This is the Ocean State

How RI’s Dacota Fresilli came to be part of the team behind Childish Gambino’s biggest hit

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This time last year, the song “This is America” went viral. The music video and lyrics together painted a powerful picture of race and gun violence in America. It debuted as number one in the US Billboard Hot 100 and had 78,000 downloads and 65.3 million streams within the first week. Then, in February, it took home four Grammys – and made history as the first rap song to win Song of the Year. While artist/rapper Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) is the main name attached to its success, it was a team effort. And one of those team members was 26-year-old Rhode Island native Dacota Fresilli.

Dacota was born in South Kingstown but calls Providence home. He focused on audio production at Middle Tennessee State University, where big names like Chris Young and Amy Lee (of Evanescence) studied. He interned at RCA Records in Atlanta and worked with A-list artists like B.o.B., Cee Lo Green, and Usher. Then, in September 2017, he was settling into Atlanta full-time as a freelance engineer when a gig fell into his lap.

“I got a call from a woman at RCA, and she asked me if I would be able to record Donald Glover tomorrow, so I said ‘Yeah, of course,’” Dacota remembers.

That day, one of the songs they worked on was “This is America,” which Glover had been toying with for a couple of years. “We did about 300 takes,” Dacota estimates. “A lot of times, an artist will hold onto music, or the powers that be will say ‘Let’s go in a different direction,’ and they won’t use some of it. I go into the situation and do my job and help the artist get the best takes and the best recording they can. At that point, it’s up to them if it’s something they want to use.”

That’s the nature of Dacota’s job as a recording and mixing engineer. “Basically, I’m the middle man,” he explains. “You have the ideas, and I have to capture that and make it sound good.”

It wasn’t until later, when someone in the studio was on Instagram, he recalls, that he recognized the music and saw it on-screen for the first time. “It isn’t the same without the video,” he insists, “because the video shows what the song is really about, that the lyrics don’t really tell you. It was definitely a very nostalgic and surreal feeling to be part of that.”

This past September, Dacota made the decision to return to Providence to be closer to his younger brother, who just signed to play football at URI next year. “My family and this state mean a lot to me,” he says. So, for now, Dacota jets back and forth between the East Side and Atlanta for meetings and recording sessions.

“I try to be Superman,” he jokes.