On a mild Wednesday evening in early December, most working folks are happy to get home after making it through yet another hump day at the office. Some are excited about getting closer to reuniting with the weekend while others, for peculiar reasons unknown, are anxious to simply return to work. But for few, the day of the week doesn’t matter much, work never ends.

It’s 5 p.m. when Don Slay arrives at Santos Party House in New York City for sound check, three hours before scheduled show time. He’s set to perform at the Tribeca nightclub in a music talent showcase where DJ Envy of Power 105’s The Breakfast Club will serve as the celebrity host. Don Slay is one of a dozen acts especially selected to participate in the event and is expected to be the highlight performance of the night.

“I’m nervous and anxious at the same time,” says the 24-year-old emcee as he continues to sit and wait for sound check. The room is open and dimly lit, a visible contrast to the performance stage where the band’s equipment has already been setup. As the clock moves, the room begins to fill slowly as the roster of performers drift into the venue. Slay unwinds and starts to mingle, personally introducing himself to the cast of rising artists with whom he will later share the stage. It’s now 8 p.m. Sound check doesn’t happen.

But Slay is unfazed, and at this point he just wants to get the show on the road. “It don’t matter, I don’t need sound check, I know my songs,” he says with a shrug of the shoulders. “It’s goin’ be just like how I recorded ‘em in the studio, one take baby.”

Standing just 5’5” and weighing only 130 pounds, Slay is a much larger being in confidence and self-assurance. And that’s being put mildly. He’s wearing dark blue Nudie jeans wrapped with a brown Louis Vuitton belt, a black sweatshirt by B WOOD that he personally accessorized with three gold chains, a red Don C snapback to match his all red Jordan 1s, and earrings in both ears.

“I got more swag than everybody in here,” he says with a smile after surveying the room. “And this is me regular,” he punctuates. While “confident” and “self-assured” might understate his persona, he makes you respect his cockiness. He certainly backs it up.

When he takes the stage, Don Slay appears, cool, calm, and collected. It’s as if he’s done this hundreds of times before and the routine has become second nature. But that’s not the case. It’s just his first performance since the release of his debut mixtape Big Crowd Small Circle. After completing a circuit of heavy promotion in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Toronto and Puerto Rico, the up and coming solo artist readies himself to begin sharing his music with live audiences.

It’s been his goal since he first started rapping at a young age and he’s proven capable of reaching it. A once marketing major at Morgan State University, the Brooklyn-bred Panamanian rhymester continues to hone his craft and has deservingly earned the liking of his industry peers. His skillset comprises of a versatile flow, youthful flare, braggadocio lyrics and a persuasive delivery.

“How y’all doing tonight?” he asks the energetic crowd, to which they respond in loud shouts and screams. After making his introduction he gets right into the first song “Expressway” which carries over into an on spot freestyle at the request of the drummer who continues playing even after Slay finishes the song. The entire room erupts in excitement, feeding off of Slay’s electrifying yet playful energy. And though he’s working the stage like a true professional, he seems to be having fun while doing it.

“The performance was exciting,” Slay recaps. “I felt good on stage in front of my people. It made me even more comfortable that I had my right hand man Triz on stage with me. My adrenaline was rushing until that beat dropped, all I could think about was being myself. The atmosphere made being on stage a lot easier. In a room full of raw talent, each artist had a chance to express themselves. The crowd was smooth too, they weren’t hostile.”

Yet contrary to the unruffled demeanor he managed to maintain in the moments leading up to his performance, Slay admits he was a bit on edge. “My thoughts before the show were everywhere,” he says. “I was worried that I wasn’t ready. But then I thought about all the people I had coming through. Once I changed up my clothes and show time approached, I saw my mother and the rest of my family in the building, I knew it was on. I told my bro I was goin’ rock that sh*t, watch.”

As the thriving independent artist seeks to further his career in the music business, this perhaps is an experience that will repeat itself many times over. But, if it is anything at all, it is most definitely a first time experience that Slay will almost certainly never forget.

“I think I was smiling the whole time,” he jokes. “And I don’t smile too much. After the show I kind of wanted to rewind it and do it again and again. My adrenaline was still pumping. I went home and started working on new material immediately.”

The second oldest of four children, Slay was an admirer of his older brother while also learning to become a leader and succeeding role model for his younger siblings. Like his older brother, Slay grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn playing both baseball and basketball, and attended George Westinghouse Vocational and Technical High School where both his father and uncle also attended school.

Not only did Slay continue a family legacy at Westinghouse, he also joined a list of rappers who walked the very halls of the same New York City public school. Among the distinguished list are celebrated hip-hop prodigies including the late Notorious B.I.G., the self-proclaimed best rapper alive Jay-Z, and the charismatic emcee Busta Rhymes.

At just 14 years old, Slay had no idea the size of the shoes he would need to fill in his pursuit of a successful career in the music industry. Now ten years later and becoming yet another popular alumnus of the downtown Brooklyn high School, the young up and comer is not too far away from catching up to his predecessors.

Be sure to check out the mixtape and catch Don Slay’s performance!

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