(Image courtesy 2Face Dejavu)
He grew up in Roxbury and Dorchester, the son of Cape Verdean immigrants. Now 26-year-old rap superstar Nilton Depina, who goes by the name 2Face Dejavu, has claimed the top rapper prize at last weeks “America’s Next Top Rapper” competition.
He heads off to Las Vegas to compete against some of the best undiscovered talent in America. Boston.com caught up with 2Face Dejavu, for a quick interview, about life, music and where he finds his inspiration.
Where were you born and what is your history with your neighborhood:
I was born in Roxbury and raised most of my life in Dorchester, specifically the Uphams Corner area. I grew up in two crime-plagued neighborhoods. I witnessed my own communities killing each other-- retaliation and revenge was the underlying theme of these street wars. Where I lived in Dorchester, you had to watch your back when stepping outside of your own house because you had "beef" with people on your own street.
I attended Emerson Elementary School, which was recently shut down. I took a test to get into a private middle school for low-income kids called Nativity Prep, which was then located in Roxbury. I went on to make into Milton Academy and then finished school at Amherst College. I also completed a semester at Columbia University in 2006. School came very easy to me, yet never was my main focus. Instead it was a means to an end-- a playing a part in the system to escape the system type of thing. I was known as the short, smart, multi-talented kid who got the honor roll, made all the sports teams, and whom everybody was cool with. My parents are immigrants from the Cape Verde islands. I have a very large family of over 100 first cousins alone.
When did you start rapping and getting involved in music:
I have been rapping since I was eight-years-old. That was when my cousins and I filmed a live performance in front of our family. I didn't start taking rap seriously until I was 14-years-old. That's when my cousin and mentor Michael Tavares was murdered in the streets of Roxbury. The day he died I picked up some of his rhyme notebooks and his cassette tapes with live freestyles of him. His music inspired me to the point where I knew I could use Hip Hop to not only relieve major stress that I was undergoing at the time, but also to possibly become a legend through the art, by telling my story.
I started off producing my own material and released 3 mixtapes in 2003, one solo and 2 group mixtapes with groups Black Spadez and Blezzed Dez. Ever since then I have released 5 solo mixtapes, traveled to New York for months at a time, self-promoting and looking for meetings with execs, and doing shows around Massachusetts. I have been getting air play on 106.1 FM and looking to further my radio promotions.
Are you currently pursuing music full-time or did this competition give you the opportunity to do that:
I am currently pursuing music full-time and I have been pursuing music for many years now. The "America's Next Top Rapper" competition didn't change much as far as my focus. I have been going hard at this game every day and I'm honestly known as one of the hardest working artists by other artists and fans.
Why do you think the judges picked you?
I believe the judges picked me for many reasons. First and foremost, I faced the challenge they placed in front of me with no complaints and made all necessary changes and adaptations to win the competition. In no way am I a "battle rapper", but when the competition turned into somewhat of a battle, I did what I had to do to adjust. I was able to do the simple things they asked of me, such as not curse and spit the right amount of bars when asked. I mean, counting bars should be easy for any rap artist. It should be like saying your ABCs. Most importantly, I think the judges realized my true lyrical skill and talent. Legendary producer Rockwilder's face was awe-struck each bar that I spit, and he told me up on stage that my lyrics were incredible. I was also told by the judges that my energy was crazy and I was the most intense up there. It's something I'm known for. My fans know me for being passionate and having insatiable desire. Last but not least, I was voted in by the audience as well. The audience and fans at the show played a big part in my success. I want to thank each and every one of the people that were cheering for me at the show.
Who influences you both musically and intellectually?
My influences both musically and intellectually are all around me. I'm influenced by every great musician I hear, and there are tons of them.
A few artists are 2Pac, Nas, Jay-z, Eminem and the list would go on and on with unsung heroes like Cormega and AZ and artists of other genres such as Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. I could never leave my cousin Michael Tavares (Mikey T) off the list of influences. I love music to the core so saying where I get my influences is like answering the question "who am I". It's not that simple. I am also a very intellectual person, so my intellectual influences come from so many directions including the books I read, the discussions I have with everyday people, the mentors I have and the documentaries I watch.
What's the biggest difference between East Coast rap, especially rap from Boston, and the rest of the nation?
The difference between Boston and the rest of the nation is our theme of telling the truth and keeping it real. Boston, being in the shadow of New York City for the entire history of Hip Hop, makes it feel like we have something to prove. So we tend to come off harder than most rappers, sometimes "grimy". But, we also tend to stay away from bling bling glamor.
Lyrically, we keep it real, and flow-wise we hold the East Coast down with some of the hardest flows ever. As a rapper from Boston, I myself, take pride in keeping it 100. In other words, telling the truth about the streets and the world. The good, the bad, the ugly, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual. I can hang in a room full of convicts, politicians, priests or anyone for that matter.
How would you describe the rap and hip-hop scene in Boston?
The rap and Hip Hop scene in Boston suffers because of the politics in/of the city, but we have crazy talent out here. If you notice, most of the shows and events take place outside of "the hood", and that's where Hip Hop comes from -- the hood.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge when you are in Las Vegas?
My biggest challenge in Las Vegas will be making everyone fall back in love with the East Coast style of Hip Hop, including the Boston swag and the lyrical content of a kid who grew up Boston, and east coast inner-city. I will to have to prove that you can be an artists who spits real stuff but can still do it with a swag that everyone loves.
What do you really want to show the nation when on stage?
I want to show the nation the hunger and passion and honesty in my voice. I will be recognized as one of the greatest artists of all time when I am through with this all -- not the competition, but my career. I'm not a character like most of these other artists. I'm not here to hide behind my alter-ego. I'm a real person, with real talent, with real intelligence, with a real story, with real goals, with real plans to leave this world a better place and with real passion, determination and non-stop persistence. I'm here to open eyes and ears and show everybody a side of themselves that needs to be brought to the forefront. The real side of them. The side that has no fear, takes no BS, tells the truth and exposes the fakes.
I want to show the nation that Boston has always been one of the realest cities in the nation and that we have had just as much talent as any other East Coast city. We have just been disregarded for political reasons. Boston is the city of champs and the city where education is important. We're bright-minded gentlemen with the hearts of lions.
Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
I have always gotten a lot of my inspiration from my cousin Mikey T, who was murdered on August 18, 2000. I get inspiration from everywhere though. Sometimes I am inspired by a simple statement someone else makes. Something they probably didn't even think was that important. I'm very analytical and philosophical, so I tend to take ideas from everywhere. I am mostly inspired by my goal to make a difference in this world, whether it be in the minds of the youth or in the pockets of young business men and women. I am also inspired by the thought that others are inspired by me.
What was it like performing in Dorchester at the Strand?
This was my third time performing at the Strand, and the Strand Theater is like my backyard. I grew up one-and-a-half blocks down the street, so I feel at home. It was a dream come true though to win it in my part of the city. I remember going to little events at the Strand as a kid. I never imagined I would be performing up on that stage for people like Rockwilder and Director X.
What are your plans before Vegas?
I have plans to prepare myself for the Vegas show. I plan to come out 10 times harder and be 10 times better than I was at the last show. This time I have my city depending on me so it's only right that I prove I deserved this victory. I plan on launching my label/company in 2012. Currently, I have a mixtape out titled "The Legacy" .That can be found on my website, I am also working on my next mixtape as we speak, most of which is written. This next mixtape will send a message to my city, the nation, and all artists. Definitely look out for it to be released within the next few months.
Any predictions on the competition?
There's only one thing I can predict about the competition, but I'll keep that between me and the man above for now.