“He falls into the lane of melodic street rap that acts like YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Lil Durk, Teejay3k, and others are making, but his high-pitched vocals and limitless subject matter set him apart.” – Earmilk
Taleban Dooda is an 18-year old rapper from East Tampa, FL, with the vivid lyrics of Kodak Black and the smooth tone of Jeremih. Dooda got his start singing at 15 and rapping at 16, making melody the foundation of his sound. In addition to several releases with frequent collaborator Rees Money, his debut solo release was this year’s “Tru Colors” and the song has amassed over 2 million streams.
Taleban Dooda always had a voice — he just wasn’t always sure how to use it. “I always knew how to sing but my sister and them used to tell me to shut up,” says the 18-year-old rapper. “I used to be scared to sing in front of people.” That all changed in middle school when, after overhearing him singing in the hallway, a classmate urged Dooda to get up and perform in front of the class. Since then, Dooda’s voice, a combination of distinctly Floridian style and irresistibly catchy melody, has made him one of the most exciting new rap voices coming out of the South.
Hailing from East Tampa, Dooda had few options to avoid the violence that lurked outside his door. “That shit gutter,” he says of his hometown. “As a jit growing up, I played football, but when that don’t go as planned, you fall to the streets.” Dooda grew up in a musical family: his mother and sister sang, while his brother and father both sang and rapped. When he injured his knee in his 9th grade year, ending his football dreams, Dooda turned his attention to music. He began by recording himself covering other people’s songs — inspired by his love for artists like Bruno Mars, John Legend, and Sam Smith — before moving on to his own original compositions. In some of the earliest videos on Dooda’s YouTube channel, the rapper can be seen at his high school, backpack on, singing for the camera while people eagerly gather around him. As he kept dropping snippets on social media consistently, the videos began to spread and pretty soon, his name was ringing off at every high school in Tampa.
As his local reputation grew, Dooda began going to studios in the city to lay his musical ideas down more formally, recording with his close friend and frequent collaborator Rees Money. One of their early songs, “Friends & Lovers,” a heartfelt rap ballad about ups and downs in relationships, quickly became a breakout hit, amassing over 2 million streams since its release last year. After collaborating on multiple releases, Dooda released his debut solo single, “Tru Colors” at the beginning of 2020. With Dooda’s masterful tenor melodies leading the way over an emotive beat, the song immediately made an impact and has also racked up over 2 million streams. His rise caught the attention of multiple labels, and Dooda signed a deal with Rostrum Records in September. “I wanted to go somewhere where I was the priority,” Dooda says, “and they made me a priority.”
Coming from the east side of Tampa, a city largely ignored in the rap conversation nationally, this success once seemed impossible to Dooda. But the 18-year-old has also had to deal with the long-lasting effects of the dangerous environment where he grew up: two of Dooda’s closest friends were gunned down in front of him over the past year and he was arrested on a gun charge in Tampa while still a minor. All of this has given him even more motivation to continue to grow beyond the borders of his city, while still embodying both the pain and triumph of making it out. “I feel like if you stay in Tampa too long you gon’ be stuck there,” he says. “When you have your time to get up outta there, get up outta there.”
For Dooda, 2020 was all about consistency, as he continued to drop a steady stream of strong singles throughout the year. In September, he released “Dis Dooda” — which VICE named one of the best songs of the month and Lyrical Lemonade highlighted on their site — and followed that up in November with the TM88 and ATL Jacob-produced “Finish Him.” Now, Dooda has his eyes set on the upcoming release of his debut album. With all this momentum, and all of Florida behind him, he doesn’t plan to slow down any time soon. “I’m just trying to keep dropping music,” he says. “I ain’t trying to take no breaks.”
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