Don Cannon is a legend in his own right, and he’s come a long way from DJing at the young age of 5 years old. With his Instagram bio reading “your favorite producer,” the Philadelphia native is responsible for some of Lil Uzi Vert’s greatest hits, from “Money Longer” to “The Way Life Goes,” and even Rocko’s timeless smash “U.E.O.N.O.”
When he’s not producing and making beats, Don is playing the music executive role: primarily the co-founder of Atlantic Records’ Our Generation Now alongside long-time friend and collaborator DJ Drama. He also previously served as Vice President of A&R at Def Jam Recordings.
But now, he’s excited as ever to be stepping into his newest venture: the TmrO app. With his partner Kayla Shelton, this new app serves as a digital marketplace connecting the most creative minds from all over the world, specifically tapping into the music, film, and content creation industries. The location-based service allows businesses and creatives to connect with each other nearby.
Coming from true humble beginnings, which includes not even having food to eat, Don is here to pay it forward. AllHipHop caught up with Don via Instagram Live, who was interacting with the fans and playing them exclusives before tapping in with us. Read below as we discuss his come up in Philly, fond memories with DJ Drama, the mixtape days, discovering Lil Uzi Vert, why the TmrO app is a gamechanger, and more!
AllHipHop: Bring us back to when you were DJing at age 5, that’s wild.
Don Cannon: I did my first gig when I was 6, it was a wedding for my cousin. I was up there playing, I only had one record. 8 or 9 years old, I was rapping and making beats, but I was making these things called Pause Tapes. Back then, I had a karaoke machine so I’d sample stuff. I’d take a little piece of a sample, record it onto the next thing, pause it, go back and keep doing it until I had 3 minutes worth of loops, then I’d go back and rap on it through the karaoke machine.
Don Cannon:I moved on to getting my own professional DJ setup when I was 12 years old: Technics and a Gemini mixer. By the time I got to high school, I was already making mixtapes for the kids to listen to. My DJ name then was The Last Don. [laughs] I don’t know where that came from, probably some mafia movie. I carried that all the way until I got to college.
AllHipHop: What are your fondest memories from the mixtape days?
Don Cannon:One of them is Drama’s crib. DJ Drama had a house on 532 Glen Iris Drive, which is in the 4th Ward. I remember going there for the first time and making beats, having so many people want to come by the crib. Tip came through the crib to rap, David Banner, Lil Scrappy, Lil Jon. Any and everybody you can think of was at the house. It was a duplex, so he had the other side of the duplex. He had a lot of people come through. He had Monica come through, 2 Chainz when he was T#### Boi early, a lot of people. Sean Garrett’s a great writer, he’s coming by the crib as well. Those are my fondest memories because once I got my chops up and my money up, I’d dropped out of school on some Kanye West.
AllHipHop: Did you?
Don Cannon:Yeah, and Drama took me in. He said “yo, you can stay here until you get your s### together.” I wind up getting my own apartment, then we shifted a lot of the talent over to my apartment. I was living in this apartment complex, nobody had any idea that everybody from Raekwon to Freeway to Remy Ma to so many people came through there rapping. Nobody ever knew, Young Jeezy came through there. Nobody knew that apartment ever existed. I know now everybody’s like, “damn, I used to live next door! I ain’t know all that was going on.” We used to sneak people in, the most memorable times of where we started.
AllHipHop: I saw you post you and DJ Drama have been through a lot together. I saw your post, y’all were locked up too. What happened?
Don Cannon:There was a little misunderstanding of what we did to the mixtape game. The IRAA is really the protection for labels and artists to make sure the copyrights stay intact, it protects the companies. When we’re doing mixtapes, they had no idea we were working with the artist. For the most part, they thought we’re taking albums and switching the covers. Bootlegging an album with a different cover.
AllHipHop: What the hell! That’s wild.
Don Cannon:It’s crazy because a young intern that worked at IRAA was a big fan of us. He wound up explaining to them what we really did. Once they took a listen, it seemed like a lot of the artists like John Legend to CeeLo Green when they’re doing Gnarls Barkley… when Gnarls Barkley first started, the first thing they put out was a mixtape with us. When they first got their deal with Downtown Records, they came to us to do a mixtape and we put the music out. It was a fun time. We got locked up behind it for us for a little while until they got an understanding. Once that came in, we got out of the case. It was a rough time but we stand tall, we got right back to the grind.
AllHipHop: Bring us back to when you guys came up with Our Generation Now? Did you think you’d build this into one of the most lucrative hip hop labels?
Don Cannon:For all the work that we put in, we always knew we’d turn into something. We never told the real story. What really happened was when Drama was doing Gangster Grillz, we had some other mixtapes on the side too. That wasn’t the only mixtape we’re doing. I had something called 28 Grams. He had an R&B series, I had an R&B series, then we had Gangster Grillz. We were trying to come up with something that could break artists, without it having to be under the Gangster Grillz brand.
At that time, Kanye was beating down doors trying to be the next rapper. Everybody loved him for his beats, but would never really give him a chance on rapping. He could rap really good. Him, Joe Budden, Cory Gunz, Stat Quo, these are all names that don’t fit the Gangster Grillz brand because the Gangster Grillz brand really started with Southern artists. What do we want to call this brand for breaking artists outside of Gangster Grillz? We wound up coming like “what’s going on? It’s the generation. It’s the new generation, generation now.” We only did 3 pieces, Killa Mike was in Generation Now under the Gangster Grillz brand.
Don Cannon:Yeah. Gangster Grillz wind up taking off so we put all steam ahead, kept moving on that. Years later, people don’t know this neither, we had a DJ crew called Affiliates with me, him, and Trendsetter. We had our first label deal with Asylum Records in 2006. We had a situation there. As we moved forward, we took another stab at it. I was telling the story on The Breakfast Club, I had an artist named Jimme Wallstreet that my guy from Philly, Ace McCloud, one of my closest friends brought me. He changed my perspective on what I was looking for.
At first, I wanted a super duper rap rapper. It was hard to find. When Jimme Wallstreet came, he had Biggie swag. He wasn’t Biggie, but he had that finesse. It was different from Philly because everybody in Philly was battle rapping and going hard. Some years after, he wound up passing. I took some time off to keep my eyes on talent. It opened up my eyes to see somebody like Lil Uzi Vert, which was so different from Philadelphia. That’s history made from there.
AllHipHop: What did you see in Uzi in the beginning? I remember the “Carnage” record going crazy.
Don Cannon:The conviction. When his team first played me some of the records, I thought “man, dude is nice.” I imagine a rapping person that could really have stage presence like Waka Flocka. He was a performer. I said “yo, dude can rap. He’s from Philly and can perform. This is a no-brainer. I already see this vision.” When I first met, he was down in this basement studio up in Philly being nonchalant. I listen to some jams, I was liking all of the joints. A couple of weeks later, he’d hit my phone and said “yo what we doing?” Oh s###, kid’s is dope.
I went back to Philly and met him on South Street, he came with his cousin. We’re walking down South Street in Philadelphia, one of the most famous streets for shopping, eating, taking a stroll. It’s a dope street. We’re walking and talking, going to sneaker stores, people said “oh s###, that’s the boy Uzi!” Oh, he’s got a following in Philly? I gotta f### with the kid. I wind up saying, “oh okay, I’m going to take it back to the team.” At that time, we weren’t even thinking about making another label. I told Dram we should start this whole situation again. We wind up making history from there.
AllHipHop: Bring to when you made “Money Longer.” What was the vibe in the studio?
Don Cannon:When we first started making music, our first 50 songs had no thought process. Nothing to it. We’re gelling, getting sounds together, getting his voice together, getting my newfound trap beats from the history of what I was doing. I was doing a lot of classic hip hop records, and it was a sound that matched. When you find an artist, a lot of times they don’t match when you meet. It’s okay, you can still work with each other, but sometimes it’s not a gel.
Once we knew we had a gel, there were some things I started focusing on. I seen that EDM was making so much noise at the time. It was about beats, but I seen a transition early of EDM starting to pick up on artists. The DJs get popular and going to get artists and putting them on the beats. Bet, we taking it back to rap. Okay, how do I make a song or beat that’s a transition from EDM back to rap?” The “Money Longer” horns provided by Maaly Raw, they’re similar to the EDM sounds coming out. I had to bring back the hip-hop sounds without all the extra drops that EDM had. When I had that sound, I said, “oh we might’ve did something with this.”
Because he had already did the “Carnage” record, a few other records. This one was the lifeline to segue him into the hip-hop world. That’s where he’ll start making money: “oh, my money getting longer!” Wee put it out on SoundCloud one crazy night.”Yo, let’s put it out and see what it’s going to do.” My thoughts on it is it’s going to go. It had 99K downloads in 2 or 3 minutes, it was crazy.
AllHipHop: Do your expectations get higher as the success gets higher?
Don Cannon:My expectation for all artists gets higher. If it didn’t I wouldn’t have a vision or believe in nobody. I’m looking at that from all our artists. Uzi hasn’t even reached his peak. Our artists haven’t even reached the max potential they can get to before they go into their prime years. 2 albums in, you can’t really tell if a person’s#### his prime yet. It’s too early. Some people go classic first album, second album, then critically acclaimed. Critically acclaimed makes you that super duper star. Seeing a potential where it could be. A lot of this stuff is amazing, we just sit back and watch.
AllHipHop: Can you touch on Jack Harlow’s success and the rise of “What’s Poppin?”
Don Cannon:Same influence with Jack: a young talented dude that came to us. He had some records. When he came and met with us, he was totally professional. We sat in our office. We had a little room, he brought his producer Juan with him. We sat in there, chopped it up. We talked about favorite movies, favorite stances, anything that we loved musically. He told us a vision he had, we told him the vision we had. I’m not a great salesman. Anything that I’m doing, all I can give you is the real. If you follow, that’s cool. If you love what we’re doing, that’s cool. But I can’t sell you on why we’re the best fit for anything.
That goes for the app I’m doing, that goes for any artist I’m doing, or even if I’m starting a show. I can’t sell you on that. We’re not fake. He felt the vibes. We’ve got a condition going with us. The same thing, we gelled and from there he worked his ass off to get to where he is now, I can’t do nothing but respect that. I love artists that work the ass off and get there, and he did. I can’t say one thing he missed. When we find these artists, we always say, “yo, promise us you gon’ give us your all because we gon’ give you our all.” It happened, here he is.
AllHipHop: Let’s get into the app, tell us about TmrO.
Don Cannon:The TmrO app is an on-demand gig app, it’s great for any creative that wants to find gigs and be a part of that gig community. We have clients, we have creatives in there. You could be any type of creative. You could be a drummer, a hairstylist, an artist, a voiceover. I’m in the app as a voiceover. I do cartoons and commercials for the radio, so I got myself set up. Graphic design, videographer, on-set help, even down to an intern. This allows you to be in there and find things all in one app instead of having to search.
I see people on IG so many times say “hey I’m in Atlanta, I need a barber. I need a guitarist.” I always wanted to eliminate that. Even when we were starting Generation Now, it was more than artists at first. It was more where a we’re breeding the next entertainment lawyer? Where we’re breeding the next marketing person? This is a very important app for us to make for the world. Especially me growing up, knowing how hard it is to stay in your field. A lot of people love to create, then have to work a side job. Kayla’s friend was on set and when there was some downtime, she had to do Door Dash. Door Dash was good because it helped her live and eat, but she’s always trying to find out a good way to stay in her field. For the creatives, we’re trying to keep people in one field. If you’re a photographer, you don’t have to go make donuts at night. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s what this is all about. It’s giving people an opportunity to stay there.
AllHipHop: What’s the reality of coming out with your own app?
Don Cannon:I’ve always been in the tech. When I was little, I’d always take computers apart, put them back together. Create coding for little video games, was always that person ahead of the game with technology. It could be any gadget. 10 years ago, I had my own app for myself, but it was a selfish app. It was me and supported my brand. It told you where I was performing next. I had a platform called Studio Rats which was in there, it was videos of me in the studio. If you weren’t a fan of me at that time, that app wouldn’t necessarily be for you. It was all about me.
Moving forward now, I want to create a solution for people. There’s problems here, what’re the solutions? This is a solution based app because it gives creatives their chance to be in a space where they can make money and interact with different people, meet new clients without having to go to classifieds and sell people on a whole script of why they’re the best graphic artist. Their portfolios in there, you can look at it. You can talk to them, they’re real people. It’s not a bunch of bots. [laughs] It’s really important for us to do this.
AllHipHop: I saw you raised over $20K dollars in less than two hours? How did that happen?
Don Cannon:We’re doing a crowdfunding campaign. Ihe crowdfunding campaign is very important because it’s allowing not only the creatives and clients to work inside the app, it’s gathering a whole community of people out there in their world that can invest in an app. Since the job acts Obama put into place, we weren’t able as the community to invest in the Ubers, Airbnb, all these things. To be an accredited investor, you had to make a certain amount of money. Now with the Jobs Act, it’s allowing you to be able to invest in small startups, small companies at any point.
We wanted to go to crowdfunding way so we can invite people like that. It could be my little cousin that saved up $250 sweeping floors, and wanted to invest in a startup that could turn into a billion dollar baby. When we put it out there, people started to see “oh, I can get $6 per share for $246 dollars minimum.” That’s nothing. That’s a pair of sneakers. That’s 2 months’ worth of pizzas, 2 concerts, whatever it is. It’s giving you some longevity with your finances, that’s all we wanted to bring. You know, a lot of people don’t get this life. Investments is everything now. You see people getting Bitcoin,t Doge coins, the new life in NFTs. We wanted to give people a chance. That first hour that we put out, people jumped on it. This crowdfunding thing for anybody is a slow grind, you gotta go out there and campaign. I want to educate and tell people you can invest and make some money later with a great startup company, and that’s TmrO. It’s for creatives, made by creatives.
AllHipHop: How do they sign up if they want to?
Don Cannon:Go to App Store in Apple. One thing I want to make clear, we didn’t do a crowdfunding campaign to make the app. The app’s already up and running, been out since November 2020. We have a thousand users in the app. People are working on both sides. Download it, it’s very easy. You set up a profile, you go on there and look around. If people want to invest, you can go to startengine.com/trmo-app. It’s $246. That’s not really a lot of money, but you can hold some stakes on owners and equity in a real startup.
We’re coming out with an Android version soon, I know a lot of people have Androids. We have so many new features, like Instant Book which allows you to book a gig. Say me and you were doing a gig and you cancel, I have to find somebody within less than an hour. It’s set up like Uber where I could go in there and find somebody really quickly, they could be on the job in about an hour. That’s very important. A lot of things we’re implementing in there, Instant talk. At first, we weren’t able to send links and pictures through the text on a portfolio. Now you’ll be able to send pictures and links through the text, talk to the person, get a feel for who they are before you hire them. That’s where we’re going with it.
AllHipHop: How are you balancing the app, the music, running a label, and your personal life?
Don Cannon:It’s a lot. It’s a 24-hour thing, especially with the education of it. The thing that I learned the most over the years is having a team. Sometimes people go into business and be the sole owner of everything, I’m glad that I have great partners on the label side. Got Drama, I got Lake. I got some good understudies like Willie Joe, who I call P. Diddy Jr. You got Royce Monroe, a lot of guys that help support the team and help everything move smoothly. On the TmrO side, we got people like Kayla, the CEO and the greatest person doing anything close to an app. You balance it out by you gotta have a super duper great team. Everybody wants to go into business by yourself but I’m here to tell you, get you some partners man. It’s the decade of the partnership. Get some people that know what they’re doing.