A Conversation With Dee-1: ‘It’s Not My Job to Classify Myself’
Dee-1 is not your typical hip-hop artist. David Augustine Jr. left his job as a middle school math teacher to follow his dreams of becoming a rapper; and the New Orleans native funded his own projects until he was signed to major label RCA Inspiration in 2013. Dee-1 released his first studio album David & Goliath in 2009, and in 2010 he dropped a music video for his single "Jay, 50, & Weezy.” That song was the turning point in his career; on the track, he called out three of hip-hop’s biggest rappers and urged them to take an active role in helping their communities.
Dee-1 became a new positive voice in hip-hop; releasing several mixtapes and EPs. In 2016 he released the song “Sallie Mae Back,” an energetic and uplifting song that celebrated him paying off his student loans. The single received national attention and made headlines.
Dee-1 uses his music as a platform to spread positivity and his Christian beliefs to the masses.
With his new album Slingshot David, Dee-1 is using his life as the example. He narrates the project with a young boy named JoJo, the nephew of his late best friend. Dee-1 uses classic storytelling to convey his message.
Dee-1 talked to The Boombox about his new album, life as Christian and discovering his passion.
You went from being a math teacher to a hip-hop artist, what was that transition like?
There were a lot of things that I felt like held me back from reaching the students the way I wanted to. There are a lot of confines as far as the administrative side of being a teacher that limit how effective you can be in the classroom.
A lot of these rules and standardized tests make it to where it's not as pure of a system as you would want it to be. I feel like with hip-hop there is no middleman, I have a direct line of communication to my audience. That's how I made the transition, I knew that my passion was in hip-hop. Also, having financial literacy and being smart with my money. I could have never made that transition if I didn't have money that I had saved up from being a teacher.
I saved a lot of my paychecks so that ultimately when I stopped teaching I wasn't dead broke. I had savings that I was living off of because it takes time to get your business off the ground. It takes time to start making money off your craft, it took me about two years before I started making any money off music. But luckily I had enough money saved to where I could survive and buy my own mixtapes, studio time, posters, flyers, and travel expenses.
How did New Orleans and the hip-hop community in the city inspire the sound of your music?
I wanted to be a Hot Boy as a little kid. I wanted to be like Lil Wayne, Juvenile, B.G., and Turk. I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, and act like them. It made me proud to showcase my New Orleans swagger. People might say "Well, y'all ain't Atlanta, or "Y'all ain't New York, or L.A." And I was like, "You right, we ain't—we New Orleans!"
That's how the culture and hip-hop affected me. I feel like I carry a New Orleans flag with me everywhere I go.
Did you plan to go independent first and then get signed to a label?
The plan was to stay independent for as long as I could and build up my clout so I didn't have to take any kind of deal. I didn't want a deal where I didn't have any creative control or a deal that I had to sign to a bunch of people who didn't see my vision. I wanted to be in a situation that allowed me to win.
One day I'm going to have a family and I don't want to have to say, aight kids come sit in here and let daddy tell you about how he was a slave to this corporate company. I want to be proud of the business moves I made.
Speaking of family, how do you navigate trying to find or keep a girlfriend in this type of business?
It's difficult, honestly, this is a big world and God didn't just make one woman great. There's a lot of beautiful black queens out here. I've had the pleasure of meeting so many and I'm like, man you are amazing, it would be awesome to spend the rest of my life with you.
And then I'm like, wait, you are amazing too it would be awesome to spend the rest of my life with you too. And that's difficult because I'm an analytical thinker, I don't make decisions based on impulse or emotions–I think things through. The more I think things through I'm just like wow, there's not going to be this one glaring answer of hey there's only one person out there.
It's a decision that we make to say that I'm choosing you and I'm going forward, and I'm not going to second guess my choice. This industry has made it to where it’s tough to lay a great foundation for a relationship because I think you need to be able to put in real time. And because I travel a lot it can be a difficult thing to do. But I have learned from my past experiences and moving forward I definitely want to be married–I'm looking for wifey and nothing else.
How did you come to find God at such a young age? And what made you decide to incorporate your beliefs into your music?
That's the most important thing to me. Before I'm a rapper from New Orleans, a black man, a dude with dreadlocks, or a college graduate, before any of that, I'm a man of God–I'm a child of God. All the other stuff are subtitles underneath the child of God title.
A lot of times we forget that title and we get distracted by all these other subtitles. We will wear all those flags on our shoulders to fullest and say, "I'm a 504 boy, I'm a proud college graduate and former teacher, I'm a black man." And all that stuff is true, but is it more important than being a child of God? Nah. It's just priorities and because I know that is most important it must be verbalized.
Did you ever think you would have to compromise your message to reach the masses?
That was always the exciting part for me, the challenge of saying, I'm not going to compromise my message but I'm still going to reach the masses. And you know who really got me excited about that challenge and let me know that it was possible? Early Kanye West.
He influenced me, the goal is not just to reach the masses but reach them with a message that isn’t compromised. I didn't have to speak death, negativity, and hatred into people's hearts to reach them. It's not important who I reach, it's important how I reach them.
Do you classify yourself as a Christian rapper or a conscious rapper?
I don't classify myself. I let people do that for me, whatever people think I am based on meeting me and listening to my music, I'm comfortable with that. That's not my job to classify myself. I think a Christian rapper is someone who makes sure their Christian faith is embedded explicitly into the content of their music. The content is literally about God and you’re speaking to people in the Christian community with your music.
A conscious rapper is someone who is awake and aware of what's going on in society. What's going on in society may not have anything to do with what's going on in the Christian community. And sometimes they overlap, but sometimes they don't–a conscious rapper doesn't have to be a Christian at all. I think I could probably fit into both depending on who you talk to. I'm unique.
How did you come up with the album title Slingshot David?
You know who David defeated back in the day? David defeated Goliath with a slingshot. The concept of the album is we all have our own Goliath's in life that are put here to try and hold us back from reaching our destiny that God has as our final destination.
These Goliath's include things like poverty, racism, discrimination, violence, depression, anxiety, and all of these Goliath's present in this life. The key to defeating your Goliath's is you have to identify your slingshot. David knew he was gifted with a slingshot, he knew if he used it to battle this giant Goliath he could defeat him, even if he was the underdog.
You have to know what's your slingshot and how to use it. That's the whole point of this album, I'm telling a story from front to back, from elementary school to present day and how through living life through trials and tribulations, I eventually found my slingshot.
What made you decide to incorporate your entire life into one album—particularly at such a young age?
An album is meant to tell a story, in my opinion. If it’s just a collection of random songs that might as well be a mixtape. So if it’s an album, it has to feel like a story. I wanted to take this approach: What if I never put another album out in my career? What would I want this album to say? The story of finding your slingshot and figuring out how to use your slingshot is applicable to everyone's life until the end of time.
What are some of your favorite songs on the album?
"I Don't Wanna Let You Down," that's a song that is an anthem for the dream chaser. You have to make sacrifices when you choose to slay your Goliaths with your slingshot. You make a lot of sacrifices with your time and with your energy. We do it for those special people that we don't want to let down or we do it because we don't want to let God down.
"Hood Villains," is another one. There are people who don't even know that they are hood villains and they're contributing to the problems in the hood. I just want people to wake up and know that you either part of the problem or part of the solution. Those songs jump out at me.
Can you explain what the “Mission Vision” is and why you created it?
"Mission Vision," is my movement. I created it because I wanted my movement to be bigger than just the name Dee-1. It's a lifestyle to where you commit to three things: An ever-growing relationship with God, utilizing your skills and talents in a way that is going to benefit yourself, your family and your community in a positive way. And the three "R's." You strive to be real, righteous, and relevant.
It's just like when 2Pac had Thug Life—it's a code of conduct. I was influenced by 2Pac, I'm attracted to how much of a leader he was outside of being a dope artist.
With so much going on a lot of people find it difficult to be positive, how have you been able to maintain a positive outlook? And what role does your music play in accomplishing that?
My method is knowing that my self-worth isn't determined by my net worth. My self-worth isn't determined by how many followers I have on Instagram. My self-worth is determined by God and knowing he specifically created me. He took his time and handcrafted me just how I am. And in that I should feel confident, I should feel great about the human being that I am.
That helps me to stay positive knowing that I wasn't an accident, I was put here on purpose for a purpose. That makes me smile when I even say that.
When you go to work you say, I have to do an eight hour or a twelve hour, this time here on earth is simply a shift that we clocking in for. We don't know when we gon clock out but we've officially clocked in from the time we were born and just like when you clock in at work you have a certain amount of tasks that you're expected to complete during that shift.
Most people will never understand that as long as we're here we have a specific purpose for why we were put here and a specific job that we have to get done.
You don't care about classification—how would you describe your message?
Ultimately I want people to understand that we all have a purpose in life and our purpose comes from our creator. You have to understand that your purpose is tied to what your slingshot is. It's understanding how to use those gifts and talents in a way that can do good while you're down here on earth
What's been the most rewarding part of the journey?
Getting acknowledged by my heroes. I was able to meet Nas my favorite rapper and he acknowledged me as a dope artist. I met Lupe Fiasco and formed a friendship with him and I was able to make music with him. Being able to meet DMX, one of my childhood inspirations, and pray with him.
But even more memorable than that are the moments when people call up the radio station crying because the music I made impacted them that much. That's the type of stuff that the world might not glorify or celebrate but I'm in this thing to change lives.
What’s next for Dee-1?
The Slingshot David album is brand new so I'm pushing that, I need the whole world to hear it. I also have the Slingshot David album tour coming up, tickets are on sale now.
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