Hailing from New Orleans East and schooled Uptown at Audubon Montessori, Dee-1 was able to learn from two very different environments. He said, “I went to Audubon Montessori from kindergarten to eighth grade. And since I lived in the East, I would catch the bus everyday to get there. After school, I would catch the streetcar to Canal St., kick it on Canal, and then catch the Lake Forest bus home where I stayed. That really acclimated me with a whole different side of the city ‘cause Uptown is very different from the East. That’s how I became connected with different areas of the city really well. I had those East roots and added Uptown roots from going to school for nine years there.”
He added, “That was a cool experience for me. When I look back on my childhood, I had the opportunity to be exposed to so many different cultures and ethnicities. Obviously, growing up in New Orleans, it’s easy to be boxed in and only know what’s in your ‘hood. But with me, both my neighborhood and the schools I went to were very diverse. I didn’t grow up knowing how to function in only one circle of people. That’s the great thing, that New Orleans provides you the opportunity to say, ‘Wow, I saw a little bit of everything in my own city.’”
Now, David the student wasn’t always thinking about becoming Dee-1 the rapper, although he and his friends did want to emulate Cash Money’s Hot Boys or Master P.’s No Limit camp. “We wanted to be The Hot Boys and we would have these little free style sessions,” Dee-1 explained. “Back then, I wasn’t really out of my shell yet and I had a fear of failure and sounding wack and everybody laughing. Instead, I would be that person doing the beat boxing, drumming on the table, and providing the beat so you could get laughed at instead of me. It wasn’t until I was out of New Orleans at school at LSU in Baton Rouge when I really started free styling. I had a new group of friends and we would freestyle in our off time. This is when I started to think that I could do this, that I could become a rapper, that I should have been doing this all along.”
A talented basketball player, Dee-1 found his calling in his words. Tired of the typical college life, he wanted to do more. “I needed something to be passionate about since basketball didn’t work out for me. Music and hip hop was that and I was able to come out of my shell.”
But don’t get it twisted. Dee-1 is not your typical rapper, spreading the “money, cars, and hoes anthems” that we all become so accustomed to and tired of. Dee-1 is on a pathway all his own…one that’s positive and uplifting, something you wouldn’t mind ya mama or maw maw listening to. “I tried that route of guns, drugs, and misogyny at first, but I didn’t feel good about what I was doing,” he said. “It was what I was used to listening to growing up, so naturally it’s what would come out of my mouth when I would free style. And it’s not like I was around people who were like, ‘Man, you don’t do that’ because they was saying the same things as me in their music. So, it was a whole bunch of people with talent, but with no direction and no sense of purpose. We was big uppin’ each other in our ignorance.”
He continued, “That’s what I was doing at first, but when my family caught wind of it, I realized how embarrassed I was. When I realized that I couldn’t even be proud of what I was doing musically, but that I was passionate about it, I knew I needed to find a way to be able to do this and feel good about the content and message. Around this same time, my spiritual life started getting more intense and I was growing up and maturing and my music reflects that. Songs like One Man Army and Uncle Tom have real messages. If you listen to a Dee-1 CD or mixtape, you really get David; this is me and this is all aspects of me. That balance that you hear in all the music, from the humor to the creativity to the lyricism to the political consciousness, all that stuff, is what I do. I know there’s space in hip hop for what I do on a bigger level.”
With this consciousness in his music, there are always stereotypes of who people think Dee-1 really is. He explained, “People might hear about me, but not all of them get the opportunity to meet me. If you only heard about me and you heard some of the buzzwords like ‘former teacher,’ ‘don’t curse in his music,’ ‘don’t drink,’ ‘don’t smoke,’ you might get the feeling like, ‘Oh, he’s holier than thou when he come around’ or ‘I don’t even want to hear his music based on that.’ And that stuff matters to me because the people I really want to reach are the people who grew up where I grew up, the people in the ‘hood. That’s why I do this. I know that if I died today, I honestly feel like because of the music I’ve made and because of what I’ve stood for, I’ve really helped some people change their lives, helped to motivate them to pursue their purpose and their mission in their life.”
He added, “It’s so many different types of people, from people straight out the ‘hood or in the ‘hood to people all the way at Ivy League schools like Harvard University, to whom I’m reaching. And I know it’s not me. I’m not smart enough, I’m not charismatic enough to be doing all this on my own, so I know it’s a higher power. It’s God that’s really using me right now and I look forward to allowing Him to continue to doing it.”
Like any other New Orleanian, Dee-1 LOVES his city. While he could be in Los Angeles or Atlanta or New York making his music and doing his business, he’s chosen to stay right here…right here in the place he loves and can’t leave. “New Orleans is the first city I fell in love with and the love was so good that I never had to really leave. When I go out of town, I can’t wait for people to ask me where I’m from so I can say, ‘Oh, I’m from New Orleans, ya heard me!’ And like any relationship, it’s not always on the up and up. It’s not always great. There are other cities that have a lot to offer, but your heart is going to be connected to where you are from and wanting to improve the conditions of where you’re from. If I just cared about being successful, then why not just go to New York or Los Angeles or Atlanta permanently? Instead, I’ve learned to use those cities strategically to help me be successful. I want to make a difference in New Orleans. It’s knowing I played a role in doing some real historic monumental stuff in people’s lives that drives me.”
For those of us looking to fulfill our dreams, Dee-1 had the following advice: “Education is imperative. Every criminal I know that has done time or is doing time, the one word that I hear consistently is ‘hopeless.’ They felt a sense of hopelessness because they had no options and turned to a life of crime. I feel the one thing education has done is given people options. When you’re educated, whether that’s formally through your books and degrees or whether as a human being educated to know how the world works, you know that you are never ever hopeless. That’s why I always say, ‘And the battle continues.’ There is so much work to be done, so many people left to reach that it’s just like, ‘Yo, this was tight, this was dope. Let’s enjoy and celebrate, but the battle continues.’”
Obviously, Dee-1 is up for the challenge, for the fight of his life perhaps. And we want him to know that he’s not fighting alone, that we’re in this fight for our city, our children, our community, together. And bay-bay, you know New Orleans people don’t go down without a fight, and a damn good one at that.
So, Mr. Augustine, Mr. Dee-1, know that you are not alone…we are on that battle with you.
For more information about Dee-1, please visit his website, Facebook, and Twitter.