At 22, Charles Donalson is still that teenager you saw rhythmically walking the halls of Oak Park and River Forest High School in the 2018 documentary “America To Me.” Throughout the film, Donalson’s headphones were omnipresent, like another pair of ears.
Donalson may be all grown up, but he’s still listening intently, with much of what he hears informing his own music. He’s currently signed with Anthill Sound Production, an independent recording company formed in the Oak Park and Galewood area that has a goal of making Oak Park and Chicago’s West Side the next bastion of inventive hip hop.
“We’re trying to get Oak Park artists — rappers and singers — to come through,” Donalson said recently. “If you have a project you want to do, come to us and we’ll help you put that project out. Aside from copyright and other legal stuff, we’ll also help you with getting your cover art together and other marketing business.”
Donalson said he’s Anthill’s proof of concept, its franchise player, if you will, who has utilized the company to put out his own music, including two singles that were released on Apple Music, Tydal, Spotify and YouTube (“wherever you listen to music”) last week.
The new music comes roughly two years after Donalson partnered with his friend and Anthill’s creative head, Antown Billups, to release an album in 2019 called “For Whatever You Do.”
Donalson said his newest material is less heady than his 2019 content and it takes him back to his OPRF days.
One single, “Mixed Signals,” is about getting stood up on dates,” he said. “I feel like in high school, I would ruin my chances with girls I wanted to talk to, because I’d write songs about them. I’m back doing that.”
The other single, “Am I Wrong,” is less than two minutes, which is itself a critique.
“It’s a real song, but it’s a minute-and-a-half,” Donalson said. “I remember a few years ago when Lil Pump dropped ‘Gucci Gang’ and people were talking about how short that song was. The song is only two minutes and people were saying, ‘Oh, these rappers are so lazy.’
“I love music and history, and so I was listening to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers,” Donalson added. “His biggest hit, ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love,’ is not even two-and-a-half minutes. That was recorded in 1955. I’m like, ‘Y’all was lazy back in the ‘50s!’”
Donalson said his relationship with Anthill is less like a celebrity signed to a major record label. He’s technically an independent contractor who juggles his music along with other gigs. He said he’s also working with some friends who are trying to develop two projects for TV—one of them a docuseries and another an anime production.
Eventually, Donalson said, he wants all of his checks to come from music and production. For him, there’s really no other option.
“I think I wrote my first rap when I was like 4 years old after I heard ‘Many Men’ [a 2003 song by rapper 50 Cent],” he said. “I heard that song and was like, ‘Naw, this is what I’m doing for the rest of my life.’”