-time drummer since I was 6, and ever since I made the connection between rhythm & hip-hop to drumming & percussion, I started to mold what my ultimate musical focus would be.  I learned how to beat box back in 5th grade and that helped me with breath control and creating different sounds using my voice. 

Once I got to high school, I started studying the game and following my peers – word to Dolla Day and Eugenyks – and by 2006 I think I finally decided that I wanted to focus my expression and artwork into rapping.  My problem at that point was just life experience, I honestly didn’t have shit to say – so I just focused on writing and spitting in hopes that eventually, I would actually feel what I was putting onto wax.  Fast forward to 2011, I started releasing music under the name D.FRENCH and that was when it first started to click. 

VTHH: You've got a really diverse sound. Who do you consider influences on your style?

D.FRENCH: My family has had a huge influence on my sound because I first started making music with my little brother Isaac.  He’s always been into more of a pop and alternative style, so that has a big influence on my vibe in a lot of my songs.  We formed trio back in 2014 with a homie and we were performing acoustic covers of everything from Michael Jackson to Bob Marley to Snoop Dogg.   When I was coming out of a rough addiction after college, I even had a huge phase where I was only into 90’s Grunge music (haha) and that has always caused me to venture into some darker styles and sounds over the years. 

My core influences from a hip-hop standpoint are Wu-Tang, Outkast, and Biggie Smalls.  I always try to create songs that carry energy and diversity similar to those cats, because their shit is timeless, so I let my music be dictated by how I feel and that leads the way. 

VTHH: How much did your experience as a project manager shape your approach to making an album?

D.FRENCH: That’s actually a great question because I’ve always viewed my 9-5, which is commonly more of a 6-6, as a burden on my ability to create music and promote myself as an artist.  But about a year ago, when I was struggling with depression and finding motivation to even keep going with the music shit, I came to a realization that my job – the early mornings, thousands of e-mails, phone calls, vendors, subcontractors and clients has actually shaped my artwork much more than I ever gave it credit for.  Without the struggle and limited time that I have to create music, I don’t think I ever would have focused with such intensity and streamlined my process the way I needed to in order to get to where I am today. 

When I started working with SkySplitter last October, I realized that my time was going to be limited – so the second half of 2018 I really didn’t release any music.  Instead I wrote, and re-wrote, practiced flows and melodies, delivery and energy and when it came down to doing the sessions – I was so dialed in that the recording process became super smooth and all my energy was on the presentation and execution.  I’ve worked with a couple engineers who helped shape my sound into something I could use as a mold and it really allowed me to execute on my vision for Highest Lows in a way that made it all click.  Thankfully, my job gave me the endurance and the organization to pull it all together on week-nights and weekends. 

VTHH: Why do you think St. Albans has produced so much talent?

D.FRENCH: Firstly, huge shoutout to the A!  I was born and raised in St. Albans and from my earliest memories of the music scene around here, there was always a unity between artists.  Dolla Day introduced me to Jeremy Graziano back in 2006, who was paving the way for real rap well before then, and he provided an outlet for mad cats to get early access to a group of talented artists and professional studio spaces to learn the craft from the jump. 

St. Albans has a nice mix of artists with diverse backgrounds – and when we all came together in the early 2000’s we fed off each other in a huge way.  Joint Manipulation were mentors to me and my homies when we started, just as Graz was to them, and we had to come together as a wave just to make noise in such a rural area.  I would say that was a huge factor in kicking off a lot of the artists who really carved their own sounds and lanes to this day. 

From a producer standpoint, Dokowala, Hardy White, Solution, Instinct and a bunch of other cats have been dedicated and spent thousands of hours learning how to express their personality through music.  Shoutout to all the artists in the Saint who have stuck with it and leveled up! 

VTHH: Finally — do you have any hard-won advice for other artists trying to balance a career, a family and your art?

D.FRENCH: My advice on that, and take it with a grain because I’m still practicing this on the daily, is to make sure the balance is built into the grind. In the past I’ve focused all my energy on work, or family, or music in spurts and I’ve realized over time that you end up playing catch up on the backend, which counteracts the hustle. Maximize your days in a healthy manner so you can execute on work, family and your art every day, and if something takes precedence you adapt and know that your goal in the end is the sum of it all. Peace!

Justin Boland