Dvsn Say They Aren't Being Toxic. They're Just Being Honest.

·16 min read
Image via Nate Shuls
Image via Nate Shuls

Dvsn have got some explaining to do.

After dropping their polarizing new single “If I Get Caught” last month, the OVO Sound duo found themselves in the Internet’s doghouse, with many on social media decrying the song as “toxic” and calling for a return to “romantic R&B.”

For the uninitiated, the track, which features a sample of Jay-Z’s 2001 hit “Song Cry, explores infidelity, making the case that one sexual slipup is no reason to end a good relationship. “If I get caught cheating, that don’t mean I don’t love you,” goes the chorus, belted by an all-male choir. Even Hov himself called the song “toxic,” writing, “I just want a disclaimer that says that I said this song is wrong! Haaaaa,” in a text to Jermaine Dupri, who co-produced the number and helped clear the sample.

But Dvsn insist people have got them all twisted. Singer Daniel Daley and producer Paul “Nineteen85” Jefferies say the track is just the first part of a much longer tale that will unfold on their forthcoming album. “The part of the story where you have remorse and accountability, it just hasn’t happened yet,” assures Daley.

Still, the Toronto duo are quick to point out that for a song so many are condemning as problematic, it sure is getting a lot of spins. “If I Get Caught” became the No. 1 most added song on U.S. urban radio last week. They just released a stripped-back rendition of the track—along with a steamy cover of Justin Bieber’s 2013 single “All That Matters”—for Spotify Singles, giving them a chance to increase their international exposure. Now, other artists, like Xscape’s Kandi Burruss and Tiny Harris, are recording their own versions of the track from a female lens. Love it or loathe it, it’s by far the biggest splash a Dvsn tune has ever made.

“This is Dvsn, the guys that have given you probably some of the most traditional R&B we’ve had in a minute, and the first record we make that you guys deem as ‘super toxic’ is the one you are talking about the most,” says Daley. “So who’s toxic here really?”

Ahead of their headlining set at Toronto’s Manifesto Festival this Friday, Dvsn sat down with us to defend the new song, open up about working with Dupri on their next album, and keep it 100 about the prevalence of cheating nowadays. Check out the convo, edited for length and clarity, below.

So, clearly, there’s been a mixed reaction to “If I Get Caught” to say the least. How does it feel to be the new faces of toxic R&B?
Daniel Daley: [Laughs.] I really feel like the song isn’t that toxic. I feel like it’s more like really honest R&B. I feel like it’s an honest anthem. But we’ve always tried to be honest and I just think maybe it’s never been packaged and delivered this way.

Nineteen85: What were your thoughts when you first heard the track?

I was like, “Hmm. This is fun! It’s different from what I usually hear from Dvsn.” But then I saw the reaction online. People were saying it’s “toxic” and “irresponsible.” It was interesting. Did you guys expect it to get the reaction it did?
Nineteen85:
When we made it? Maybe not as much. We made it five or six months ago. As we started to play it for people in the studio, we started to realize it’s the type of song where there’s not really a middle ground. So we played it in a room of people, and they’d literally end up screaming at each other for an hour trying to prove their point. [Laughs.] We noticed it struck a chord with people.

So explain what you’re saying in the song. Because a lot of people think this is a City Boy anthem. They think you’re justifying cheating.
Daley:
It can be. It can turn into that if you’re that kind of person. But, that’s not what was going into it. [It’s about] situations where you’re dealing with somebody who starts to feel uneasy and like maybe my person is cheating on me. And then you realize that all the things that first attracted you to me have now turned into the things that are making you insecure. So the fact that I was attractive or dressed nice and was cool and funny with everybody now turns into, “Who you getting all dressed up for?” and “Why you always have to be talking? You’re too friendly.” And now that’s turned into you wanting to dig through phones and check Instagram followers, seeing what comments are left. It’s like, yo, this was never supposed to be what this was. We were supposed to be cool. And are you looking for a reason to leave? Because you’re digging that hard now. Are you trying to find an exit? And if so, why? When even if, hypothetically, I did cheat, the reason behind it wouldn’t have been because all of a sudden you stopped meaning the world to me.

“These are the conversations that are being had behind closed doors. Now that we’re opening up the doors, the reaction is getting crazy. But is it that crazy? Are we all reacting because we know these are the real conversations that are happening anyways?”

A lot of the reaction online has been, “Oh, he’s not showing any remorse for cheating.” You’re kinda saying, “This is just who I am. You knew this when you got with me.”
Daley:
I mean, in this song we’re speaking to the ego. This is the moment of ego. This isn’t the remorseful, ‘oh baby, please’ song. And maybe that’s the thing; maybe people are used to the cheating being put into this package of ‘I’m going to show you the other side as well.’ But like, why can’t we speak about one thing for a second? We’re talking about this moment, and this is what is going through the minds of people, male and female, when they’re doing it most of the time. Also, the album’s in story form; that’s another thing people didn’t realize. So the part of the story where you have remorse and accountability, it just hasn’t happened yet. This is the first segment and we’re seeing the ego in its full effect, which is why I guess it’s a City Boy and club [anthem] and people want to sing it outside.

But I’m not going to cap—girls have really been the ones taking to this song lately. [Laughs.] For the past week, since the outrage has kind of died down a bit, I’m seeing so many women that are like owning and singing this song with their chest.

That’s interesting. Why do you think it’s starting to resonate with women?
Daley:
I think women deal with a lot of men assuming what they feel. Girls are being stereotyped. And I think the more you really get some honest women around you, you find out there’s a lot that they are mentally doing, going through, feeling, that they just don’t speak about because they know that goes against what you guys think a girl should or shouldn’t be doing. So I think the song is kind of liberating for them because a lot of girls are cheating [laughs] and have cheated. And on the other side, a lot of girls have been cheated on and understand because they probably stayed. So they’ve understood that, you know, it’s not like he’s no longer in love with me. It’s that he’s out here searching for something, trying to conquer new things, being ego-driven. They’re the ones that have had to deal with it from a few more angles than guys.

Yeah, girls are cheating too! It’s not a one-sided thing.
Girls are outside. They’re outside. [Laughs.]

OVO Sound duo wearing black
Image via Nate Shuls

Have you guys had any personal experience with cheating?
Daley:
Yeah, I’ve been on all sides of that fence. I feel like I’ve probably been cheated on, even though I’m not 100 percent sure. You know, girls are better at it than we are. [Laughs.] But I’ve cheated and got caught and I’ve cheated and not been caught. And I’ve been completely faithful as well. So I understand it all. I don’t think any conversation should be off the table. The only way is to deal with it is head-on. 

Nineteen85: Same thing. I’ve cheated on somebody before. I’ve been in long-term relationships. I’ve cheated on somebody, and I stayed with them. I was still faithful. I think we’re all kind of in this relationship mess together, you know? I don’t think there’s any person that’s ever been in multiple relationships that either hasn’t cheated or hasn’t been cheated on. It’s just such a regular part of the growing pains in our figuring out of relationships.

It’s just wild how this track has provoked so much discussion about relationships, infidelity, everything. You guys definitely did something right. Also, the marketing of the song has been next level. Who was behind it?
Daley:
Us and LVRN, our management team. They did a really good job of sitting down and brainstorming ideas and ways to integrate it into the world. To keep the conversation moving and with the right perspective, and highlight the things that are really dope, like the Jay-Z texts and the focus groups.

“We’re trying to bring the excitement back to R&B. Someone’s gotta step up and own R&B, and Dvsn is here to do that.”

How did you link up with Jermaine Dupri for this track?
Daley:
Again, that’s LVRN. They put together a session thinking that maybe we could just do a session together. And the one session with me and Jermaine just turned into a brotherhood within like a week. It was really quick; we really clicked and started banging out records, and I called Nineteen like, “Yo, get out here. This is something here.” So it’s been beautiful. He’s opened his doors to his home, his studio, and his mind—just how it works. He’s such an interesting guy. Super talented but at the same time the simplicity he’s found a way to maintain is just, like, crazy for that level of genius.

Right on. I know you guys signed with LVRN last year, and that they’re based in Atlanta. I hear you guys have been recording the new album there. How has Atlanta shaped the sound of the project?
Nineteen85:
I don’t know if Atlanta shaped the sound or if it’s the fact that we’re working with the mayor of Atlanta himself, and Bryan Michael Cox and being in that space. I will say this: Atlanta has influenced some of our relationships and some of the interactions we’ve had that you’re gonna see being talked about and discussed on this, but the music or the sound of it, I would attribute more to us working so closely with the So So Def gang and JD, B. Cox, all those guys.

OVO Sound duo Dvsn pose against white background
Image via Nate Shuls

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from working with them?
Nineteen85
: I think their formula is very direct. They’re very intentional about how they put things together. They want to make this type of love song and they make it in a way where you know exactly what it’s meant to do. And it does it, you know? They’ve been doing that for 25, 30 years. When they aim at a target, they really hit the target, which is really hard to do, especially in today’s climate of music.

Daley: What’s dope about that is that’s almost the opposite formula that we used to do. I feel like Dvsn, we’ve always had double entendres and metaphors and a ‘you can take it this way or you can take it that way’ style to our music. But I think that the combination of that, paired with something that’s normally very direct, then you get something like “If I Get Caught” where it’s like, oh shit, we really hit the nail on that head. We over hit the nail. [Laughs.] We thought we were going to cause a conversation. We didn’t think it was gonna be the number one trending topic in America by the morning. So I’m excited to see what everybody other single does too.

Let’s talk about the rest of the album. What other kinds of conversations will you be starting?
Daley:
I think we’re making a point of covering a bunch of different points that will eventually lead to growth. So naturally, [if you start] at the ego and pride, then what do they say about pride? Pride comes before the fall. And [then there’s] accountability and remorse, growth, reflection, and taking a long, good, hard look in the mirror, you know? Maybe it’s even getting lost for a second and trying to medicate it through some other things that aren’t good. Maybe I’m going out and I’m trying to just have sex through the fact that I already screwed up. All the different areas this stuff can take you, we’re trying to make a point of covering how that goes on this album. We want this to be at least the beginning of the growth, if things are needed to grow.

I see. So you’re really diving right into all the messy aspects of relationships.
Nineteen85:
Messy, and even the stuff that’s not messy. It’s the full spectrum of where we’re at in relationships. You know, feeling unappreciated, feeling like maybe you need to appreciate this person more. And I think there’s just so many topics that have gotten lost in the R&B conversation lately.

Daley: We’re trying to bring the excitement back to R&B. Someone’s gotta step up and own R&B, and Dvsn is here to do that.

Along with an acoustic version of “If I Get Caught,” you guys also recorded a cover of Justin Bieber’s “All That Matters” for Spotify Singles. I know the program was launched to give artists a chance to record new version of their own song, an original song, or a song by an artist they love. Why’d you choose that one? It’s so non-toxic!
Daley: [Laughs.] We found a nice yin and yang situation for those two Spotify singles. But not only that, it was another Canadian, you know? We’ve always loved that song; it’s one of my favorite Justin Bieber songs. And, you know, after a song where some people might feel like, “Oh, they don’t care,” we figured let’s give them the opposite: you’re all that matters.

The narrative that’s emerged since “If I Get Caught” dropped is that modern R&B has become too toxic and we’ve lost the days of romantic R&B. You know, like, crying on your knees in the rain, begging for your lover back, all that stuff. Do you think there’s any truth to that? Has R&B become too toxic?
Daley:
No, because Dvsn have been here for the past seven years giving you all that: love songs, heartbreak songs, all kinds. It might not be the most promoted, maybe the artists that did it aren’t the biggest. And again, look at this! This is Dvsn, the guys that have given you probably some of the most traditional R&B we’ve had in a minute, and the first record we make that you guys deem as “super toxic” is the one you are talking about the most. So who’s toxic here really? [Laughs.] All the light got put onto this, right? I don’t think the subject matter is too toxic and regardless, if that is truly how somebody feels, the album we’re creating is still the album for you. But to answer that “crying in the rain” part, how do we get to you crying in the rain if we don’t show why you cry? It’s a story.

Nineteen85: How old is a song like “Me and Mrs. Jones”? That’s gotta be almost 50 years old now. Mrs. Jones was “Mrs.” for a reason. He’s singing about somebody else’s wife. That’s been happening forever.

Saving All My Love” by Whitney. She’s singing about being a side chick.
Daley:
“You make me want to leave the one I’m with to start a new relationship with you.”

Nineteen85: Jermaine’s really the king of these records. [Laughs.]

I would say The Weeknd’s earliest songs could be considered pretty toxic too.
Nineteen85:
Yeah, we can’t compare to some of the stuff he’s saying. But it’s always extremely honest. These are the conversations that are being had behind closed doors. Now that we’re opening up the doors, the reaction is getting crazy. But is it that crazy? Are we all reacting because we know these are the real conversations that are happening anyways?

Hey, someone’s gotta talk about it! And Jermaine and The Weeknd, they certainly have their legacies. Do you guys ever think about what you want your legacy to be?
Daley:
I want people to say there was at least a section of years where Dvsn were the king of R&B. I think other acts have all had these moments where they can say that in their genres: Mariah, Whitney, Rihanna, Beyonce, they at one point could say, “Yo, during this section, it was me.” I want to be able to be like, “Yo, we took that spot for this many years at the very least.” By the end of it, I want to say I impacted people in a positive way. We love getting the messages that talk about people getting married to some of our older songs. That shit matters because that’s a dope legacy to leave behind. These people literally made their vows to one another, to the soundtrack of us. Something that we put in this song triggered that.

That must be so crazy to hear. Your songs will forever be cemented in their lives and in their unions. And I guess now, with your latest, it’ll be like, “This is the song that sparked our breakup.”
Nineteen85:
[Laughs.] Full circle.

Daley: What have we done?

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