Acey, Dk, Mikah
"I've always been A little misunderstood," Dk speaks over the phone from LA. "My mentality don't fit my physical." It's late November here in Seattle, and I'm standing outside under a pine tree in the wind and the rain, because my cell phone doesn't get decent reception in my house. I'm hunched over from the cold, and my recorder is pressed to my phone's speaker, hoping that some of what Dk's saying will be legible on tape over the wind gusts and constant dripping from the rain. From Dk's end, it sounds like he's got a crowd with him, and he's mentally juggling three or four things at once. Yet he is cool, composed, and speaking freely and clearly despite the other noises coming through the receiver. On the other hand, on my end, my teeth are chattering so much from the cold I can barely get the questions out.
The dichotomy between mental and physical he referred to can be demonstrated in the contrast between his smooth, soulful delivery on his well known tracks like "Solo is So Low" and "Sunny Side Up" against the imagery on the cover of Fuck Yo Label - showing a Dk dressed head to toe in blue, decked out in ice, posing in front of a car that costs more than some people make in a lifetime. And Fuck Yo Label is an album that fits the cover. Loud and violent, It paints an intimidating picture of Dk. However, as he explains, you can't judge a book by its cover. "I'm actually quiet. You may have seen me before, I don't know how many times, at shows just chillin' in the back. Because I'm not that kind of person. I'm not aggressive like that. I'm not aggressive unless I need to be. I only speak if I need to speak."
I, and probably most of us, figured that Dk was another hip hop child prodigy, who had been freestyling since he was a sperm. Surprisingly that's not the case. He opened up about his rap upbringing, and it was a shock from the get go. "I'd never rapped in my life," he explained. "I'd never wanted to be in entertainment. I had never desired to be an entertainer like all the other rappers you hear, that have been rapping since they were six. Man, I was 22 years old before I even picked up the mic, before I ever thought about rapping! I came home from prison and one of my homeboys' younger brother wanted to be rapper. That was Smooth 7. I used to run with Smooth 7's bigger brother. I didn't run with Smooth, but I loved him to death because this was my homeboys' little brother. So I came home, and he was like, 'Man, you know, I'm a rapper now.' I was like, 'Is that right?' I'm kinda like laughin', but he was like 'I want you to help me get my album together.' He knew that I was going out of town getting money. I said 'OK, I'll help you.'"
As Dk explained it, Smooth was initially the rapper, but with Dk's input it became apparent that the two should have equal footing in the group as emcees. Dk went on, "Smooth was like, 'Man look, why don't you just be in a group with me?' I'd never even thought about rhyming. But he was my homeboys' little brother; I'm like 'Well, what do I gotta do?' He said, 'Well, rap on some songs with me and we'll put a record together and sell it and then we'll blow up.' And you know I kinda laughed, but you know I loved the young dude, I felt like alright let's do it. And that's how the "Ghetto Gods" was formed. I never wanted to rhyme, until that day. And I only did it because Smooth 7 asked me to.
When I commented that it was incredible that he began rapping at the late age of 22, and sounded like a seasoned veteran, Dk was quick to respond "Because what I was saying, I'd experienced for real. You know what I mean, when I say I got shot, I've been shot, three times, by three different neighborhoods. I've been in I don't know how many shootouts, with people trying to rob me or whatever. It's basically a short story when you listen to my songs."
Once again the misconception of who Dk really is comes back to haunt him like a bad memory. This was a recurring theme in the interview, only because it has shadowed him throughout his entire career, including the second musical endeavor he undertook, that being the legendary Folk Hop Blues album.
"[People] don't realize that I'm really from the street," He explained. "If you listen to any of my songs, or anything from the Folk Hop Blues album that I was working on, all of the songs are street songs. They're all songs about doing your thing on the street to get money. So a lot of people [misunderstood] me. They think that I'm a different type of person [that I'm not from the street] because of the way I deliver my vocals. But the Folk Hop Blues album, I was never even supposed to work on that record. I was with Smooth 7 in the Ghetto Gods. This was back during the "Good Life" time. But Smooth 7 called me while I was out of town, and said that Motown wanted to sign us. But I was out of town doing my thing. So I didn't need the type of money that they were talking about. I was like, no. But Smooth 7 was like, 'Dang, you know, I'm not getting money like you're getting money, you're going to mess it up for me.' So I told Smooth, 'OK, well, sign yourself. Go solo.' So he ended up signing to Motown, and he ended up getting robbed in that deal. Off the top they took $70,000 off his budget, just to sign! And I didn't understand that. Everyone else we were dealing with were dealing with us for free because they loved us or because we were down with them. There was Fat Jack, Dj Slip, Big Deon, Touch, and Battlecat. Those for the most part were the only producers we would deal with. And then Massive came in, and he was a real good friend of Fat Jack and Touch. And so I started working with him a lot after Smooth 7 had signed. I didn't mind [that Smooth had signed] because I was already getting money on the street."
Which was a good thing for Dk, because as he explains, "When I went to the labels to talk to these people, they weren't talking about the money I was talking about, and they were always telling me that what I was doing wasn't rap. They didn't know how to market me. But then Bone Thugs, and after that Domino, then Skee Lo, then Ahmad, all these people started coming out with these deals. So I'm saying You don't know how to market me? Well all these people are sounding like me and Mikah 9 and you're signing them! So basically what it was in a nutshell is, they looked at me and people would tell them, 'You can't take his money and he's not going to do nothing about it.' You know what I'm saying, they couldn't do me like they did Smooth 7. You take $70,000 from me and I'm not going to just sit there, I'm coming in there to talk to you about it. And they knew that. So you know, they had to tell me something. The only one who really told me for real was Paul Stewart. When I went and talked to Paul Stewart, he was at Def Jam West. This is where I first recorded "Solo", - this was the end of '92, the beginning of '93. And he was like, 'Man, I don't even know how to market you. To be honest I don't even know what this is.'"
Dk's treatment by the record labels at the time mirrors that of other OG Good Lifers, and causes him to have mixed feelings about the whole time spent there. "It was hard in the Good Life," he continues. "Because people would come listen to us then go out and get a deal. That's how it was working out. We were so happy when Volume 10 got his deal and Freestyle Fellowship got their deal, and why I was cool with the Skee Lo's and the Ahmads getting their deals. Because then, [when labels starting expressing interest] I was like, naw. I was like, naw, I'm cool. I just couldn't understand that when I wanted a deal, it was before any of them and the industry wasn't down. So that's kinda been the whole theme of my life in terms of music. I've been ahead of the crowd, when the industry ain't ready for it, but when they're like 'Alright I'm ready for it,' I'm on to something new. It's been the theme of my whole career."
After the solo endeavors of the Ghetto Gods and the unfinished Folk Hop Blues project, Dk moved his focus away from hip hop and rapping. "I kind of stayed away from all that for a minute, then Fat Jack started working on Cater To The DJ. He was like, 'Come on man, give me something.' So I did "Yo Attitude Shows". In between [Folk Hop Blues and Cater] I was working, going in and out of town. But like Abstract would call me, with 'I need you to do a verse on this,' or Too Bad would call me, or when anybody would call me from Mass Men asking for a verse then I'd go do the verse because I'm from Mass Men. But really I wasn't working on no projects. I was in the street just doing my thing.
"As far as the career and all that, because I was getting money on the street and because I saw myself as an independent artist, I couldn't see paying for tracks. Fat Jack and those dudes, it's not just like they're here to make beats, Fat Jack is like a brother to me. Like I call him and Touch when a new movie comes out. I bought Fat Jack his first MPC! That's how far we go back." Returning to the subject of his musical career, Dk said, "My thought process is a little different. I've turned down [what seems like] over two million deals, man. First there was Motown, turned 'em down. Another one from Warner Bros, turned 'em down. Black Wall Street, turned 'em down. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the gesture, I loved it, I was flattered. But at every instance that these people offered me a deal, I was done with music. I was just [involved in music] because everyone around from Mass Men was rapping or making music. So I was like, 'I'm gonna do me a song,' and I'd call up Fat Jack, 'Hey give me a track,' and I'd do a song. But it wasn't really like I set out and said you know, 'Folk Hop Blues gonna be finished by this day, Fat Jack, we need to finish this.' Fat Jack was telling ME we need to finish this. But I never finished it, because I was in the streets."
When asked if he ever had plans to finish and release the record, DK simply said "To me, that's ancient history."
From here the interview turned towards the subject of the Mass Men. "When [The Mass Men] first got together, it was a lot different from what you may think. We actually had to earn it. I mean Fat Jack, he wouldn't get no play at the Good Life at all. They was not trying to hear Fat Jack. You gotta understand though, these are the dudes who made us what we are, the CVE's, the Hip Hop Kclans, Freestyle Fellowship. You know my first encounter as an emcee - and I wasn't into rapping and stuff - my first encounter was vs. PEACE! I had to learn the hard way" (laughs). I hadn't seen anything like that in my life.
"So at the good life, Fat Jack wasn't getting no play, we wasn't getting no juice on the microphone, none of that. but Rifleman (Ellay Khule), was like 'These dudes are kind of dope, I like what they saying.' Because he's really, what you'd call, militant. So he heard Smooth 7, and he heard the Ghetto Gods and he kinda dug the name, and I think that's what kind of sparked his interest. so he listened to our stuff, so you know that kind of opened it up. That, and PEACE attacking me had people saying these guys are kinda dope (laughs). You know Smooth 7 just had it from the start, he would rap and rap and rap and rap, and never even stop. he can go for EVER. It's ridiculous. one night we were all at Medusa's house, and Medusa was spinnin' records. And he and PEACE were going back and forth, like forever. It literally felt like it was for an hour. Back and forth, just back and forth. but none of this stuff is recorded, it's just a memory, you know? But I know Medusa and everybody remembers it. When we get together it's still something we all talk about."
From there DK logically moved to the topic of "Project Blowed": "On the inside cover [of the Project Blowed album], that's me, Ab and Acey. When the concept was created we were doing a song at Grand Royal. Me, Acey, Ab, PEACE, Mikah 9. That was when we were all deciding we were done with the Good Life. I really don't have a good understanding of what went on with B. Hall or whatever, but they were saying we couldn't do things that we wanted to do, (run people off stage by heckling). And supposedly things were being done that we didn't have any control of with our music. I didn't have no proof of any of that so I kinda stayed out of it. But we all decided we were going to move on. So that was the birth of Project Blowed. I knew business, because I did business in the street, but I didn't know business as far as cd's, or internet, or any of that. It seemed kinda small. I didn't understand fully what we were really doing. All I knew is that we were creating stuff, and that we owned it, and nobody could tell us what we could or couldn't do with it."
Dk then shed some light on his name change, a topic that had baffled me and probably kept a lot of his fans in the dark about his album Fuck Yo Label: "The whole thing with [the name change to] DK No Deal - I was done with Dk Toon. The 'Toon' comes from my neighborhood name. My neighborhood name was Li'l Cartoon, and I was trying to step away from that musically. You know, I'm older now, I'm really not trying to present myself in that manner. People may look at me and see the same dude but really I'm not the same. I'm not really trying to push the same thing, you know what I mean? Plus, when I was doing songs, people weren't trying to hear what I was trying to say. I looked different than the way I wrote. If you got a hundred thousand dollar Benz, and another two hundred thousand in jewelry, and people know you from this type of lifestyle and you're not talking, like, street talk? How you going to talk about shit that's real heavy, like you have it and you shouldn't be doing what you're doing? It really wasn't fitting. When I got hit by men like yourself and the Blowdians they want to hear the other side, they want to hear the Folk Hop Blues style. But fools that I affiliate with every day, they don't want to hear that. That's some weird stuff. So I'm walking a fine line. Because a lot of people in the underground have no idea who I am. If I go to the Blowed tonight ten people would know who I was. But if my song came on they'd all know every word.
"There are instances when I'd be with Ab and Fat, and people wouldn't know my mentality. So I'm sitting there sagging with jewelry on, and they'd speak to both Abstract and Fat Jack because they were both dreads. And because I was bald headed, and I look how I look, they wouldn't even speak to me! Fat Jack will tell you this, there was this one time, when I said, "Man, you call yourself positive or conscious or whatever, but you speak to them because they got locks and you said nothing to me, that shows me that you put out negative energy. Cuz motherfucker, you say I don't look like you so I don't deserve recognition?!' Basically that's been my whole life throughout this entire industry!"
We then moved on to the Fuck Yo Label, Sue Me album, the one reviewed here at beetbak. I had written that it suffered from repetition and length, and when he initially contacted me regarding explaining the record, I admit I thought he was going to verbally cave my kneecaps in. Totally not the case, Dk was only looking to set straight the details of the album's creation and content. "As for the Fuck Yo Label album," continues Dk, "that album was never supposed to exist. The reason a lot of the songs sound similar is because I was just recording. I was in the studio with these dudes and they were like 'You're hard, I wanna do something with you.' So I did something with them. I was just in the studio hanging out with my boys and they was recording. There ended up 25, 30 songs. And one of my partners (Kompari Rudisson) who I have a distribution company with, called 1-Stop Distribution, she's from Texas and she put out UGK, Slim Thug, Paul Wall, she put out a lot of people in the underground before they got their major deals. She heard my stuff on Myspace, and she was like 'What is that album called?' And I was all, 'Well that album never really gonna come out,' you know, I was just recording. And she said, 'Well, put up everything you got on MySpace for me,' so I put all the songs up, she downloaded the songs, took some of my pictures from Myspace, then made the album! I never put that together like that's how I present myself. Because I agree with what you said 100%, a lot of the songs never would have seen the light of day. Kompari is a businesswoman and refuses to hold on to or waste material so she moved forward. I would have used four or five songs out of the entire 22 songs. This mess is really complicated, this is my whole career. This is the way I've been treated over and over.
Dk's personal life also effected the album's creation. A proud father of a grown son and daughter, as well as two more sons (eleven and eight), a lot of his creative energies were funneled into his children. "At the same time I was recording Fuck Yo Label, my daughter Bre Roca was signed to Roc-A-Fella. So when she signed to Roc-A-Fella, I was helping her put her record together. And I'm flyin all over the place, cuz she's doing shows with Jay and them, she doing the touring/modeling and all that. So that kept me pretty busy. And then my son [Mac Flossy] decided he can rhyme now, and Warner Bros wanted to sign him. My children ended up putting a children's group together called the "Giggle Club". do you remember School House Rock? Dame Dash acquired the rights to do all of those, they were going to have these children redo them in a hip hop style. Then I ended up hooking up with QD3 and Ray Brown, and that pushed me more into working with film. Then with him, we ended up creating a show for Nickelodeon with Nick Cannon called "Star Camp", and this was surrounding the children and all that. So that pulled me further and further away from what I was doing [with the album]. You know, this is about my children, so that's more important than any record that I'm even thinking about. So in between those days at Nickelodeon I'm recording the songs on Fuck Yo Label, but i'm not really serious about it because all my energy is really going into my children. But of course, they killed Roc-A-Fella Records, so my daughter's crushed mentally. Everybody want her but she doesn't want to go nowhere. And then the show we did for Nickelodeon, it was the first show to ever premier on the internet by a major network. Now at the time that it premiered the writer's strike began! I didn't have nothing to do with that stuff, I'm still independent. I'm not a member of any unions, So the writer's strike, that don't apply to me. But what it was about, was that nobody had an idea of how the writers were supposed to be payed for showing their stuff on the internet. So I'm stuck directly in the middle of that. To this day I still do not know where I fit in to that, because I'm not signed to Nickelodeon, I'm not signed to nobody. When we (QD3, Ray, Dk) created "Star Camp", it was on our own time and our own dime. But since it came out on Nickelodeon it fell under [the network] and I just got caught up." Frustration is apparent in his voice over the phone. "With all of these ideas that I came up with, whatever I wanted to do, on account that I was one of the first ones that was doing it, it didn't pan out. So I still stayed in the street."
It's clearly evident that Dk's dealings with the entertainment industry have all ended in a struggle, so it was very surprising the response I received when I asked him if he ever planned on making another record. "It's funny you should mention that," he replied. "I'm about to start working on a record now. I'm actually really starting a real record now. Because I got the time to do it. You're gonna see a lot of the old me on the new record. It's easy because it's really me. I got my own studio, so there's no reason for me not to do it." But Dk's not the only one that has plans for recording in the future. "Do you know Novelist?" he asked me. Novelist was a name I wasn't familiar with, so he filled me in. "Novelist is another member of of the Mass Men. He's actually talking about doing a Mass Men album. All the Mass Men are working on putting a record together, and after that we're gonna do the movie. That's going to tell the whole story about [the Mass Men], kinda clear it up."
At that the interview was basically at a close. I thanked him for his time and generosity in explaining so much about his life, trials and tribulations as an artist. He had said in an earlier email to me that astonishingly he had no idea he'd even be missed as an artist. He said that when he first heard that his music was coveted not only by a few oldschool heads in Cali, but by generations of fans in places as diverse as Japan, Finland, and Germany, he was surprised. He said over the phone, "I had no idea our stuff was even out there until Rifleman (Ellay Khule) came back from Germany and told me he met two more Dk Toons! And he was like, 'This is how it was, I met some Riflemen while I was out there too!' Out there to show you flattery, they don't take your song, they take your name. And they start doing something like you. I've never been anywhere like that. I've never been out of the States. I've never, ever, been on tour. I've never done a video. I've never put anything that I've done out, ever. For most people, all they know of me is my music - They don't really know me. When they meet me, they're like, 'Wait a minute - physically he don't fit what I have in my head what he's supposed to look like.' You know, like I'm supposed to look like a backpacker! But you know I'm just different. I guess in business, it sends a mixed message. So that makes it really hard for me to do a record. You know, because physically I would be marketed with Ice Cube and them. But in terms of the record, I'm supposed to be on tour with Ab Rude."
Summing it up, Dk explained, "When I went to Fat Jack's house, we'll have dinner, I'll play with his kids or whatever, we up to two or three in the morning. I shut up and read the Koran, the Bible, and the Kaballa side by side till five, six in the morning. I'm a little more ecclectic than people think. But it's all mental, when you see me physically, you'd never know it was me."
Thanks again, Dk! Beetbak with be sure to keep all the heads posted about future developments or news regarding this legendary emcee and artist.