Photographers: Anthony Demarco & Corrinne TheodoruInterview: Devyn Jones

Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland claims to be one of the world’s largest independent bookstores today. Ironically enough, the best story I got from Powell’s during my trip came from a young rapper right around the corner of releasing his debut album to the world. Daren Todd, recent Portland resident, looked calm. Coffee in hand, Daren sat with me in a crowded coffee shop eager to share his story and talk about his debut project “RE:NA”. Our conversation eventually went from talking about his music to just talking about life’s lessons and the current landscape of hip hop music and how to navigate the oversaturated waters of the genre. Throughout the brief but rich dialogue,  four things rang true about the rapper. These four themes were present throughout Daren’s work and set solid expectations for his upcoming album.

1: He has strong musical origins

When you hear Daren’s music, you can hear quite a few things being done well simultaneously. One of the reasons was due to the artist’s upbringing in church when he was younger. “My exposure to music was super crafted and shaped by gospel and church music.” Said the Lompoc, California- bred rapper. Daren’s 12 year involvement in the church were the breeding grounds of his musical education. The proof of his gospel upbringing can be heard in songs like “Coast” and “Celebrations.” The smooth syncopation of Daren’s vocals over jazzy, in house production shows the attention to detail he has in the quality of what he’s putting out to the listener. The keys being played in both songs were dead giveaways to the trained ear of a gospel influence. A great deal of that influence is heard throughout his catalogue.

2: He has a strong work ethic

Since Daren has a solid foundation in music prior to his venture into putting out his own work as an artist, the rapper was no stranger to discipline and hard work. He was also no stranger to hard work outside of the music world. After deciding college wasn’t the route for him to take, Daren would work a couple of jobs to eventually support his passion of music. He still does that, now with a specific goal in mind: to get to the point where music will be his primary source of income. That work ethic has been with the young emcee for sometime. One of his older projects, “The Daren 7:16 Project” is a testament to said work ethic. “I put out a verse every day… for two weeks… it taught me that creativity is a faucet. If you learn how to turn it on and off, you have the power.”

3: He’s no stranger to teamwork

It’s safe to assume by now that Daren studied to show himself approved in music and listeners of his debut album, having learned a bit about him, should expect a good project just off of his experience and expertise alone. Being the artist Daren is, he understood he could be good on his own, but he could end up being great with the right team. Enter the group ItsFutureTime. A group of guys who do a medley of music production, composition, mastering, and engineering. All the while, putting out collections of music with each other in different capacities (like they have groups within the group). One of Daren’s first performances in Oregon didn’t go so great. He was still new to learning how to book his own shows. Some one took advantage of that and got Daren to pay for the opportunity to perform. In exchange for his payment to perform, the rapper got a few tickets to give out to friends and family. He ended up giving those tickets to his wife and family. The family showed up to venue to find out they were the only ones in attendance. For the average performer, the lack out turnout would make the artist not even want to get out and do their set. Not Daren Todd. He decided to take advantage of having a stage and performed for the same handful of people as if he was performing for a sold out arena. Out of the handful of people Daren performed his heart out for, was ItsFutureTime member AED. He like Daren’s tenacity and passion for his craft. He told Daren how he would like for him to join their label. Some time after AED and Daren’s interaction, Daren’s wife told him of a dream she had of him thriving with his music in Portland. Fast forward to the group and Daren spending some time together. Adding value to each other’s craft. Now they’re preparing to put out a debut album with an artist who’s put in the work and prepared for a moment of such.

“We haven’t had a show yet that we haven’t sold out,” said Daren.

4: His debut album is more than meets the eye

“If music doesn’t make you warm and tingly, what’s the point?”

Daren’s music and work ethic and perseverance are big reasons why he’s in the position he’s in today. The rapper has clear goals and does what it takes to make sure he gets there. Another good trait Daren showed was his transparency. The name of Daren’s debut album is titled “RE:NA.” Rena was Daren’s name before realizing he was a male.

“My name is Daren, but when I was born, my name was Rena. I was a female. For the first 20 or so years of my life I was Rena.” Daren spoke about how his wife was very supportive of his decision and how he found his current name. “I was working at a drive thru trying different names like ‘Hello my name is Ed. Hello my name is this.’ Daren was the one that stuck. The name of the album RE:NA , is letting everyone in my life know that this is as true of me you can get to.”

The story of who Daren Todd is, is still being written. I was fortunate enough to get a peek of the preface. Still the best story I got out of Powell’s to date too.

Daren’s debut album, RE:NA is available for streaming now.