Published Apr 25, 2019The gift of social media has allowed artists to plug their music, expand their audience, connect with their fans and share their dreams, but for Toronto artists JustJohn and Dom Dias, a sponsored Instagram post in 2017 for JustJohn's Black Beret project caught Dom's attention.
"He DMed me like, 'Yo I like your style, we should meet up' and [then] he came out to my Blank Canvas x AGO collab. We hooked up there and then he sent me 'Soundboi' — that was the first thing and it was history from there," JustJohn tells Exclaim!
Though they admit that they're still getting to know each other, they've already toured with alternative rock artist Grandson last year, and have worked on the EP trilogy simply titled DON — which they admit was a not-so-creative blend of their first names. They just released the final instalment, Don III.
Prior to becoming a group, both artists were already working on creating their own names. JustJohn, a Scarborough artist, community advocate and entrepreneur had already successfully tapped into the Toronto art and entertainment communities through his ownership of Blank Canvas Gallery, as well as leading the Dead Poets spoken word events. Dom Dias started as a DJ, creating dance music that caught the attention of Calvin Harris and Major Lazer, as well as playing residencies and shows throughout Toronto, before diving into production.
Today, the duo, who describe themselves as the "Soundboy" and the "Selecta," per Jamaican music culture, live with one mission: create, destroy, rebuild and perform.
"In the '70s, the crazy thing was that there was no such thing as a live performance when it came to rap music. The DJ would spin these records and [because] the mic didn't go very far, the MC would come behind the DJ booth and be there rapping. Those small nuances… John adheres to those. On tour, our last track was called 'Selectah' and [John] would come behind the DJ booth and rap it while I tried to mix his vocals and go over him while turning up," Dom laughs.
"We really want to push that. We idolize groups like Gang Starr and Eric B. and Rakim," John says, adding that the nature of their performances are also "a nod to grime culture and garage culture."
"We actually make music every day. Dom is making a beat every day, I'm writing every day. That's something that's really cool about our relationship — we're always trying to one-up each other and push each other to be better. I think that's why some beautiful things are coming into our vibration and alignment just because we're putting in the work and we're creating our own luck in a way," he says.
As their music continues to develop as a smorgasbord of sounds rooted in hip-hop culture (John admits his current playlist ranges from Tenor Saw and the Splurgeboys to Solange, Scarlxrd and Rage Against the Machine, while Dom notes he loves Brazilian music, baile funk and currently, Krimelime Ca$$ and ABG Neal's "Forrest Gump"), they don't want to be defined by any one sound.
"There are no rules, there are no genres anymore, forget the categories," says John adamantly. "I think cats gotta stop using genres to put a taste in someone's palette before they even get the chance the experience it. I think we can explain it through the performance energy, like how I'm coming on to the records, and then through the musicality with Dom and what he's bringing to the table with the music."
"We don't deliberately go out of our way to sample random shit, it's the shit we're inspired by. I genuinely love Brazilian music, I love bachata, I love Spanish music. We just like making hard shit that just slaps," Dom echoes.
In comparison to the other two releases in the DON trilogy, both artists acknowledge growth is a standout factor to the curation of their latest EP, DON III.
"Everything we're releasing and creating is not 'normal.' It doesn't sound or adhere to what you're hearing these days. [This EP] is exaggerated, it sounds cleaner, it's harder hitting, it's louder, John is more lyrical and he's experimenting. We're evolving," Dom offers.
"I'm excited to have this out, because I've seen how this hits live in its powerful way. I feel like we're getting more refined in our sound and our direction — but there's still rage, there's still untapped energy," John adds. "We care about legacy and longevity and building a sound that lasts. Isn't that what culture is about? Don't you want connoisseurs and cultural advocates to be like, 'Yo, I love this era.'
"We make art to create eras — it's not a trend, it's an era we want to push forward. It's an ideology that we want to push forward. It's in the music, it's in the words, it's in performance, it's in how we talk, it's in how we dress, it's in who we are and I feel like that's real and that connects with people."
While the DON EP trilogy era will cement the beginnings of Just John and Dom Dias's joint career, it's their next moves, which include another three-EP trilogy, that'll continue to shift the perception of those around them — including the communities whose shoulders they continue to stand on and people they continue to stand with, and the music industry at large.
"I want to always remind my listeners and whoever rocks with our stuff or any audience where we go that they can be themselves and live and love and not fear. It's important that we get to bigger places so that people see where we come from. I think that's the mission," says John. "Sometimes there's a stigma when it's like, 'You're from the community and you need to stay in the community' and that's counter-productive. I think it's important for people to be the face of a community and grow, and be as big as you possibly can be [so that] you can show where you're from and your ideologies and then give back. I think throughout 2019 it's just more of that: more accomplishments, more opportunities, bigger collaborations, more growth, more growth, just more."