Hampton, Virginia emcee Dephlow has spit verses on various tracks by Don’t Sleep Records founders Awon and Phoniks. In 2014 Deph and Awon joined forces for a collaborative album called Dephacation. Now Dephlow is going for dolo with 14-track album titled “Deph Threats”.
Deph Threats is produced by Phoniks with two tracks handled by F. Draper. The album features Awon, Envy Hunter, Tiff the Gift, Nehemiah Bell, My Main Man Keion, and Anti-Lilly.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Dephlow about his new album, Deph Threats, working with producer Phoniks, and why his first album might be his last.
TRHH: How does it feel to have your debut solo album Deph Threats out?
Dephlow: It was a gradual process to try to figure out how I feel to be honest because it took hearing from my older brother, who is 3 years older than me and a heavily influence on my character. He gave me the call and said he only listened to it one time but some things stuck out to him. He said it might be one of his favorite albums that he’s ever heard. In the context of our relationship he’s not the kind of guy that’s going to sugar coat anything. If it’s not dope he’s going to tell me as he has in the past. After he told me that I was about as excited as you can be. Until he told me that, I didn’t know how to feel. I was glad to get it out there finally. I didn’t really have a whole lot of anything else to really feel until I started getting feedback from people I needed to get the stamp of approval from. This is a deeply personal record and a lot of those people were right there with me in those spots. When they told me how much it resonated with them I started to feel a sense of accomplishment like I achieved what I set out to do.
TRHH: Was it a conscious idea to have Phoniks produce most of the album?
Dephlow: Yeah, yeah, most definitely. That was the plan during the course of Dephacation. We all kinda were on the same page in the sense that we wanted to make sure our team was strong and be able to roll out the project in a way that people would embrace it. That’s pretty much what happened. It’s been in the works for the last two years. I was blown away by what he did. That dude works very hard at what he does. For him to have put out the volume and quality of work that he has in the past two years and put the effort in that he put into this record I was very appreciative. He understood how much this meant to me. It might not be like that for every producer and rapper who works exclusively on a project but we had that type of chemistry and I think it comes through in the music.
TRHH: Whose idea was it to put the Dusty Rhodes interview at the start of Hard Times?
Dephlow: That was Awon, man. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday. I was in the middle of a studio session and he called me the day that Dusty Rhodes passed. He said, “Yo, they just played this throwback interview from Dusty Rhodes and that shit would go perfect with that record!” I had already recorded the song. We talked about the interview for like another hour. We were so hyped up at that it was so perfect for the record. That’s my generation. I grew up on that shit. I was hoping that the age range of the people that would appreciate this music would catch on to that and feel me on that one as well. I think it was an ’88 interview or something like that and the shit that he was saying still applies today. You look at the McDonald’s workers who are demanding a live-able wage and what do they do? Replace them with computers.
TRHH: I think that was 85 or 86, like 30 something years ago.
Dephlow: Earlier than that. See, I wasn’t even walking at that point in time [laughs]. I was barely on this planet and it still rings true today. We had damn near a thousand people laid off from our shipyards at Newport News recently. They’re not getting a severance package – hard times.
TRHH: How was doing this album different from doing Dephacation with Awon?
Dephlow: This was a very personal album. I was dealing with a few things that made me think about not really being able to do an album. I was just about to graduate college and the day after I would have graduated my father passed away. I was dealing with him being sick and trying to help take care of him. Those types of events make you look at a lot of things differently. No matter how old you are you still grow up a little bit more when those types of things happen. It was a situation where I was just dealing with those things the best way I knew how and that was with the pen and the pad. It was funny because I already had the concept for the album in mind before I started writing it. It ended up being completely different from what I intended. It’s part of God’s plan I guess. I don’t have another way to describe how I was able to pull myself together and put it together. It was different in a sense that I was including everyone into some personal situations and taking a risk by doing that hoping that people would relate to it and it would affect them in a way that was positive. And then I wasn’t really trying to break mics. I feel like we did that on Dephacation. I really didn’t wanna do a whole hour of talking shit, I just wanted to make something that could live forever. To be honest that was really the main goal – to make something that would live forever and touch people.
TRHH: How has losing your father changed you personally and as a musician?
Dephlow: As a musician there was a point in the process where we had to reflect on his life. I learned things about him that I wanted to make sure I didn’t keep to myself in terms of where he came from, what he made out of himself, and in certain ways I’m responsible for carrying on that type of legacy and character – especially as a black man. There is this myth that we don’t know our fathers, we don’t have fathers, or we don’t have positive black men to look up to. When this man’s life was over all people could talk about were things I was blind to because our relationship was the way the father/son relationship a lot of times is where you’re so much alike that you don’t get along very much. In that way I’m responsible as an artist to say I have a family legacy that’s not really about prestige and money, it’s more about character and I want that to reflect through the music. That’s how it affected me personally and through the music. It’s all about people respecting you for who you are instead of looking at the optics of it – how many followers you got on Instagram or how many likes you got on a Facebook post. None of that really matters unless it’s coming from people who have been affected by what you’ve done or who are you.
TRHH: What inspired the song “Troubled Young Man”?
Dephlow: To be honest I wanted to take people on a trip through what my childhood was like a little bit. I wasn’t really able to capture some of the moments. I’ll tell you exactly how that song started, in the place that I live there is a little community pool. A lot of times there is nobody there, but this one day I’m going there to write some rhymes and just hang out and this white dude was in the pool with all his clothes on [laughs]. He had some jean shorts, a shirt, a hat, he was like war veteran or something. He was drinking a beer in the pool and it seemed like as soon as I showed up my presence bothered him. It made me think back to my elementary school, and I shot the video at my elementary school and filmed the same pool that basically had a policy of no blacks. This elementary school is now closed. The pool is now closed as well I believe.
Every summer they would have a summer camp out there and if you could imagine it being 90-100 degrees and us black kids doing this free program on the playground playing basketball or doing the bare minimum that the Hampton Parks & Recreation was providing, watching these other kids in the closed off fence with the barbed wire enjoying the pool. They have a policy that’s pretty much known to all of us that we’re not welcome. That’s how my whole attitude started for that song where I’m like, “I come to your community pool, piss in the deep end/They lookin’ like Jay-Z looked when he leaped in.” The face that he had on that picture where he jumped in the pool was the reaction to these people when I do this to show them fuck your pool and fuck y’all rules. The McKinney, Texas thing that happened kinda inspired that idea as well. It was the same premise – We’re not comfortable with you being around us in our element. The rest of that was really the things that I see in a lot of my friend’s little brothers or those same kids that are a little bit younger than me that went through the same thing that I had to go through. It’s just a little insight into the kind of things that shaped who I am.
TRHH: Was it difficult to transition to more substantive lyrics when you’re more known for punch lines?
Dephlow: Not at all, not at all. Honestly my passion is for the written word, period. This may be the only album I ever make because what I really wanna do outside of rap is to write and get people interested in reading again because I find that a lot of people aren’t. My brother gave me this book, “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. Here is another one of those context clues as to why my brother is so influential and important to me because his mind is always on something other than what’s popular. It’s what’s actually going, what’s the mechanics behind driving things the way that they are, political science, and those kinds of things. Upon reading that book I rediscovered a passion I had for something that’s non-fiction and educational in a way that paints a better picture of why things are the way that they are so you can better understand what you can do to change it.
TRHH: You have a song on the album called “What Would Pac Do”. Pac has been gone for nearly twenty years now and when some people think of 2Pac or romanticize him they think of his troubled side. You highlighted Pac’s conscious side in the song. How’d you come up with the concept of the song?
Dephlow: Absolutely. The true story behind this is I was sitting listening to a Chevrolet commercial and they were using a sample from this beat. I had already wrote that and the beat was right there in the pocket that I wanted so I recorded it and sent it to Phoniks and he was like, “You gotta let me remix that!” so he remixed it. The whole concept of it was we saw a situation where this brother was basically attacked and he stood his own ground. That sort of passion to stand up for yourself and what you believe in — we’ve been missing for that long. True, the brother was very versatile. He was a Gemini so he was multi-faceted. There are a lot of moving parts to 2Pac that are probably already lost on this generation and that’s okay. What I was trying to do was basically remind people about the passion that the dude had about everybody. Not just his people, but everybody. In that sample it’s white folks, black folks, Puerto Ricans, we gotta do something. All of the social issues that we have are bigger than just black folks and bigger than just Mexicans. We all have a common enemy but we all have these same sort of distractions that have to circumvent and get around that.
TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Deph Threats?
Dephlow: I think maybe I’ve already accomplished it – I made my family proud. Judging from the phone calls and feedback that I’ve been getting from people who were willing to reach out and let me know, it’s affected people. It’s even given people who weren’t in the demographic that I intended to hear this music insight. Certain tracks on that album gave them more perspective. They may have been expecting beats, bars, and punch lines. They got that, but they got food, too. I couldn’t make that album again today. I think they got a piece of music that’ll live, if they choose to. What I expected to get out of this is hopefully an opportunity for people like yourself to even talk to me without have 700,000 followers on Twitter or whatever [laughs]. I don’t care about social media, man, so I’m not looking to get new followers or Facebook friends. At the end of the day that’s a vehicle to get them there to hear the music and it’s a way to reach out to me. I love hearing from people. I’m not one of those people that has an ego and won’t reach back like you’re above that. This is real music, I’m a real person, and these are real people who are affected by it. I appreciate that and I need them to know that just as much as they want to let me know that they appreciate the music. So, that’s happened.
Purchase: Dephlow – Deph Threats