Describing Durham native Pierce Freelon as a Renaissance man would be an understatement.
Freelon is a former Durham mayoral and N.C. State Senate candidate, the founder of Blackspace, a musician, a professor, a director, a political organizer, an Emmy-winning producer, a loving husband, and a devoted father of two.
On July 31, Freelon will release D.a.D., his first “family album,” which chronicles “the life and times of a Black millennial father living in the South.” But first, on June 17—just in time for Father’s Day—he dropped “Daddy Daughter Day,” the first single from the album, which features J. Gunn.
The idea for the project came together almost 10 years ago, when Freelon began to use the voice-memos app on his iPhone to archive special moments with his two children, Justice and Stella.
“They’re kind of like vignettes into my life as a parent but very much in the spirit of what a sample is,” Freelon says. “It’s a piece of music that you can build upon to create something new.”
A self-described family archivist, Freelon says that he has, at minimum, 500 voice notes capturing memorable moments. “Daddy Daughter Day” features fellow Durham MC and community advocate Joshua Gunn. The music video was directed and edited by Ned Phillips of Green Hero Films and features both of artists’ daughters, Stella and Harlem-Rose.
The song and video challenge pervasive yet inaccurate myths about Black fatherhood. Freelon and Gunn (whose father, architect Phil Freelon, passed away last year) and Gunn (who lost his father, Henry “Bruh” Gunn, even more recently) rap about the joys of spending individual time with their daughters.
The INDY caught up with Freelon to discuss the making of D.a.D., fatherhood, familial legacies, and collaborating with other talented Durham artists.
INDY: What inspired the single and the project?
PIERCE FREELON: When my dad got diagnosed with ALS and we started approaching the end of his journey in this realm, I spent a lot of time with him. And during that time when I was just kicking it with my dad, I’d be there for four or six hours. I started digging through these archives partially to show him, like, “remember this video, remember this birthday party?” Reminiscing with him. In the process of sharing those with my dad and rediscovering them, I began getting inspired to create.
Also, when someone as close to you as your father transitions, you begin to really reflect a lot. You do a lot of deep-diving emotionally. I started just thinking about fatherhood and what my legacy will be. My dad has left me many gifts, including the Durham Bulls’ stadium and the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and the many other things he built, but also the memories and the time and the energy that he shared nurturing me to become the man that I am today. Just reflecting on fatherhood, it just went hand in hand with the creative process of digging through the crates of my digital archives.
You and Joshua Gunn have walked similar creative and political paths. What was it like working with him?
Well, Gunn is one of my favorite artists, and he has been since I was in high school. He was revered and feared among his peers around the local [hip-hop] scene, a sick battle rapper and just kind of a young, hungry, talented brother. I’ve been admiring his craft as a lyricist for 16 years. Gunn was one of the few of my peers to have kids, so we shared that as well as hip-hop and, you know, running for mayor, and he ran for city council. We just have so much in common. In addition to being a dope children’s album, I knew this would be a great opportunity to rally all the amazing musician parents.
I produced or co-produced all but one the beats on the album, and one of my biggest concerns with Gunn was like, “Is he gonna like the beat?” I know from experience when you’re asking an artist to collaborate with you they really gotta be feeling the music. When we got into the studio and he was like, “Oh, this is hot. I was like, “Ohhh, a dope MC thinks my beat is hot.” I was so flattered.
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