Inspired by childhood memories of St. Louis and a teddy bear mascot, as well as “fantasy movies and weird, surreal things”, musician and “nightlife icon” Eric Dontè has always created a dichotomy between lightness and audacity.
“It just comes from being an alternative black boy from the neighborhood who loves experimental music,” Dontè says of his self-defined “ghetto trance” genre, which he describes as “a combination of hip-hop, R&B, punk and trance, with a taste of experimental and avant-garde atmosphere.”
While many may be familiar with Eric Dontè, who has been performing in the city since around 2016, it can be difficult to keep up with the prolific artist. Dontè’s first album God does not like the uglywas released that year, and his EP A lamp in the bedroom was released in 2018, along with the single and video “Nothing”. Since then, the rapper has kept busy, releasing freestyle videos, new singles, and collaborations with local musicians, including singer-songwriter and producer Zaethon.
The last six months have been a particularly fruitful period. Dontè released the stellar EP Do not play with melaunched a new rave collective, opened for New York rapper Billy Woods at Columbia Cafe Berlin and was featured on the song “Departure Unknown” by Parisian musician Sicaa, with a music video collaboration with St. Louis Maxi royalty Glamour.
Filmed by videographer and longtime Dontè collaborator Dylan Schnitker, the video was released in March, featuring Dontè and Maxi as futuristic green and blue aliens. Sicaa and Dontè met through the Black Marble Collective, and their track “Departure Unknown” echoes a shimmering beat from outer space alongside the dreamlike vaporiness of the music video. Shining in their pixie ears, Dontè and Maxi wander enthusiastically around the south of the city in search of goodies for gas stations.
Donté says his music videos are very important to him. “When I write music, I already see how I would like to play in the clip,” he notes. The collection of videos he’s released over the years is like a treasure trove, where you can find gothic vampires, fairytale makeovers and a big rainbow wig.
Before the pandemic, Dontè lived in Chicago for a few years, where he continued to perform and write music. While out in Chicago one night, Dontè met producer Jeremiah Meece. The two quickly hit it off.
“I had already heard of [Meece] because they had produced for other artists that I like like Mikki Blanco and Mister Wallace,” Dontè says, “The night we met, I just said we could break a track together. I could tell they had it all the time, so I didn’t really force anything. About a year later, they contacted me.
Among the beats that Meece sent, Dontè chose the ones he liked, creating the five songs of his latest EP Do not play with me. Released in April this year, the record plays fearlessly with fantasy and reality, seduction and humor, vulnerability and freshness. Even its shortest song, the intro “Tried to Take Me Out”, carries one of the catchiest choruses, managing to sound both soulful and chilling. Meece’s rhythms and keys provide a retro and often hypnotic force to which Dontè adds playfulness with his versatile voice.
Each track invites a different vibe: “Homie Whaddup” imagines a good day of good sex, getting paid, or maybe “you could be stoned.” “Horror Movie” revolves around Dontè’s love of horror movies. Perhaps the voice of Dontè is the director of the film, and we, the listeners, are the main characters in charge of “keeping on running” from the scream to the corner. “Feel So Good,” the final track, shifts to a more ethereal, hazy place than the rest of Do not play with me. Dontè rhymes and sings intimately (“your belly, I kiss it”) about the feelings between two people, where nothing else matters.
Although under a singular nickname, Eric Dontè is always surrounded by collaborators and community. His music videos naturally incorporate groups of other local artists, and this culture of inclusion is an integral part of Dontè’s philosophy.
Think back to the 1990s rave scene in St. Louis: the address of the rave was often kept secret, revealed at the very last second to a select group. Today, Materia, a new arts collective that Dontè helped form, hosts rave parties in St. Louis, with yes, an address attached to each flyer. Materia is made up of fellow electronic musicians and DJs Nadir Smith, Manapool, Umami and Sweeet, who “all had the same vision for experimental music raves, which doesn’t happen often here,” according to Dontè. Monthly shows have mostly inhabited the halls and basements of homes, influenced by a lack of “club” venues in the city since the pandemic and perhaps an “experimental” desire to move away from the constraints of traditional venues . Dontè defines his audience as “crazy people, outcasts. Our events put everyone at ease, everyone is welcome.
Dontè’s carefree party actor persona makes no secret of his true vulnerability.
“I grew up feeling ignored, and when I started making music, I think people really started paying attention to how I could really feel. My music is the most assertive version of me,” explains Donte. “All [my] the music is about things that I actually live and go through. I want people to know that you control your own narrative. I want my music to make people feel like they can rule the world.
Eric Dontè looks set for a global power grab guided by his stacked future plans: a possible headlining show, Do not play with me music videos, learning to DJ and a promise of more songwriting. “I have so many things in the safe that I can’t wait to get out,” he says.
Like many St. Louis musicians, Dontè wants the country at large (or the intergalactic universe) to notice St. Louis as a place of creative gravitas, and also some really fun shows. He hopes to “show the world what STL is all about through vibes and song,” he says.
“So far everyone tells me they want to come here. I make it look fun. I’m like that isss!”