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Holding On: Don Lifted Rises Above His Pain With "Alero"

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The album that Memphis hip-hop artist Don Lifted drops this Thursday has been a long time in the making. Named after the car he drove when living through a particularly harrowing time, Alero will provide him no small measure of catharsis. After nearly seven years, Don Lifted will finally be able to exhale.

With neither the broad social commentary of Marco Pavé nor the street life debauchery of Yo Gotti, Don Lifted, aka Lawrence Matthews, takes his lyrics to a personal place to fashion a work of art-as-therapy. The album details a stressful period when Matthews and his high school girlfriend ventured east for college and they confronted the challenges of living away from home.

"The story takes place from September 2010 and into 2011. It was six months, but it felt like two years," he recalls. "We just were clashing. But also it was just being thrown into the world, adulthood, alone. We both were going through a kind of hell. I slept in the car a lot. I was sick a lot, so I'd take cough medicine so I could record music, instead of being sniffly; so I could go to class, go to work."

The car became a kind of sanctuary for Matthews. "Kappa, Sigma, Omega, Alpha, Kappa, them Deltas/ Futures, degrees and shelters and I am only a nigga/ Carpetbagger from Memphis, they'll never see me as bigger/ I'm clapping, but I'm pretending, depression down to my tendons, these terrors, they cloud my vision." So goes the first verse of the first song. And it's all downhill from there.

Along the way, he struggles with his relationship, his boss, his school, and poverty. But he makes it clear that his hometown was no picnic either. "Family became opponents, all they repping is Memphis/ It offers nothing to poets, offers nothing to loners/ Wasn't born in the system of 3-6, Elvis, and Jordans."

Don Lifted - JARVIS HUGHES
  • Jarvis Hughes
  • Don Lifted

The struggles evoked in Alero also came as he tried to developed his musical skills. "I was trying to record a record in the closet of my dorm," he says. "And my plan was to spend six months making the record, finish the record, then spend the next six months going back and forth to New York. I was gonna get on, get connections, meet people. And I got kicked outta school, so I didn't get to do any of that."

Instead, he returned home. But it wasn't until much later that he could reflect on the experience creatively. In the intervening years, he found his voice as an artist, earning a degree from the University of Memphis. "My major was Studio Arts ... but my main focus when I came out of college was painting. Now, it's photography and video work." Degree in hand, he turned inward to create Alero. "I started the first song in November 2014, and I finished writing, recording, and producing it by the middle of 2015. And then spent the rest of 2015 just sitting on it, mixing it, being very meticulous." This period was heavily influenced by his listening habits. "I'm attracted to Kanye West, Common, J Dilla's production. ... But the album I was listening to a lot around the album's creation was Coldplay's Ghost Stories. It was about his divorce. Very minimal. And there was a record by Dawn Golden, who I sampled twice."

Performing such personal material now can still be difficult for Matthews, though he feels he's gained some perspective on the pain. Listeners need not resign themselves to utter despair. By the final cut, "Holding On," Matthews finds room for hope. "We're not holding on for nothing" rings the track's chorus, and at last it seems Don Lifted has drawn strength from his exile. Alero will be available for download September 14th. The CD, including a deluxe booklet of lyrics and original photographs, is for sale exclusively at Shangri-La and Goner Records.

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