Interview with CROOKED:
1) Tell us a bit about yourself; where you're from, when did you start rapping and how'd you become part of Darkroom Familia?
I’m from the Northside of Hayward, California. The Bay Area of Northern California (the East Bay to be exact). I grew up in low-income housing with Oakland about 5 minutes to the north of me on the 880 freeway and San Francisco right over the bridge on the other side of the Bay, about 35 minutes from me, depending on the traffic (which is almost always bad). I experienced all the bad that comes from poverty and economically depressed areas. The crime, the drugs, the violence, the chaos, the charity, the government tyranny, the politicians pretending to care while doing nothing about the problems, etc., I grew up in the ‘80s, was a b-boy breakin’ and pop-lockin’ and battling other people or crews, etc. Then I saw my older brother (Duke) write a rap in ’84 and I started to write not too long after that as well and I would sing along, rap along to Slick Rick, LL Cool J, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Too $hort and others.
In 1988 we started recording our own raps over instrumentals we had on vinyl (everything from Eazy-E and NWA to Ice-T to Audio Two to Biz Markie and more). We released a cassette maxi-single with a black-and-white Xerox-copied cover and shrinkwrapped with plastic and a hair dryer. We went from that to replicating more /different maxi-single cassettes and selling them all over the Bay Area out of a gym bag. We would put our cassettes on consignment in stores in Oakland, San Francisco, Hayward, Fremont, San Jose, East Palo Alto, Berkeley, Daly City, etc., After a short while (maybe after the first month or so) when we went back to consign more cassettes, the stores just outright bought them from us, 20, 50, 100 at a time. From then on, it was EPs and full-length albums (cassettes). We went from that to full-color, professionally shrinkwrapped albums to selling directly to stores and distributors. As far as Darkroom Familia goes, I’m one of the original founders of Darkroom Familia, me, Duke, Dyno, D-Roll. Oso was also there at the beginning as well. We recorded and released albums and singles and performed all the time like crazy, long before we worked with any other artists. From cassettes in 1988 to CDs and vinyl to DVDs and blu-rays into the ‘90s and 2000s and the rest is history.
2) Describe your style/sound.
I’m an old-school b-boy from the era of MCs and DJs, so naturally I’m all about outshining not only all competition, but outshining myself. I’m all about substance and truth and actual lyricism. There’s a time to do laid-back, fun, music and there’s a time to do serious music with substance. I prefer the latter, but I can do the former. When it comes to serious music, I try not to just say the same things that every other rapper says. I’ll touch on similar subjects and topics, but I also bring a critical thinking perspective to it. Nothing is black and white. There are many shades of gray. I will give the listener a window into all the madness in the hood, but I also give them an escape, to open their eyes and see that you don’t have to continue the cycle, that you can focus on the positive: working hard, saving, sacrificing and making something of yourself. Too many rappers spread bullshit and complaints and not enough solutions. They like to either A: bitch and moan about whatever situation they're in (but they leave out the many, many poor life choices THEY made to put themselves into the situation to begin with) or B: they glamorize and romanticize the lifestyle and perpetuate the negative and bad choices to make. Hardly anyone ever tells the listeners (which is mostly kids) the truth; that making bad life choices leads to prison or death. Now, everyone makes mistakes. That's how one learns. The choices you make after that is what dictates your life. You can continue down the same broken road you're on or go back and take the other direction and make better choices that will ultimately better your situation in the end. It's all about self-responsibility. Life is precious and short, but no one said it would be easy. If you're in pain or struggle, embrace it. Pain and struggle build character. Pain and struggle teach appreciation and gratitude. All the pain and struggling and suffering I went through in life, made me work hard to get out and build a better life for myself. You don't like living in poverty? What are you doing about it? Are you complaining and blaming everything and everyone else while doing nothing but smoking weed and drinking? Or are you grabbing a hold of your nuts, working hard, saving, sacrificing, keeping good credit and getting yourself out of the situation you don't like? You have to work hard and earn everything you get. You reap what you sow. Don't be envious of the next man. YOU work hard for YOURSELF and don't worry about what the next man is doing. Losers focus on winners, winners focus on winning.
3) What influenced/inspired you to start rapping?
The ‘80s, the streets, being raised in poverty, struggling and all-around life. As far as artists that inspired me to rap, I'd say Run-DMC, Slick Rick, Eazy-E, Ice-T, Too $hort, Beastie Boys, Above The Law, the ‘80s golden-era of rap.
4) Darkroom Familia has released an unbelievable amount of albums over the years and have been making music for so long. What inspires Darkroom Familia to keep making music?
Life inspires in many ways and I can get inspired by other music, other artists, books, movies, or serious moments in life. I wouldn’t change any of the suffering I went through and experienced in my lifetime because it moulded me into the man I am today and I wouldn’t appreciate all the good things in my life without the struggle. Without suffering, there is no gratitude. Without earning something, it feels meaningless. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve learned to have gratitude for every day I wake up breathing. I used to have a major chip on my shoulder, until I realized the world doesn’t owe you anything. You have to work hard for whatever you want in life and it’s easy to get blinded by consumerist, material, meaningless bullshit because we’re constantly programmed to want these things instead of taking care of our actual needs.
5) What is your all-time favorite Darkroom album?
I have a few in rotation. It all depends on the mood, however some hold special places in my heart more than others. Music, like movies and books, are a sort of a time-machine because they freeze certain moments in time. So, I’ll always look at certain albums for being a starting point that led to something. For instance, had we not released our first recordings, they wouldn’t have led to getting paid for doing something we loved and it all goes from there like a chain reaction. Just like in life, every choice you make leads to another choice and another choice and depending on which choice you make, you can go from bad to worse or bad to good and then better. I’ll always remember certain albums fondly, from our old black-and-white cassette singles to the first Temporary Insanity album “Bitchez Never Learn” to From The Barrio With Love to Homicide Kings to the Penitentiary Chances and Veteranos soundtracks all the way up to solo albums by different Darkroom members, etc. Recently I gave a listen to the Duke & Crooked album and it’s a damn good album. I also like Darkroom Vets still. There’s also certain verses that, to me, are timeless. There's songs by Darkroom homies that I think are classics. Every one of us has done them. I listen to songs by Duke, Oso, K.I.D., Young D and D-Roll too. Each of us has something to contribute. There are a lot of things that we have said in our music that is deep and has gone completely over people’s heads, things that we've said that people still aren't saying nowadays.
6) What is your opinion of rap/hip-hop currently?
I really have no opinion on it because I don’t listen to any current rap really. That ship sailed for me long ago. I can’t relate to all the nonsense and faggotry, so instead of complaining, I just turn it off. I don't pay attention at all to any youtube shit or internet shit or radio/club shit at all. I’m sure there might be some dope shit out there, but if there is, I haven’t heard it. The occasional snippet of rap I’ve heard recently showed me no indication otherwise. If there IS something dope out there, truly dope, let me know, and I’ll give it a listen, but I’ll be brutally honest. If something is good, I’ll say it, but if it’s shit, I’ll say that too. I’ve never followed trends, I don’t sugarcoat shit and I’ve never been politically correct and no fucks will ever be given by me.
7) What artists, aside from Darkroom Familia, do you listen to?
Same old things as always: things in my collection, artists I’ve always listened to, ‘80s rap, ‘90s Bay Area rap, classical music, punk rock, metal, oldies, ‘70s, etc., so everything from the Bay ($hort, Mac Dre, Andre Nickatina, The Click, Chunk, Kranky, Del, Heiro) to old school Above The Law, Eric B & Rakim, Geto Boys to Johnny Cash to Vicente Fernandez to New Edition to punk rock like The Faction, The Misfits, 45 Grave to old school Metallica to Faith No More to classical music like “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven to ‘70s shit like KISS, Abba, Black Sabbath to The Animals, James Brown, the Knack, The Cars, Billy Idol. My taste is pretty wide.
8) How do you feel about fans outside of the U.S. listening to Darkroom?
We’ve gotten a LOT of love from so many fans outside of the U.S. and it always feels great. We have much love for everyone who has love for us. It’s really dope that music can transcend language. I would have loved to do an overseas tour. The farthest we’ve gone to promote our music was Canada and it was cool, but it would’ve been lovely to promote in Europe and Asia and Central and South America.
9) What are your thoughts on major labels still not recognizing independent rap from the Bay/Northern Cali?
The majors are like Vegas. No one beats the house. It’s rigged from the beginning. We’ve had our stuff on major labels and it’s not fun. The push/promotion was never put in place and the accounting is never in an artist’s favor. Today, now that the business model has been destroyed, there’s no point. The majors will take you for everything and now they want a piece of your merchandising and performances from what I hear. They are now, and have always been, a cookie-cutter factory with their own unchanged formula, so they will never recognize they Bay and Northern California. They will take, rip-off the style/sound and milk it as much as they can, but they will never truly recognize it and give our region the proper respect and due. However, we don’t need them to. Why would you want recognition from an entity that you don’t respect? Our artists here will shit on their pop bullshit any day of the week.
10) How do you feel about the Bay Area/Central Valley/Northern Cali rap scene?
The homegrown talent that we’ve got here has always been trendsetters and ahead of the curve with style and substance and we have been copied and imitated (but never duplicated) for decades. It’s nothing new. Our region will always have originators and innovators and we will keep getting our style stolen and simultaneously ignored, just like all the other originators and innovators in history like Nikola Tesla, but they can’t erase our history and contributions to entertainment and culture. When people follow the timelines all the way to the beginning (or end, depending on how you look at things), the truth is revealed and can’t be denied.
11) Any upcoming projects?
Duke’s new album “The Darkest Hour” was JUST released, “I Got Five On It 3” was JUST released as well. Coming next, more new music (solos, collabs, compilations) coming soon as well. New K.I.D. solo, new Oso solo, also an Oso collab project with the homie T-Loc out of Antioch, new Young D solo, an Emac solo, more new music from Duke as well and some other musical projects, I’ll be getting on some stuff, whether it's production or verses.