Local Spotlight: Connis

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Fresh off the release of his album, Somebody, the Cambridge native talks about love and the growing up that comes with it. 

Connor Donovan can fly. The Cambridge native, also known as Connis, has a very unique mastery of manipulating time and space in order to seek comfort, and that comfort has finally come in the form of Somebody, his record that dropped on Aug. 27. “This album is my temporary landing strip,” he said. “A lot of my music has been me floating around looking for a place to ground myself and this album is where I temporarily feel comfortable doing that. It’s a safe haven for me right now but I’ll flee to a new place with my art.”

Over the last two years, Connis has shifted and morphed into multiple different versions of himself as he worked on the album, much of which was created during the isolation of quarantine. The hip-hop artist values seclusion, yet there is a certain kind of nourishment in the inspiration that can only come from the presence of others. For a while, Connis spent time in a shared house/artist hub in Jamaica Plain, where Boston artists would constantly float in and out. If Connis wasn’t making music, he could always count on hearing someone else working on something at three in the morning. This shared passion for creation, especially in regards to the Cambridge music scene, is something the 26-year-old artist holds very sacred. “Music is really a physical process,” he said. “Having to quarantine and not be around people, it becomes kind of hard to stay inspired and have something to say.” 

Connis was born and raised in Cambridge, within a melting pot of people from different backgrounds experiencing different socio-economic problems. “I feel really blessed to come from there. When you’re born, it’s just kind of the luck of the gamble,” he said. “Me being a white person in America, I’m lucky that I wasn’t born into some really f****d up middle of nowhere place where I was an ignorant person and didn’t have all of these things at my disposal to teach me about being a good human, about community and thinking about other people besides myself.”

Photo by Marika Belamarich

Within Somebody, Connis speaks on how much Cambridge has changed in recent years in terms of issues such as displacement due to gentrification. Yet, the version of the city that he knows and loves is something he takes great pride in, and the city takes pride in him in return.“The more that you succeed, and the better you do, all the people that were peripheral friends come a little closer and expect things with you, and not always in a negative way,” he said. “A lot of times in a way in which they’re rooting for  you, like ‘I’m betting on you,’ not even betting on me so that I can put on for them, but just out of pride and belief, like, ‘you’re representing, if you’re representing yourself, you’re representing our city, if you’re representing our city, you’re representing me.’”

This pride is evident, as a bulk of features on the tape are from Massachusetts artists such as Gogo., Soap.Wav, FELIX!, Blue Mena, Kadeem, Latrell James, BoriRock, Bby.Bird, ELOHER and Verus Beats—who produced a majority of the album.

“When people pay attention to how this scene has come together over the past couple years, there have been formative moments,” he said, looking back on the rise of Cousin Stizz, Michael Christmas, OG Swaggerdick and other Boston pioneers. “There are all these different things happening and spreading on their own, but all coming back to the same place. I think that’s the coolest part about it, when I look at all the features on this album, I feel like it’s special just making music with people that I grew up with and people that I look up to, as well.”

It was in Cambridge, at the age of 14 when he first started playing around with music, during the rise of the jerkin’ era. He traces back his beginnings to the era right after the dance fizzled out. At the age of 15 he was in a rap group called Fast Life, inspired by hip-hop artists such as 50 Cent and Eminem, yet it would not be until 2015 when he began pursuing music with more intensity. 

His first project Conn(is) (released in 2019) delved deep into who Connis is:a biographical lens exploring what he stands for and represents. Fast forward to the release of Somebody, and this vulnerable transparency is combined with newer aspects of Connis in terms of production. He is driven to make something different from his previous work, while also keeping hints of it alive. There are songs on the tape that are somber, yet are simultaneously accompanied by an upbeat production; there are songs that unravel where he is now in life while also honoring the trials and tribulations it took to get him there. Somebody is a culmination of the past and the present, and changing while sticking true to oneself. 

Photo by Marika Belamarich

The 14-track project is encompassed in love. Self-love, platonic love, romantic love and the ways in which we as humans are completely enveloped in it without understanding anything about it at all. “Inevitably, whenever I set out to do something else, I always end up making a love song. It’s what I’m most familiar with, but also don’t know how to put my finger on it too,” he said. “We all want it, but then at times, we have too much of it and then it freaks us out. Or you have too little, and then it freaks you out because you don’t have enough. I think that balance is something that I’m always dealing with and inevitably writing about in music for that reason.”

There’s something infinite about the intensity of love. The second song on the tape, “Lost Touch” dissects how love never goes away, even if the person it’s directed towards may no longer physically be there. The song was in honor of a friend he had lost, and the ways his growth as an individual allowed him to process his pain. Connis looks to his music as a means to heal, as a place to retreat to for relief. 

The album is truly grounded in themes of growth as well, and unraveling the person you wanted to be compared to who you became. “Ground Zero Baby,” ft. Blue Mena features Connis’ voice coming through a warped telephone filter, representing his younger self asking questions to his current self. 

“When I grow up I wanna be just like you / I’ll figure it out, oh, just like you,” says younger Connis. His older self responds, reassuring that nothing is figured out, but he has now made peace with the unknown. “Ground Zero Baby” is essentially the person who will always be there for you, who will pick you up when you’re at your lowest. “It’s me trying to heal my younger self,” he explained. “It’s talking about age and how you’re constantly trying to become the greatest version of yourself. And then when you reach that greatest version of yourself, you’re trying to heal that past version.”

Through this project, Connis wants his audience to get to know him in the most honest and transparent way, where his humanity can shine through and he can be remembered for being a voice of the people. “I feel like I make music for that kid that was scared to show off. I make music for the introvert that poses as an extrovert and does that for social purposes so that they can somehow make friends and not always be alone—but deep down they feel very alone. I make it for people that have a shell that they’re constantly scared to bust out of. But, once they get that gust of wind they’ll just do it and make Massachusetts-fall 50 degrees-raining outside-impulsive-Aries-fiery-romantic-shoot your shot music.”

For Connis, art is this way of letting others know they are heard, and give them a chance to hear him.“One thing I want people to feel is that the journey uphill is worth the view. All the shit that gets thrown at you that’s trying to hold you back and knock you back down on your ass is all a part of whatever your story looks like. We all have that ability to push through, and it’s okay to not have it at times.”

Keep up with Connis here, listen to Somebody here, and make sure to join us at (or tune in to) his live performance at our Listen Local concert at Starlight Square on Thursday, September 30.

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