Dj Donnie D
Queensbridge emcee Nasir “Nas” Jones’s latest opus, Hip Hop Is Dead, has sparked nationwide conversations on the current state of the genre’s four elements.
On a chilly Sunday in January, some of the culture’s key local proponents gathered at the Limelight over fajitas and frijoles to take hip-hop’s temperature by pondering the history and future of the form. Among the participants were DMC champ Donnie D, the lyricist known merely as Question, hip-hop renaissance man B.U., Phrymemates co-founder “Scuba” Steve Balser, crooner Eddie B of B.E.T.’s Fatty Koo fame, the producer/emcee called Notes, Paint By Numbers’ DJ Tech-Neek, and longtime beat-smith Polygrafic. Based on the success of these talks, plans are currently under way for an all-city hip-hop showcase this spring.
When you think about the history of hip-hop in S.A., who are some of the figures that you feel are particularly important?
Question: There was PKO on the East Side that I grew up listening to, but one of the people that I grew up idolizing and is sitting across from me is B.U., and they had 3rd dimension. That was the first group that I remember ever hearing that made me really want to get into this and believe it, being from San Antonio, that we had a shot. They had Mad 1, who I thought was incredible the first time I heard him. Uncle Mystic, R.I.P., is someone who touched me when I first heard what they were doing.
Polygrafic: I don’t know if anybody ever heard of Chris Cool, DJ Screw’s first cousin. That was really my inspiration for production working with the 3rd, and venue-wise definitely the Evergreen. Before I started producing, I was DJ-ing and I wasn’t very good at it, but I guess I’d have to say Donnie D, ’cause I wanted to be a DJ, so Donnie, the Evergreen, and this place right here, which used to be Wacky’s.
Tech-Neek: The first person I heard locally was Hated Family. Hated Family was doing big things back then, and I used to listen to 96.1 back in the day when it was hot. That was my lifeline to hip-hop. But I’m really happy I was able to meet Louie Dollars, one of the main figures from Hated Family and we became roommates and he taught me the game, how to do things right. Louie Dollars is probably my biggest inspiration.
B.U.: I just miss the locations we had back in the day. We had bars and clubs. We had Wacky’s. We used to do stuff at the Carver Center. Every now and then we used to gather everybody from every different hood to come do a show and showcase that type of stuff. Now I feel everyone’s in their own corners cause we don’t have nowhere to showcase it, and when we do there’s not a proper sound system, it’s not properly promoted, or there’s something that’s wrong and that
doesn’t do San Antonio kindly.
Donnie D: San Antonio is just a big hating city. People will hate on someone if they got a new pair of drawers, a new car. It’s sad, instead of rooting for someone, it’s just sad. It’s flabbergasting to me.
Notes: I think it goes on everywhere, though.
When you look at the success Houston has achieved, a lot of it comes from the fact that they have an identifiable sound. Is there a San Antonio sound and would we even want to be limited by something like that?
Donnie D: The sound the way it was, for somebody like PKO or Little Sin, Southern Merchandise, Big House, it was still more South oriented, like we knew where we were. Now I don’t know what the hell’s going on, seriously.
Question: San Antonio is very diverse compared to most cities, ’cause we have a lot of military people. We also have a big Latino population here that for some reason people fail to realize when we talk about hip-hop.
The problem is that there are a million sounds here. You look at a group like Mojoe, and Mojoe to me is the craziest sound ever to come out of this city and they’re one of the first ones from here to land a major record deal in a long time. They have a sound that’s way different from anyone else in the city. I think the one thing about San Antonio is that it’s so diverse, that really is the sound. You’re not gonna get the same sound.
Eddie B: That makes it more powerful in a sense because it is so eclectic. We have all these different cultures and these different styles in our music as well. It’s not one category. You can’t just come here and label us.
B.U.: I think that’s a catch-22 though, because if you think about every city in the music business that’s had some type of success, New York, L.A., Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis, they all got an identity. Everyone there doing it is pretty much in the same similar type of chord, that’s why they expose what’s in their city. So to me it’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing. We’re never gonna create that here. I don’t feel like there’s ever gonna be a style everybody agrees that we should just do at once because of where we come from. We all come from different places.
Notes: I think it’s good not to claim a certain sound, ’cause to me that’s gimmicky. The outside world looking in, they think whoever’s the biggest, whoever makes it huge, they think that’s how the city sound is supposed to be.
Scuba: Hip-hop regional identities have always been about dialect and that identity and I think that’s kind of a misconception. San Antonio, in my opinion, really doesn’t have its own specific dialect and I think that’s the beauty of San Antonio. You got cats from Ohio, New York, Germany, Indiana, Houston, Los Angeles, all over the place, and I think that’s what makes it special.
Really, if we’re gonna take off in this city, it’s not gonna be any specific sound, but because of unity and support and not in the cheesy sense like ‘peace, support your local art,’ but really getting down and cross-collaborating and doing events together and cross-promoting. I really think that’s gonna be San Antonio’s identity.