“I’m kind of soft-spoken,” Katana Da Don told me as I flipped on a tape recorder in a Northeast Minneapolis restaurant. In terms of volume, she was right — silverware and nearby chatter sometimes overwhelmed her voice. But in terms of power, the descriptor is totally wrong.
Katana Da Don is a local rapper, and her new album, Kut Throat, showcases her strengths. It’s packed with beats she made herself — “I like ‘em to bang,” she said with a smile—and it goes hard from track one, interrogating beauty standards, materialism, and the state of the music industry.
Along the way, she samples all sorts of media, such as Kanye West sound bites, The Twilight Zone, and Nirvana’s “Lithium.” The latter feels like the key to her heart; on “Soul Brotha,” she raps, “Kurt Cobain/ That’s my soul brotha/ I can understand your pain like no other.”
Like Cobain, Da Don has dealt with a lot. Living in Minnesota (from ages 9-20 and 30-present) and California, she’s faced both depression and discrimination. Not long ago, her label caved on her. “After that,” she said, “I went to Carnage [the Executioner, a local hip-hop legend]. Like, ‘I got this material, I got a direction’ […] And he gave me a platform.” Since then, she’s released her record, published a poetry collection, and teamed up with Paul von Stoetzel of Killing Joke Films, who’s directed three of her music videos.
Now, she’s coming off a Kut Throat release show at the Nomad, which she played with none other than legendary MC Rah Digga. When Da Don and I talked, she was just about to pick up Digga from the airport, and she could hardly wait. Laughing, she said, “I’mma try not to start spitting rhymes to her.”
Da Don likes freestyling, but musically, she said, “I can’t just improv. Like jazz musicians? No way.” She does love the drums and other instruments; making beats is an important part of her work. And as a woman producer, she insists on receiving credit: “This really was me in a room with a computer and a keyboard. That’s where it started. It’s not some guy. Even down to the mix and master, I’m there. I’m a part of it, and I have influence on everything.”
Da Don used to be “quiet and shy,” she said, “but now, I’m grown.” Her maturity shows up on Kut Throat; “I didn’t realize how personal I was getting in my music,” she said, “until it was done.” But that is the point: “I want you to know me. I want you to feel what I’m feeling.” It’s certainly not about the money—”This shirt was three dollars,” she said, pointing to her camouflage tee and shaking her head. “I’m just not into it.”
Now, Kut Throat is out there for the world to hear. “It’s been a hustle,” she said, “from the beginning until now.” As she celebrates her album release and all the growth to come, she’s both excited and exhausted. As she put it, that’s “a beautiful feeling.”