"Be Real. Be Righteous. Be Relevant." This is the creed that David Augustine Jr. lives his life by. Professionally known as Dee-1, the New Orleans-based emcee spent some time as a teacher in Baton Rouge before deciding to pursue his passion on a full-time basis rather than just after hours. Dee-1 will be part of the lineup for Z107.9's White Out - Who Got Next show at House of Blues on Thursday. He’ll perform along with Rico Love, Sebastian Mikel, Kid Ink and Mack Wilds.
"The plan all along was to be an artist full-time," he says. "But when I graduated from college, I wasn’t making any money from being an artist. So I got the job as a teacher to help just supplement my income, fund my dream and pay for my habit. My habit of being an artist."
After two years of instructing middle school students, Augustine found the double life was starting to become more trouble than it was worth. "Finally it got to the point where I couldn’t really balance both of them anymore because it was taking too much of a toll on me,” he says. “I realized that if I wanted my music to pop off real big, I had to pursue it full-time and give myself a chance to really compete.”
With that, Dee-1 began his journey to bring his music to the masses. While the story of an artist searching for an outlet to express their artistry certainly isn't one that hasn't been heard before, Dee-1's narrative is slightly different from others in his field. His musical content is deftly positive without being corny and inspirational without coming across as too preachy. Surprisingly, it took awhile for his music to get to that point.
"When I first, first, first started rapping, I would say [for] the first six months of me rapping, it didn’t really have a message in it. It didn’t really have any direction to it," he says. "I was rapping with a bunch of homeboys at first in this big clique with like fifteen dudes. We were all kinda talking about a bunch of nothing, but when I started to do my solo stuff I was like, 'Man, I want my stuff to really have a purpose, to really talk about something.”
From that point on, Dee-1 has been full throttle with his positive message, releasing a slew of mixtapes — including the I Hope They Hear Me series and The Focus Tape. His single "Jay, 50 & Weezy" helped to generate a great deal of Internet buzz, but everyone has not always been so receptive to Dee's positivity.
"You’ve got these industry “experts,” and people who think they know it all, who definitely at certain times would say, 'Oh, you need more club songs and you need more stuff that people wanna hear.' I’m just like, no offense to them, but I feel like I know more than them."
He just may be onto something though. After releasing his Psalms of David project, Dee-1 signed a deal with RCA Inspiration — the same label that’s home to gospel heavyweights like Marvin Sapp, Hezekiah Walker, Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin and Dietrick Haddon, to name a few. Any celebration of the new recording contract was brief, because shortly after that, Dee-1 was invited to join Lupe Fiasco's Tetsuo and Youth Preview tour. Grateful for the opportunity, Dee has nothing but high praise for the oft-controversial rapper.
"Me and Lupe have a real dope relationship," he says. "He’s like a big brother. I say that and I don’t just throw that term around. He literally gives me feedback on my set and makes suggestions on what song I can do here and what song I can do there. He comes out and watches my show and all of that stuff. I’m really gaining a lot of insight from him by being on this tour."
Dee-1's latest project, Psalms of David II was just released back in November. He says it's more a continuation of the previous installment — with a much higher set of expectations, since it was the project that netted him the deal with RCA. Dee says even with the contract he's still hungry and has plenty to talk about — including his personal life, relationships and issues with the team around, to name a few things. He's fully embraced the odds that are still stacked against him.
"[I'm] just rapping about how it feels to know that you’re the underdog,” he says. “I really feel like David in David & Goliath," he says. "That hunger right there and that adrenaline rush that you get from knowing you’re the underdog but knowing you’re still winning and defying the odds. That’s what this CD is about."
He points out that he hasn't had the benefit of a major cosign in the industry like some of his contemporaries have been fortunate enough to have in their corner — like Dr. Dre giving Kendrick Lamar the nod, Rick Ross pushing Wale or Jay Z giving J. Cole his blessing. Dee prides himself on having authentic cosigns from artists like Lupe, Mannie Fresh and Master P. The list of artists Dee would like to work with in the future may come as a surprise to some; it contains East Coast emcees like Jadakiss and Nas. Those were the artists Dee admired while growing up and he prefers his collaborations to come together out of a genuine respect for the artist and not just working with whoever is hot at any given time.
For the most part, Dee says he wants to primarily focus on his music, but he did find the time to shoot a film. "I filmed a movie that’s coming out in April, I’m one of the lead characters in the movie but I don’t want to get too distracted by doing a whole bunch of things like that right now. I did want to do that just to get it out of the way."
Through hard work, Dee-1 has a built a significant fan following. He's more concerned with pulling in new listeners with his positive message though. "If they haven’t heard my music before, those are the people that matter most out of everybody to me."
When asked why someone should give his brand of music a chance, Dee mentions his tenacity and independent hustle. "There was nobody really pushing this ship forward. I think that’s reason enough for somebody to say 'I respect dude’s grind,' he confidently says. "I waited and found the right situation, the right label and now I’m doing my thing. I think that’s reason to listen."