DLabrie: The future of the Bay

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

When you talk about grinding and hustling for your dream, Oakland’s DLabrie has rocked mics from New York to Seoul and collaborated with some of the most intellectual rappers of our generation, including the likes of M1 of dead prez, the Jacka, Shamako Noble of the Hip Hop Congress and more.

DLabrie-Stay-Black-Die-poster-267x300, DLabrie: The future of the Bay, Culture Currents A few months ago he premiered the “Stay Black and Die” video, which included appearances by rappers M1, Shamako, Mac Mall and Ray Luv, at the Oakland International Film Festival. He is definitely someone who has a lot to say. Check out DLabrie in his own words.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell the people a little bit about your short movie/video that you premiered at the Oakland International Film Fest? What is the name and motivation behind the project?

DLabrie: The film is called “Stay Black and Die,” #SBAD for short. Coming from Oakland, we grew up with a lot of African Black pride. There’s a lot of history of political action, alternative education, independent media, entrepreneurialism, youth programs etc. All that influenced me.

My mother did a lot in the community. She was involved with the Black Panthers, she did hair, she sang, she made clothes, she was an artist, she worked at my school – so that also influenced me a lot. It’s a natural piece of me to talk about that pride, that struggle, that action.

Being Black in America is a lot harder and more complex than people think. I’ve traveled many places and people of other ethnicities and even other Africans have asked me what’s going on in the Black community in the inner cities of America. What is behind these things I’m seeing on TV or hearing through Hip Hop or media?

Why am I hearing about Black on Black crime? Teen pregnancy? Fathers not in the home? Drugs and welfare? But not about the everyday hardworking people, the great minds of the young people, the innovation and the story of triumph? Ignorance is a real tactic used to keep us all divided, so I realize some people are stuck in their own paradigm.

So I really feel we have to instill that fight and that power in our children and those who are oblivious, so I’m just passing on the knowledge as I received it. It’s my Block Report put to music and then to a visual representation to address our experience from a local to international perspective as best I can.

Being Black in America is a lot harder and more complex than people think.

We got six artists and activists I have worked with in both aspects telling their perspective on the Black experience in America, giving a context to show us as all different individuals with various opinions, views and tactics BUT we also acknowledge a collective experience as well which involves the fight against oppression, racism, poverty, government created ghettos, the aftermath of slavery and unjust laws that have hurt us for generations.

M.O.I. JR: A number of reputable people from the Hip Hop world were on the song and in the video. Why was that important?

DLabrie: It started with my album “Mr. NETW3RK Part 1,” which was me telling my story as tribute to Hip Hop and me and my producer InfiNate started building on this beat that felt kind of like a Reggae Island vibe. I had my man, SaikoDelic of the Hip Hop/Reggae group “Triplex” come through and we kind of freestyled and came with the hooks and bridges.

Stay-Black-Die-video-shoot-DLabrie-w-JR-Valrey-Ray-Luv-M1-of-dead-prez-Mac-Mall-Oakland-300x213, DLabrie: The future of the Bay, Culture Currents
On a “Stay Black and Die” video shoot are JR Valrey, Ray Luv, M1 of dead prez, Mac Mall and DLabrie.

I did my verse with the spirit of our Island brothas, who brought traditional African sounds to places like Jamaica and Trinidad through the slave trade. I was big on the smooth militancy of artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Keith Hudson etc. So from there Shamako dropped his verse which went into the historical timeline of Black resistance and then Adisa Banjoko of the Hip Hop Chess Federation dropped some spoken word almost like a speech that covers some of his philosophies on Islam and Chess.

Jacka, who is a friend of all of ours through Hip Hop Congress and other youth programs he’d participated in with us, was more than willing to jump on the song. It was a special night in the studio. We had a really deep conversation about it. He told me he appreciated being asked to be on songs with deeper messages and he felt that more songs like this needed to be made and heard. We smoked a lot that night and I couldn’t hang. I don’t remember him actually rapping the verse. It was a lot of people there. We used to record out of the same lab, 17 Hertz in Hayward.

We were going to leave it at that, but one night M1 was in the town and Hip Hop Congress had just did a solid favor for Dead Prez, so when we linked up and I asked him to drop a verse, he was more than down and he put that icing on top of it kind of like a grand slam. When I told M1 that Jacka was on the song, he was very excited.

I really wanted to have a diverse range of conversations in that song, and I wanted to cover all these African musical elements in one song. I never really thought it was likely that we could get all these legends together for a video. Way after the song was done, I was in New York working with a program called Hip Hop Debate with Dr. Jen Johnson, who was working on a documentary on two students who were in her program. And she interviewed me and we had this bright idea to maybe film a few scenes for “Stay Black and Die,” which she was a fan of.

It was going to just be my verse in the visual like a short clip. But as it started developing, we were like let’s try to film everyone on the song and go for something bigger. My fam M. Payton, who has a few big hits of his own on 106 KMEL and has been in a few films on TNT with Taye Diggs and on HBO, stepped in to help with some of the filming.

I really wanted to have a diverse range of conversations in that song, and I wanted to cover all these African musical elements in one song. I never really thought it was likely that we could get all these legends together for a video.

It was a huge honor to have M1 on the song but especially in the visual. His role in this project was kind of a game changer for me in my career because he really got behind it, letting it rock with him on shows in different regions, cosigning the song and just being very supportive. We shot some of his scenes in Oakland, so it was dope to have some of my shots done in Brooklyn where Dpz has represented.

Somehow it all came together over a long period of time. Unfortunately, Jacka passed before it was finished. So from there it became even more close to my heart because Jacka was a real good friend and artist. He loved the concept, so I wanted to dedicate it to his legacy and show that side of him people should remember most. The activist.

Truly believe it’s my most powerful piece of art to date. I made it so it can be useful for the movement and education long after I’m gone. But I honestly never thought it would go this far at the time.

M.O.I. JR: You have taken stands for Haiti and been to Korea numerous times. What is the importance of taking a position on issues internationally?

DLabrie: I think it’s just something that breaks the mental chains and the cycle of ignorance they want us to stay in. We often get caught up on this block or this hood or this area, or side of town or city, which I understand; we know what we know. BUT the world is truly ours and I’m feeling like by learning that I’m a world citizen I broke out the matrix.

Jacka-DLabrie-at-Tear-Gas-Release-Party-300x225, DLabrie: The future of the Bay, Culture Currents
The Jacka and DLabrie at the release party for “Tear Gas”

Over time it makes you appreciate life and what you have and refine your mind to see how others are living or other struggles in the world. Books and my love of music made me very curious about life outside my hood. Seeing music videos and movies and stars from Oakland like Hammer, Del, Pac, Paris made me see the global side of things. My mom didn’t have a car so I barely even left the Bay Area or passed the BART trains’ last stops until my late teens.

As I got to traveling around the West Coast more in adulthood, I started thinking, wow, a lot of places are going through similar things as in Oakland – or the opposite; some things are just very different. In 2002 the unthinkable happened and I went to Japan and dropped my first album before releasing in the U.S., selling 500 copies.

From there I started looking at things differently. I saw African people in Japan who spoke English and Japanese and their native tongue and they were united with me. I saw the love for Hip Hop and Black people. I really understood we’re not the cause of American racism. So for the first time I saw other countries’ problems without seeing us Black folks as the center of the oppression. In some instances, we were even seen as heroes, comrades, ambassadors.

I always felt that way with Africa but I started seeing what it meant to have all these diasporas end up in America, and to be Black from the original land, we still world citizens first. So its second nature to support Haiti or want to use my voice or platforms to give back or raise awareness globally. I put together a rap song in support of Haiti with 36 artists which may be an unacknowledged world record.

I mean we got to see the ancestors like Assata Shakur, Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X showing us that is part of our duty. We not these bitter examples of hate towards the “white man.” We’re Kings and Queens, world citizens, with a homeland just like Asians, Europeans etc. But we are often discouraged from pursuing it. When you start looking into other countries’ struggles and scandals, it just gives a lot of perspective. In America, we’re always the scapegoat.

For the first time I saw other countries’ problems without seeing us Black folks as the center of the oppression. In some instances, we were even seen as heroes, comrades, ambassadors.

I went to Japan and Korea last year with my kids to tour and promote my new “US to Asia” remix album with Japanese Dj Mr. Cruzeo, and I came across a movement in the heart of downtown Seoul for a crazy situation where hundreds of high school kids died in a ferry accident because of government and big business corruption that put these kids’ lives in danger. It’s called the Sewol ferry disaster. I offered them my support. It’s just crazy to make the connections of how the leadership of countries and corporate greed is affecting so many around the world.

M.O.I. JR: The late homie the Jacka was featured on your “Stay Black and Die” song. What is the game missing now that the Jacka has been gone for over a year?

DLabrie: The game is missing purpose and that picture painting aspect. It’s still there for sure, but I feel that folks from the golden eras of hip hop and other classic musicians, artists, filmmakers laid the foundation for the full cultural context of hip hop and Black culture. Jacka is that. He was into all the elements of hip hop, he was from the streets and survived, he took the art and culture serious. He wrote, break danced, etc. He did his studies.

He traveled the world telling his stories and helping people. That’s that purpose beyond the title “rapper.” Jack embodies this. He shows that you can be FREE, you can tell your truth, you can be independent and underground and rise to stardom on your own terms. You can stay on your path.

His albums and his projects felt like books and movies. I really want people to understand the Bay’s role in hip hop history, and Jacka fought that fight for a long time. He gave the game a lot to run with and left a strong legacy and lots of scrolls. That’s what it’s about.

M.O.I. JR: The Jacka, like yourself, has one foot in the conscious circle and one foot in the streets. What is important to you about maintaining that position?

DLabrie: I’ll add a few other legs – the political world and education world as well. But for me I’m from the streets just like Jacka, but the streets have multiple dimensions. People think everyone from the streets has the same exact path or experiences; in a way we do, but it’s like playing Grand Theft Auto – there’s multiple stories going on at once and many characters. They overlap but they’re all still unique stories.

There’s a culture to Black ghettos which are full of survivors in what I consider to be a place designed for us to fail in. That’s where I’m from and although I’m constantly evolving and growing in some ways, I’m going to always honor that code like a military soldier honors theirs. Shit, Chicago’s not called Chiraq for nothing; some of our hoods be losing more young men than certified war zones.

DLabrie-web-200x300, DLabrie: The future of the Bay, Culture Currents
DLabrie aka Mr NETW3RK

During the Iraq War, about the same amount of Americans were murdered in Oakland during the same time frame – most of them young Black men – so we come out survivors. You got to understand the underworld to really make change because that’s where the biggest struggle will always be. Pac called it the ground. So I think the idea of the streets confuses a lot of people. It’s not just guns, drugs, violence and crime. It’s intense struggle, poverty, survival. Every culture got they version of “the streets.”

I’m from the realest and wildest of America’s Black streets. But it’s not just Black people in the streets. Ice Cube said it before that people think being from the hood, you got to be killing or doing bad all the time. It’s like being in jail; everyone is not a killer or negative person. Some are just caught up in the system or innocent, guilty by association or trying to improve their lives and made a mistake.

I survived the hood, followed my dreams and learned how to give back to help others do the same. There’s many more like me who can create even more like me. The suburbs, corporate culture, the White House, police department ain’t no better than the hood behind closed doors. They are just protected by a certain image. Our image has been destroyed, and we had to rebuild it to get a fair look.

So I’m never ashamed of where I’m from. It’s all about STAYING involved. You can move out the hood or move around, because, like I said, the world is OURS, but you can still stay involved. To me you’re always connected to where you come from. I’m going to keep going to the hardest, most struggling schools, supporting hood artists, speaking in jails and trying to make change in the places where it’s really needed.

It’s bigger than celebrity activism. It’s everyday life where I’m from to help your brotha, your sista, the elderly, your kids, and protect your circle, your tribe. Give what you can even if it’s one dollar, a meal or a ride to a neighbor, volunteer at a school – that can be activism where I’m from. Even many poor and wealthy Whites, Asians, Latinos, Indians, Middle Eastern people look up to us Black men too. Some embrace it and accept it and some try to erase it, but I prefer to still be on “the ground.”

M.O.I. JR: Do you have any performances coming up?

DLabrie: I’ve had a very active 2016 on the road so far. I have a constant flow of performances. I try to focus mostly on the road and the tours. We’re working on a tour in the South in the fall, but right now I’m mainly trying to create more music, more films, books and art. Check for my show dates online. If I’m in your area. Come holla at me.

M.O.I. JR: How can people keep up with you online?

DLabrie: They call me MR NETW3RK:

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe“ and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.