interview by vinnie baggadonuts
photograph by b+

Vinnie: Howís all the feedback youíve been hearing about the album been?

Diverse: Itís been, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive. Thereís definitely been a couple bad seeds, man. But, for the most part, itís been a higher percent positive.

V: Whatís it like having an album out? Thatís something Iíve never done. Whatís it like having one out and having everyone be into it?

D: Itís cool. I mean, Iím very appreciative of it. Having people be in tune to what Iím doing is something thatís nice. But at the same time, my artistry and what I do is sort of a selfish thing. Me going into the studio and recording and putting words down on the page, itís something I do for myself. Itís something I found peace in quite a while ago. So, granted, it feels really good to have people in tune to what Iím doing. But regardless of whether they were or not, Iíd be doing it nonetheless.

V: Was hip-hop always the avenue you wanted to get your words out through, or did you ever think about just putting books of poetry out?

D: Iíve definitely given some strong consideration to having some of my poetry published. Just to give you a little bit of a bio, Iíve been writing poetry for a really long time-- much longer than Iíve been emceeing. So, those are my roots. Throughout high school there was future direction given to me about possibly publishing some things, but that never really came into fruition because I never really chased it. But, you know, I donít think I popped out of the womb like, ďYo, I wanna be an MC.Ē

Both: (laugh)

D: Even in high school, I donít think that was something I was giving strong consideration to. It was sort of something that I fell into, you know? Hanging out with friends and freestyling, and always having the perspective of a writer, a poet. That was always sort of innate. But then getting around friends and freestyling, they would let me know, ďYo, you actually have some talent. You should do this.Ē You know, originally when I started doing it, it was more of a hobby. Then it sort of just took over.

V: Do you ever hear bullshit from people like, ďYou havenít been in the game long enough.Ē

D: To be honest with you, man, I havenít really heard it. But if people were to say it to me,..

Both: (laugh)

D: ...it would sort of be funny because Iím 27, and Iíve been in this for a very long time. My first record came out two years ago, but I was creating and performing around Chicago since Ď94, you know what I mean?

V: What I mean is, I know you were saying emceeing wasnít the first thing you wanted to do, and I hear a lot of people preaching holier-than-thou shit like, ďYouíre not into the culture. You write poetry. Youíre just using this.Ē

D: Well, you know what? I think that people with narrow perspectives donít realize that itís all relative.

V: Yeah.

D: Hip-hop is not some shit that you put out on a weekend. To me, itís all relative, whether youíre writing poetry, whether youíre painting. As long as youíre in tune to a creative outlet, a creative impulse, youíre also in tune with urban culture, which, to me, is hip-hop culture. And I donít think there should be anyone trying to knock you because from day one you didnít want to emcee, or from day one you werenít constructing rhythm and rhyme.

V: Yeah.

D: You know, everybodyís like, ďIn order to qualify to be a dope MC, you need to have been doing this for X amount of years, and this for X amount of years.Ē Itís all silly to me, man. I think the only qualification that I see in terms of me respecting an artist is just to be in tune with the culture. Thatís the most important thing. Other than that, regardless of whether you just picked up the pen yesterday, or you been doing it for ten years, if youíre talented, what else is needed?

V: I couldnít imagine anyone really saying that shit to you, though, because what youíve been putting out is pretty mind-blowing.

D: Thank you, man. I really appreciate it. Like I said, it is a very selfish thing that I do, but I definitely appreciate people in tune to it. All Iím trying to do is let people know my life experiences. And knowing that they can appreciate it, thatís just letting me know that they can relate to my life experiences. I definitely appreciate the success that Iíve had.

V: Well, when you recorded One A.M., was it a matter of you already having these things written out, and you just hunted down a beat for it? Or did you hear a beat and think, ďI want to talk about this over this beat.Ē

D: I know that there are some MCs who have a catalog of raps-- and I do, too. But at the same time, I donít ever mix and match. I donít ever hear a beat and say, ďOh! I have this one verse that I think would fit over it.Ē I look for the music to inspire the words. I feel like thatís what works best, instead of just trying to find a lost verse in your notebook for a new beat that you get. I prefer for the music to inspire the words, and I feel that thatís how you make good songs. I think that's what's missing in hip-hop. Yeah, people are doing good verses and shit like that, but thereís a serious lack of good songwriting.

V: Yeah.

D: And I think the reason being is people are using the exact opposite formula-- throwing a verse that theyíve already constructed over a beat that they just got.

V: Is it easy to pick the beats and compose a song? Or is there a point where you need to be in the room with the person whoís making the beat, and create the structure together?

D: Iíll be honest with you, man, thereís one thing about One A.M. that I really didnít appreciate, and I donít really want to do it this way again. Unfortunately, most of the music that was constructed, I wasnít in the studio with the producers for a lot of the material. With the more intimate process-- where youíre right there with the producer, sharing your ideas-- I feel like it makes for a better creation than if you receive a beat CD, choose a beat, lay down your vocals, and shoot those back to the producer. I think that it can work that way, but,.. you know, Iíve been giving a lot of consideration to this lately: hip-hop has sort of changed. Now, everybodyís album has seven producers on it. I think itís extremely difficult to have continuity when youíre just taking and chewing on all these different beats from different producers who have different feels. I think, for me, from this point on, all the work I do in the future will be more of me working with just a couple of producers that I can have more intimate direction with. I just think it works way better when you actually have a producer sitting right there with you. But there are many different ways and formulas that you can use to create.

V: The cool thing about hearing you say all this, and knowing how many different producers there are on your record, is that it isnít at all choppy. And the way that you fit with each producer is amazing. You totally compliment their style with your style.

D: Word, man. Thank you.

V: Are you gonna be touring at all for this record?

D: Yeah. But itís sorta crazy the way it worked out. Iíve been on tour since the summer. And I came off the tour right before the album dropped. (laughs) It didnít make a whole lot of sense, but thatís just the way that it all worked out. In January, Iím going over to Europe for five weeks. And then I come back to do a tour in the States in February; Iím still trying to work out all the dates for that. Then, after that, I go to Australia for about two or three weeks. Then it looks like Iíll be coming back to the States and doing some more touring here. Thatís a really big aspect of what Iím doing right now-- getting out there and interacting with people. Iím not the type of cat that, at shows, will hide in the green room and shit, you know?

Both: (laugh)

D: I donít only come out when itís time to get onstage. And thatís really important, you know? I donít get these cats who claim to be trying to connect with people with their music on stage, but when they step off the stage, they disappear. Theyíre not trying to connect with anybody off of the stage. Thatís the exact opposite approach that I take. I feel like itís just as important to be present off the stage as it is to be on the stage. Before my shows, youíll see me mingling with the crowd at the merch booth. After the show, Iím right there, too. Iím as accessible as I can be to the people who are in tune to my music. Touring is really, really important. Unfortunately, I didnít really start touring until this year. Just being out there, it makes me realize how important that process is-- meeting people, moving merchandise hand-to-hand, and just really being out there with the people, man.

V: Thatís really cool. Have you done any shows in Europe or Australia before?

D: Never have. Iíve only been out of the United States once, and that was Mexico, so it doesnít really count.

Both: (laugh)

V: So, when you were going out and meeting people at shows before the album came out, were there any particular reactions that made you stop and go, ďDamn! This is why Iím doing this!Ē

D: There were a couple of releases that were put out prior to my album that caught some peopleís attention. But, essentially, going out on tour with Zion I and Lyrics Born, who have really solid fan bases, it sorta showed me that I have a lot of work to do. And, at one point, they were at a similar point that Iím at, where they hadnít done any touring. It just makes you realize that touring is such an essential aspect of this. Just from the span of when I started touring, to the end of this last run I was on, my record sales and the interest in me has increased,.. itís really important. People having an interest in an artist, and sustaining that interest, doesnít happen just by you creating music and putting it out in the world. For the most part, it takes a lot of time out on the road trying to build momentum.

V: Yeah. Now, when you started writing poetry, what was it that got you interested in it?

D: It was jazz. My mom listened to a lot of jazz. I listened to a ton of jazz when I was younger. I still do. I could always hear words over the music. Even listening to various poets who actually performed over jazz, like Gil Scott-Heron, I think thatís what the root of it was. And I didnít just write over music. But I do think that the strongest influence was jazz, and also my mom was a writer.

V: Really?

D: Yeah. She was very influential. When I was a kid and I was frustrated, she always let me know that a good way to alleviate some of the aggression that I had was to put it on a page. My old man wasnít really around when I grew up, and it was really frustrating. When I started to come of age a little bit, and realized that some kids did have a father and I didnít have one, it was really frustrating. My mom was the one who taught me to take all the frustration that I had, all the anger that I had, and put it out on a page; to find a creative outlet to express it.

V: Yeah.

D: My mom has been my guiding light. She is very supportive of what I do, and she pushes me to become a better artist and a better person.

V: You were writing by high school, right?

D: Oh, yeah. I was writing in high school. I was writing way before high school. I was writing in middle school.

V: So, in high school, was it something that you made publicly known?

D: Aw, hell no. Hell no!

Both: (laugh)

D: That shit wasnít cool-- to be a fuckiní poet in high school?!? Know what I mean? Even still, motherfuckers be like, (in a snotty voice) ďOh, heís a poet

Both: (laugh)

D: Hell no, I didnít make that shit public! People would have teased me to an unbelievable point. (laughs) But it was something that was personal for me. When Iíd hang out with my girlfriends and shit, theyíd be impressed by it.

Both: (laugh)

D: Iíd break it out occasionally with them. But, other than that, all of the guys that I hung out with, Iíd freestyle with them, but Iíd never let them know that I was a poet, man. You also have a lot of insecurities at that point in time, you know? Any little bit of information like that could be used against you, so you definitely arenít trying to let it out.

Both: (laugh)

V: I kinda knew that was the answer to it, but I just wanted to hear you say it.

D: (laughs)

V: Do you ever go back to those guys you were hanging out with and be like, ďI was writing poetry all through high school. Hereís some of it.Ē

D: Oh, they know now. A lot of those cats I hung out with in high school, they know now. Itís sort of funny, because I was always the shy cat then. It wasnít until I really found myself that I really became more outgoing and shed some of my inhibitions.

V: Yeah.

D: Everybody I talk to that I went to high school with, they all say, ďWe knew you always had something to say, but you were always too scared to say it.Ē

V: So, whatís going on next, other than the touring and shit?

D: The tour is the big push, and promoting this record is a big push. But the material on the record is two years old. Thereís a song on there thatís close to three years old, so Iím kinda getting ready for some new material. But the thing Iím working on now is the EP. I donít know if youíve ever heard of Tortoise.

V: Oh yeah.

D: Well, Iím working with a couple of the cats from Tortoise to create a live-oriented EP. No sampling of old records or anything like that. Itís pretty much going to be all live. Thatíll be a six or seven song EP thatíll come out mid-next year, and Iím also working on my next LP. Thereís this new producer by the name of Brainchild out of Washington state. Heís really dope, and Iím working with him. Also, Madlib will be doing seven or eight of the tracks on the next LP.

V: Nice.

D: Iím just trying to stay busy, man. I want to take advantage of the inspiration that I have right now. Iím really getting in tune with my creative impulses. Iím not the kind of cat, though, that prefers quantity over quality.

V: And that could be my only complaint about One A.M., is that I want more.

D: Yeah. Iím sorry, man.

V: No, donít be!

D: To be honest with you, I wanted it to be longer. I really did.

V: I just want it to be longer because itís good. Itís one of the best things Iíve heard in a long time.

D: Thank you, man.

V: Itís one of those albums, too, where I can listen to it over and over, and hear something new each time, in every song.

D: Word! And I think thatís something thatís really important to me, too. I mean, in terms of hip-hop shit, I grew up listening to Posdnuos and Dave from De La Soul. They were my favorites. The reason why you still listen to Buhloone Mind State and De La Soul Is Dead is you still learn something new, to this day. I forget what it was exactly, but thereís one line Posdnuos said on Buhloone Mind State,.. shit! It was just a couple months ago that I actually realized what he was saying! I think that thatís all I can ask,.. that people do that with my shit. Iím not a face value MC. When you hear me the first time, you might not hear everything that Iím trying to accomplish with my words.

V: Yeah.

D: If people have the patience to listen to me, I think they will discover something new every time. At least I hope. Iím from the school of thought where I like to learn from the artists that I appreciate. And it seems like weíre in such a disposable time, a disposable culture, and everybodyís looking for shit to be face value. Nobody has the patience anymore to actually listen to shit. But Iím trying to turn that around, man. (laughs) And there are some artists out there who are a little more intricate, a little more complex with what they do. Weíre in a time where there are some amazing, amazing poets. Amazing! Itís sort of unfortunate that society, on a general scale, doesnít look at MCs as poets. Itís like hip-hop artists arenít poets. We just talk over records, you know what I mean?

Both: (laugh)

V: Yeah. You know, itís weird. I went to school for advertising, and in my copywriting class the teacher was like, ďWhat writers are you into?Ē And I was like, ďI just listen to hip-hop.Ē De La Soul is seriously the only reason I ever wrote.

D: Yeah.

V: You making that Buhloone Mind State comparison, listening to your album always reminds me of that De La song, ďI Am, I BeĒ.

D: Word, man!

V: Itís one of the most perfect songs ever written. And every time you hear it, it feels like itís new in your head.

D: It is such a touching track. (laughs) When I first heard that track, I couldnít believe it, man. Everything that they did with that track, lyrically, is so intricate and so right on in terms of depicting the world that we live in right now, man.

V: Yeah.

D: Man, I love that. Thatís like my favorite De La track.

V: And you know what? That last song on AOI: Bionix,.. something with "people" in the title,.. I canít remember the name of it.

D: Oh! Yeah! Um,...

V: ďTrying PeopleĒ?

D: ďTrying PeopleĒ! Oh my God!

V: I just felt like it goes right back to ďI Am, I BeĒ all over again.

D: Whoo,.. when I first heard that shit, man, you know,.. listen to, I think itís Posdnuosí voice on that track. It sounds like heís breaking down a bit, man. That shit is so emotional. Heís really putting himself on that track. That track is an intimate experience.

V: And when Dave starts admitting his faults!

D: Yeah! Dude, that shit is just,.. thatís De La-- no pretense. No shell. Itís just exposed. And thatís whatís missing in hip-hop right now. Everyone wants to be the tough guy. Itís like, peopleís so intimidated to expose their real selves. I mean, donít tell me that you donít deal with hard times. And donít tell me that you donít feel like crying sometimes. Donít tell me that you donít have a softer side, because we all do. Thatís human.

V: Yeah.

D: And itís so unfortunate to me, man, that everybodyís so intimidated to show that side, when itís that side that allows us all to connect. I donít know. Iím not encouraged by the state of hip-hop right now, man. I wish that I was. Donít get me wrong. There are some really talented artists. I just wish that people would give more candid renditions of self, you know what I mean? I just hate the whole fucking tough guy mentality.

V: Thatís making hip-hop not as human as it used to be.

D: For sure, for sure. And Iím not the kinda cat thatís like, ďOh, hip-hopís dead,Ē harping on the golden era of hip-hop all the time. But I do miss that state of creating. That was the time when not everybody was consumed by bravado and shit. Their focus wasnít all, ďIím the dopest! Iím the hardest! Iím the illest!Ē It was more about cats trying to tell you about their everyday, their surroundings, and just trying to be a little bit more conceptual with it, man.

V: And I think you pull off the bravado, but itís coming from the fact that youíre rhyming about stuff other than, ďOh, Iím beating dudes every day,Ē you know what I mean? Youíre confident enough on the mic where people can hear it and say, ďHe ainít fuckiní around. He ainít afraid to say how it is.Ē

D: I think that bravado is an important aspect of hip-hop. I mean, shit,.. it started with cats on the corner battling each other!

V: Yeah.

D: Itís definitely an important aspect of it. But itís not the only aspect of it.

Both: (laugh)

D: And I think there needs to be a balance with it, man. You can be bravado with a song, man, but still have substance to it.