What’s Good? Dash Speaks (Part One)

23 Mar

Dash Speaks

Likeable and mellow, two adjectives rarely used to describe entertainers and, even less so, rappers. Yet somehow in a climate heavily-laden with bravado, Dash Speaks stays true to form, minding his Ps and Qs the whole way. With a penchant for boat shoes and politics, Dash makes quite the lyricist, but despite his poet background, his biggest love is music. Having worked with producers from here to Germany, Dash brings quite a bit to the table in terms of both experience and exposure. He recently wrote, produced, and performed on his new album Geography, and was nice enough to sit down with us to share some of what makes up the map in his mind and the source of his talent. So get comfortable and take a moment to find out What’s Good? with Dash Speaks:

So I see you are not wearing your Boat Shoes/Topsiders today! The song in their honor, however, was the first of yours that I heard. Can you discuss that track a bit and how it came about?

Sure. Noah (NSR) has been wearing Topsiders for something like 2 years. I bought my first pair last year. We just both think they’re the essential summer shoe. We were at Ella together once, and I walked downstairs and saw Noah was wearing Topsiders and I was wearing Topsiders. It was the summer and that’s, more or less, all we wear then.

I was like, “Yo! I couldn’t be flyer in my Topsiders” and at that moment, we realized we should make a song about this. I had just been producing for a couple months at that point, and I decided I would try to make a beat. I did, and it was pretty cool. I was planning on doing a 12-bar verse, and Noah did a 24-bar verse, so I ended up writing a 24-bar verse as well. We wrote the chorus together. We had a lot of fun making it! We took a lot of time and performed it a couple of times –sometimes really sloppily. By the time we released it, we had practiced and actually had some choreography.

We both like the song a lot. “Topsiderz” and “Bachelours at Disco Beach” were the two songs I released this past summer. Neither of them was the normal type of song I do. Usually, my music’s a little more serious than that. But they were both really fun songs, and I felt that I executed them well. I have to be honest that I was a little surprised that they didn’t catch on more than they did; BUT “Topsiderz 2.0” is coming out soon. It’s right around the corner!

Is it a remix?
I think I am going to make a new beat for it. That’s what I am thinking. I have a producer in Germany that I have worked with in the past. He said he was interested in doing a remix, so I might ask him to work with me again. His name is Jan Wilms. At the time I worked with him, he was working with Punx Records, which is a dance music record label out of Dortmund, Germany. He’s a great producer. So I might ask him to do it, I might do it, or I might even ask another producer to work on it. But I think at this point, I’ve gotten a lot better in terms of production, so I’d like to take another stab at it.

Cool. I think one of the reasons it caught my attention is because here we have a hip hop, rap, sometimes dancehall influenced artist talking about these shoes that I associate with really preppy Southern boys. So in your making a track about them, is that sort of a “wink,” if you will, to the hip hop industry?
Sort of. The shoe is cool because it symbolizes a perfection union of form and content. You can wear them anywhere. I wore them at Bonnaroo last year. It was really muddy, then at times really dry and hot. They were just perfect for all types of weather. Sperry and Sebago, which is the company that makes Docksides (which I like as well), both have the intention of creating a waterproof shoe that you can wear with a blazer or you can just wear with shorts. So we (NSR and I) both liked that.

The other thing about it is that it’s just a classic look. I think that in the last couple of years, I’ve gradually become less loud of a dresser and more subtle. The thing about Topsiders is that they’re timeless. It’s always been a really good shoe. It’s never tried to be anything more than it is. I should really work for Sperry! [laughs]

Hopefully they’ll give you a little kickback from this, you know, send you a new pair of shoes!
Maybe! [laughs] But going back to what you asked about the song being a “wink” to hip hop, there are certainly parts of the song like, “Let’s take ‘em to the country club” that obviously do not embody the quintessential style of hip hop.

Right. Though it is becoming that in a way.
It IS becoming that! I forgot who it was, but I think A-Trak and Theophilus London released a song about Boat Shoes. Since Pharell came onto the scene and Jay-Z started cleaning up, there’s been a gradual shift to a more well-dressed, sort of preppy style in hip hop in general. You definitely didn’t see rappers doing it five years ago.

If I had worn Topsiders on stage, I would’ve gotten laughed off. Now, the more traditional hip hop heads will make a comment about it, but the truth of the matter is you can wear whatever you want. Homeboy Sandman, for example, wears sweatpants and doesn’t care about the way he looks, but he raps really well. So at the end of the day, what you’re wearing isn’t really as important.

You mentioned earlier that you made your look a little less loud. What was it like before just the t-shirt and jeans look you’re into now?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do almost always wear a t-shirt out, BUT the other night, for example, I was DJing at Gallery Bar and I wore a button-down, a cardigan, and a scarf. I like epaulettes on shirts, I like flannels. I do like wearing clothes that aren’t JUST t-shirts.

I think there were points when I was really loud. There was a time when I was in Germany during which I had cut my hair like Rick Vaughn from Major League. I had the zig-zagged back. Reason Clothing used to give me a lot of clothes, and their stuff is a little bit more like streetwear, or at least back then it was, and I’d wear loud t-shirts. New Rome is another clothing company I have been in close contact with. I’d cut off the sleeves of their t-shirts and wear a lot more colors. Some days, I will wake up and wear a tie-dyed tank top, jorts, and crazy sneakers. So I don’t have one look.

That’s good! You’ve gotta mix it up a little bit.
Exactly. You don’t want to be tied down.

Going back to your music career a bit. . . to be frank, you are elusive on the web. I could hardly find you anywhere beyond your Myspace and a few other social networking sites. But in terms of background info, there’s very little out there about you. What is your real name, and how did Dash Speaks become your performance moniker?
Dashiell Conrad Mitchell Brody is my full name. My parents named me after Dashiell Hammett, who’s a writer. My middle name is Conrad, after Joseph Conrad, another writer. I like to think that my parents named me that thinking that I was definitely going to be a writer, although I think they just liked the names and it was coincidental. Mitchell is my mom’s maiden name, and Brody is my father’s last name.

So from Dashiell obviously, the nickname is Dash. When I started rapping, there were a few lines I had that ended in “Dash speaks the truth.” It was the idea of speaking the truth that I really liked. I was a lot more idealistic then, and a LOT more political when I started. [laughs] So from that, I cut it down to just “Dash Speaks.” I always liked it and it had a nice ring to it.

It’s funny because when you google “Dash Speaks,” you get a ton of Dame Dash sites and all his quotations! [laughs]
My google alerts are so annoying. I know so much about Dame Dash! You know, I actually like a lot of the stuff he does, and a lot of the projects he’s involved in, but I can’t help being a little annoyed at it just because he takes over my alerts. [laughs]

So it’s a little annoying, but there are lots of rappers out there who have names that overlap, and Dash Speaks isn’t one of those. Also, with Dash being my real name. . . it works. The concept of speaking is something that is important to me—not just talking, but saying something significant, which most of us would think that “speaking” is. It’s all about being heard, being very deliberate, and having something to say.

I’ve had other aliases, like for a period when I first started, Harvey Rhythm. I don’t know why I had that! [laghs] I liked it. I started blogging under the name Vodkatron. Then when I started DJing, Louis VuiTron was my DJ name. Although, 4 weeks ago, I realized that considering I am trying to make myself a household name, I don’t need a million different names. [laughs] I think that probably gets a little confusing, so I actually took the “Louis VuiTron” nameplate off my Mac

Have you replaced that with a “Dash Speaks” nameplate yet?
No, we are getting a Celebrity DJs label made, so I think I’ll put that on there.

Cool. Good luck with that! I hope it all comes out well.
Thank you. [laughs]

I noticed that on your MySpace page you have listed “money, jewelry, and bitches” as your influences, but in person (both now and when I first met you) and in general, in terms of your musical content, tweets, and facebook notes, you seem very serious. It doesn’t at all seem like those are your real, direct influences. Can you explain this a little?
Yeah. I just think that’s funny. That’s more me being sarcastic. That’s just not me. So yeah, that’s a joke. But in real life, I’m kind of a silly person. I’m not very serious unless I am talking about something serious. My music tends to be pretty serious, and I believe a lot in what I do.

I think there are important things to say. You know, at times, I do want to be funny in music, but I’ve found that what people have responded most to in my music and what I feel most comfortable and the strongest about doing, tends to be more serious stuff.

At this point, do you have any specific things on which you have been focusing when you write your music?
Yeah. When I started, I was very political, and I gradually became less political, then eventually just did club music for a short period of time. Though I think I have always maintained a certain level of intellect and content. I don’t say things that are really dumb, even in my dumbest songs. Eventually, I was just like, “I don’t really want to make political music, and I don’t feel like club music is exactly representative of me,” so I want to make music about the things I find important and interesting.

With that in mind, I considered the things I find important and interesting, and that was a blend of the normal things like girls and going out, wearing clothes, being a rapper, and all that stuff, but I also actually LOVE geography. I like political geography and geopolitics. I also like history and literature. I LOVE music—just absolutely love it—and do as much as I can to learn as much about it as possible. Those are the things I talk about.

It’s a fusion of all these ideas and influences I’ve had in my life. I try to reference those things. I actually will deliberately delete a punchline if it’s too cliché. I’m much quicker at punchlines like Magellan or sailing or the Inca, but if it’s a line about being a good rapper, I tried, at least on my last project, to cut those to a very small amount. I prefer not to use them that much.

What got you into hip hop and rap in the first place? Can you tell the readers a little about your development musically?
Sure. It was all gradual, you know? My parents say I’ve been writing since I learned to read. I’ve been writing poetry for a while. I remember writing poetry and loving it even when I was young. I wanted to be in the NBA [laughs], but my realistic goal (which is funny to use here considering I am in the music industry) [laughs] was to be a writer. I always thought I was going to be a writer. It just sort of made sense to me.

I did poetry and creative writing, short stories . . . anything I could write, I would when I was a kid, all the time. Eventually, my poetry started to turn into performance poetry. I was taking a class at Stuyvesant, where I had a poetry teacher who was just an awesome woman, and she suggested that I go to the Nuyorican Poets Café. When I went there, I performed a poem which, at that point, was kind of rap-like. It was very rhythmic spoken word. At that point, I had been freestyling for a few years and was into hip hop. It was my favorite kind of music by that time. I was 16, and I went there and just fell in love. I fell in love with spoken word. There were so many amazing artists and great rappers. I thought, “Wow! This is what I need to be doing.”

Eventually, I started to respond more to the musical side, so it went from spoken word to rap because I’d always liked singing. I’d sung in my first band at 14 and starting playing guitar when I was really young (though not very well). [laughs] Rapping sort of combined those things. I didn’t pursue music as seriously when I was a kid as I did writing. After I made the decision to be a rapper more or less, because that was kind of the combination of the amount of musical skills I had at the time and my writing, poetry, and performance skills, it gradually got to the point when I am now.

It went from my rapping over to beats to slowly involving singing in my work, then helping and watching my producers along the way. I’d look at what they were doing and say, “Maybe there should be a ‘tick’ here or a ‘boom’ here, this part should go up,” etc. When you don’t know music, it is really hard to elaborate on these things. Over the past 6 years, I’ve gotten a little more comfortable and recorded a lot of music. I watched a lot of people produce, particularly Jan, whom I mentioned earlier. I sat with him while he made every beat for me and learned from that experience. Between working with him and working with [Daniel] Lynas very closely, I eventually got to the point where I was capable of producing myself.

You did most of Geography yourself, right?
I did do almost all of Geography. Lynas helped me with “Martians Too,” which is the last song, and “Explorer’s Anthem,” which is the 6th song. The rest I did by myself with a 49 M-Audio keyboard and Lynas’ M-Audio keyboard, which I believe is a 27. I can’t remember. I also used Logic on my Mac. Eventually, I started fooling around with it, and when I decided to start producing and making music for myself, then it went from my playing with this stuff to my really pursuing it and doing 6-7 hours a day, or as much as I can. I just produce all the time.

Check back tomorrow for What’s Good? Dash Speaks (Part Two)!

– Retail DJ
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2 Responses to “What’s Good? Dash Speaks (Part One)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What’s Good? Dash Speaks (Part Two) « Retail DJ - March 24, 2010

    […] What’s Good? Dash Speaks (Part One) […]

  2. What’s Good? Dash Speaks (Part Three) « Retail DJ - March 25, 2010

    […] What’s Good? Dash Speaks (Part One) […]

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