Haastattelussa San Francisco -räppäri Dregs One

Haastattelussa Kalifornian San Franciscosta kotoisin oleva räppäri, podcasteri ja graffititaiteilija Dregs One. Hän on julkaissut urallaan yli 10 sooloalbumia, jotka ovat keränneet laajaa tunnustusta. Lisäksi hän on tehnyt merkittäviä yhteistyöprojekteja useiden tunnettujen räppäreiden, kuten Andre Nickatinan ja Cellskin kanssa. Dregs One on monipuolinen taiteilija, jonka intohimo ja lahjakkuus heijastuvat hänen musiikissaan.

  1. Can you share with us the story of your rap career? How did you first discover your passion for rapping, and what led you to pursue it as a full-fledged artist?

I started off kicking freestyles for fun. I would rhyme about girls in my high school class in the style of Too $hort’s “Freaky Tales.” The girls actually liked it and people told me I was pretty good. I ended up linking with the rest of my crew, Gas Mask Colony, because they were into freestyling too. We would spark cyphers at house parties and developed a local reputation as a dope rap crew. Because our friends believed in us, that gave us the push to start recording and we eventually opened our own studio. This was at the peak of the hyphy movement in 2006 and the independent music game was booming, so we jumped right in it. From there we started rocking shows and selling CDs to people around the world. The rest of my crew eventually went in other directions but I had the passion to keep doing it and going hard. Almost 20 years later I’m still doing it and it’s going better than ever.

  1. As a graffiti artist, can you tell us about your journey in the world of graffiti art? When did you first start creating graffiti, and what drew you to this form of artistic expression?

Graffiti was all around me growing up in San Francisco. The city was one of the top international destinations for graffiti art so being exposed to that scene had a big influence on me. It was like a rite of passage that almost every kid dabbled in growing up. We would tag on the buses and explore the city at all hours of the day and night. It gave me a sense of identity and community to belong to. I was never one of the top writers in the city but I stuck with it consistently until my early 20s when I decided to stop because I kept catching cases and it was distracting me from the music. A few years later I decided to pick up a spraycan again and started doing big pieces and productions. I started getting really good at painting and I enjoy it, so I’m glad that it’s still a passion of mine and I can incorporate it into the music and other stuff I do.

  1. Growing up in San Francisco, can you tell us about your experiences and how the city influenced your artistic journey? What was it like to grow up in such a culturally diverse and vibrant environment?

I’m really grateful for my experiences growing up in San Francisco, it was an amazing place to be a kid. Everyday there was a new adventure and so much to be exposed to. The hippie movement, skateboarding, the arts scene: I saw all those things happening right in my backyard. Plus I hung out with all kinds of kids- Black, Irish, Italian, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Samoan, Arab, Latino, etc. I’ve never seen another city quite like it, maybe the closest would be New York City but San Francisco is much smaller so all of us from different backgrounds are always together and hanging out. At the same time there was a lot of crazy shit – turf wars, drugs, homelessness, crime. It was dangerous and a lot of kids around me ended up in really bad situations. But I’m thankful for that too because it made me street smart and I’m stronger for having survived all that and ending up on a positive path.

  1. Are there any local rappers from the San Francisco area who have had a significant impact on you and your artistic development? Can you share some insights into their influence on your work?

All the San Francisco rappers of the 90s were really influential to me, we looked up to them like superstars. I grew up in Lakeview which is the same neighborhood of Cougnut, Cellski, Baldhead Rick and UNLV. So their music really sounded like the soundtrack of the neighborhood, especially Cellski’s production which I really love. San Quinn was like the rawest lyricist to us as kids and we were all really proud of him. I was around Berner when he was just starting his career so it’s crazy to see the heights he’s gone to as an artist and a businessman. But building with Andre Nickatina put a battery in my back because he would really encourage me to step up and he gave me a lot of game on how to be successful as an artist. He put me on to some dope opportunities and shared a lot of insight with me on how the rap game works. Plus being around Nickatina showed me how you can be in a lane of your own, in terms of making the music you want to make without tripping off whatever else is going on with the industry or local scene.

  1. Can you shed some light on the hip-hop scene in San Francisco? How would you describe the unique characteristics and contributions of the city to the broader hip-hop culture?

I think the things I described about growing up in San Francisco really influenced the music scene. It’s a tight-knit community, our artists really rep for the people and the people really rep for our artists. It’s all homegrown and accessible to the people living here. It’s not like you only see the artists on TV or read about them in magazines- growing up I would see different rappers around the city and I always thought that was dope. You have artists from every single style, whether it’s Paris with political rap, RBL with straight gangsta shit, or Domino from Hieroglyphics who grew up in San Francisco and produced a lot of boom-bap style slaps. Nowadays it’s a lot more spread out, there’s so many artists from all over the city and we don’t all rock together like the OGs used to. It’s hard to keep up with. But you got guys like Larry June who are putting an international spotlight on SF, and also there’s a lot of up-and-coming local artists who are working hard and putting out good music. Plenty of the OGs are still going hard too. We have a big community out here so if you represent the city well, most times people will show you love.

  1. What are some of your all-time favorite hip-hop albums, and what makes them stand out to you personally?

Locally, San Quinn’s “The Hustle Continues” is a Frisco classic that really represents what SF was like when that album came out. Same with RBL’s “Ruthless By Law.” The Jacka’s “Jack Artist” album changed our lives when it first dropped, it was totally unique for Bay rap at the time. Cellski’s “Mr. Predicter” and “Canadian Bacon” albums have funky ass Frisco beats. 2pac “Me Against The World” is probably my favorite album of all time because his message was so powerful and he inspired people by sharing his pain and his struggles. I love Bay Area rap but I also love hip-hop overall. Wu-Tang’s “36 Chambers” is one of my favorites, I love the raw lyricism, originality, and gritty production. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony “Art of War” is one my friends and I used to slap on repeat. Outkast “Aquemini” is a masterpiece. I heard Mos Def’s “Black On Both Sides” as a kid when it first came out and it blew my mind. Big Pun’s “Capital Punishment” shows why he’s one of the greatest lyricists of all time. Beastie Boys “License To Ill” is a really fun album, I used to play it all the time as a little kid. Kendrick Lamar “Good Kid, Maad City” is phenomenal. I could really go on and on, my love of rap music is deep.

  1. You host a podcast called “History of the Bay,” which explores the rich cultural heritage and contributions of the Bay Area. What inspired you to start this podcast?

I been wanting to do a podcast for a minute, just because I’m knowledgeable about many different subjects and I knew I’d be good at it since such a big part of my life has been speaking in front of microphones. When my “History of the Bay” social media content started really popping off I knew it was time to start the podcast because I wanted to supplement the stuff I speak on with stories direct from the artists themselves. I’m blessed to have a network of legendary people from the rap and graffiti scene so I knew I could curate some really great guests. As a rapper, these days you have to show people more than just your music. You have to give them insight into who you are as a person, your interests, and some of the other things you’re capable of doing- whether it’s dance, comedy, whatever. For me it just happens to be sharing information about things I’m passionate about. The stuff I speak on in my content and on the podcast are influences in my music so I think it’s a perfect companion for the other projects I’m doing. The podcast is doing amazing after just less than a year. We’ve shared some incredible stories, my team is awesome, it’s a profitable venture, and I’m really excited to see where it goes from here.

  1. How do you perceive the graffiti scene nowadays? What are your thoughts on its evolution, challenges, and contributions to the urban art landscape?

Graffiti in the Bay Area is exploding. There’s a new generation of kids who are going out and getting into it, I think especially since the plan-demic. Kids are going out and using graffiti to express their identity. Oakland especially is off the hook with graffiti everywhere. At the same time, the quality and skill level is not quite what it was when I was growing up in terms of writers going after the height of style and expression. It’s more about bombing (getting your name up) than it is about style. But that’s cool, I respect it and things are always going to change. I’m just glad that there are still people out there going hard. I think society can be really oppressive with over-policing, unjust laws, and increased surveillance on people. Plus there is a housing crisis and serious wealth inequality gap in the Bay. So as long as people are going out and doing graffiti, it sends a message that the people can never be completely controlled. And this writing culture that could have just been a short fad is still alive and well.

  1. As an artist, do you believe it’s important to address social and political issues through your music and graffiti? If so, are there any specific issues that you feel strongly about and aim to convey in your art?

I do believe it’s important to stand for something. I’m not a big fan of music that has no substance. I like flossing and having nice things, but there’s more to life than money. I understand street life and the thug mentality, but I don’t think that should be expressed dishonestly like there isn’t a downside to it. I can admire a sexy woman just like any man, but I don’t want to hear about them being constantly degraded all the time. So it’s about finding that balance. I used to be way more political in my music but that’s because it was what I was experiencing in those moments and I needed that outlet to express the issues I was dealing with like police brutality, gentrification, corruption, etc. Now I’m a little more subtle so it doesn’t go over people’s heads and I can appeal to the audience who needs to hear a positive message the most. You can say the most important message ever but if the song doesn’t slap, people won’t want to hear it. These days instead of rallying for massive political change I’m more into addressing issues on a direct, personal level. I think that’s more effective. So what I try to push is being a smart, positive individual, making the right choices, and always learning and growing. Because I think one of the biggest problems we’re dealing with now is people living ignorant and not thinking critically. There’s a lot of brainwashing going on. Plus there’s a lot of sucka shit and hater shit out there so I think we need to try our best not to feed into it. It really starts with each of us as individuals. You can’t go out and preach positivity to the people when you’re really living foul and unwilling to make changes in yourself.

  1. In your opinion, how does today’s political climate impact the hip-hop and graffiti scenes? Do you think artists have a responsibility to engage with political discourse?

I used to think that artists should be held more accountable and speak on what’s going on in the world, but that’s not fair because everybody’s different and at the end of the day, people’s art is their own individual expression. What disturbs me is the amount of young rappers being killed over senseless street violence, and how a lot of that crosses over into the music. Nowadays it’s normal for rappers to dis specific individuals and hoods in their music and that often leads to people getting hurt. I would rather see people who come from that world move beyond it, focus on their careers, and inspire other young people to do the same. But I think it reflects the climate that we’re in. There’s a serious problem with lack of education and systems that are failing our young people. There are limited opportunities for them to get ahead and live a prosperous life. So I think we as artists should try our best to give these youngsters better alternatives to look at. That doesn’t mean being a super square and preaching all day, it’s really just being the best example you can be of what a solid individual looks like. That’s the hype I’m on right now. I don’t pay much attention to current events or have much faith in voting or civic engagement. There’s a bigger system at work that’s been shaping our society for years and years and I honestly don’t know how to stop it, or if it can be stopped. I’m focused on finding freedom in my own life, living outside of that system as much as I can, and inspiring other people to do the same.

  1. When you have free time to relax and unwind, what are some activities or hobbies that you enjoy? How do you recharge and find balance amidst your creative pursuits?

Most of my life revolves around art. I love hitting up art galleries, museums, film screenings, new and exciting restaurants, and fly shit like that. When I was young I spent a lot of time drinking 40s on the street, partying, and cattin off so now my tastes are more refined. It’s part of evolving and changing as a person, you can’t always do the same things forever. At the same time, my favorite things to do are making music and painting so that’s why I’m on a career path where I pretty much get to be around those things full-time. Other than that I’m getting back into exercising more, hitting the gym and riding my bike around the city. But most days all I do is work, this is a full-time grind with no real days off. I hustle hard, but I enjoy my hustle so it’s good. I stay out the way and spend time with my girl or a small circle of my day-one homies when I have time to chill.

  1. Looking ahead, what can your fans expect from you in the future? Are there any upcoming projects, collaborations, or artistic ventures that you’re particularly excited about?

I will never stop rapping so there’s always going to be more music coming. Right now I have an EP with my homie Max Kane, a dope DJ/producer that will be dropping this summer – straight Frisco slaps. I’m also going to do another project with Ill Sugi, my homie from Japan who makes dope lo-fi beats. We’ve previously released about 4 projects together. I went out to Tokyo last year and we made a bunch of beats and wrote a bunch of songs so those will be dropping soon, too. I also have a project in the works over beats by my homie DEO, who is part of the group Evenodds. I record constantly and I write rhymes almost everyday. But really I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve always done – paint, make music, put out dope content, record amazing podcasts, and rock shows. Just expect me to turn up and really increase the output.

  1. Any last words to our readers?

Thanks to everyone who genuinely rocks with my work. The fact that I’ve had supporters since day one is what kept me in the game all these years. People around the world who I’ve never even met have kept my music in rotation and I appreciate every single one of them. I also appreciate your platform for giving artists like me a spotlight, it’s very important. So thanks for hitting me up and always being supportive, let’s keep building. Peace.

Haastattelu: J-P / Fileerausveitsi