Defcee: As God Intended

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Photo courtesy of Aris Theotokatos

When 50 Cent caught the ear of Eminem’s Shady Records label it was through a series of mixtapes that set fire to the streets. The mixtapes were comprised of freestyles, snippets of original songs, and verses kicked over the hottest beats of the time. Chicago based emcee Defcee is reviving the tradition of multi-faceted mixtapes with a release that’s a throwback to the way mixtapes used to be.

A Mixtape as God Intended, Volume 1 is a twenty-minute display of lyrical exercising by the veteran emcee. Defcee rhymes over classic songs previously released by Drake, Rick Ross, and Nas, among others. The cuts on the mixtape are provided by RTST.

Defcee spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about A Mixtape as God Intended, his role as a co-facilitator of an emcee workshop in Chicago, and his upcoming projects dropping throughout 2019.

TRHH: Why’d you call the new project ‘A Mixtape as God Intended’?

Defcee: I decided to do that because some of my favorite mixtapes that I’ve been revisiting and some of the classic ones that I’ve been checking out the past few years really felt like what a mixtape is supposed to be. Where it’s you flexing your rap skills over other people’s beats and maybe you had a few remixes on there. If you’re a rapper who is mentoring some of the younger guys you might have some of your protégé’s take on their own songs. You had a few original joints for the tape that were exclusives from your forthcoming releases.

There are elements of all of that on this tape. It really felt like what a mixtape was supposed to be. I think a lot of people will put out something and call it a mixtape where it’s 100% original production. They don’t call it an album because they’re afraid to attach that word to their project, even though essentially by definition that’s what they’ve released. The fact that I’m rhyming mostly over other people’s beats, I have a few exclusives on there, have students of mine who are rapping on there, and have drops and all that, it felt like the true definition of what a mixtape should be. That’s why I called it that.

TRHH: That’s something I’ve always wondered about too. Guys put out EP’s and albums and call them mixtapes. I’m old enough to remember when there was scratching on mixtapes. Why is there no more scratching and mixing on mixtapes?

Defcee: I don’t know. Initially I had DJ Sean Doe, who did the artwork for it and who is also one of the people that runs the label, do a version of it where it was that format. There were a lot more backspins and consistent DJ drops throughout the tape. I have that on my computer, but while I appreciated it, doing that stuff might have disrupted the momentum of the tape. I’m wondering if that’s a reason why a lot of people don’t do it now – because they don’t have the attention span to sit through 16 bars of cutting on a 24-bar verse. That was something I kept in mind and I wonder if that’s what other rappers are thinking too   .

TRHH: You’ve been doing this a long time, man. How old are you?

Defcee: I’m 29.

TRHH: But you started very young. How long have you been rapping?

Defcee: I’ve been writing raps since I was 11 years old. I’ve been recording and performing since I was 14.

TRHH: Wow. That’s crazy, man. What or who inspired you to want to do Hip-Hop?

Defcee: When I was 2 I fell in love with Hip-Hop because my god sisters brought home a copy of Kris Kross’ “Jump” single on cassette. A lot of the earlier stuff that inspired me was radio heavy. But I was also listening to DJ Pharris’ mix show on Power 92. I was picking up artists that I wasn’t necessarily familiar with because I was listening to the radio. The first rappers I remember that made music that I really liked was probably when I was ten years old – Juvenile, Jay-Z, Method Man and Redman, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg. As I got older and started to pick up more from other emcees and I started reading the Source every month for the span of three years, then it became Nas, Wu-Tang, Scarface, AZ, and J.U.I.C.E.

There was this dude named Ced who was two years ahead of me in school who took me under his wing and showed me Royce da 5’9”. He was really cool with a bunch of these other kids who rapped, I don’t even think they rap anymore, but they introduced me to Chino XL, Company Flow, and some of the solo Wu-Tang stuff that I hadn’t heard of. That got me going deeper into a lot of underground rap like Mr. Lif, Cage, and Little Brother. Basically at 14 whatever Hip-Hop that I picked up and I liked, it was inspiring me. I’m sure there are more that I’m forgetting.

TRHH: On the song ‘Five Courses’ you said, “You can find me slapping a do-rag off a white boy’s head/Or taking scissors and clippers to a white boys’ dreads.” Explain what you mean by that rhyme.

Defcee: You know, I think one of the things that I’m very cognizant of as a white rapper is my place in Hip-Hop as a guest in the culture, even if I’m a practitioner. Lord Jamar says a lot of things in the Vlad interviews that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I think his perspective on white rappers is 100% correct. We are participating in a culture that we didn’t really have a hand in creating. There might have been white promoters, producers, and rappers who definitely contributed to the culture, but at the end of the day the culture didn’t come from white people. Whenever I’m rapping I try to be cognizant of it and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to mention the fact that I’m a white rapper in every verse, because that would be corny as hell and I wouldn’t listen to me if I did that.

I try my best to subvert my platform to kind of address things like cultural appropriation in the raps. That’s why the four bars are, “You can find me slapping a do-rag off a white boy’s head/Or taking scissors and clippers to a white boys’ dreads/On Reddit, wreaking havoc in a white boys threads/Thinking, damn, I wonder if they remembered I’m a white boy yet?” still coming back to remembering myself almost by definition as a cultural appropriator in Hip-Hop. That’s why I said those four bars and why I crack a lot of white jokes in my raps, too. Nine times out of ten I’m the butt of the joke.

TRHH: In the middle of the mixtape you have a group called Rivals perform on a song called “Forty, Jr.” Who are the Rivals and why were they chosen to spit on your project?

Defcee: Rivals is Riley and Levels. They’re both rappers I met teaching at my job. Riley is a senior in high school and Levels is a freshman in college. The idea came to me as I was putting the mixtape together in mid-2017. Originally the concept was to send one Alchemist beat to Rivals and one Alchemist beat to another couple of students to have two different Forty, Jr’s on the mixtape. The other couple of students weren’t able to do it and Forty, Jr. almost didn’t make the cut because the students had the beat picked for a year and decided to change it at the last minute. I think they really did their thing on it.

I like being able to kind of lend my platform to younger rappers who may not have the opportunity to be in front of an audience quite yet of people who might be interested in hearing more from them. Also, if I need to link them with other people in my network for things like cover art, mixing, or mastering, I have work samples that I can send people and if they feel like it they can reach out to them, too. It was done with both the concept of the project in mind, but also keeping in mind that I wanted to pay forward the opportunities I’ve gotten to other rappers as well.

TRHH: What subject do you teach?

Defcee: I co-teach a five-day spoken word poetry unit in every freshmen and sophomore English class in the high school. What that means is basically at this point I’ve taught almost every student at the high school, which is a high school of almost 3600 kids, except for students who have transferred in after their sophomore year. Because we come around for five-day units to all of the freshman and sophomore English classes. It’s a unique program. They don’t really have it to my knowledge anywhere else. We also run an after-school program of 80-plus kids. I run an after-school rap workshop there as well. That’s pretty much what I teach.

TRHH: When you’re in school you remember the really good teachers and the really bad teachers – there’s nothing in the middle. Have you encountered a student that has told you that you’ve had a major impact on their lives?

Defcee: Yeah, but I’ll say that a lot of times I do very little work on their behalf. It’s more so the initial validation that I think a lot of kids are missing now. I think there is a lot of validation via social media with people liking your Instagram posts of favorit-ing or retweeting certain things. But there’s not really a lot of that interpersonal validation that the students are receiving. Being able to offer that to them might make some kids think I played a larger role in their life than I actually have. But still, it feels really good to know that there are people that feel that way about me, even if I feel like I haven’t done as much for those students as they’ve done for me. A lot of times whenever you work with a student each student has their own unique learning style and unique story, so I learn from that interchange as well and I grow as an educator. I’ve had students tell me that, but when they tell me that they underestimate the amount of work they’ve put in themselves to turn their lives around.

TRHH: What’s your role with the Young Chicago Authors Emcee Wreckshop?

Defcee: Emcee Wreckshop is a rap workshop that we started at YCA in 2012. Initially it was a private workshop that we gave through a social worker in Oak Park. I co-facilitated it with Sev Seveer, who is a producer from Chicago. He and I initially started giving these private workshops and Young Chicago Authors, which is an organization that I came up through as a young writer and rapper myself, reached out because they knew that I just graduated from college. I was back in the Chicagoland area for an extended period of time and they knew that I’d been doing this work while I was back home from college and on summer vacation, so they offered us the opportunity to be their regular workshop.

It was originally me and Sev, and then it was me and a rapper from Chicago named Lamar Jorden. He and I did it for a couple of years and then I did it for a year on my own. They brought Add-2 in in 2016 and Add and I are in our second year of co-facilitating the workshop and it’s been really great. Some of the people that have come through the workshop include Saba, Joseph Chilliams, MFnMelo, Mick Jenkins, and a kid named Qari. It’s been a great space for a lot of people to come through and build up their fundamentals. Some people who are a little older who used to rap more regularly when they were younger and now have other responsibilities have been able to come through and write for two hours a week. That’s what Wreckshop has been. Working with Add-2 is great. He’s a really talented guy and a great mentor.

TRHH: The music that most young people listen to is different from what I was raised on and maybe what you may have been raised on. Are the young people receptive to your suggestions regarding lyrics?

Defcee: [Laughs] What I’ve found is I think because the students have also heard me rap before and I teach poetry units in their classes, there are some students whether they know it or not, who are a little too intimidated to come to me for advice about rapping. What I’ve found is the students who do come to me for advice actually value the feedback. That’s been a pretty cool thing about my job. The other thing that I’ve found too is even if the students didn’t listen to the same Hip-Hop that I was listening to when I was their age, they’re still listening to something that I felt similarly about.

If I were a high schooler coming up now I would be listening to Kendrick Lamar and I’d be listening to Drake, because when I was younger I was listening to Jay-Z just like everybody else was, or Talib and Mos Def. As long as it was in the cultural conversation of Hip-Hop and I liked it, I was listening to it. Kids are definitely receptive because they understand that my Hip-Hop knowledge is more diverse, so I’m able to give them more objective feedback and make sure that the feedback that I give them is adaptable to their own unique style as rappers. If a kid raps like Future I’m not going to give him the same feedback that I give to a kid that raps like Big L. Their goals as artists are going to be different.

TRHH: What’s next up for Defcee in 2019?

Defcee: In 2019 I have an album called Lacuna that’s produced by knowsthetime. It’s named after the company that erased memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – the Jim Carrey movie. It’s a pretty deep, personal album. Probably the most deep, personal album I’ve done. I think it’s my best work. I’m pretty anxious for people to have it and check it out. The defprez project with CRASHprez who is a rapper originally from the DMV and currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve got a project with goldenbeets that will be my next release on Machine Wash. That project is called Unlegendary. That’s going to be out in December of 2019. There will probably be a couple more surprises along the way. I’m very excited for what the year holds for me as an artist and for Hip-Hop in general. I have a feeling that 2019 is going to be an incredible year for rap music.

Purchase: A Mixtape as God Intended, Vol. 1

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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