[INTERVIEW] It’s Giving… New ‘Perspective’ – Dondria Shares Story Behind Her Latest EP
It’s giving a new Perspective, and we aren’t just talking about the latest Dondria EP. The latest Dondria Parle Mag interview dives into her new EP, her musical journey, and much more.
Talented singer/songwriter Dondria has embarked on a new beginning, one that hasn’t just been shown through her music, but in her life as well. Many of us remember her hit single, “You’re the One,” which peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. But there are some that remember her far earlier in her career when she was known as ‘Lil Phatfffat’ on YouTube. Shortly after, she was ‘discovered’ by Jermaine Dupri, from the video of her covering Ciara’s hit song “Promise.” The ride was filled with ups and downs.
Life in the industry didn’t quite live up to Dondria’s expectations. Although, it was a dream come true for her, there were still moments in her career where she felt as though she was out of place. Now, many years removed she can look back on it with a clear view. She battled with depression and anxiety amongst other things, which created a shift in her career and within her.
Dondria knew that she needed a way to heal from heartbreak, and uncertainty, and she needed to be able to truly discover who she was outside of music. Dondria has been through life’s rollercoaster, but has never given up. Instead she has taken every obstacle that she has ever encountered and developed a brand new outlook.
Through her reflections of her journey, therapy, music and balancing what she wants, she has become the best version of herself, for her and her fans. She shares her new Perspective with us, detailing how her journey has placed her with new music, new love for the music, and new opportunities.
Perspective is also the title of her latest EP, a gem of music, recently released in January of 2023. Definitely a great listen if you haven’t already.
Dive into the story of Perspective in the latest Dondria Parle Mag interview, our third conversation with the singer, but the best one yet.
Parlé Mag: Your first album was Dondria vs Phatfffat, who was Phatfffat to you and what were her dreams?Dondria: Well you know, when I got on YouTube my initial motivation was to get an unbiased opinion on if I could really sing. I tell the story all the time, I used to watch American Idol all the time and the people would get on there and say, “my grandma told me I could sing, my mama told me I’m her favorite singer.” Then they get on stage and its like, I don’t think so. So I wanted to get on YouTube to get the strangers’ opinion of what they thought about my voice because I honestly felt like I could sing. But also because my family and friends were telling me as well. That was the initial motivation which turned into so much more. Prior to that, I was in school for music education so I thought I was going to be a voice coach, a choir director or maybe even train up the next star, but I didn’t think it would be me in spotlight.
Parlé: Dondria vs Phatfffat seemed as though you were going against yourself. Did you feel conflicted because Phatfffat was supposed to be in the background, but Dondria became who you were?
Dondria: I think so. I’m not sure if at the time I was able to identify that. I definitely think that I didn’t have a clear vision of what I even wanted my career to even look like because it wasn’t what I thought. I didn’t think I was even going to be here. I know that pretty much the whole stint with So So Def , I just kind of went to the beat of everyone else’s drum. Whatever JD thought, I told myself, “okay, great lets do it.” If there was anything that I was not comfortable with or I didn’t want to do, I was thankfully able to voice that and it was honored. But I think I was just in the space of discovery. I didn’t have any experience prior to getting signed. I was only in the studio maybe once or twice, I didn’t know anything about the industry. So I really was just going with it in the beginning.
Parlé: How was it being in the spotlight, being in this industry during that time, and working with a legend like Jermaine Dupri?
Dondria: In the beginning I was probably intimidated. It was probably like half and half. Taking in the moment like “wow he got me off of the internet” so because I am here, I must be something. Also, it was that he worked with all these huge names, from Usher to Destiny’s Child, Monica, everyone. There was a little bit of intimidation there too, while also being a young girl in a male dominated industry. In the studio there were so many guys around so I felt a little like, “I’m that chick,” but I think it was overpowered by “wow, do I belong here??” I will say that I think that everybody on the team, in the family of So So Def was pretty empowering and they believed in me. They decided that I belonged there, that I deserved to be in that room and in that booth working with some of the greats. They really helped me to grow into whatever that was at that time.
Parlé: Do you believe that one of those reasons was because you didn’t believe in yourself, you didn’t believe in the fact that you could make it?
Dondria: Think about a twenty year-old or even a twenty-one year-old, it’s our freshmen year of college, or maybe even sophomore year of college, we’re still figuring ourselves out. Honestly, let’s be real the whole college career we’re figuring ourselves out. So, to be thrown in this industry, which once again I didn’t see myself being in. I might have kind of seen myself on the screen or in the industry somewhat in middle school when Destiny’s Child came out, which was like a major point for me. But I guess growing up in the suburbs and not really knowing anybody in the music industry, or not even knowing the first thing to do, I just didn’t see that it could happen. So yeah, there was a lot of doubt and just questioning myself. I didn’t know myself and I definitely didn’t know my purpose as to why I’m even here on this Earth. I believe that definitely had a lot to do with not being able to just be in it and enjoy the moment.
Parlé: What was it like seeing your name, your songs around the world?
Dondria: You know it was a dream come true. Now lately I do a very, VERY good job with being present in the moment. From journaling, taking pictures, really just sitting in it before I move on because back then everything happened so fast. I didn’t even have a chance to really take in everything that was happening. It was exciting, it was exhilarating, but I don’t really have a lot of memories about it. I don’t even know how I felt a lot of the times because it was just like a whirlwind of emotions. Obviously I remember going on tour with Trey Songz and Monica, which was such a great experience. Being on a lot of the different shows such as 106 & park, The Monique Show. Also being nominated for Best New Artist at the Soul Train Awards, so I do have the big memories, which is amazing. I just think because it happened so fast, instead of being in the space of gratitude, like “wow my dreams are coming true,” I went straight into “this is work.” I didn’t have a sense of appreciation of what was actually happening because it just felt like I was just working.
Parlé: You went from people knowing every lyric to your songs to now everyone is asking, “Where is Dondria?” Talk to me about the feelings that come with that.
Dondria: It was tough. I think because it happened so fast it became a normal part of my life. Going from everyone knowing my lyrics, my name to “where is Dondria… what happened to Phatfffat” was a lot. Even when people came at JD asking what did you do to her? You ruined her! I felt so bad. I did have a moment where I wanted to blame him too, even though it was not his fault. You think about the fact that you didn’t even want this and you didn’t even plan for this. He literally plucked me off of the internet and threw me in it. So I had my moment to where I was kind of looking at him like why did you even do it, what was your reasoning? But again it wasn’t his fault. God does what he does, the way he wants. So it did hit me pretty hard because I didn’t know myself before I entered, my identity was centered around my success and people knowing my songs, having shows every week and going on tour, that became my identity. When it slowed down a little, I was looking in the mirror as if I didn’t know who I am if I’m not doing this, if I’m not making music.
I will never forget, I think I went to a bible study, it was later down the line when I moved to LA. Anyway, I went to this bible study, I wanna say the topic was like “who are you outside of what you do?” I was like, I don’t know the answer to that question so through that time I tried to find those answers. During that time also, I just recently broke up with my long term boyfriend and I packed up and moved to LA. I just wanted to start a new life and just figure everything out. With that came a whole lot of other hills and valleys. I got partnered with a manager and a lot of other people on my team so I had to learn a lot of lessons that way. I went to therapy because it just was getting out of hand. I didn’t even know how to process any of the emotions that I was starting to feel. I just really wanted to get to the root of everything, to get to know myself. I wanted to understand who I am, what do I like to do, what do I want to talk about, how do I want to wear my hair, do I even want to do music? I just really wanted to answer these questions. Once I started to do that, things started to make more sense which is how I got to this place, this space I’m in now.
Parlé: Was therapy the start of you understanding who you were? What were the other outlets that you used during that time?
Dondria: Yes, it was the start. I don’t know why my logic was this, but I decided that I wanted to find a therapist in 2017/2018. My first motivation when it came to getting a therapist was to find someone who was the complete opposite of me. I don’t know why, I guess I thought I wanted someone who didn’t know who I was, didn’t want them to be a fan or anything. I just wanted to talk to somebody, talk through the logistics of it. I wanted to get the tools and figure it all out. So… I went to a middle aged white man. I don’t know, I think he ended up not being available so I got his wife, and she was nice she helped me to understand that I wasn’t alone. It was at that time that I had not talked to anybody. I felt this sense of pride that I can’t show people that I’m not okay because I’m living my dream. I don’t have space to not be okay. I kept stuff in for so long. She told me that, “it sounds like your parents are pretty supportive, you probably should talk to them. Let them know what you’re going through and allow them to support you.” I said to myself, “Oh, okay,” because honestly I was just going to thug it out and figure it out. So that’s all she did, bless her heart.
I did talk to my mom and it felt like a weight was lifted because I was able to share my frustrations with my family, with my parents who supported my move to LA. After that, I just started to get more serious, more intentional about my spirituality and my time with God. I grew up in the church, but like they always say, you still want to have your own relationship with God. You just can’t be banking on mama and grandma’s prayers. So I would just talk to God. I use to set these alarms on my phone that would let me know it’s time to talk to God. During those talks, I would just say whatever was on my mind. I believe that through the communication and dedication, I feel like I activated something because I just felt as if God was saying, “okay you’re ready to partner with me now.” A lot started to change. I started to attract more people around me that wanted the best for me and that were there to genuinely support me. I started to get more comfortable with speaking up and saying ‘no’ to the things that I didn’t want to do. I was trusting myself more, which made a lot of things unfold for me.
Fast forward, I moved back to Atlanta. I went back to therapy, but this time I was introduced to a Black woman and I love my Black therapist. I’ve been with her for almost 2 years now. She’s helped me to develop into a real grown a** woman. I now know how to handle my business, to access my emotions, how to respond to certain situations, how to set goals and how to actually accomplish them. She also taught me to trust myself and to not be as anxious because I was definitely suffering from a lot of anxiety. I had so many things going on so therapy was amazing for me. I am also vegan now. I’ve been vegan for almost 5 years. I just feel like everything that I have been completing currently has empowered me to make more decisions that contribute to the best version of myself. It’s been great.
Parlé: Understanding that you were in a depressive state during those times. Is that what motivated you to become a mental health advocate?
Dondria: That definitely catapulted it. I know, especially being a young girl in the music industry, that others have experienced the same stuff. I think that I’m even, going back to the gratitude, more clear on who I am, why I’m here and what purpose is. I have understood that it is to share, to teach, to inspire and to motivate. I am able to help people process their emotions through my music. How could I have cracked the code, found a way to live a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life, and not share that with people?? I feel like that’s more important than the music. The music is the vehicle, but when we get to the destination, we have to ask ourselves, “now what do we do?” I had to learn what I wanted to say, what was my message. My experience has definitely given me motivation so that I am able to take care of myself, finding ways to deal with my stuff because we are always going to have stuff. It’s just apart of life. But when we can approach it with a level head and find the answers when we ask ourselves, “I’m feeling this way, why am I feeling this way?” and realizing that the emotion we are feeling about ourselves isn’t true, then we are able to redirect ourselves. It’s been so amazing. I get so proud of myself because I just remember the old and the younger version of myself. Back then I would avoid conversations completely if it meant that there could possibly be conflict or somebody’s feelings would get hurt. I would just ghost the entire situation without ever speaking about it. I was the queen of ghosting. I owe it to myself and I owe it to the people that are looking, listening and watching me to share my experiences. I owe it to myself and to them that they can do it too, that they can get through the hard stuff.
Parlé: Do you believe that there is a difference when you hit the studio now?
Dondria: The main difference I think is that I’m just so much more intentional. Before, I even start to sing or write I ask myself, “what do I want to say?” I don’t necessarily go into the studio with the motivation of wanting to create a hit because I don’t want a hit. I want music that can “You’re The One” you all the way down the aisle because you’ve been listening to it for 10 years, now you want to play my song at your wedding. I want to continue making music like that. I just want to continue sharing my experience. There’s different avenues for different people. I am diligently working on my podcast right now. It is catered to the ambitious woman. I want to create space for us to detox from things. It’s called the ‘Detox with Dondria.’ Detox from the ideas, habits and expectations that are not healthy for us, that are not good for us so that we can then create a safe space. Some people will get that from my music and some people will get that by watching this interview, from the podcast or just by me being at the same place as them and taking a picture. My intention is just to be intentional. Speak my truth. I think we have enough fun music. Don’t get me wrong I like to twerk, I’m always going to twerk, but I also know my purpose and why I’m here.
Parlé: Not only are you starting your podcast but you also have your poetry book, ‘In the Dark’ coming as well. Tell us a little about that.
Dondria: All the poems that are in this book are poems that I wrote in the deepest part of my depression. Before I could even identify that it was depression, I was writing poems. It was just my way of releasing. Sometimes I don’t want to get in the studio and sing nor do I want to talk to someone or show up with a smile. I don’t want to “turn on” today. So pulling out my notebook helped me and sometimes the poems were really dark, but it was may way of releasing my emotions. I’m still a little apprehensive to share them with the world because it was like my secret space to where I was just letting out my thoughts and my feelings. So a part of me is still really nervous about that and some of the poems are happy, about joy and love because those were the things that I was yearning for and I was hoping one day would be my reality. I don’t know, I guess just one day I decided to process these feelings. I finally was able to reach the other side and was in a much better place with it all. So I mean, are these poems just suppose to stay in my notebook, were they just for me? I don’t think so. I believe somebody should be able to read these, especially after hearing my story and knowing that these poems helped me to get to the other side. If it’s two people that buy the book or if it’s fifty, it doesn’t matter to me because it’s going to reach whoever it’s suppose to reach. That is what I’m here to do. I am here to create. It wouldn’t matter if I made two dollars or two million as long as I know someone else healed just as much as I did. Someone else has grown.
Parlé: What were your thoughts and what were your emotions behind your new album Perspective?
Dondria: I put all the emotion into Perspective. I think that the way it was created it had to be with just me and my co-writer and producer Josh. It couldn’t be a room full of writers while I am sharing my experiences, thoughts and emotions, while I cried, because it wouldn’t have come out the same. I was grateful to have someone I was able to talk to for two to three hours before we wrote a word. I was really able to pull from me to create this music. The album starts with “Take You There,” because it’s definitely a ride. I just wanted to introduce myself and what I’m on. I want to invite you to come with me. Let me take you on a ride, let me tell you the story of where I’ve been, what I’ve gone through and show you where I am now. That’s how I wanted to start of the EP.
Then through that I go straight into “Lose Myself,” that was a real life breakup song. The boyfriend that I broke up with when I moved to LA, once I thought I figured myself out, I thought I was figuring myself out to revisit the relationship and show up better for him and for us. So I went back and we tried again, but it just didn’t work out. I had to really face the facts and look myself in the mirror and say, “Dondria, when you left the first time you probably should’ve stayed gone.” We gravitate to what’s safe, what we know, where we feel comfortable, so it made sense, but something I needed to let go. Once I let go, I decided that now that I know who I am, a happy healthy relationship looks different to me then what I’m experiencing right now. Being able to say it out loud and communicate that to the other person that was growth within itself because that was a tough conversation to have. We invested all this time together, you watched me grow up essentially. Honestly, he was a big part of the discovery with JD because I think he was running my Myspace at the time. So when JD hit me up about my YouTube he was actually talking to him. He gave him my number, he was a pretty big part of the journey.
Now, “Good Company,” not only did I leave my romantic relationship, but I also ended some friendships and some family relationships as well. That was me identifying that I wanted to be surrounded by “good company.” I don’t want to have to question if you’re lowkey hating me, if you’re jealous or you’re here using me. I want only people around me that love me, that support me, that really want the best for me. Who is excited when I win. Even if I lose or I make mistakes they’re there supporting me, lifting me back up to try again. I want those type of people around me, I want “Good Company” around me.
Whew, “Let It Be,” I call that the spokesperson of the EP because it is a love song to music. I say that we’ve been doing this thing for awhile, you hurt me, hurt my feelings a few times. I couldn’t show up the best way I could sometimes, but we’re going to try this again because at the end of the day this is where I want to be. I want to try it again and this time let it be exactly what it’s supposed to be. I want to take away all of the pressures of what it has to look like or how it has to be. I just want to let it be…
“Let It Be” is one of my favorites. So this EP was very intentional. I titled it Perspective because I have a new perspective. I do believe that I made a 360. Outside of just still being full of joy, being happy, I guess there are still parts of Phatfffat, I guess there will always be parts of Phatfffat in me. But on the grander scheme of things I am not the same version of myself. I have a totally different perspective of my career. Even as a creative, how I want to create and how I want to put myself out there to the world. Then the second part of that is a lot these songs do have more than one perspective. So for instance, “Let it Be,” it is my love song to music but it can also be a love song to your partner.
“Lose Myself,” is a break up song, but it also is me talking to my younger self saying that, “I can’t take you with me into this new season. I have to think differently. I have to move differently. I have to love differently. I have to become a boss. I can’t be going to the beat of everybody else’s drum, I have to chose my own path this time.” So again, each song was thought out completely and has more than one perspective.
Parlé: What else can we expect from Dondria?
Dondria: So music wise, I definitely have so much more music in store. I feel like because I have been trying to figure myself out I haven’t really dropped a lot of music, and even this EP, it’s been 5 years since my last solo project. So definitely more music, we are not waiting anymore. There may or may not be some remixes and some things in the works, I’m excited about that.
I am also in a stage play called ‘Aunt Sarah’s Girl’. We will be on stage Mother’s Day weekend May 13th. We have a 3pm ET show and a 8PM ET show. I love the stage play production because it is highlighting nine women who have gone through all kinds of stuff. As women, we all have our own traumas and things that we suppress and we’re telling those stories on stage. It’s going to be emotional, but it will also be funny. It’s about sisterhood and I believe just overcoming the trauma and embracing the people around us, as we help each other go through these things and grow through these things. The play will be in Atlanta, GA. The writer/producer, she shared with us the other day that when she writes these plays, especially this one in particular, every character is a piece of her. She’s been through a lot of what these women will discuss in the play which makes it even harder. So I have a play but also my goal is to have my poetry book, ‘In the Dark’, out in May 2023, which is also Mental Health Awareness month.
The podcast, I mean listen your girl is booked and busy! I am being very ambitious and we are just going to go with the flow and whatever the Lord says. But the goal is, May also for ‘Detox with Dondria’. Outside of that, I’m just trying to share and shed my light. Talk, let people know where I’ve been. I really never left but you know just shining more and just sharing more of me. I really didn’t do a lot of that before, I mean I did, but not in this space. This is a space that I am just showing myself in, that many people don’t know about. I’m giving more of myself to people. I’m also apart of an initiative called the ‘Year of the Youth,’ which is spear-headed by the Mayor of Atlanta. Our goal is to create opportunities and activities to pour into the youth of Atlanta. We want to give them more healthy and productive choices in life. Allow them to find better things to do to so that they can become the greatest version of themselves. We are looking into the future, so when we’re gone we can only hope that they will be better off than we were. I’m really excited to be apart of that as well!
Dondria’s story brings us hope, love, laughter and fulfills us with light. Although she may have been in the spotlight for years and years to come, she still shares how “human” she is. Dondria’s story will enlighten many people to understand who they are more, who they want to be outside of the opinions of others or who they deem they should be.
Dondria is not afraid to be the incredible woman that she is. With every step forward she has taken it will only create a brighter future for her and the people who accept the gift she brings as well. We are excited to see all of her projects and anything else she decides to stick her hands in.
Image Credit: Rious
Readers May Also Like:
[INTERVIEW] The International ICON – A Man Of Many Trades ‘Septimius The Great’
[INTERVIEW] Through Blood & Faith – Go In Depth With The Cast of WEtv’s ‘Grown & Gospel’
[INTERVIEW] Grammy Winning Songwriter, Love Records Flagship Artist Jozzy Tells How She Found Resurgence After Being Dropped By First Label
The Creators & Cast of ‘CREED III’ Reveal Behind The Scenes Details On The Critically Acclaimed Film
[INTERVIEW] Nashville Country Singer Tony Evans Jr. Goes Behind the Art