In a music industry filled with glorification of misogyny and violence, New Orleans-based emcee Dee-1 is a breath of fresh air. His brand of hip-hop is positive without being corny, inspirational without being preachy. He’s a Christian, but he’ll be the first one to tell you that he’s not perfect. Although he’s in the midst of touring with Lupe Fiasco right now, Dee-1 took the time to speak with us about what he’s learning out on the road, being self made, artists that he would love to work with, and of course his newest release, Psalms of David II. Available for download right now at DatPiff.
RESPECT.: Alright, before we get into the latest things about you, let’s talk a little bit about your past. You used to be a teacher?
Dee-1: Yeah, yeah.
What made you decide to leave that behind and focus on your music? Or was that the plan all along?
Yeah. The plan all along was to be able to be an artist full-time, but when I graduated from college, I wasn’t making any money from being an artist. So, I got the job as a teacher to help just supplement my income and really fund my dream and pay for my habit, pretty much. My habit of being an artist. So, that’s how that worked. Then, finally it got to the point where I couldn’t really balance both of them anymore because it was taking too much of a toll on me. I realized that if I wanted my music to pop off real big, I had to pursue it full-time and give myself a chance to really compete.
It seems like it’s worked out so far.
I feel like I made the right choice.
Definitely. I listened to your Psalms of David I project and one of the quotes that caught my attention was “Be real. Be righteous. Be relevant.” You’re really open about your faith. Has your music always had a positive message?
For the most part, it’s always been like that. When I first, first, first started rapping…I would say the first six months of me rapping, it didn’t really have a message in it. It didn’t really have any direction to it. Soon after that, probably around the time when I put my first solo project out, I was rapping with a bunch of homeboys at first in this big clique with like fifteen dudes. We were all kinda talking about a bunch of nothing, but when I started to do my solo stuff I was like “Man, I want my stuff to really have a purpose, to really talk about something.” That’s more or less the type of person I am, what you hear in my music.
I think that’s what a lot of people tend to appreciate. You have a message to your music, but it’s not very preachy. Like you said, it’s just being real. Has everyone always been receptive to that? Has anyone ever told you to just do what everyone else is doing?
You’ve got these industry “experts,” and people who think they know it all, who definitely at certain times would say “Oh, you need more club songs and you need more stuff that people wanna hear” and I’m just like, no offense to them, but I feel like I know more than them. I’m a fan of music as well and I know that music fans really appreciate artists who tell the truth in their music. So, regardless of what you’re talking about, if we feel like you’re tellin’ the truth…we really appreciate that about you. That’s why I stick to my guns and it’s working.
Absolutely. Speaking of which, congratulations on your deal with RCA. Have you already started working on your next project or are you letting it all sink in?
Thank you. As soon as I got signed, I finished up Psalms of David II and I started working on my next project. I haven’t put a name on it yet. Shortly after that, I got a call and was given an opportunity to go on tour with Lupe Fiasco. So that kind of put a pause on me working on new music. I’m currently on tour with Lupe and I’ll be on tour with him until December 15th.
You’ve been on other tours before, and now you’re out on the road with Lupe. How has that experience been compared to other tours you’ve been a part of?
With this one, the type of music that me and Lupe make is very similar as far as having a message. So, it’s really been cool. It’s been a very smooth and easy transition to just rocking out and rocking those crowds. Every city we go to, it’s people in the crowd that are diehard Dee-1 fans too. That feels good, everywhere we go, there’s people who are coming because they know I’m going to be on the show too. I’ve been doing my thing and me and Lupe have a real dope relationship. He’s like a big brother. I say that and I don’t just throw that term around. He literally gives me feedback on my set and makes suggestions on what song I can do here and what song I can do there. He comes out and watches my show and all of that stuff. I’m really gaining a lot of insight from him by being on this tour.
He seems really supportive.
Yeah, it’s a cool relationship. We clown around all day. It’s fun. It don’t feel like no industry stuff.
Let’s talk a little bit about your new project, Psalms of David II. What should we expect and what do you hope to achieve with this release? Is it along the same lines as the last installment or are you going in a different direction?
This one is in the same direction as far as the content. I call it Psalms of David because the Psalms in the Bible were psalms that David wrote and since I write raps to express my life and express what I’m going through, I just call it Psalms of David. This is really just a continuation of the first one…but, the first one got me my record deal. So, when I went into the second one, I already had the bar set real high. The first time I put one of these out, it got me signed after eight years of working hard. This time, I’ve just got so much hunger to rap about. I’ve got being signed after eight years. I’ve got issues when it comes to my team that I work with, that I’m rapping about on there. I’ve got issues when it comes to my personal life and relationships that I’m rapping about on there. Just rapping about how it feels to know that you’re the underdog. I really feel like David in David & Goliath. I really feel like that, so, feeling like you’re the underdog but you’re winning and you’re seeing success. That hunger right there and that adrenaline rush that you get from knowing you’re the underdog but knowing you’re still winning and defying the odds…that’s what this CD is about.
Anybody who appreciates a hungry rapper—that’s what this is. I’m not the person who people would probably bet their money on to make it this far, because I don’t have a big cosign like a lot of artists. If you think about it, like if you really do the math, a lot of artists who have a lot of content in their music…they’re dope artists, but they’ve also go these big cosigns that really helped them out. You’ve got Jay Z cosigning J. Cole. You’ve got Dr. Dre cosigning Kendrick. You’ve got Rick Ross cosigning Wale or Stalley or something like that. I don’t have that. I’m not signed under a big artist like that. I’ve just got authentic cosigns [from] people like Mannie Fresh, people like Lupe, people like Master P, that just rock with me and they’ve got my back. But yeah, I just rap about that hunger and knowing that I’m doing something you can’t really compare to what anybody else is doing.
I noticed on one song, you ended your verse early because it was something that was a bit too personal for you. I can tell that you’re really putting your all into the music. I think it’s always good to see an artist being vulnerable like that while still staying true to themselves.
It’s funny you say that, there were some people on Twitter last night that were talking about the new mixtape dropping and they were like “I wonder if he’s gonna finish that verse that he started rapping on the first Psalms of David and then he stopped it. I wonder if he’s gonna talk about whatever he was going to talk about.” It’s people that really paid attention to that and are kind of curious about it.
We’ll have to check it out and see.
Do you have any other endeavors lined up outside of rapping?
I’m just focused on music right now. I’d rather be great at something than just be a jack of all trades and a master of none. They say that phrase a lot and I don’t want to be like that. I filmed a movie that’s coming out in April, I’m one of the lead characters in the movie but I don’t want to get too distracted by doing a whole bunch of things like that right now. I did want to do that just to get it out of the way.
I know how the theme is “Shut Up And Grind,” though, so are there any artists that you haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to work with?
Artists I’d like to work with…I’d love to work with Nas and I’d love to work with Lupe. Me and Lupe, we still haven’t done any music together yet, as crazy as that is. I think it’ll get to that point soon, but we still haven’t done anything together musically. Those two would be cool. Outside of that, I’d like to work with Jadakiss. These are just people I grew up on. For me, working with people is not really as fun if it’s a business move. You know how it’s like “Oh, let me do a song with Chris Brown because he’d be dope to have on a hook.” I’d be all for that. It’d be cool. It’d be a smart business move. But deep down, you’d get a kick outta working with some people because it’s like “Man, this one really means a lot, this is special, because I grew up on this person. Those are the special ones like Nas, Lupe and Jadakiss. I already worked with Mannie Fresh and Juvenile. Those were two big ones for me, coming from New Orleans. And Master P. They were all big.
Those all sound like they would be good collaborations, especially with Jada.
Yeah, that would be sick. It’s crazy how everybody I just named, most of them are east coast-based. If it wasn’t No Limit or Cash Money, like that New Orleans stuff…the other stuff I listened to growing up was mostly east coast stuff. Some Midwest, but mostly east coast cats. I just really respect their mind. But I rock with Jada super tough.
Last question. As you mentioned, you have a significant fan following, is there anything that you’d like to say to them or more importantly, say to someone who hasn’t heard any Dee-1 music before?
If they haven’t heard my music before, those are the people that matter most out of everybody to me. If they haven’t heard my music before, that’s the only reason I’m doing this interview. The ones that rock with me, they don’t need to read a Dee-1 interview, they’re already hooked. They’re already rocking with me, I’ve got their support. I just want the fans who haven’t heard it to know, the reason I’m doing this now is to spread what I do to them. I really feel like once they try it, they’re going to be hooked. Straight up. They’re just going to respect it. I want them to listen to Psalms of David II, and the reason why. It’s almost like you have to give people a reason why they should listen to you nowadays and it’s either usually because everybody else is talking about it or because you just got signed by this big artist. So the reason why they should listen to me is because I come from a place where we have no music industry infrastructure, New Orleans. I’m the first rapper to really get big and get a deal from out of New Orleans with really talking about something real, some real content.
Jay Electronica does as well, but Jay Electronica was based in New York and kinda moved away. I still live in New Orleans, right now to this very day. I’m the first of my kind from the N.O. and I done made it this far. I didn’t take no shortcuts. It’s almost like you gotta respect it…and if you respect somebody’s grind, then you can give their music a spin and give their music a listen. I didn’t start rapping until I went to college. I didn’t take any shortcuts. I didn’t have any investor behind me. I don’t have a big time manager. I literally got a record deal on my own without all that stuff. Just a small team of supporters around me, back at the crib but nothing super big. There was nobody really pushing this ship forward. I think that’s reason enough for somebody to say “I respect dude’s grind.” I turned down record deals in the past because they didn’t want to respect the content that I like to rap about. I waited and found the right situation, the right label and now I’m doing my thing. I think that’s reason to listen.
Follow Dee-1 on Twitter at @Dee1music | Visit him online at http://www.dee1music.com
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