KillerHipHop Exclusive: Dee-1 Interview
New Orleans has a new rapper in town. Following the trail of cash money from those that came before him, Dee-1 aims to build a movement of his own in his own way. Guided by the wisdom of Mannie Fresh, Dee-1 dropped his latest effort titled The Focus Tape. “My mission with this tape was to make a body of music that would motivate cats and inspire cats,” Dee told us during our interview.
Aside from talking about The Focus Tape, Dee-1 talked to KillerHipHop about learning from Mannie Fresh, leaving teaching for rap, what he looks for in a label, being slept on and more. Catch KillerHipHop’s interview with The One Man Army after the break.
QuezKHH: You dropped off The Focus Tape back in October. What was your mission for that tape?
Dee-1: My mission with this tape was to make a body of music that would motivate cats and inspire cats to get out there and pursue whatever they purpose is. I wanted to make a soundtrack that’ll motivate that person to wake up everyday man and go one step closer to their goals and get focused. You’ve got to focus in order to achieve.
KHH: How much have you grown since that first tape you gave to Mannie Fresh years ago?
Dee-1: I would say that when I first, this is actually the first full mixtape I did with Mannie Fresh, but we’ve done a couple of songs. Like Mannie Fresh hosted this whole mixtape. I would say that from the first song I did with Mannie Fresh, I’ve grown a lot because I’m not star struck anymore. I’ve been in the industry. I’ve been touring now. I’ve been around big names and people who I grew up listening to. So now I’m at a point where I understand my purpose in music and my purpose is really to motivate these people out here listening to me, motivate them and inspire them.
KHH: What part did Mannie have in the creative process for the tape?
Dee-1: Well Mannie really helped to oversee everything. You could call him the executive producer. He gave input on all of the songs as they were being finished. He let me know of some songs that I should probably save for my next project. He kind of let me know with certain songs, like if I needed to make a better hook for it or something like that. He’ll let me know like, man go tighten up the hook on that one. You know, things like that. He oversaw the whole thing. And then of course, on the actual mixtape, he’s on there doing all kinds of skits and just providing comic relief to the mixtape, actin’ crazy like he always does.
KHH: Mannie has been in the industry for a long long time so he has a wealth of knowledge. What has been the most important thing you’ve learned from Mannie?
Dee-1: The most important thing I’ve learned from Mannie is to keep it fun. To keep the music fun, even if you got a message in it. Never get to the point where I have to rap about certain things that I really don’t want to but feelin’ like I got to live up to this image or expectation. Like with Mannie, he’s all about keeping it fun man. As long as you keep it fun, you could still have a wide range of subjects that you could touch on, but it has to sound authentic, and it has to sound believable. So, that’s the main thing I’m doing now, just makin’ sure I keep it fun you know. People do want to be entertained at the end of the day. So it’s entertainment first and foremost you know.
KHH: Is it challenging to deliver a strong message in every song. Like you said, Mannie wants to keep it fun. So is it hard to deliver a strong message with every song?
Dee-1: No, it’s not hard because every song isn’t meant to have a strong message. It’s just meant to be. Every song is meant to be a dope song on its own and it’s meant to tie in the whole project together and be cohesive. But nah it’s not hard man. I don’t have any pressure on me. I don’t have any labels or in a box that I’m put in. People just know me and they know what Dee-1 represents and who he stands for. That’s just overall spread good energy through my music, spreadin’ good vibes throughout everything I do and tellin’ real stories. You know, I tell real life stories in my music so that stuff could never be hard ’cause it’s true stories.
KHH: What’s next after The Focus Tape? What’s coming up for you?
Dee-1: After The Focus Tape, well I’m on tour right now. I’m on a 50 city tour right now with my partner Macklemore. So we are right now in Washington D.C. We’ve done about 30 shows already. We got about 20 shows left. So I’m going to finish off this tour. That’ll be done in mid-December. Then I’m going to go home, back to New Orleans, and I’m going to start working on my next project. That’ll be coming out in February. I don’t have a title for it yet, but it’ll be coming out in February.
KHH: I’m sure you have a lot of labels calling you right now. What’s your current situation like?
Dee-1: Well I’m still independent right now. My current situation is, I’m staying independent for right now. I’m open to talking with people if they’re calling. But at the present moment it’s best for me to be independent. So that’s what I’m doing right now. If the right situation comes along, then I might have to take them up on their offer. But for right now, independent hustlin’ man. Gettin’ it.
KHH: What are you looking for in a label?
Dee-1: The main thing I’ll be looking for is a label that truly believes in me and my brand and that understands me and my brand. You know, like you might hear one song like it’s real popular and be like, oh we need to jump on him. He’s going to be the next big thing. But I don’t want that. I want people who really take an interest in what I’m in the process of building right now and who understand what I want to do and what my long term vision is and who feel like they can come in and help us achieve that. I want partners. I don’t want to get signed to a dictatorship and have people trying to tell me how to do everything that I do. I want partners. Get a nice partnership, and we can do business.
KHH: Before rap, you were teaching Middle School. What motivated you to leave teaching and go into rap?
Dee-1: Man, I would say the main motivator was just knowing every single day I was sitting down in the classroom, sitting at my desk knowing that I’m doing a good job being a teacher, but I feel that I could be reaching way more people if I was really pursuing hip-hop full time, you know. And I was doing that everyday, I was like man if I had a chance to pursue my hip-hop full time, all out, I feel like I could reach way more people than I’m reaching in the classroom. It was a risk. I took a risk when I quit teaching. I had never gotten paid to do a show ever in my life, at the time I quit teaching. It wasn’t like I had a whole bunch of money already and this big large fan base when I quit. Or it wasn’t like I had a record deal waiting for me when I quit. I quit teaching and I hadn’t ever gotten paid to do a show before man. So that’s really a step of faith that I took. But you know that’s how I get down. I feel like you can’t do something great if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to win and to succeed. In order for me to get what I want to get, I needed to devote all my time and effort into hip-hop and that’s what I did.
KHH: Would you ever go back to teaching or do you plan on rapping forever?
Dee-1: I love teaching, so at the end of the day I wouldn’t have a problem ever going back to it like once my career is over with. But it’s got to happen at the right time. Right now, it’s definitely time for me to be on this microphone so that’s where I’m at with it. Once my rap career is over with, I wouldn’t mind going back man. There’s nothing like reaching the youth with a motivating message. There’s nothing like that man, so I definitely wouldn’t mind going back one day.
KHH: Now that you’re in the industry, what’s been the most surprising thing that you’ve seen?
Dee-1: Let’s see. Well, I guess I really have seen that there’s really not many friends in this industry. You might want there to be friends or people might initially reach out to you like they’re you’re friend or something like that. But I really have seen that there’s really not many friends in the industry. So whenever I do meet someone and they become a real close friend or personal friend, I really value that and I’m really appreciative for that because there’s not many [friends] man. People will lie straight to your face. People will tell you what you want to hear to get what they want from you at the time and then they’ll just dip out. That’s pretty much what I’ve learned. Like I knew it was like that, [now] I’ve experienced it firsthand and it’s just like golly! It’s almost like people [would] literally do anything just to make a dollar. It’s tough dealing with people like that. Then you start to get paranoid. You start to be like, who can I really trust? That’s kind of where I’m at with it. A lot of times I just got to pray on stuff. There’s no barometer you could use to be like, okay can I trust this person? Can I trust this person? Man it’d be the most honest person and you’ll fool around and they’ll be out there [being] a liar or a snake.
KHH: A lot of people in our comment section mention that Dee-1 is the most slept on rapper right now. Would you agree with them?
Dee-1: Most slept on? I do think I’m slept on right now. I definitely think that I’m slept on, yup. Right now in hip-hop, a lot of people, they don’t pay attention to you if you don’t have a big name cosign. If you don’t have somebody real big cosigning you, or if you don’t have a big label behind you, or all this hype or whatever, people won’t really even give your stuff a chance. The music I’m making, what I’m doing right now, I’m out here putting out top notch music man. Like The Focus Tape, pound for pound that’s one of the best mixtapes that anybody has put out in 2012 straight up. That’s without a label. That’s without a big cosign. That’s just real talk. That’s real music and that’s based on the feedback from everybody. So I appreciate everybody that feel like that. I’m not the angry rapper. I don’t walk around saying that all day like, ya’ll sleeping on me. Ya’ll sleeping on me. But yeah, I know that if I had a big cosign, a lot more people would all of a sudden be on the Dee-1 bandwagon.