We have a new guest column here at the Raw Music blog: Listen, Friends. Every Friday, I ask one of the musicians, filmmakers, activists, geniuses, bums or general music obsessives I’ve met in my travels to share what they’re listening to.
Somewhere around 2010, a new breed of digital cameras made it possible for regular people to make beautiful videos. Internet documentaries exploded (see: Raw Music International). The relatively affordable new cameras also changed rap videos. Suddenly, every block had a dedicated video guy. YouTube groaned under the weight of thousands of choppy street rap vids. And some of that shit looked real nice.
On Chicago's south side, DGainz used his mom's cellphone to shoot videos for his friends and family. He had an eye, he gained a rep, and he upgraded fast. The first video he shot with his new DSLR camera happened to be for a young kid he connected with on facebook called Chief Keef.
"I Don't Like" is now some kind of weird historic internet document. The definition of the DSLR rap video. Fast cuts, dubious focus, a fully uninhibited performance. It's not a studio rap video engineered to look hard. It's the kind of thing you get when a room full of well-armed teenagers act like no one is looking -- America's most blunted high school hangout perfectly edited to a blown out beat. It racked up millions of views, made Keef a star, and birthed a rap subgenre.
So of course I had to meet the guy who made it. A year ago I was in Chicago, talking to D about his life and vision at his mom's 4th of July BBQ party. He's an artist and a hustler, and we've been in touch ever since.
Today, D is still pumping out videos, and dozens of kids are trying to cop his signature edit style. But he's also expanding his business -- founding a record label, traveling the country, and most importantly, making his own music. I called him up to hear what he's jamming today.
DGainz - "I'm That Guy" Been having myself on repeat lately, haha. This song is written, produced and engineered by me. I've also edited a visual for it. I'm passionate about the message I'm trying to get across in the record. I think that's why I keep hitting the replay button.
People know you as a director. Tell me about the other side of you – the producer, the engineer the rapper.
It’s actually what I started out doing. Before I even got into music videos I used to record me and my relatives. I actually learned how to edit videos by engineering music.
And your music [as opposed to videos] seems to be what you’re really passionate about.
Yeah. It just makes me feel a lot happier. I feel like it’s the strongest thing in the world. Music.
Katy Perry - "Birthday" Never heard this record until I stumbled upon the video on YouTube just recently. Not only is it a great record, they also capture something special in the visual that made me fall in love with it.
You had a pretty funny story about an online run in with Katy Perry back in the day.
She had made some kind of tweet that offended Keef and he went off on her. She’s like “Oh I didn’t mean to offend you! I love the 'I Don’t Like' video." I was like “Whoa, she didn’t say the song, she said the video. Damn, Katy Perry’s seen my video" (laughs).
Kevin Gates - "Smiling Faces" I've been listening to this song for a while now. I love listening to music I can relate to and this song does it for me. Plus the instrumental and delivery is dope!
What is it about this song that you can relate to?
The situations that he talks about. You know I’ve been through a lot dealing with the music industry and coming up in Chicago. The big trust issues. The pain. I can relate to the pain in his music.
DGainz - "Strangers" Here's another one of my songs I've been into more than the rest of 'em. "Strangers" is produced by Mush Millions and explore some of my superstitious beliefs in the record (something I've never done before). It's something different from me and that's why I can't get enough of it. Both "I'm That Guy" & "Strangers" are featured on my new mixtape "Moon Music"
You're talking about trust issues, going in circles, suspicion. Is it hard to be so personal?
Actually no (laughs). That’s the thing. I feel like a lot of people aren't honest because when you are honest it’s offensive. I don’t see the problem with it -- being honest about who I am. I just let people understand me.
And it’s important for people to understand you?
Not necessarily. It was at first but now it’s like I don’t care.
Wiz Khalifa - "We Dem Boyz" When I first heard this song I didn't know it was Wiz. The beat caught my attention at first, then when I saw the video it made me like the record even more.
I can see why you like it -- it sounds like it’s from Chicago.
Exactly. When I first heard it I didn’t know it was him. I thought it was Keef. You can tell it’s got a little Keef inspiration behind it.
How does it feel hearing this sound that you and your friends helped spread popping up everywhere?
I mean I’m kind of used to it now, it’s kind of set in.
Do you mind?
I feel like our sound is inspired by somewhere too. The South especially. So I just look at it as a compliment.