By Brandon E. Roos
Dee-1 is someone who firmly believes in practicing what you preach. A man dedicated to helping out his native New Orleans on multiple fronts, Dee's efforts show that sometimes music is only the first step to making a difference. Whether it's recognizing “ambassadors” promoting positive change on his website or lending support to one of many social causes, his music is only part of a greater goal: promoting a lifestyle of self-empowerment and assistance.
That isn't to say that his causes overshadow his music. With deft tracks like “Stranger” and “Jay, 50, Weezy,” Dee shows he's just as comfortable retelling experiences as he is offering honest, insightful criticism. The former middle school teacher's aim is to start a conversation, not stifle one, and to make sure his actions always match his words.
HipHopDX spoke with Dee while he was in New York promoting his latest release, I Hope They Hear Me, Volume 2, which dropped March 1.
HipHopDX: First off, what's up with all the exclamation points in the song titles?
Dee-1: I hope they hear me, man! It's not a statement that's meant to be said. I'm really big on just trying to get my music out there and get my music heard and not being silent about my message and content. We put an extra oomph in there [with the exclamation points].
DX: What's the biggest difference you see between I Hope They Hear Me Volume 2 and Volumes 1 and 1.5?
Dee-1: I put a lot more thought into the concepts. In [volumes] 1 and 1.5, I was doing industry beats and showing people I could spit. [With] volume 2, I approached this like an album. The only reason it's called a mixtape is because it's being given away.
DX: Some may be quick to label “Jay, 50, and Weezy” as a diss song. How would you categorize it?
Dee-1: I tell everyone it's not a diss song. It's a real song. I actually pay homage to them because I'm a fan of all three. I didn't not want to not call out their names and make it seem phony. I had feelings about them and I called their names out. I realized it's a risk and a bold song to make, but I felt I had to do it.
DX: I saw online that you got a call from Mannie Fresh when you dropped David and Goliath. Any word from him since?
Dee-1: Mannie Fresh did some production on the mixtape. [He produced and is featured on “The One That Got Away”] I met him about four years ago in an Auto Zone. I gave him my mixtape, but it didn't turn out well. He didn't call me and he didn't ever listen to it. I made a song named “Mannie Fresh” about the whole experience. He actually heard the song and said “Man, I listened to the song and the mixtape. I appreciate what you're doing and I like the music you're making. Do me a favor, though – don't make any more songs about me! Let me know if I can help you any way I can.”
DX: You getting any love from Young Money and Cash Money?
Dee-1: I know some guys in their camp and there's no bad blood. When I see everyone, it's love. They doing what they're doing and they running the industry.
DX: Talk a bit about your Queens and One Man Army movement. How important is it for you to make it about more than just the music?
Dee-1: It's everything. At this point, I've reached the point where I've seen a million rappers come and go and they didn't stand for anything more than what they put out. Tupac [Shakur] has a legacy because he stood for something. Even though he was controversial, he was about more than his songs. One Man Army is a mentality everyone should adopt. [It] means you've got to fight your own battles and not look for hand outs.
DX: You're also active with Hip Hop for Hope. How did that come about?
Dee-1: Hip Hop for Hope is a program Ben Brubaker started in New Orleans. We met in college when he was going to Tulane and I was at LSU. He had a heart for raising money and fixing problems with our education system. He decided to use hip hop as an agent for awareness to bring change. It's a concert to raise money for educational organizations. I do what I can to help. I'm also part of a program called CeaseFire. It's an organization spearheaded by my man Charles Anderson. It's about finding alternatives to solve problems with gun violence.
DX: Do you believe more rappers would follow your lead if Rap with more empowering themes became commercially viable?
Dee-1: Whatever sells, people are gonna follow. If people see my videos on MTV, that might inspire them. That's all it is. If they see that I'm making millions and have a record deal, they'll definitely follow suit.
DX: How do you feel about rappers who don't believe in being positive role models?
Dee-1: I would agree with them. If this is not really what you stand for and you back it up, then you shouldn't be kidding you. People will see through that. We hate hypocrites in Hip Hop. I wouldn't want people who don't like the community to rap about it.
DX: So if that's not in your heart, don't do it?
Dee-1: Exactly. That's the responsibility we have as artists, to be real with ourselves and to follow through with what we about. When I made “Jay, 50, and Weezy,” I specifically chose them because those brothers are intelligent, man. They built empires so I know the power they have. They aren't living the life they glorify. I know they aren't living that; they graduated from that. [That's why] it's about those guys. I didn't name it “Gucci, Waka, OJ.”
DX: What's your favorite song on this mixtape right now?
Dee-1: I think right now it's “Blue.” It's just one of those songs where – it's a real gloomy song. It really personifies and embodies how you feel when mission things go no right. I captured the emotion perfectly. I don't walk around with a smile all day. It's very hard to say hi to people who constantly overlook and sidestep what I'm doing. It's rough when you care about your people so much and making prorgress so much and see how the weight of the world is going. It's rought. And it captures the emotions I felt that night.
DX: What's next now that volume 2 has dropped?
Dee-1: I'm talking to a few labels right now. They started reaching out lately and I'll continue talking to them. Right now it's about pushing the mixtape and getting as many ears on it I can. I'm back to doing shows right now. I chilled out on shows to finish the tape [but] now I'm back on it. I've got Paid Dues coming up, South By Southwest, Iowa, Tennesse, New Orleans, Baton Rouge. I know it starts in Vancouver. We go down the west coast then come down south and up the east coast.
DX: Any chance of heading back to teaching when you're done with Rap?
Dee-1: Yeah. When I'm done with the rap game, I wouldn't mind teaching or even opening my own school by that time.