There is not a single person, past or present, who has not faced a myriad of battles in their life. Whether personal or on a grander scale, battles come and go and it’s our persistence to go above and beyond that keeps them at bay. For DeAnthony Yonko those battles started day one. Born in a mixed family, like many, he struggled with identity and later with a physical injury. However, as a self-proclaimed competitor – he faced each head-on and in the end found himself in music. Today, ‘Battle’ is the name of the game and his latest album. We talked about the record, the injury that led him here, and more in this back and forth exchange.
Kendra: When you said you struggled to find yourself growing up, did that have anything to do with your mixed heritage? I ask because being mixed myself, I often felt lost in that regard.
DeAnthony Yonko: Yes, a lot of it was because of my mixed heritage. I grew up in the hood. Like really the hood. And I was a Puerto Rican Black kid with braids down my back and all my friends at school were Black, but I came home and everyone was Hispanic. It was tough to be true to me because I always felt like I was leaving part of my other half out somehow. It was something that took me a while to figure out.
Kendra: When you did find solace in something, it was music and sports but after an injury in your early 20’s you went all-in with music. Where do you think you’d be today had that knee injury never happened?
DeAnthony Yonko: To be honest, I’m one of those people that becomes addicted to everything I do. I’m one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet. I was playing soccer super heavy in my late teens and early 20’s, and got super good too. I planned on auditioning for the pro team in Nashville but I tore my MCL and was out for a good chunk of time. That’s when I started taking my music seriously. So to answer your question I don’t know where I’d be. Guess we’ll never know.
Kendra: How do you feel signing with Zobe Records changed your career path back in 2018?
DeAnthony Yonko: Zobe Records helped shape me into who I am today, to be honest. I thought I knew everything. After dropping 12 songs that weren’t mixed mastered or any kind of real production put into them. Zobe showed me two things that I’ll take with me forever. They showed me that I had a lot of work to do, but they also showed me that I had world-class talent. And never let me settle for less than that.
Kendra: Let’s get to the present. You dropped ‘Battle’ this year, and if you had to compare the overall vibe of the record to a place in Nashville, which would it be and why?
DeAnthony Yonko: Sheesh good question. I’d probably say like east Nashville about 15-20 years ago. Because at that time Nashville was starting to flourish you know? Everyone is in love with this new young city that’s beautiful and clean but it’s not like that out east. No one saw just how bad it was in east Nashville. And when they did see it they just tried to cover it up. That kind of represents both ‘Battle’ and me. Everyone is celebrating that success, but ignoring that hurt.
Kendra: You’re a hip hop artist that notes he can sing, but I didn’t expect you to deliver like that on your latest single “Vanilla Skies.” You laid those vocals out! Who were some of your early vocal inspirations growing up?
DeAnthony Yonko: Yeah I definitely pride myself on my ability to sing. I love singing just as much as I do rapping. So listening to an album by me is kind of confusing I would guess. But my inspiration for singing are guys like Sam Smith and Frank Ocean. They’re some of my favorite artists of all time.
Kendra: Do you feel like you’re a rarity in that you are a rapper who can legit carry a heartfelt tune as well?
DeAnthony Yonko: I bring an element into my music that most other hip hop artists aren’t able to bring. And that’s not disrespectful to anyone else, but I honestly think that.
Kendra: With everything that is going on, how do you feel 2020 has shaped your creativity and drive moving forward?
DeAnthony Yonko: The whole lockdown probably really hurt a lot of people’s creativity but it gave me exactly what I needed. To be locked in with my thoughts and computer. I’ve been more productive in these past four months than I have the past four years to be completely honest.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
DeAnthony Yonko: Well right now I plan to keep promoting my album and find my next single. So far, ‘Battle’ has done way better than I could have ever imagined. But I think the more people it reaches the more people it will touch. Outside of ‘Battle’, I’m working on finding my next single. It’s got to be the right song so that it keeps my momentum going in the right direction, but that will all come.
By the way, my go-to song in times of stress is “03’ Adolescence” by J. Cole. The message just opens my mind so much every time.