Dee-1 On His New Single “Against Us,” Forthcoming EP And Making His Debut At The BET Cypher
New Orleans rapper Dee-1 had a bundle of accomplishments to celebrate yesterday. Not only did his 2014 BET Hip-Hop Awards cypher premiered last night, but the former math teacher also digitally released his debut single "Against Us" and performed several tracks from his forthcoming EP, 3'S Up, during BET's Music Matters Showcase at SOB's in NYC. 3'S Up is scheduled for release at the top of the year.
Dee-1 stopped by the office to chop it up with XXL about his progress and growth as an artist since making a huge buzz on the scene in 2011. The 29-year -old MC explains the meaning of his catchy motto, the strong messages in his new single and EP, breaks down why the BET Black College Tour doesn't intimidate him, and discusses feelings of severe melancholy after delivering his portion of the cypher—all while believing his group (Troy Ave, Logic, Detroit Che, and Lil Mama) had the best one of the night.—Morgan Murrell
On "Against Us":
Dee-1: I'm tired of hypocrisy. I'm tired of us setting the bar so low for what we think is acceptable behavior as human beings. So I'm just like, "Look, you're either for us or against us." And when I say us, I'm talking about myself and the other like-minded individuals who live with what I call "Mission Vision." This "Mission Vision" lifestyle is comprised of three things: 1) committing to an ever-growing relationship with God 2) committing to use your skills and your talents to create a better existence for yourself and your loved ones 3) just keeping your three's up. That means with everything you do, be real, be righteous, be relevant. If you ain't for us you're against us.
When I wrote it ["Against Us"], that was the first time in my career that as soon as the beat came on in the studio, I went into the booth five seconds after I heard the beat and just rapped — and the whole hook, so you know the, "our Father who art in heaven..." and "against us!" — and all that just came out instantly without even thinking. It just hit me like a spirit. What inspired the verses was ... I'm at the point of my life where I'm just tired of riding the fence, you know what I'm saying? I've been a good person for a long time, I've been a good rapper for a long time, but I know that God has honestly called me to really stand out and really be bold and be great.
Nobody can hold me back from getting my blessings, except me. Which is why I said, "Satan's sparring with the Godfather, were just pawns in this chess game of law and order." I fought for this to be my first single. I flew myself to RCA in New York and sat right in that office and fought for this to be my single...and I won the fight.
On his EP, 3'S Up:
I show all sides of me from music that's relating to females and relationships to "Against Us" which is real hype. The message is just so raw. I have a big crossover song that's gonna be a hit. It's about not being content with being a big fish in a small pond, allowing yourself to go to that next level in life. I have a song called "I'm Not Perfect, I'm A Christian" where I boldly talk about my faith. The EP is showing all these different sides of me but delivering a steady motto of "be real, be righteous, be relevant".
All the producers on the EP are up and coming, because I believe in being someone's big break. I got C. Smith from NOLA on there, Rico Beats (produced "Against Us"), Justen Williams from NOLA, Christopher Rockaway from Houston, and just different people who the world may not have heard of but they will soon.
One of my favorite tracks on the EP is "My Student Got Murdered." It was about one of my former students who got murdered earlier this year by another student I used to teach, so the subtitle is called "Both Sides Of The Gun" because I know the background story to both of their lives. That's a timely song. That song is going to be crazy. I got a song called "Show On The Road" that I love. It makes me smile whenever I talk about it and "Against Us". Those are my top three as of right now.
On the BET Hip Hop Awards cypher:
When I got the call, I was at the crib in NOLA and I started running around...just hype. I was very excited. My initial reaction was like, 'wow, this is really a dream come true'. In order to prepare for it, I asked myself what I wanted to accomplish with this cypher. I was torn between what I thought I should do and what I thought would generally impress people. So it came down to me realizing that it shouldn't be taking me multiple days to write 16 bars, when it normally takes me 15 minutes. The fact that I'm overthinking this and putting so much thought into it isn't good. Don't get me wrong, my verse is still great. Everybody who heard it thought so, but that stuff really put me in a a dark place.
This might sound weird but after that whole experience, I was depressed. I felt like you could want something for so long and then when you get it, you overthink it. Regardless of everyone saying, "Dee-1 you did great," I know I could have done Dee-1 better. I could have done my mission and my brand more justice, you know what I'm saying? So yeah, that was my experience with it. For me to be feeling that way and not talk about it would be fake. I used that state that it put me in to really help me get in touch with my mission, my brand, and to what my calling truly is. Honestly, the cypher was a turning point in my career. That was the lowest low I felt in a long time and I've bounced off of that low to work on going from good to great. Greatness is for the rare few and that's what I'm aiming for. I'm hungry.
Looking back, I wouldn't change anything about that experience. What I just went through this past month, this feeling, produced a fire inside of me to the point where it will burn long beyond any buzz from a cypher. This is the type of fire where I never want to revisit that place again. In order to pick myself up, I prayed a lot.
On performing on the BET Black College Tour:
Those are tough crowds, I'ma be honest with you. Black college crowds — that's when I started rapping, when I was in college and I just know for a fact with Black college crowds, unless they know you and your music they'll just sit there with their arms folded and stare at you. They're basically like, 'Look Dee-1, if you can't show us that you have more confidence and more swag than us, then we're just gonna stare at you and make you feel very uncomfortable and unwanted at this school.' The Black college crowd does not intimidate me, I'm up for the challenge.
I'm a master performer though. My strongest asset is my performance. I perform like each show is the last one I'll ever do. I just bring electricity to the stage and I don't take that stuff for granted. That's the stuff that trips me out about certain artists, because I'm afraid to mess up or not give my all in a performance.
The best aspect about touring is getting to look into a fan's eyes when I'm performing on stage or when I get off stage. It's getting to look into a fan's face, someone that I might never see again, but in that moment in time we make a connection that's just priceless. Hopefully, the energy I can fill them up with will change their whole outlook on life. I've had fans who've literally said they were contemplating suicide. Seeing me perform and meeting me, they'd just break down crying. I'm not a professional psychologist, you know what I mean? I just got up here and performed for 30 minutes, but somehow I made a connection with them and it changed their decision. I had another fan who told me he wanted to convert to Christianity at my show. I'm not a pastor, you know what I mean? It's deeper than just the songs that I'm making. There's something that I'm doing or in my spirit that's speaking to people and that's huge. My fans mean a lot to me.