The longstanding relationship between rap and skateboarding doesn't mean that every skater can rap and vice versa. How many pros do we need to see embarrass themselves on the mic before that sets in? "Black Dave" Willis, however, proves an exception to that rule: He's not only a talented Zoo York am, but also a gifted MC. The way he skates New York City is the same way he rhymes: hard and gritty, controlled and determined. We watched the self-proclaimed Black Donald Trump perform live recently at Webster Hall in the East Village, then pulled him aside to chop it up a bit about rap, skating and New York life.
XGames.com: What inspired you to start rapping and how did it transition into playing live and recording?
Dave Willis: Growing up in New York City all my life kept me a diverse kid. I've been skateboarding for about 10 years in New York and all my favorite skate videos (Zoo York's "E.S.T.," "Logic," etc.) used dope hip-hop. Music videos were always something I loved and wanted to direct. I've only been making music for a year now, but it's always been in my life. I look at it as another way to get my voice out to the youth and public -- something that couldn't be done with just skating.
Playing live shows is an experience I can't explain, similar to riding a board for the first time or riding a bicycle. Once you get going, you only want to get better and gain experience.
Explain the differences or similarities between breaking into skateboarding and breaking into the New York rap scene. People might not realize how hard it is just to get shows and to get your music out without major backing.
I look at it the same way I look at skateboarding: Stay true to yourself and keep it core. That's the way I do everything. As a kid my friends and I were putting out videos skateboarding and traveling around the East Coast; that gained attention and gave me the opportunity to get sponsors and reach the public. I treat my music the same way, keeping it in house and working with my true homies. This way, I know once I can get my music out to the public with the support of someone, it will always be my direction.
For a long time, most skaters who rapped (or rappers who skated) seemed to be able to exist only in the underground; now that there's a larger mainstream connection between the two, it's still hard to pursue both without coming off as a novelty. Can you talk about how you treat both pursuits and why your approach is different?
It's really all about who you are. If you come off looking like you're just doing something to fit in or be relevant, people will see that and point that out. The public knows what's up, so if you pick up a microphone or a board and you straight up have no idea what you're doing, it will be written all over you.
Who are your top New York MCs of all time, past or present?
Wow, man, so many -- I will leave out someone, I know it. All time, it's Big [Notorious B.I.G.], [Big] Pun, Nas, N.O.R.E., Cormega, DMX, The Lox, Wu-Tang, Kool G Rap, Onyx, G. Dep, Mase, KRS-One, [A] Tribe [Called Quest], Dipset, [Naughty By] Nature, Big L, Fab[olous] and 50 Cent. Those MCs bring that New York vibe that can never be recreated.
Are there any producers that you'd like to work with or feel would complement your style?
I'd like to work with a bunch of people; I'm not really too picky, but if something sounds good, I'm on it. All the music I've made up to this point was just from people reaching out online. Right now I'm working with this dude VERYRVRE, LV Beats and my homie Shy Beats. Shy's one of my good homies who I've been working with from pretty much day one. Great guy and his tracks are insane!
Do you feel that there's a new movement in NYC ready to blow up? Who are some of your other favorites that people might not know yet?
Yeah, New York is definitely on the map right now in a strong way. People are hyped on whatever comes out of this city: music, clothing, skateboarding, etc. There are a lot of dudes who are making moves that I'm listening to right now: A$AP, Joey Bada$$, my bro Perrion, Flatbush Zombies, Bronson and my right hand, D-Stunna.
What is the story behind your introductory video into the rap game, "The Black Donald Trump"? Why did you choose that alias?
"Black Donald Trump" was something that I made for my homies ... almost as a video that I always wanted to see. So I just made it myself and put it out. That was the first song I ever recorded, and first video I ever directed. The reaction was awesome and people wanted to see more, which I didn't imagine. Black Donald Trump is a character that I see myself as: an entrepreneur who's making moves on his own but keeps it realer than Donald Trump ever will.
What do you have coming up for 2013?
I'm currently working on new music. Putting together my next mix tape, "Black Dave For President," connecting with new artists, producers and fans. Doing more shows and expanding to out-of-state shows, dropping new music videos and new skateboard videos all year round and just keeping true to my craft.