When Dacota Fresilli was about 12 years old, his family gave him some music equipment as a birthday present. They may not have realized it at the time, but that gift launched the beginning of a lifelong career.
“From there on I just stuck with it,” Fresilli said. “I started writing my own music first, then it just evolved into something different.”
He grew up in South Kingstown and attended South Kingstown High School, where he graduated from in 2010. As a student, he was involved in all the talent shows. “Everybody knew me as an artist, for being an artist,” he said.
Fresilli went on to New England Tech, and later Middle Tennessee State University, where he studied audio production. He eventually found himself in Atlanta, working as a sound engineer, mostly in the vein of “urban music” — a mix of hip hop, R&B, and some pop. Most recently, he’s worked as an assistant engineer at Parhelion Recording Studios.
In the fall of 2017, Fresilli found himself in a sound recording session with Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, who was working on a new song. Glover is a star of the television series “Atlanta,” and releases music as Childish Gambino.
“The first time we ever got together, I met Donald and he was like, ‘yeah, I have this idea and I just want to see where I can go with it,’ and pulled up the beat for what would become ‘This Is America.’ At that time, he was calling it the National Anthem,” Fresilli said.
They recorded a bunch of different ideas, working to pinpoint the sound Glover was looking for. “Donald freestyles everything, he doesn’t write down his lyrics,” Fresilli said. “He just gets into the booth, we hit record, [and] we just work from there.”
This process is an organic way of working and capitalizes on the moment, he explained, adding that there are many ways to build a song. Depending on the artist, what goes down in the recording studio varies. Some musicians, like Usher, show up with an entourage of 10, while others, like Glover, with just one or two other people, he said.
The first day Fresilli recorded with Glover, he spent about 12 hours in the studio — a typical work day. Time passed and he moved on to other projects, not sure what would become of Glover’s anthem. In this industry, he said, you never know the fate of a track once it’s been recorded. It may be released or it might not.
Some months later, in May 2018, Fresilli was in the studio working with another artist when he stepped out of the booth and heard the beats from “This is America” coming from someone’s phone. The music video for the song had just come out, and had quickly gone viral — it received a lot of attention for its unflinching portrayal of violence toward black bodies in American culture.
Within a month, the song would become platinum, and then triple platinum. By December, “This Is America” had earned four Grammy nominations for song of the year, record of the year, best music video and best rap/sung performance. At the awards ceremony in February, “This Is America” earned awards for all four of these nominations — a big moment for hip hop and urban music.
“The [Recording Academy] had kinda been called out a few times for not exactly having the right artists win, the right songs win,” Fresilli explained. “I think they got that right for once.”
Fresilli received credit for his role as a sound engineer and mixer on “This Is America,” making him a Grammy-winning artist. He was at home in South Kingstown that night, watching the awards ceremony surrounded by family.
“This is just a beginning, [and] not the last time I’ll be in the Grammy pictures,” he said.
He also now has 12 credits, the minimum needed to be a voting member of the Recording Academy, which oversees the Grammy Awards. The process of becoming a member involves first applying and then earning status as an associate member. Once an artist has worked on 12 songs that receive major label credit, they can become voting members. Fresilli is now a member of the Atlanta chapter and can vote for songs that should be nominated for Grammys, which requires understanding other genres, “checking the temperature,” and learning what artists are doing.
A Rhode Islander at heart, he recently got an apartment in Providence, where he stays when not working on projects in Atlanta. A big reason he wanted to be closer to home was to watch his younger brother, Montaner Fresilli, play football during his senior year at SKHS. The older Fresilli said he made it to every game last year, and he’s looking forward to cheering his brother on as he plays with the Rams at The University of Rhode Island this fall.
Whenever he is in South County, Fresilli enjoys hitting up the usual spots, from Brickleys to Iggy’s to grabbing a Del’s and walking his dog along the wall in Narragansett.
“It’s a comfortable place for me, just being back down there,” he said of the area. “I just get to relax and unwind.”
Some of the projects he’s involved with at the moment include working with Millie Go Lightly, a singer from London. “She’s got some cool music coming out,” Fresilli said.
He’s also working with Ted Park, an American artist signed to a label in South Korea. He’s helping both musicians with their mixing.
And then there is Wave Chapelle, “a really cool guy out of Milwaukee,” who Fresilli is working with as an executive producer. Also involved in this project is Zakary Menebhi, a.k.a. Menebeats, a musician originally from Smithfield now based in Atlanta.
“Engineering is important to me, but it’s not my end all be all,” Fresilli said. “This is the first round of really doing a whole project that I’m executive producing — I put the play together, set artists up with producers, pick different beats … this is something that’s special to me.”
Besides replaying on repeat the tracks that he’s workshopping, Fresilli has been listening to a lot of Nipsey Hussle, the Los Angeles rapper who was murdered in March. Fresilli saw Hussle on his first-ever tour, when he was an opening act, and closely followed the evolution of his music and career. His death, he said, is a tragedy.
Wondering what advice he has for others interested in the music industry?
“It’s a really cliché, but just, you know, if you believe in something and you want to do something, just go out and get it because there’s nothing holding you back,” he said. “It’s really just a matter of do your research, stay educated, put your best foot forward and do your work to get where you want to be.”
Anyone interested in reaching out can send him a message through his website, www.dacotag.com.