To celebrate the release of the new “Beer Bitches and Bullshit” video, here is an interview with DaVinci. Conducted via telephone September 1, 2011.
First off, if you could tell me your real name, how old you are.
Real name John Devore, 28 years old.
What kinds of records did you listen to when you were younger. What were the first tapes you bought with your own money, that you purchased on your own.
First time I actually spent money on a tape? I stole a lot of tapes before I actually bought ’em, because I didn’t really have no money, but I’d say the first one I actually spent money on, might have been Kris Kross, man. That “Jump.” I was like six or seven, I think that might have been the first tape I actually bought. That was before I even got into rapping myself. By the time I was about ten or eleven I was into a lot of Snoop Dogg, I bought Snoop Dogg’s first single, the Snoop Dogg song, [“What’s My Name] (Snoop Doggy Dogg).” I was on that real heavy. I was on the Geto Boys real heavy back then. Anything West Coast, Bay Area, I was on it. All Master P early shit, I was on that. I definitely was on all the shit that was coming out of LA at the time, surrounding the Death Row movement. I was on all that, know what I’m saying. I didn’t really get onto what was going on in the other regions, the other places in the world, as far as hip-hop was concerned, til I was about in middle school, so probably about ’96 or ’97. Then I started dipping into the Nas’s, getting caught up with the Wu Tang, Jay-Z, all those east coast cats, know what I mean.
Who was the first Bay Area rapper that you got into, listened to a lot or purchased the records?
Too $hort. Had to be Too $hort. He was rapping before I was even born, know what I’m saying. So it was definitely Too $hort. I remember Too $hort being the first rapper that my moms was like, “No, you can’t listen to that!” You feel me? So that definitely made me want to listen to it even more. I was on Too $hort real early, man. Anything that was hella vulgar, like N.W.A., Eazy E and shit like that. Those came to me about at the same time, my bigger cousins was listening to it. And it was something my mama didn’t want me to have, so I was on it, feel me?
What was the first record of Too $hort’s that you were listening to?
The “Dope Fiend Beat.” [He raps] “I knew this girl, her name is Karen,” [“Freaky Tales”] the song where he’s going for five, six minutes straight, just talking about hella bitches and doing all kind of perverted shit to little bitches and shit, that was the very first Too $hort song I heard. I was like, “damn what is THIS,” you know what I’m saying? It sound like rappers just sound like dirty, filthy, background porno music or something, you feel me? So I was little perverted-ass little kid, so I was on that shit real tough man [laughs].
How old were you when you started thinking about rapping yourself?
I had to be probably like eleven. And that was me just fucking around with it, you know what I’m saying, not really taking it too serious, just for fun.
Was there an artist that made you think you could do it too?
At that time I was a kid, so it was the other young boys that was doing it at the time. Like I remember the cat Shyheim from Wu-Tang, I listened to him, found out he was only like fourteen or something like that. He got me inspired to pick up the pen. Of course the old Kris Kross’s and ABCs back then, you know what I mean, I still was listening to them a little bit. It was really the younger cats. I looked up to the dudes who was doing it locally, like JT the Bigga Figga, San Quinn. Rappin’ 4tay. RBL Posse. Them were the only dudes in the neighborhood that were doing something actually positive and actually making a living off of it, you know what I mean? And was still themselves. They didn’t have no nine-to-fives, didn’t wear no suit and tie, they looked just like me. But they had cars and houses and women and shit like that, so I took to them as being a role model. I knew that they were doing something right. And when I found out that it was rapping it was like, OK, maybe I should try out this rapping thing.
When you started rapping and taking it seriously, were there particular artists that, musically, you were really into, that made you feel like you could do it on your own?
Definitely Tupac. That’s the big brother of the whole West Coast. Everybody who grew up in the time we grew up in, you can’t say that you weren’t fucking with Pac. He touched on so many topics that I felt like he was directly talking to me. Tupac made me really want to take the shit serious. Jay-Z, from a lyrical and business standpoint, always looked up to Jay-Z, what he was doing and how he found it. Conceptually, how he brought what he brought to the table at the time he did. Notorious B.I.G. is another one of course. Everyone from that quote-unquote golden era of hip-hop, know what I’m saying? Wu-Tang, Method Man and Redman. Redman’s still one of my favorite rappers of all time. Scarface too. But really, anybody who was talking about something that I felt like they were talking directly to me or the people around me or situations, then that inspired me to get in the studio and say, you know what, I need to do this. The same thing they did for me, I need to do that for the young cats who were just like me at eleven, twelve, thirteen, whose pops was in jail, whose moms was trying to hold down the whole fort on their own, I wanted to speak to the kids who needed to hear that shit, and inspire other artists.
It definitely sounds like your new record, the production took a big step towards a smoother sound. I was wondering musically how you ended up going in that direction, who helped put together this record?
It’s our in-house production team, Drums & Ammo. We’re always scouring for new talent, new producers who fit into the mold of where we hear our music going, creatively. To be honest, we all growing, man, all our producers, everybody that we get down with, even the young cats that we brought to the table that wasn’t on the last project, we all growing, know what I’m saying. As I try to elevate my sound, lyrically and conceptually, I try to surround myself with producers that are doing the same, so we can just grow together. I think that the chemistry that we get, if I can get with a producer who has good chemistry– as far as, can see the direction of where I’m trying to take the music – then it usually clicks once we get in the studio. So anybody who sounds like they could fit into the sound that we trying to create right now, I’m willing to work with, know what I’m saying.
Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process, how you go about preparing a song?
It ain’t really just one way. Sometimes I’m in the studio, they cut on the beat and boom, the lyrics just come to me. To be honest, I like working like that more than I like actually taking some shit home and spending time on it, because I get distracted. I get distracted by everyday life shit just like everybody else. But sometimes that’s how it works, sometimes I take a song home, write to it in the morning when I wake up. Sometimes I’m in the studio. It’s pretty much just how I’m feeling that day. Some days I don’t feel like rapping at all; it’s too much shit going on, rapping really seems stupid. When real life shit– “why the fuck am I going to the studio to rap right now.” But most of the time, I’m in the mood to get down, when I feel inspired, then I just feel like I’ve got to get as much music out as I possibly can, because I never know when I’m going to be distracted, or something more important than music is going to kick in.
I’m curious what you see as a goal for your career. Everyone will say they want to be the next Jay-Z, but in terms of the short term, how you create a sustained career, how do you see yourself working on building a fanbase?
I just see being consistent with putting out the type of music me and the people around me like. I appreciate people like you who keep us motivated and let us know that all the time and emotion and thought that we put into our music is actually getting to people. I feel like if we just keep doing that, and keep trying to elevate our sound, keep progressing, some people will get it. We’ll slowly be able to change the soundscape of what we’re building right here, the Thorobred music. As long as I can do that, in the short term, I think everything else – all the placements within hip-hop history and stuff like that, I definitely want to do that, but I feel like that’s gonna come later on. Right now I’m just worried about making good music that people around me like, and getting it out to the people. Getting out there, shaking hands, doing shows, stuff like that, just to keep me active, to keep the music in people’s ears. And take the feedback, the good with the bad, and just keep rocking.
In terms of making money – it’s really hard to sell records right now. Even when you get a lot of attention. Even at the level someone like Lil Wayne is at, Lil Wayne is pretty much the only one who is actually selling. You mentioned shows, is that something you could see yourself doing ten years from now, or do you see yourself moving in a different direction?
Ten years from now I might still be doing shows, I might be trying to find an exit from doing the actual rapper shit. I definitely want to start putting together some young artists that I think have potential and that are talented and that fit into our vision as far as what we want to do with Thorobred, and our sound. I definitely want to get into that. I always want to have an ear and a hand in music, I know that for a fact. I want to be able to put my sound together and get people’s attention enough to where, at least, I can have some value in what I feel like is a good sound, and is good music, is good hip-hop. I want to make that be valuable in itself. As far as right now, I ain’t gonna lie. Seeing that nobody is really selling a lot of records, that shit is discouraging! Because we all want to be able to eat off this shit, from the writers like you, all the way down to the rappers and producers, you feel me? The shit is discouraging! But at the same time, it’s like, OK. If I just focus on making good music, I feel like good music won’t ever die, there will always be a place, always be a demand for it. We got a long way to go, and we just got started. I put out one album and an EP. I’m just looking forward to putting together good music and getting it out there and seeing how people like it. That’s the thing that I can do right now. I’m always going to be enthusiastic about making music or being a part of music production. So I’m just gonna keep doing that. I’m confident that everything will pull together.
Do you have a favorite song off the new EP you recorded, one that you like the most?
One favorite song, hmm, this is definitely a tough one. I like “Paying for My Past.” That probably would be my favorite song, just because it’s the most meaningful to me on that album. That or “Nothing Like Home.” The two most meaningful, really mean something to my guts, my heart and soul was in those lyrics. Not that they wasn’t in the other songs, but those were the guts, those are the ones that make John Devore who he is today. So I’ll just say those two songs are my favorite.
What music have you been listening to lately?
Yeah man, I’ve been listening to a lot of Freddie Gibbs, I’ve been listening to my boy K.R.I.T. Who else I been fucking with … There’s a lot of cats out here I’ve been fucking with, the boy Young Gully. There’s a lot of young talent coming out of the Bay I think people are going to get a dose of in the next couple years. Anybody who really spitting that shit from the soul, I’m listening to.