Back when he was in high school, New Orleans rapper Dee-1 was working at a local Circuit City store when Lil Wayne came in and ordered a TV. Dee ended up installing the goggle-box into Weezy's car. These days, Dee himself works closely with Mannie Fresh, the architect of the classic Cash Money sound; the producer hosts Dee's new project The Focus Tape, which also features collaborations with Juvenile, Killer Mike, and Mos Def. Ahead of Dee-1's show at the Fillmore this Sunday (Oct. 21), here's his take on how to package socially-conscious music to the streets, playing basketball with Master P, and Turk and B.G.'s unlikely Walmart purchase.
Growing up, did you side with Cash Money Records or No Limit?
Overall, Cash Money. I listened to both of them but I wanted to be the fifth Hot Boy. I wanted to be the number five Hot Boy bad!
Would you have had to change your name from Dee-1 if you were in the Hot Boys?
That's a good question. Lil Wayne, Turk, Juvenile, B.G., Dee-1... I can see it! It's different. In my 'hood they call me Deezy but that's kinda like Weezy so I would have to change it up.
What was it about the Cash Money sound that you gravitated towards?
It was Mannie Fresh. It was the beats. That stuff was just like crack -- it was addictive to listen to. Mannie Fresh balanced off all that gangsta streak they had with having fun, like he was goofing around and being silly with it. I remember being young and being like, "These must be the coolest dudes in the world!" And now I got Mannie Fresh producing for me and a song with Juvenile.
Did you ever see any of the Hot Boys around New Orleans when you were growing up?
Yeah, the first time I saw B.G. and Turk was in a Walmart. I was there with my dad and we were just getting some groceries and B.G. and Turk were there and I thought Elvis had come to the building! I even remember what they wore: They both had on white wife-beaters, they had all their tattoos showing, all their jeans sagging and their boxer-shorts showing, and they had on some Reebok tennis shoes. All this was going on and I was like, "Man, I got to get their attention somehow..." So I held the door open for them when they was walking out 'cause they bought a doll-house -- it must have been for one of their daughters -- so I held the door open and B.G. said "Thank you." I remember that! They hopped into a black Mercedes Benz and left.
Was it inspiring to see them in an everyday situation?
Yes, it was inspiring to see. I'm from downtown, they were all from uptown, so it was a big deal for them to be in my neighborhood. And the first time I saw Lil Wayne I was working in Circuit City. Lil Wayne came in and bought a TV to put inside his truck on the headrest and I had to go in and install it for him. I was in high school at the time. It was pretty easy to install, but man I was star-struck. It was crazy.
Did Lil Wayne tip you?
I don't even remember. I was just in a daze, but I don't think so.
Did you ever see Master P's rumored golden-plated tank?
I think that's just an urban legend. I actually know Master P now so I'll have to ask him that. I met him this past summer and we play basketball.
Is Master P as good at basketball as he says he is?
He's good, but when he saw my jump-shot he had to give me respect! We didn't play one-on-one, we just shot around.
Did he give you any advice with your career?
Yeah, he gave me lots of advice. He said I have a message in my music but in order for the streets to listen to it I have to present it in a way that they're used to, so the beat selection and the beats I rap over, that's important. He told me not to stray from who I am, 'cause he said I sound comfortable, but when I present my music to people I have to be conscious of those beats, 'cause if I rap over the wrong type of beat people won't give the music a chance.
So do you find yourself getting pigeonholed as a "conscious rapper"?
I'm not a conscious rapper. I listen to most of the music from those people -- I listen to Talib Kweli, I listen to Mos Def, I listen to Common and I listen to a lot of the old-school groups like people who were part of the Native Tongues movement -- but my music isn't fully conscious. I don't have a political message in every one of my songs. What it is is life music.
Next: The day Dee-1 got an out-of-the-blue call from Mannie Fresh