What I Do is Alive

Art, motion, and the secret to a perfect bacon egg & cheese.

🌎GLORIA! MY GLORIA!🌎

PHOTOS: Nick Drain

JOSIAH

Two winters ago, when I was a 22 year-old semi-obsessed, like other 22 year-olds, with New York’s young creative class, the fledgling 917 spinoff Limosine released their first video, “Paymaster.” Midway through, Genesis Evans, a cult legend and harbinger of the current homie wave in skating, rode to a track that reached out of the television speakers, seized my head, and shook it mercilessly, bouncing my brain against the walls of my skull—shit was that crazy. The skating was the main focus, but the unknown identity of the track took on a life of its own. There was a sullen, raspy voice, and it seemed to be speaking directly to me: “I know you gon play this song over, so you gotta turn the volume down lower.” After a frenzied barrage of texts to my friend about the video, and how the song Genny used was so fucked, my homie sent me a proper link to the track, which was called “Usher.” Here I am, two years later, far deeper down the Frank Dorrey rabbit hole, still being reminded to turn my volume down lower.

“Because I’m being so open, people are willing to be open with me. I think that’s a blessing.”

A year after I learned about Frank’s music, I was working a long-term gig in Kauai, slowly losing my mind in paradise. Many a night was spent after work, fried off Moloka’i Duke from the uncles, internalizing the autotuned quips Dorrey coughed into his cheap-sounding microphone. The days were long, and the words of songs like “Straight Face” were a balm that had me careening and swooping in my room, like a praise-breaking parishioner back home in my southern Baptist church, while my boss snoozed in his room across the narrow hall. I started calling the music of acts like Frank and MIKE, who are each signed to the NYC collective 10k, Black Man Healing Music™ and Gospel for Young Niggas™. The things I felt when I listened to Frank’s music were so strong, and resonated so much with what I was dealing with—this sense of being trapped and in the wrong place in life—that I couldn’t help but turn to it when I was feeling any kind of way. In my early-20s pursuit of all things that could alienate me even more from the tastes of the general population, I delved deeper into Dorrey’s catalog on SoundCloud. With only a fraction of his output in my “liked songs” playlist, I already have more tracks of his favorited than I do for most artists, spare the likes of Uzi and Carti, and I’ve been aware of Dorrey for considerably less time. 

It’s hard to pinpoint what came first, but around the same time I heard “Usher,” I became aware of Frank’s paintings as well. I didn’t know that the paintings and the music were coming from the same mind, then. What I did know, though, was that the paintings felt eerily familiar. Something that I gathered from his art, like his music, was an appreciation for the day to day, something I’ve long championed. In a world where celebrity seems to be what everyone is striving for, it’s refreshing to instead look for the beauty in everyday interactions. In his paintings, I saw scenes that looked like they could have been from the family photo albums I parsed as a kid, dusty documents of faces of people that I didn’t know, yet were inextricably connected to me, because they appeared in this book with so much of my own history in it. 

Five months after “Paymaster” first introduced me to “Usher,” I wrote a series of questions, in hopes of someday being able to interview Frank. I sent the first attempt in 2022, and got left on seen—but the fact that he read the message gave me some hope. A year later, I swiped up on one of his stories, asking for a song of his that he’d posted. He sent me the song, and a day later, emboldened by his replying to me this time, I tried my luck again, but to no avail. As I was working on figuring out how exactly I would get off Hawaii and return to the mainland, I got word that Frank was down to do the interview. I remember being in the office trailer at the job site and yelling “LETSSSS GOOOOOO” when I got the confirmation. The initial conversation, nearly two and a half years in the making, took place over Zoom on a cold December day, as 2023 waned into 2024. Talking with Frank felt as though I were speaking to one of my close friends—he congratulated me on the new apartment, and I showed him the beginnings of our sparsely furnished apartment through the computer camera. We both were situated in our respective bedrooms, both of us smoking, both of us receiving calls from our mothers. I had to remind myself that despite how recognizable this all felt, I didn’t actually know the person on my screen. 

“The art is for that [communication],” he said. “Being real and straight up. That’s what I want to be, 100 percent of the time.”

This sense of homeliness was something he’d been developing over time.  During our conversation, he talked about how after graduating high school, he felt lost and uninterested in going to college. What he did want to do was share his art with the world, connect with others, and communicate through and with his work. “The art is for that [communication],” he said. “Being real and straight up. That’s what I want to be, 100 percent of the time. Art is a different way of expressing your being, who you are. What I love about the visual stuff is not having to over-explain.” He told the story of how a fellow Haitian related deeply to a painting of his, one that depicts kids sitting on the ground watching television late at night while their mother arrives home from work. “A lot of people will tell me what they feel about it or what they’re thinking, and that’s something I love so much, because more often than not, I understand what they’re saying. Because I’m being so open, people are willing to be open with me. I think that’s a blessing.”  

Art has always been a constant in Dorrey’s life. He drew all the time growing up, and when he wasn’t doing that, he was surrounded by music. Like most people nowadays, as a teen, he was on the phone “so much,” but instead of a TikTok addiction and fluency in Gen-Alpha speak, it translated into him developing a unique style of collage painting, the origin of which he credits to Snapchat’s “edit” feature. Early on, he’d concoct crazy images and make fit pic edits to send to his friends. Those Snapchat edits took Frank from the world of on-paper illustration to the digital workspace, a universe where he still creates his works on an iPhone, much like he did in high school, using his fingertips to warp images and add texture on Picsart, as if finger painting on his phone screen. When creating his digital pieces, he pushes for a sense of tactility, noting that there’s a “level of touching” that he just loves about art. His unmistakable style has graced the cover arts of his friends’ music, as well as making appearances on singles and albums by the likes of Amine, Steve Lacy, and Noname. He spoke about working with larger acts, saying that finding compromise and understanding of what reason he was there for led to the commissioned art coming out in good spirits. He only creates when it feels right.

Looping back to skateboarding in our conversation, I asked him about the run of decks he did with Violet skateboards, the brainchild of Bill Strobeck, featuring an upstart new age of Supreme riders. Answering the same way he did about Genny’s “Paymaster” part, Dorrey said that he wasn’t in the know about anything skateboarding related. “Niggas hit me up and I was like, this is mad love. How could I say no?” The boards featured four archival works of Dorrey’s, and when I asked him whether he had set up one of the boards from the Violet collab, he said he was still tryna get some wheels for it. Although he claims to be out of the loop when it comes to skateboarding, he’s arguably got some skin in the game, since he’s had the type of injury that triggers the fear of skate-moms across the world. During his senior year of high school, he copped a Spiderman skateboard from the thrift store, naturally. He set out for his friend’s house while it was snowing. A more seasoned skater may have had a premonition of what would come next, particularly when you pair a cheap facsimile of a skateboard—not meant to have any function beyond existing—with less-than-ideal weather conditions. One moment he was upright; the next, he was lying motionless on the cold ground with a torn MCL as snowflakes floated past his grimacing face, laughing at him. Fortunately, someone from his high school rode by and scooped him up. 

The skate community is scooping him up now, too. He says that he’s pretty surprised by the response skaters have had to his music, seeing that they’ve used it in their films, and having Violet reach out to him for the boards. No doubt, much of that skater support came from the exact same moment I became a fan. With “Paymaster” now sitting at 305k views on YouTube, I can imagine some at least 100k skaters are now familiar with Dorrey’s nebulous output. One night in March at Montez Press Radio, which conveniently happens to be located above Labor Skateshop, Dorrey was an opener for Stemlines’ album release party. The intimate venue was full of 20-something Brooklynites, with a mix of skaters that I recognized from the past four years of devouring any and all skate footage hailing from the city. Due to an extended mid-set smoke break, I re-entered the venue a bit after he’d started. What I faced was disheartening: a crowd spanning from wall to wall in front of me. 

That didn’t stop me from parting my own Red Sea, albeit much less divinely and graciously than Moses. After a few dozen “scuuuse me, my fault”s, I was second to the front row, which definitely wasn’t good enough. I’d been waiting two years: I had to be at the very front. I expressed these sentiments to the two girls in front of me, and they let me aside, surely wondering what the hell was going on with my ass. It aint take long, though, for them to see why I said what I said. See, cuz like I said earlier, a nigga was really listening to Dorrey’s shit like that. I was fr at the crib blastin ts on infinity in my headphones screamin internally. For the parts that I knew in the songs, I was screamin them shits in the function, not givin a fuck. Dorrey would pause, shakin his head dying of laughter. I’m not sure whether he expected people to know his lyrics or not, but I guarantee he aint expect that.

“Art is everywhere, whether I’m on social media or not. As an artist, what I do is alive. It’s here. Wherever I share it, the audience is anybody.”

Much like his art, high school was a launchpad for his trajectory in music. Being surrounded by musical friends—the same ones he’d send his Snapchat edits early on—inspired him to start exploring GarageBand. He got really into it, then started rapping and singing, and once he found out about autotune, it turned that shit up. He said that he settled upon his sound based on a balance of all that he’s interested in, and went on to mention that autotune allowed for a separation between him and the art, a removal of self from product. It helped with not overthinking, giving him a greater sense of freedom—something that harks back to a pre-social media way of standing behind the art. He’d been messing with autotune for a while, and around the age of 19 or 20, he made a song called “Angry.” He says that the feeling he had when he made that song stuck with him, and remains a reference when he’s creating. True to himself, he says that there are still unknown sounds with autotune that he’s willing to go and search for.

Conversation flowed on, and I asked him about anything he’s working on or trying to get better at. At first he gave an answer typical of 20-somethings—that he’s trying to read more, take better care of his health, his voice trailing off, growing fainter with each word, the way we tend to do when asked questions like that. But then he perked up, like he’d just remembered something. He said he’d been working on getting better at cooking. He recalled how he had just made the perfect bacon egg and cheese, relishing in how proud it made him feel to achieve that heavenly BEC. When I asked him what made it so divine, the answer was disarming: “Simplicity bro. Takin it easy. Like Forrrreeeaallllll.” 

“Season salt, pepper. You put that shit in after you cook the egg and then you put it on the toast and you got the bacon and allat. It just hit for some reason.” 

How many slices of bacon?

“Three.”

That’s the magic number.

“That’s the magic number.”

He said it took him 25 years to perfect the sandwich, 25 years to perfect something so simple. That same mindset spills over into everything Frank does. Everything he touches is an extension of himself, and since he’s constantly growing and learning, so is everything he’s involved in. Tomorrow may yield an even better bacon egg and cheese. He also mentioned that he wanted to get into “the medium of motion.” An avid movie watcher, he says that he wants to combine as much as he can from what he’s learned over the years. “I love movies too much. I have something to say in that world, I feel like… and I just wanna say something.” This desire is one he admits is ambiguous and hard to clearly define. But it’s very clear in his head. He says that it “has to happen.” Since our talk, he has created a YouTube channel, Janine Records, where he’s been posting music videos for his songs. The videos—which range from slice-of-life dumps to meme-adjacent splice-edits—are a lot like his music and art, in that they can be categorized as collages, fleeting glimpses into the world of DorisandFrankandEdward.

Following the theme of familiarity, Frank’s social media presence is more like one of your homies who is on Instagram casually posting whatever he pleases on his stories, compared to the overly scheduled and sanitized “content” factory of users who have his standing.That common-man internet presence is part of Dorrey’s appeal to me. He says that his relationship with social platforms is a long one, and that at one point, he was definitely more concerned with getting his name out and being “somebody,” but those feelings faded as his goals and priorities shifted. He went on to say that “art is everywhere, whether I’m on social media or not. As an artist, what I do is alive. It’s here. Wherever I share it, the audience is anybody.” Keeping that in mind helps, he says, but ultimately, he’s on social media “being whatever,” and “just trying to make [his] friends laugh.” “I have a hard time talking bro, just speaking in general,” he mentioned, at another point. “I don’t wanna feel overwhelmed by social media, so I just try to take it easy.” Taking it easy: definitely a principle I can get behind.

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