All photos courtesy of The Devil
Derek Schklar was christened the Devil not by high school punk friends or the internet, but by some of the hardest individuals in one of the most frightening environments I've ever been stoned in. When we met the Devil, he was lurking in the shadows of the ATL Twins' apartment, which is not an unreasonable place to meet a guy someone calls the Devil. Then he spoke up, making it clear in about half a minute that he knew more about the trap world than anybody in the room, and the next morning he'd brought us to a stash house by the train tracks where some twenty very intense-looking men with firearms were playing Xbox and taking care of an iguana. This is where we met Trouble and Dave from Duck Tape, who are insanely good rappers, largely by virtue of being insanely good at the things rappers rap about doing before they become rappers. If you follow. We asked them why they called Derek the Devil and Trouble said "Just look at him," and we all laughed. It was a classic case of "funny because it's true," but also one of "scary because it's real." If these are the guys calling you Devil, you're pretty much the actual Satan.
The Devil makes art that in another pair of hands could be extreeeeemly corny, in part because many of his subjects (pain, alienated rage, capital's destruction of individual identity and the subsequent collapse of the social fabric, etc.) have been so poorly done by misunderstood high school arts contest types for so long, and with such frequency. But the Devil gives it the gusto. He's like Pushead tackling de Sade, creating exactly the kind of intricately crafted sights and sounds that inspire countless misanthropic teens to make their own version of it. In the context of Atlanta's rap scene, this means music videos that conjure up that sense of primeval terror you felt as a tween watching early-90s gangsta rap and realizing, "Those men would have no problem hurting me, badly." Please enjoy a few of those, while we let the Devil tell us about the side of Atlanta no one likes to admit exists.
Noisey: How’d you get involved with trap folks?
The Devil: Trap folks? [Laughs]
How did you meet those guys?
I’ve known them for like six or seven years.
Does street music encompass everything that we’re calling trap?
I just have a fucking issue with people creating this sub-genre of “trap.” Particularly the ones who are using the music, our culture, to make it palatable to white audiences and these EDM fuckin’ DJs calling themselves “trap DJs” or whatever the fuck. The term irks me. I feel like Atlanta culture has been raped. We’re so insulated that we don’t really know that that’s what’s going on, like around the world people are using “trap” but they don’t know what the fuck that means. It’s an Atlanta concept because it’s a one way in, one way out place, that is the way it is because Atlanta was developed around railroads. So there’s a lot of one-ways and dead-ends, so when you pull into a one way you go to the end of the street where they’re selling dope at. That’s a fuckin’ trap. Because if they draw down on you when you’re at the end of the street you’re fuckin’ stuck. So that’s what it came down to. There’s a lot of people throwing that word around or the concept of that word that have no idea what they’re talking about.
That makes it a little bit offensive, when you think about Miley Cyrus describing—
Fuck Miley Cyrus.
Yeah. How do you feel about musicians from here like the Mike Wills and stuff who go out and work with her?
I love Mike Will. I’ve known Mike Will forever.
Don’t you think they’re participating in the rape of Atlanta?
Most of these fuckin’ rap guys are participating in it whether knowingly or unknowningly.
So seven-ish years ago, what was it like back then?
For me, or just Atlanta?
What was going on in Atlanta around the music?
I was working with another artist by the name of Pill. I was hanging out in the fourth ward mostly. I’m from the east side, so I mean, what was it like for me? I don’t know. For me, this is my home, it’s home. It’s hard for me to process it in the same way as someone else, I guess. It was making music. I’ve always been about the music, about the art. So I was making music.
So you were in the fourth ward?
Yeah, I was in the fourth ward with Pill. I met him in Pink City. And that was like the Last of the Mohicans for rollin’-ass Atlanta trap. I pulled up, that shit was like a fuckin’ zombie movie. Crackheads and shit, shitting in the middle of the street. It was like an extended stay motel. And there was maybe seventeen or eighteen rooms, and the only motherfuckers that were in there were dope boys and smokers. So, that was a real trap. They’re not gonna open the gate unless they know who you are, know what you want, what you’re doing. That was a real trap.
Where is Pink City?
Pink City is gone now. But Pink City was on Hilliard Street between Edgewood and Auburn.
What’s it like there now?
Kinda a hipster, white neighborhood.
What happens in these neighborhoods when the developments come in? Over the last ten years? There’s stuff in Edgewood that obviously wasn’t there in 2005 or so.
I mean most of the time they tear down the projects, or they tear down the hotel. They tore down Pink City but like, them dudes went around the corner to another little shitty ass apartment complex. That was on Fort Street. They were there for a while. The police start showing up.
What does that do to the illegal shit that goes on?
Slows it down. They used to pull up and just turn their lights on. They knew what was going on, it was a cat and mouse game. How can we get the warrant, how can we arrest you? Been in there a few times when it got a little hectic.
One thing I’ve been trying to wrap my head around is the collaborative system. Everybody kind of props it up—
Folks we’ve been hanging out with. Folks who run Patchwerk, guys from 808 Mafia, everybody’s got a really shiny face.
That’s the veneer here. That you don’t have in Detroit in Chicago. Our culture’s different. It’s a party town. We can be friendly. We’re players, we were raised players. That’s what gets people fucked up. Because they think of something as gonna be easily taken advantage of. The opposite is true. There’s a veneer here, there’s respite. I grew up, people danced, killers danced growing up. To like Kilo and Sammy Sam, shit like that. So it’s different here than other places.
But you talk about dancing and stuff, that’s genuine enjoyment.
People party here. But don’t get it fucked up.
There’s also like southern manners and stuff, realizing really early on that that’s just a really easy way to conceal some mean shit.
Atlanta, we have a history. For example, when Katrina happened I was in and around Pink City and the fourth ward, for the most part at the time. When that happened, most of the Katrina refugees went to Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta. And the way it works down in Atlanta is you come down here, you getting money, you from somewhere else, that’s fine. As long as we’re making money with you. Like BMF. They came down here, came out here with a cheaper price for a brick, started putting everybody on. They were welcomed with open arms because everybody’s making money. They came here and they invested in the people, the city, that were already here making money. There’s been other situations where people don’t do that, and they think it’s all good because it’s the party town that it is. They end up getting sent home in boxes. That’s what was kinda going on around ’09 when I was fuckin’ around with Pill. We stopped working together in ’09 but it was Katrina time, and there was a period where people were trying to help people get on their feet. These motherfuckers just lost everything. But these dudes came from New Orleans and shit. A lot of them lost a lot of dope and a lot of money in the storm, and the people who that was owed to, they don’t give a fuck about the fuckin’ hurricane. So they came up here, there was a lot of bullshit going on. There was a lot of shit happening in the streets. A lot of robbery, a lot of bullshit. There was just like a moment in time, people were starting to get frustrated, where I was in Pink City, there was a decree sent out. Not just there, but all over, it was like, if you’re from New Orleans and you come to the trap, you’ll get killed. Period. And that was just, at a certain point, that shit is just what happened. And then before you know it, that shit just stopped. They started going back to New Orleans, getting in line. And a similar thing happened that I know through history with the Miami boys when they came to Techwood, the biggest housing project in Atlanta for the longest time. These dudes from Miami came up here with cheap dope, trying to sell dope in Atlanta, particularly in Techwood, and they brought their own people to sell it. Rather than selling it to other people for cheaper prices. So they brought their own people. They killed all them motherfuckers.
It’s not turf shit?
The only constant in Atlanta is change. All the projects. Certain areas of LA, they’ve been there they’re gonna be there. So it’s OK. It’s not OK, but it’s a breeding grounds for gang activity. They’re not tearing down Nickerson Gardens, they’re not displacing the residents of the jungles. They’re gonna be there. So here, it’s always a constant change. They’re always tearing shit, moving shit, it’s really hard for gang activity to pop up in the same way.
There have been similar project clearings in Chicago and stuff. What I saw that do is it creates a bunch of little fractions that multiplied—number of gangs, where they could butt heads. It doesn’t seem like that matters in Atlanta—
The only thing that matters here? People are gang banging now, I don’t know much about that shit, I know a bunch of motherfuckers who are gang banging supposedly, but I know one thing about Atlanta and that’s that nothing matters more than money.
No respect for the culture?
It’s all money. That’s it. Money. We’re so insulated down here, we have no idea that what we’re creating is affecting the world. I’m going to fuckin’ London and seeing some clothing line that’s saying the word “trap.” It makes me laugh. It’s just like, what the fuck?
It’s like a cultural crucible down here for hip-hop.
I guess. It makes me angry to a certain extent because usually it’s not us that gets to make the money off it. Usually it’s some piece of shit in New York or LA.
A lot of the guys we’ve been interviewing are very adamant about not doing major label shit, about signing and getting out, that kind of thing. They talk a lot about sticking to their guns, keeping it very DIY, working in people’s mom’s house.
That’s always been what I’ve done.
Is that genuinely for real around most of Atlanta? Or is that a lot of DIY talk do you think?
You saw how PeeWee Longway records. That’s DIY as a motherfucker. That’s how it is for the most part. Most of them will eventually sign, and some piece of shit from New York or LA is gonna fuck their whole shit up. It doesn’t have to be that way.
When we were in Edgewood Court, we were with Young Scooter, we were with you, we had cameras, we had the “pass” element.
Edgewood Court right now is one of the ones where you just shouldn’t go. But you were alright.
What would have happened if we rolled up on our own?
They would have fuckin’ taken everything you had. They like to strip people over there. Make you get butt naked. Take your phone so you can’t call the police or nothing. Walk down the street butt naked.
In my mind, in South Central and stuff, the running logic I always got was that people have bigger shit to do. Especially if they’re running drugs or a criminal enterprise. That nobody wants to fuck around with outsiders.
There’s not enough drugs to sell right now, so people are fuckin’ hurting. They’re robbing, they’re taking, they’re doing fraud. People are hurting, really bad. Whatever they need to do they’re gonna do. That’s what they do. It’s fucked up, but it is what it is.
With the drugs that are popular, that’s not money-making drugs, really. The weed I guess…
You can make money off weed, you can make money off lean. But that shit is hard now, too. It keeps shrinking and shrinking, the amount of money you can make in the illicit underground economy.