Changing Lanes A Conversation With Black Dave Willis
Over the past few years Gold Goon Dave Willis aka Black Dave has been blowing up in both music and skating simultaneously. The Bronx native was officially added to the Zoo York roster in 2012 and that same year released the Black Donald Trump mixtape which introduced the world to Dave's music. The following year he dropped Stay Black, which got a lot of attention from most of the major music blogs. Since then Dave has traveled the world doing demos and shows, put out another mixtape called Black Bart, and released a solo video part called Black Friday. Many have tried to make it in both music and skating, but Black Dave is the first to be taken seriously in both worlds; which is why we decided to ring him up and find out the secret to his success.
There weren't many skaters in the Bronx when you were growing up. How did you first discover skating and get into it?
You go through that time period when you're a kid when you want to play basketball, you want to play baseball, you want to do all of the sports that everyone in your neighborhood does. I'm an only child and I had problems with some coaches and stuff like that, so it was always just me kind of finding out what I really like. I'd ride bikes, I'd ride scooters, then I picked up a board around age ten and it was something that I just immediately fell in love with – the culture, everything. I immediately started watching skate videos and absorbing everything that was involved with it and I never stopped. There's those people that started, stopped, then started again – I never stopped.
The Bronx is the birthplace of hip hop, how did you discover music and get interested in rapping?
I've been into music my whole life. I raised in the Bronx and my pops was always bringing home mixtapes for me to listen to that he got on Fordham Road, which is a popular street in the Bronx where people like Green Lantern and DJ Clue were always selling their mixtapes. So, I was always listening to that; but this was back when it was a Side A Side B type thing. It was before CD's even. I never imagined myself being an artist until I started three years ago. I'm heavily into social media and I constantly push myself online. I saw a lot of artists making a real connection with their fans and I was really inspired by them. So I wanted to do the same thing with the people that support me and show them the other side of my story.
When did you get sponsored for skating and how did you hook up with Zoo York?
I had a couple little clicks that I would skate with – there was Big Apple and there was Flip Mode skate, those guys are actually now Bronze Flip Mode. I would skate with those dudes like Kevin Tierney who's also on Zoo York and Yaje Popson and a bunch of other homies. It was really like "get the camera, let's go skate around and get clips." With that, we kind of established our names without knowing it. We were just staying consistent with making montages every month. People from all around the world were watching our videos and got hyped on us. That's when Zoo York looked at Kevin and I as good representatives of New York, and that was it.
Talk about Black Donald Trump, that song and video sparked you to get more serious with music. How that came about?
I made a mixtape that you probably can't even find online that was literally all of the first songs that I ever made called Black Donald Trump. I put out a video for Black Donald Trump cause that was the first song that I ever made. It was a freestyle that I recorded on my iPad and I just made the video. I'm really into directing videos and having characters. I had this whole concept of what I wanted to do, I wanted to be Black Donald Trump, Black Bart, and all these people. People saw that were like "what is this dude doing, is he joking?" From that I thought, "that's kind of cool, some people hate it some people like; but everybody is paying attention." I struck people in a different way, and I always like doing that. So I was like "fuck it, music's always been in my life; I'm gonna start taking that shit seriously." That's when I put together the Stay Black mixtape which was like the following year. I linked up with some better producers and got some good features for it and started to really try and make a name for myself; but still have fun – at the end of the day it's all about having fun.
From those early mixtapes you started getting a lot of love on blogs and doing shows and touring. How did all of that progress?
I linked up with this PR dude, his name is Davis – shouts out to Davis for that. He was the first one that really helped me. He told me "you can't just make a song and just throw it on Facebook and that's it. You really gotta push this stuff cause it's good music." He started linking me up with blogs and shit like that. Once you get on blogs people from all around the world can see you, cause who's gonna randomly look up your name if they never heard of you? So all those people started seeing my shit and it started connecting a little bit. It was cool, I went to Europe, I did South By Southwest last year, I've just been doing a lot of good shit. It's been good.
You came up in music and skating roughly around the same time. Do you think your success in one affected your success in the other, and do music and skating feed off each other creatively for you?
I think there's a time and a place for everything. When I'm out skating, someone will say something like "yo, you wanna get on this song?" or something about music and I'll look at them like, "what are you talking about?" cause my mind is not there at that point. When I'm skating I'm 100% focussed on skating. I may be listening to my favorite song at that time by whoever – I listed to a lot of Gucci Mane and a lot of Chief Keefe; I listen to a lot of old school shit, whatever's gonna get me excited at that time… but when I'm skating I'm focused on skating and vice versa. When I'm in the booth, I'm trying to come up with the best shit that I can come up with there. I'm a very diverse person growing up in New York City. I love doing things even more than skating and rapping. I love directing videos too and writing films – that's another thing that I'm really into; but there's always a time and place for everything. I didn't really intend to kind of have things help each other, but it's cool how it worked out. I still think that there's a long way to go, but I think it's cool. People see something else and hopefully I can be like the spokesperson or the leader for people that want to do multiple things. They can look at me like, "oh, he's an artist and he's a skateboarder; we support that." Not like, "oh, what the fuck is this dude doing; he's a skater, he's a sell out." Let's wipe that out of our minds and start thinking about the fact that we are diverse people – we're double, triple, quadruple sided people. Everybody does multiple things. In New York City, every time I meet somebody they're like "oh yeah, I'm a fashion designer but I'm also an artist, and I'm also a singer." It's always something, everybody is an entrepreneur in their own way. That's what I'm really trying to put out there.
There's a lot of skaters that have tried to crossover into music and haven't had much success, and there's a few people that have been successful with music that have tried to get into skating with no success either. What is it about you that makes people accept both your music and your skateboarding at the same time?
Well, I definitely got haters. With success comes haters. There's people that don't understand it, and I like that. At the end of the day I was that kid from the Bronx that was skating in an all black neighborhood and nobody understood me. Being this dude now, doing rap legitimately and just doing what I do legitimately; there's gonna be people that don't understand it cause they're used to that basic lifestyle. Not saying just being a skater is a basic lifestyle, but when they see something out of the box they immediately hate it. That kind of fuels my fire to keep going. Once the ground is broke on that, the only thing people are gonna remember is just Dave, cause he did that first. It's more of a reason for me to keep going than to think about haters.
You're obviously fully hooked up on the skate side, what about the music side? Do you see yourself signing to a label or are you gonna stay independent, are you getting offers right now?
I've had a couple offers to sign, it's just gotta be right. I feel like when you sign a deal, it's adding fuel to the fire. I feel like independently, I'm doing alright. I want to get myself to a point where I'm the biggest that I can get and then make the decisions that I want to make at the label, not have them make decisions for me. I've got producers, I've got videos, everything that labels kind of give people; I have access to it in an independent way. I record in my home studio, master all the shit here, and it's been working. I think when it's time, it's time – everything happens for a reason.
I wanted to ask you about the Black Punk song that you did because that was a completely different genre than the other stuff you've done in the past. How did that come about and do you plan on doing more rock music?
That's kind of going of back into me saying that "I like when people don't understand shit." Being a skateboarder, I grew up on punk and hip hop. Every skate video that I watched… like I was going from watching the old Gold video and then watching like the Zero video. They were back-to-back, so the music that I was into was old school hip hop, current hip hop, and classic punk rock. That really made me who I was, even if you listen to some of my old rap songs like Fuck Everybody; they have a rock vibe to them – it's very energetic. So that Black Punk is something that I've been working on, I have a whole EP kind of done now; but I want to do it perfect and I want to do it right cause I feel like I'm the only dude that's trying to bring punk rock to the hip hop scene legitimately. So I just want to do it right and put it out the right way, you're gonna see a lot more of that.
Talk a little bit about Gold, have you seen the video yet?
Yeah, I've seen the video. RB actually sent it to me, I wasn't in the city when they had the New York premier. I didn't get to make it, I was kind of bummed on that. But yeah, it's fuckin' sick man! It's cool being able to skate with a lot of the dudes who really inspire me and are close to me like my homie Travis Glover, Emmet Duffy, Dane Vaughn – all those dudes fucking shred. It's cool to be in the same video and down with Kayo, it's a history you know; so I'm hyped to keep things going.
Is there anything else that you want to mention or talk about in this interview?
Just big shout out to Zoo York, Gold, Kayo, Nike, my homies at Shake Junt, Rastaclot, this app I'm rocking with OnFlow, and pretty much everybody out there don't worry if people hate on you when you're coming up and you feel like "oh, I don't want to step out of the box." Just be yourself and that's gonna make you stand out. That's what I do and that's what I promote.