Under the Spotlight is a feature series that focuses on the rising stars of tomorrow, and those which have achieved success beyond the limits of their respected field. The series will be run by Urban Times editor Christian Julal.
When I dialed Darnell Martez Williams’ cell last week to finish up a few details of our interview, I had no idea what I was in store for. What started out as two mid-twenty something former college dropouts exchanging Twitter messages, turned into one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in a really long time.
For those of you who don’t know, Darnell Martez Williams is an aspiring MC born and raised on the Westside of Detroit. Growing up in a place that isn’t for the faint of heart, Williams aspired to be a rapper his whole life.
To kick things off, I asked Darnell who his influences were growing up. But instead of getting the same old tired laundry list of names, the answer he provided me with was way more intelligent, and to be honest, pretty damn unique. Williams told me he really didn’t have any real musical influences growing up. What inspired him was more of a running tape of childhood memories. Memories that helped paint his musical canvas with vivid colors and dynamic landscapes. Whether it was cruising around in his Mom’s all white z28 Camaro or seeing bums lounging on the corner, Darnell Williams’ music is built from something real. And real is exactly what you get when you exchange words or texts with the 21 year-old MC. He’s as genuine as they come, and as he told a few times “people just seem to like me.”
In an industry that thrives off hard work; Darnell seems to have that lethal combination of talent, networking and ambition. Enough of it to unlock his dreams with relative ease. From his work with the legendary illRoots crew, to the release of his first EP 7Mile2BK, Darnell Williams is poised for an explosive 2013.
Let me guess, you’re a Detroit Pistons’ fan?
DW- I was. Until Chauncey (Billups) left.
Billups’ was pretty legit. Rip (Hamilton), Sheed (Rasheed Wallace), Prince (Tayshaun Prince), and Ben (Wallace). Remember the Ron Artest, Palace of Auburn Hills brawl?
DW- Yeah, Detroit fans’ don’t give many fucks ha-ha.
Growing up in Detroit, what are some images that still pop up in your mind today?
DW- It’s really a lot of things. Not really images though. More like moments, short clips that never leave my mind. Like riding with my mom in her z28 as a child, seeing a hood legend (Blade Icewood) at Outback Steakhouse (laughs). Like my introduction to sex was me waking up to my dad fucking some random ass girl. (laughs) I was like 4. That shit never left me though. I remember random shit vividly.
Is that kind of what inspired you to go to film school? So you could capture those moments or create your own through the lens?
DW- Nah. When I got to college I had to choose a major. And I didn’t think it made sense to go for music being that I already knew how to rap. So I just chose film.
I actually went to film school also. Full Sail University. I knew some of the music kids. Seemed like a lot of the music and film people would link up and create some pretty cool shit together.
DW- I almost went there! But I didn’t have money for an apartment so I picked Columbia College in Chicago.
Was that where you, Mike Waxx and Mike Carson (The illRoots.com family) linked up?
DW- Yeah, we all met there. Creatively we clicked, the rest is history.
How long were in Chicago for? Did you finish school?
DW- About 2 years. I dropped out my second year of school due to funds. My grades were great but no scholarships came through and it was either drop out and stay in the Chi, or go back to Detroit and finish school. But I was like fuck that (laughs); I’m in Chicago, living.
What did you do to make money and stay in Chicago while you were out of school?
DW- I sold damn near my whole wardrobe to the Buffalo Exchange over In Wicker Park. Literally down to like a 1 pair of Jays, Chucks and Timberlands. Sold my Xbox, started looking for jobs, called a million people off Craigslist.
I ended up getting a job delivering pizzas on the Westside. Sheridan red line stop. It wasn’t the best job, but I had a cool boss and got to drive past Oprah’s crib everyday. Being broke and seeing that spoke to me. Shoutouts to Papa Rays Pizza.
I know your next stop was New York City. When did the move to NYC take place?
DW- Around August 2011. Right after I got kicked off the, well let’s just say a tour (laughs).
DW- I got into a scuffle (laughs). Next thing I know they packed my shit, I got off the bus, they had me out of the hotel and on a flight back to Chicago the next day.
Is everything good now though?
DW- Yeah, everything is A1. I still see and work with them all the time (laughs). I actually was just in the studio with that nigga. (laughs)
How long were you in NYC for, and where at? That’s one hell of a city.
DW- I loved it there. For one year exactly and I stayed in Bushwick, Brooklyn. On the off the Morgan L Stop.
Man I love Brooklyn; I met some of the realist individuals in my life out there. Living in New York was the equivalent of trying a new drug. New York blessed me with some style & opened my mind to new things. I love New York. It definitely is a different way of living out there. That shit is grind. Shoutouts to The East Coast Hippies
I know you’re living in Los Angeles right now. Why did you make that move if you loved Brooklyn?
DW- It wasn’t really my decision. Simply put, I’m just moving with the team.
Your team has a relationship with fellow Detroit rapper Big Sean. Having worked with Sean and him being from Detroit also, is he one of your influences in the game?
DW- Nah, not at all. He’s dope, but he’s him and I’m me. We individuals. We both got our own stories and ways of telling them. I’m not like anyone in the game right now. I can’t be. I just can’t. We’re all just different people with our own stories to tell.
Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need to jump start your creativity. Now that you’re in LA, are you living by yourself?
DW- Nah, I got one roommate. Mike Waxx of illRoots.
LA is a pretty fantastic place to live. Do you like being out there better than say Chicago or New York?
DW- I really like the vibe out here but I got love for every city I’ve lived in.
Has the move out west changed or influenced your music?
DW- I mean you make way different music out here than in New York.For one, living out in New York was just a different time for me in my life. So like the music that came from being in NY was totally separate from the stuff I’m doing out here.
The music I made in New York was a lot darker. Some mornings you’d wake up and it would be mad gloomy and shit, and it doesn’t put you in a bad mood necessarily but like subconsciously I’m not really thinking of the high points in life (laughs). And I wasn’t in the best position at the time where I was making money consistently, so like you know, I feel a little better out in LA.
Having lived in so many different cities already, do you think you’ve finally found a home in LA? Do you see yourself staying in the city for an extended period of time?
DW- Yeah. I mean I don’t really plan on being anywhere for a while, but I’ll be here for a minute (laughs), then I’ll start touring.
Are you signed to a label right now? Or is this the time you are really establishing your fan base and growing up as an artist?
DW- Nah, I’m not signed at the moment. I rapped when I was younger, but when I got to college and I got into film and connected with the whole illRoots thing my rap career kind of took a back seat. But now that I am out of school and living out here in LA, I am kinda just playing catch up with my music. Like, I got credibility for film and everything, and I love that stuff. But now is the time to be taken seriously as a rapper. Its what I wanted to do all my life.
I feel like having that background with illRoots and in the film game building the connections you did actually might have benefited your rap career.
DW- Definitely. I mean I don’t take any of that stuff for granted at all, but I just try and keep them separate, you know? I never want anyone to think I got special recognition due to the blog and not my music, you know? I want people to say “wow, he can actually rap, and better than most people in the game right now.”
Speaking of your music, do you think your music has a broad reach? Meaning it can appeal to anyone from the dudes you grew up with to the white kids driving their parents whips in the suburbs?
DW- Hell yeah man! (laughs) I mean it’s because I lived in Detroit in some of the grimiest places ever. Like I’m not even trying to exaggerate or anything like that but let’s just say it was different.
Then I moved to Chicago, and New York and now LA. And I mean through out all of that, having shitty jobs, second-guessing yourself, meeting people. All of that life experience helps you read people, understand what touches them and what moves them.
The thing about my music is that I don’t go into it with an idea. I kind of just write what comes to me at that moment. And I don’t want to exclude people with my music. I want every person to feel it. I want to go on tour and have hipsters standing there next to hypebeast & thugs. (laughs) And I feel like they have to dig it because my music is real. I don’t make shit up. It’s just me. And the biggest niche you could ever have is just being true to yourself.
One thing that stands out for me when it comes to you is your grind and the crazy amount of positive energy you have. While most people are either putting stuff off, or waiting on success to find them, you are out there hustling and pushing your agenda forward. Do you think that energy is key to reaching “success”?
DW- Yeah man, I have no doubt’s that this is all going to happen. It’s all about time. And that’s what frustrates me. The when. Coming where I came from, do I ever see myself like being one of those homeless dudes in time? Never. Those thoughts are never in my head. I can’t even imagine that kind of stuff. It’s just not real. I’m going to make it.
When you talk to Darnell Williams you can’t help but get inspired by his unrelenting spirit and drive. Talking to someone who is so dedicated to their craft and is fueled by the endless pursuit of creativity makes you appreciate all of those hard working people in this world who go out there and chase their dreams.
In an industry over-saturated and filled with faux hype, Darnell Williams has the vision and talent to rise above the clutter. He has a chance to break through.
Darnell Williams’ debut EP 7MILE2BK will be dropping April 7th. Check back for a link or as always hit up https://soundcloud.com/darnellwilliams for more details.