I know it sounds crazy, but the best rapper in New York is an ex-hardcore singer from Uptown who chainsmokes Newports, works promo at a strip club, and, as a thirteen-year-old, successfully sold a TV he found on the street to the proprietor of a crack den despite having no idea whether or not it actually worked. His name is DVS, it doesn’t stand for anything in particular, though his first and last initials are “D” and “S,” and he does not care if at this moment you have not heard of him. He is certain you will.
As a youth, DVS cut his teeth fronting metal and hardcore bands. He casually mentions he once “did a live record at CB’s,” as in CBGB’s, fucking around and generally doing wild shit with his friends. He’s got stories stacked on top of stories, and is one of the most knowledgeable human beings in the entire universe. He’s the type of guy for whom New York isn’t just a habitat or a hometown, but a life force. “I’m not sure I could survive anywhere but New York,” he will eventually say over the type of Chinese food that you have to have lived in this place for nearly three decades to know about. There is, as another example of his Oracle-like knowledge of NYC, the moment when he and I meet at a cathedral near Columbia University, the biggest one in North America, and he shows me a set of statues that are beyond incredible. There is a memorial, he says, commemorating a bus full of children that drove off a cliff during the eighties. The cathedral hears about this atrocity, and they hire some guy to chisel a scene of these children plummeting into Hell, Literal Actual Hell, into the pillars at the front of this church. This is astounding, and, as he shows me these pillars for myself, one hundred percent true.
There is something about the way DVS raps, and even the way that he got into rapping, that is quintessentially “New York.” If you stop playing in bands and want to keep doing music but you’re tired of taking care of four other people’s shit, you’ve gotta go solo. And you've got no vested interest in playing instruments, well, you probably should start rapping. “Remember when 'Gimme Some More' dropped?” he asks me, referring to the 1998 Busta Rhymes hit. “He’s rapping fast as shit for like four minutes. I wonder what this shit would look like on paper. There’s gotta be pages and pages.” So, he studied. He listened to records by New York rappers like Big Pun and Busta, guys who “were so nice they’d just get it into your head like, fuck,” and broke their rhymes down, analyzing what made them so good at what they did, and at some point emerged an unholy hybrid of everything good in technique-heavy rap. DVS raps faster than fuck, enunciating every syllable within an inch of its life, spitting beautiful, brilliant bullshit that could only be born in a town like New York. DVS is a born hustler, he’s done Boiler Room-esque psdeudocorporate scumbaggery, PR (something he claims that, along with the stairs in Morningside Park, is basically the opposite of drugs), passed out fliers, and now the main product he’s pushing is himself.
DVS traffics in the circles of New York’s new, weirder rap landscape, a loose affiliation of guys like El-P, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Das Racist and Action Bronson, who rose from the ashes of El-P’s Def Jux label to something that picks and chooses from the good rap that’s come before it, smushing influences together until you’ve got something better, something altogether stranger than anything you could imagine. We’re talking “progressive” rap in the sense of “people are making music that sounds completely brand new while still remaining true to hip-hop,” not “progressive” as many rappers perceive it, which involves rapping over half-assed dubstep songs and calling it a day. “He’s got this incredible voice, and he’s a very masterful technical rapper,” says Dapwell, hype man for Das Racist and friend from DVS's youth. “He comes from this really strict school of rapping.” "Look at DV's shit," says DVS's parter in rhyme and fellow boss of his label Overthrow Entertainment. "Sill-wise, what he's doing with rhyme patterns and flows and hooks, nobody's not really fucking with him. There's absolutely nothing he can't do."
Dude was not always this way, however. He lived through a pretty hardscrabble adolescence, one that was heavy on misdemeanor. "He understands survival in New York City, the type of stuff you have to do to be alive," says Majesty. In addition to the TV/Crack Den incident, there is the time he and his friends set a couch on fire, and the night he thought he was going to die in the pit at a Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza concert, which is one of the cooler stories he tells me throughout the afternoon. “Bad Luck 13 were basically the most dangerous band that ever happened,” he says of the 13-man crew as we roam the stairwells of the Columbia library looking for a bathroom. “Like, G.G. Allin was dangerous to be around, but there was only one of him. It’s like, three in the morning, and we’re all like, 'Fuck, I guess they’re not coming.' All of a sudden a double-long schoolbus shows up, with some guy smacking a 2x4 on the outside of the driver’s side door. This dude comes up to the door with a case of wine. Bouncer’s like, ‘You can’t bring wine in here. We serve alcohol.’ Bad Luck 13 guy goes, ‘No no no. We don’t want the wine.’ Uncorks all the wine, pours it down the gutter. ‘We just want the bottles.’ They play maybe five minutes. I’m there, and I’m like, 'I’m probably gonna die. But you know what? Not a bad way to die, y’know?’ It was fantastic.”
I ask him if he adopts this take-no-prisoners performance style to his stage show. He says no, he raps too fast to be dangerous, but tells me a story from back in the day when his band threw a metric ton of popcorn on the audience. For DVS, the transition from hardcore to rap wasn’t weird—truth be told, the connections between the two scenes are pretty rock-solid, but millions of other writers have written about that so there is literally no point in getting into this. However, coming into rap so late in the game has left him with something of this insider/outsider duality that’s hard to shake. We will, at one point, discuss at length why certain people should be “allowed” to rap, and whether or not being allowed to rap actually means anything—Dap tells me a story of Das Racist first starting, before he was really keyed in to what DR was trying to accomplish. “He was kind of incredulous, like, ‘What the fuck is this bullshit?’” You can’t knock a dude for having convictions, and DV's convictions are stronger than elephants.
Follow DVS on Twitter @DVSBlast. Also, he has new mixtape called DVTV that's dropping soon.
Pictures by Katy Porter.