Dequadray White continues to grow as an artist

White says music is the most honest art form
Dequadray White continues to grow as an artist
Paulius Musteikis

At its album-release concert, Mr. Chair invited onstage Dequadray White, a young hip-hop artist in University of Wisconsin–Madison’s First Wave Program, to rap and sing his lyrics for the song “Purity.” As on the album, he was backed by members of the Mount Zion Gospel Choir.

White’s lyrics for the song address the crush of racism and marginalization: “I know it’s hard to let go/when fear’s teeth are too sharp/and too deep and too real and too hungry/for black skin.” He then pivots to a hopeful mantra: “There’s a longing for freedom, a longing for change.”

White says, “I understand that all of these things are going on. But at the same time, we have to center ourselves for the betterment of the collective.”

For White, music — more than any other art form — is “the most honest.”

“When I make music I can really access what I’m saying to myself,” he says. And “Purity,” he notes, is an example of a song that “came out exactly the way I had it in my head and how I perceive certain things.”

The 1990s-inflected debut album “Dequadray! a Black Sitcom” and the more experimental extended EP “Antares,” both released in 2018 on, reflect White’s growth as a black, queer artist.

The first record was obliquely about his relationships and leaving his home near Atlanta to enroll at UW–Madison as an art student on a full-tuition First Wave Program scholarship. The second record, he says, was “how I actually feel; I didn’t care.”

“I just felt like I was coming into myself and tired of this invalidating voice in my head and looking for validation outside of myself,” says White, who performs under his first name.

White only started releasing music in 2016. Before then, he focused on painting and other visual arts. As a musician, he sees himself “growing in understanding [about] leaving the world [I was] coming from.” Two years later, his recordings reflect him being “tossed in this world of emotions around all these things [I tried to] suppress, tried to hide or run away from.”

White says his next music project (which awaits the making of a video) will be more surreal and include themes of Afrofuturism — where African culture and technology meet.

“I feel like the first two projects were me trying to find myself as an artist, to find my sound, my message, my intention. Now I feel like I have that solidified,” he says.

White is on track to earn his undergraduate degree next May, at which point he may move back to Atlanta. “But before I leave, I have so much music. So much. It’s recorded, it just needs to be mixed and mastered,” he says.

Click here to read more about Madison’s music scene.