Meet Frank Dorrey, the Rapper and Visual Artist Putting a Surreal Twist on Everyday Life

Photo of Frank Dorrey. Image by Chris Panicker.

Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trendsand anything else that catches his attention.

Frank Dorrey is passing out cans of beer—Sapporos, to be exact—like he’s working the aisles of Yankee Stadium. Friends and supporters of his eye-popping artwork and pitch-altered, sample-happy raps under the alias DORIS, drink up and hug him. They’re all here at Whaam!, a gallery in a small shopping center in Chinatown, for the opening ceremony of a monthlong exhibit showcasing a few of his morphed pieces, along with the romantic drawings and paintings of another artist, Brayan Ramales. Unbelievably, Dorrey’s art is done on a smartphone app. His Instagram account, accordingly, is like a virtual gallery of its own.

Intimate and fantastical. (Brother and sister sitting around a pristine yet contorted living room watching George Lopez.) Unsettling and weirdly fucking hilarious. (Pussy eating from the sniper position.) Dorrey’s art features vague but universal chronicles of love and friendship and living life. A standout is his cover art for Noname’s rap clinic Sundial, a zoom in on the face of a Black woman in the stars and stressed the hell out.

Onlookers at the exhibit, including underground New York rap trailblazer MIKE, squeeze into the tiny space, and gaze at every detail, I imagine transfixed by his fantasy world. My favorite is this silly and freaky looking bucked tooth man in a bright College Dropout-era Ye polo shirt with faded out hearts hovering over his head. It feels both familiar and like nothing I’ve seen before. Meanwhile, Dorrey, who is 25, is posted up against the wall, chatting everyone up in a jeans and boot combo fit for Kris Kristofferson in Convoy, a brown Telfar bag on his arm. I ask him his favorite part of the night, and, smiling under his thick mustache, all he can say is: “The beautiful people.”

While Dorrey’s artwork is well known, his SoundCloud page feels like an open secret. As DORIS, he’s uploaded over 100 moody, snippet-sized journeys into his psyche, heavy on pitched-up melodies and self-produced loops and dance beats that sample any and everything: kompa, disco, Southern rap, sadboy rock, whatever is viral on TikTok, and some good ol’ fashioned soul. “I’m really in the weeds, bro, niggas that really listen to music sample,” says Dorrey, a month before his exhibit, in his Flatbush bedroom. “When I was around 20 I found out about Dean Blunt’s sampling and it introduced me to how you could do so much with so little.”

It took me a while to even realize that Frank Dorrey and DORIS were the same person. And, once I knew, it made sense, as both the songs and digital art offer a warped, kaleidoscopic look at the mundanities of everyday life. It’s as if disparate memories are stitched together, the sense of nostalgia heightened by the samples. These scenes often feel surreal yet relatable, like his five-part “Side Nigga” series, a spaced-out rom-com, as melancholy and eerie as it is cute and lustful. “I like storytelling, suspense, shit that is wacky, or whatever I’m going through in my interpersonal relationships,” he says, laughing even when he’s serious. There are times when you won’t be entirely sure what’s going on, but the blurriness gives you the space to fill in the blanks using your own imagination.

Raised in Linden, New Jersey, to a Haitian family, Dorrey was the kind of kid whose notebook was filled with doodles. He tells me of a story he used to draw about a kid, based on himself, who used to go around fighting with a giant pencil. The madcap brightness of his artwork and music was informed by cartoons (Naruto, Fairly Odd Parents) and the radiant colors and patterns his parents wore. (If you come from a Haitian family, like me, you know they love some loud-ass clothes.) The idea to start drawing on his phone came naturally, simply because he was always on it. He started making music in high school, much of the same process; the choice to alter his voice so drastically was simple: “I wanted to be somewhere else with the music and for it to not be so focused on me. It took the seriousness out of it in a way.”

Sitting on his bed, in sweats and Crocs, his locs wrapped in a scarf, Dorrey points out to me items in his room that hold sentimental value. As he describes each one, mostly drawings and figurines from friends, a playlist that weaves between garage, R&B, and mellow hip-hop drifts in the background. Slowly, the room goes dark as the sun sets; now, the only light comes from Dorrey’s lighter when he decides to smoke. I thought it was a little odd, but just chalked it up to an artist being an artist. Suddenly, he notices, too. “Oh, shit, I was being mad ominous” he says, through a belly laugh so hard and loud that he rolls over on his back. “I gotta chill; what the hell was I doing?” Always lost in his own world.

Throwback rapper movie corner: Ice Cube in 2004’s Torque

What if I told you there was a mid-2000s ode to post-9/11 America and Mountain Dew where Ice Cube is the leader of a South Central biker gang and that revolves around a set piece where he gets into a motorcycle fight on top of a bullet-fast moving train? If you’re a kindred spirit of mine, your only response would be, “Fire that shit up!” Well, you’re in luck, because it does exist as music video director Joseph Kahn’s adrenaline-fueled and deranged Torque, a ripoff or send-up of Fast & Furious, depending on who you ask. The movie, full of all the shit we love in this column—themes of brotherhood, Fredro Starr acting turns—centers on the somewhat generic Martin Henderson as a drifter who returns to town to clear his name from a crystal meth frame job. (Adam Scott is the sketchy FBI agent trying to track him down.) That’s what we call timeless storytelling: It kind of plays like a Western on bikes instead of horses. So, yes, we get tons of team-ups (Christina Millian is here!), showdowns (somehow, motorcycles are used more like swords), and life lessons that belong under a Snapple cap, and Cube’s gang is caught in the middle of all of it. If none of that appeals to you, then I’ll ruin a great moment for you: At one point, the crew rides off into the desert while Nickelback’s “Someday” blasts way too fucking loudly.

Lonni Monae: “Tighten Up Freestyle”

If it were my job to book the next several months of Lonni Monae’s rap life, I would send her to trade barbs and puns with the foul-mouthed jokesters running wild on Flint’s posse cut circuit. (Side note: Have you heard KrispyLife Kidd’s verse on “Kentucky Love” yet? He snapped.) Nearly every bit of oxygen Lonni uses on “Tighten Up Freestyle” is intended to not just disrespect whoever is getting on her nerves, but to completely kill their spirit. She takes an ax to relationships for fun. At one point the Milwaukee upstart goes, “He fuckin’ got you pregnant but he never fuckin’ checked on it.” Mean. And after all that, she lays down some twerk commands. She’s dancing on their graves.

Bossman Dlow: “Kreepin Through the Streetz Freestyle”

The other day I joked to my friend from Jacksonville that so many Florida rappers feel like ex-college football players who only started rapping because they got kicked off the team. One of the rappers on my mind was Port Salerno’s Bossman Dlow, who has a flow so rollicking and raw that I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent some time in the trenches with the lineman. On his “Kreepin Through the Streetz Freestyle,” which is really just a live performance of his new single “Get in With Me,” he starts off hot: “I was bad in fuckin’ school/Now I’m tryna dodge a sentence.” The pummeling Michigan-style beat adds some extra punch to all his talk of reckless driving and getting into the club for free. They need to play this in the FAMU locker room next.

Kim Gordon: “Bye Bye”

Throw “Bye Bye” on a Destroy Lonely mixtape and nobody would flinch. Opium Kim G talk-sings her way through a blown-out bass and what sounds like a repurposed car alarm—a beat that, if you were to listen to it three times in a row, would magically teleport you to the checkout line at the Rick store. Really though, it’s not that far from the songs on her 2019 album No Home Record, like the distorted “Sketch Artist” or “Paprika Pony,” which sounds like a Marcusbasquiat-era Lucki SoundCloud loosie. Here, the lyrics seem to be just a checklist of things to do and items to pack before either going on vacation or going on the run. I’m not even sure if it’s actually good or if she’s just cool. But that’s the Opium way.

Lazer Dim 700: “sabatahj”

Pretty much every time I hear a new rapper from Atlanta, all I can think is they are absolutely losing their minds in Atlanta. It’s music for the end of days, the kind of songs that make you want to repent, which, in other words, is to say that it’s the perfect soundtrack for our madly corporatized present and future. Lazer Dim 700’s “sabatahj” stirs up similar feelings. The anarchic ATL up-and-comer slips into this staggering, punched-in flow where almost every line is stepping on the one that comes before it—the vibes are a doomsday-ready blend of Kasher Quon meets Goonew meets Young Nudy. Producer onetwofive’s uncontrollably honking 808s only makes it all that much more chaotic—it sounds like the evacuation alarm of a nuclear power plant. The music video nails down the vibe: He wanders around empty graffiti-covered tunnels and skateparks like he (and a few skaters) are the only people left on Earth.

Originally Appeared on Pitchfork