All photos except noted courtesy of the author
Dylan Dili comes from a truly diverse upbringing, the synchronicity of which is odd but somehow organic. Born in Brooklyn but also raised in his family’s home country of Grenada, Dylan found home both in the streets and the country. His personal serenity can be found in the natural habitat of Carriacou, where the buzz of hummingbirds, the “bahhs” of sheep and oceanfront sunrises give him true peace of mind. It’s a much different scene than the gangbanging and charges he faced before being slingshotted into stardom on MTV’s Making The Band at 21-years-old.
Dylan is now a 35 year-old single father to his 11-year-old son Tristan. Since the television days, he has overcome a decade of media and public scrutiny by persisting with mixtape after mixtape. Now in the final stages of completing his debut full-length solo album, Pain 2 Power, Dylan has taken this title and made it his mantra. This exudes from his sensibility, music and even his tattoos. His arms are homage to his willingness to jump hurdles set forth by the glamor of a reality show and being immortalized as the grunt of a skit on Chappelle’s Show. His right forearm features a king and the words “Not Fear,” inches away he’s inked a biblical psalm, as he says he’s prepared to face an army of 10,000. On the other arm he displays the colors of Grenada, representing the blood, the sun, and the land.
He holds no grudges, and his confidence is also credited to the relationships he’s fostered with hip-hop mainstays such as Puff Daddy and Suge Knight, a friend he calls a big teddy bear. Puff still hthas him on a Ciroc sponsorship and when he met Dr. Dre at a recent party for Straight Outta Compton, he was humbled when Dre addressed him directly by name.
Lately, he’s spent most of his time in the studio perfecting his self-proclaimed genre defining sound of Caribbean Hip-Hop. Well equipped with Hennessy (in a bag that read “Dili: Touch and Die”), Heineken and Black & Milds, we sat with Dylan to listen to some of his new tracks. It’s no surprise he’s received impressive support from Akon’s Konlive brand, as the near complete record features songs ranging from radio-ready to autobiographical. All these years later, the Jamaican-inspired dancehall sound selector turned his multi-faceted background into a style of his own. His head is clear and his heart is large, as he not only bumps his music, but sings every word while dancing in his chair. After kicking it for a bit, we discussed his rollercoaster of a career, his honest approach to music and how he’s using his past to propel his future.
Noisey: Can you tell me about where you’re from?
Dylan Dili: I was a born in Brooklyn, raised in Carriacou, Grenada for a little while. I planted corn, melons, peas, I did the country life over there, as well as living in Brooklyn in the streets. In Flatbush and Queens, Jamaican culture adopted me. Now I reside in Long Island.
What’s your lifestyle as a hip-hop artist who is a single father?
I think I’ve become accustomed to it to the point where I don’t see it as a job, that’s the only thing I know how to do. I know how to be a single parent. I know how to work. My work ethic, the bulk of it came from learning from P. Diddy and from Bad Boy. Puffy doesn’t sleep. For example, you’re working on a song. Let’s say you did your verse, you killed it. Puff is gonna come in and tell you that you need to do five choruses and that we’ll pick the best one. My work ethic came from that. Then becoming a father is a natural thing once you have a kid.
Are you able to go hit the club or are you tied down being a dad?
I don’t like going to the club. The club is a workplace. The club is a place of networking and getting to know the promoters, the DJs, the club owners. If I want to have fun, I go away from all of that. I need something simple. Go somewhere different. Go to the beach. Go to a bar that nobody knows you. That’s fun to me. Go bowling, do something stupid and simple. Go kayaking, I never did it, but I would do that.
I wanted to get this out of the way quick. When it comes to the infamous skit on Chappelle’s Show, is there any air to clear?
The overview is I was on Making The Band and one day they told me to leave the house. When I left the house, Dave Chappelle came in and did a skit. He came up with his own originality, watching the whole he felt like Dylan at the time wasn’t a group player and that he was about himself. He came up with his own accent imitating me and said the group is all about “Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, because I spit hot fire.” Nothing that I actually said in person. But I respect and love Dave Chappelle to death, even though I never met him. I gotta meet him one day. I never said those words, but I do own those words! So if you talk about it I will get the paper, we own the trademark!
I know you’ve said that Making The Band and Chappelle’s Show has helped your career, but you don’t like when people on focus on that. How difficult is that for you, when you’re trying to talk current day, but all that people want to talk about is that?
I walk in a room, or on a stage, anywhere I go, with the intention that I’m gonna win today, that I’m going to win somebody over. I shouldn’t have to. When I walk out my shower, put on my clothes, I walk knowing that I’m going to a battlefield. I know I’m going to win, but why should I have to feel like that? I know that you’re already prejudging me, every single day, you’re going to know two things: “Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, He Spits Hot Fire” and some kind of a piece of P. Diddy. But I know that I’m going to win you over when you meet me, because I know that my personality has nothing to do with that. My niggas and the people that meet me, my actual family, my squad, know that I’m beyond that. Ya’ll [the media] are the ones that talk about that, the ones that just met me, not you in particular. In the beginning it was hard, now it’s just second nature, just knowing I’m going to a war that I’m gonna win.
But you don’t necessarily seem hate it because you reference it in your songs…
I’ve grown to accept it. You have to. I fought it. I didn’t win [_laughs_].
Was there a time when you pushed back?
For a while I actually had physical fights over it. I’ve sent people to the hospital because of that. But now I just accept it and say let’s roll with it. When you see certain products come out in the beginning of next year, you’ll be surprised, like, “Oh shit he ran with it!” Now I say in my songs, “I am Mistah Spit Hot Fire!” Fuck it, since ya’ll gonna keep saying that. But now the next question is, “What is he up to? What kind of music does he have? Whose his squad?” You know… “Dylan This, Dylan That.” That’s a good segue.
That video came out a few months ago, right?
We thought, we’re putting out all these songs, but we need to go back into time and retrace our steps and remind them. So we did the locations of where we came from, Junior’s Cheesecake, Brooklyn Bridge, for those who were at the time who used to watch the reality show. All throwback.
Looking back, are you cool with that music?
Da Band’s album? I never listen to that shit. [_laughs_] I never listen to it because it brings back a lot. Keep in mind, I have a lot of love for Bad Boy and MTV, but I was in a different space. I have one brother, who I’m very close with. He did time for me. So he got locked up. He was sent upstate the same date that I was picked to be on Da Band. My mind wasn’t in a real good place. I didn’t understand how the business is taken care of. I was a street nigga coming straight into this industry. I didn’t understand none of it.
What were you like when you got that glimpse of stardom?
21. Literally at 21 we were on the stoop, smoking weed, hanging out, gangbanging, drinkin. Assault charges. And the next day within 24 hours with P. Diddy going on a show that was watched by 50 million people. So mentally when I go crazy and I get frustrated and all that? Could ya’ll do that? Half of ya’ll couldn’t even walk in those shoes. Get the fuck outta here. That shit is serious. It’s a big jump. But guess what they know you for after that? “Dylan, Dylan, Dylan…” They don’t even know you for your music. But I have to keep going otherwise I’m not gonna die happy.
Since that ended, have you ever stopped making music?
Never taken a day off. Even the times when I went on an island and you would think I’m on a vacation I visited the radio station or went to the studio. Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada, recently went to Paris and Germany. We fucked up London. The places show love, and those places don’t deal with politics, they just want to hear about the music. They didn’t ask one question about the Dave Chappelle thing. They don’t ask questions about Diddy.
What culture influenced you as an artist the most?
Vybz Kartel is my favorite dance hall artist of our generation. Tupac Shakur, Bob Marley and God. Also Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. I’d say those three people, Lopez, Tupac, and Marley. Not because of their music, but because of how they dealt with fame. They weren’t taunted and changed by it. I watched them, and I always said, “Ok, if I get on, I’m gonna be like that. I can still go to a basement party tomorrow and go the MTV awards on Sunday.”
Photo courtesy of Dylan Dili
Coming up, what neighborhood defined you most as a man?
Brooklyn. I already got pussy, shot niggas, was already gangbanging before I got to Long Island.
When you got into music, did you decide to put gang life behind you?
Gangs are like a fraternity because you’re always going to be involved. Now your activity in that gang, if you gangbang and you’re still in the streets doing dumb stuff, then you’re just stupid. But, you can’t take away your past. You can’t take away that. What you did. Like Jay-Z said, “You are who you are before you got here.” You can’t switch up now nigga, stop acting like you someone else. I’m not active. I don’t speak about it. I leave that to those rappers who want to do that. That’s not my style. I really did the real stuff, why would I talk about it?
The people who talk about it probably never did it?
Unless you’re Bobby Shmurda.
That’s my little homie. God bless Bobby Shmurda.
Tell me about the album you have in the pipeline. Who produced it?
90% of the album was done at 1 Stop Media in Long Island. People from Bad Boy, Trakformaz who produced the hit “Off The Rip” from French Montana, a bunch of new producers. Some hot fresh talent from Grenada as well as LI and Brooklyn. It’s good to give the new producers light. Just because you got a name it doesn’t mean you hot. People say, “Who the fuck are you talking about?” But when they hear the music they’ll get why I dealt with them. I let the music speak for itself.
Didn’t you also link up with someone from Kanye’s crew?
I met up with Malik Yusef, who has grown up with Kanye and he’s a writer on a lot of his hit songs. I went out there to Los Angeles and the vibe was great. I went to his birthday party, next day he took me to the studio at Universal, introduced me to the people who work with Kanye West. People who wrote for Rihanna, Beyonce, many others, and we came up with a song called “Saturday.” It makes you feel like every day is a Saturday night. People are gonna love it.
What are you thinking about when going into the studio to record?
I’m always thinking about how you’re going to feel, the outside opinion. It’s not good all the time. It can drive you crazy. I think it’s because I’ve been scarred by the music business at such a young age and coming into the business through overnight success. I remember on the show Making The Band, I had bad acne, terrible. I have no acne now. People see me now, and they tell me I look great. But I had bad acne, and that caused a lot of insecurities but people don’t know that. When they made fun of me on different blogs and stuff like that, it actually hurt. I went through a lot because of that. People don’t realize you’re an actual person. You go through shit. You have flaws. But the media, they take those flaws and put them on steroids. Bringing that back to music years later, when I do a song, I think about that subconsciously. I’m like, “I gotta do something that’s perfect.” We recorded over 100 songs, but we chose 14 great songs. Those 14 are like Michael Jackson making Thriller. Every song can be a single.
When you had media or the public giving you shit, how did you deal with it?
I turned the pain into power. That’s why I’m naming my album Pain 2 Power. It’s for every youth out there. It’s not just for me. There are people probably sitting in their closet right now because they don’t want to go out because they’ve been abused, they’ve got all kinds of pain
. But if you turn that pain into something powerful, you feel good. So my life is Pain 2 Power. Everybody has his or her own individual stories; everybody reading this interview went through some kind of pain. Ain’t nobody reading this interview hasn’t been through some bullshit and fuckery. You can turn that negative into positive.
My favorite part about listening to the record was watching you smile and rap along. Is that happiness just in you?
When the music is on. When it’s studio time. That’s the purest time. When the music is playing and you’re creating. That’s the part when you smile, when everything is beautiful. It’s a powerful time, you’re sharing your gift. I know you’re going to feel good about it too, it’s not just about me, fuck me, it’s not about “Dylan, Dylan, Dylan,” it’s about you receiving the music and interpreting it in your own way and feeling good about it. Now it’s your song, it’s not mine anymore.
What’s your message to people who’ve had their ups and downs?
You can make it man! It don’t matter how long it takes. If I gave up I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have been to London or met these people. I never gave up. If you don’t give up, no matter what profession you’re in, you’re going to be successful. It’s inevitable.
Dylan Dili will be releasing a free EP called ‘15 More Minutes’ with an accompanying studio documentary in March. ‘Pain 2 Power’ will be released later this year.
Derek Scancarelli is integrating “wagwan” and “bless up” into his vocabulary. He’s drinking Henny on Twitter.