(Editor’s Note: When Phillip submitted this article to me I looked at the word count and page length and cursed under my breath. It was a LONG interview, which meant tons of editing for me. But after I read it a bunch of times, I really didn’t want to take anything out. So this interview will run in two parts. Part one — introducing to some and presenting to others…DDM).
There are plenty of longstanding traditions in Hip Hop. Boasts of the good life. Tales of the streets. One of the core traditions include non tolerance towards the gay community. Frankly, that just makes Hip Hop one of the many institutions that doesn’t like homosexuals (males in particular). But this culture/music has always been about breaking the rules and giving a voice to those usually unheard. With that being said, Speakerbox Magazine presents this exclusive with well known Baltimore artist, DDM (AKA Emmanuel Williams); as he sets out to show he’s more than just that ‘gay rapper who isn’t shook to say he’s gay’.
A. Growing up with my mom, we didn’t really listen to rap music. i didn’t really hear or pay attention to rap until I got to middle school. I think I first wanted to be a rapper when I saw Lil Kim’s ‘No Time’ video, and I saw how she came down the escalator, like “unhh”. That’s how I knew I wanted to be a rapper. That’s when I wanted to rap.
Q. Who were your influences growing up and whatever genres do you listen to?
A. Of course B.I.G, by default. Missy. Busta Rhymes. I like Kanye West for bringing art and really high fashion into Hip Hop the way that he has. You hadn’t really seen that to that extent, until Kanye came into the picture. The other genres are what really influence me. I don’t want to sound like an elitist, but I don’t feel inspired by Hip Hop music. Not anymore. I listen to a lot of stereo lab, a lot of broadcast, a lot of foreign stuff, classic, chic, a lot of Stevie Wonder. I love Stevie Wonder. A lot of jazz, Chick Corea, George Duke.
Q. A big part of what makes you stand out in the local music scene, is that you’re an openly homosexual rapper. And you don’t hide or shy away from that. How long were you rapping before you revealed the fact you’re gay?
A. I came out in 2011. And I started buzzing in the scene probably about four or five years prior to that. So about five years in, is when I came out.
Q. Were there any reservations about you revealing that?
A. Naturally there’s always reservations. Because you’re making a decision about your dream and what you want to do. And it’s in a medium, that at the time, was not very welcoming. A lot of strides have been made and things are a bit different now. But at that time a lot of people thought I had really gone crazy. They didn’t have a lot of foresight. But I think that’s what keeps me fresh, in that I don’t worry about trends or what’s in right now. I just do what feels right to me, and what I like. But of course there’s always reservations, you’re always second guessing yourself. But once you get comfortable with who you are, you move on with life.
Q. Can you see a time in mainstream Hip Hop, where there’s not only openly gay artists, but they hold the top tier position of someone like a Jay Z or Eminem?
A. Here’s the thing with rap music. Rap music became the voice of black male America. It’s the first medium of music, in my opinion, where black men had a voice that was incredibly authentic to them, and not filtered. I think that’s why female rappers have a hard time, why white rappers had a hard time. Because you’re dealing with a club that’s accustomed to a certain type of membership. I think we’re [the gay community] on pace to have a big mainstream act. Who knows who it’ll be. Maybe it’ll be me, maybe not. You just never know who that’s going to be. I think that it’s ultimately gonna come down to skill set, even though that doesn’t seem to matter much these days. The standards for skill set are not that great anymore. But when you’re the pink elephant in the room…I always tell people credentials only matter when they don’t like you.
Q. In your music you talk about how you’re attracted to females too. What’s been your reception from that audience?
A. Females have been my greatest supporters. As with anything, you’re gonna have your detractors, but you’ve got to kind of take that in stride. You know why I think females like me? I’m not really the type of artist where I’m known for the big hit record or song. I’m know as the lifestyle brand artist. When people come to see me, they’re investing in…me. Not so much a record. They like my records, they dance to them, they play them. That’s great. But people are invested in what I have to say, in my point of view, more than any one record I can make. So, with my girls I think they know I’m always gonna give you very sincere, compassionate, and incredibly truthful commentary. And I think consistency is what people respect a lot. You may not agree with everything I think, everything I say, or every stance I take on an issue. But at the end of the day, I think people really support me and like me because I’m consistent and I’m truthful. And it’s sincere. Whether you like it or not, I didn’t lie to you. I think that’s missing a lot.
Q. With all the progression Hip Hop, and black America in general, has made in terms of being more accepting of the gay community, why do you think it’s still such a taboo thing in Hip Hop?
A. Gay rappers already exist. I think it’s a fear that it’s going to be hyper sexual, from the black male perspective. Guys on the street from the hood, who will see me in the cypher or they’ll be at a show of mine or see footage of me on You Tube; they’ll be like “Yo, I rock with you”. It’s because when they see it, they’ll understand music is music. They’re gonna think, “yeah, he’s that, but he speaks a lot of things any person can relate to”. Even when I do my shows, they’ve developed into almost like a one man show kind of thing. Very cabaret style. Very Millie Jackson inspired, where it’s half stand up, half music. I like it like that because it makes a great human connection with people. When people come to a DDM show, they feel like they’re talking to a friend. Even with my social media and stuff like that, I interact with people on a very real level.
Q. I notice that you’re heavy into the battling aspect of Hip Hop. And you’ve spoken on how a lot of local rappers are scared to battle you. Why do you think that they’ll dislike you and what you represent, but won’t actually battle you?
A. It’s a big chance to take. Who wants to get beat by the fag? That’s not really cool. Also, I’m very deceptive. I have to admit that to myself. Whenever I meet people in person, this is Emmanuel in regular everyday. My rap persona is very brash, very honest. In real life I’m very laid back, very reserved. So it kind of puzzles a lot of people when it comes to the battle aspect. Like when I first started in rap, they told me “you have to be the persona all the time; that’s the only way it’s believable”. I’ve learned that you can be you all the time, but you don’t feel the same way all the time. When I’m loud and on the stage, that’s Emmanuel, that’s DDM. But that’s DDM having fun on stage. I don’t have to be that person everyday, all day. How would I keep my sanity? I think as it pertains to battle rap, I always say rappers are easy to manage.
Q. As far as Baltimore’s Hip Hop scene, what do you like, dislike, what would you change, etc.? What’s your feelings about what’s going on in the city right now?
A. It’s probably in one of it’s most promising stages ever, since I’ve been in it. The kids now actually have a chance. Some of them still ain’t got a shot in Hell. But, at least some of them have a real fighting chance. I think it’s due to being able to watch mistakes be made over the years, learning from those mistakes. Fighting off the stigma that Baltimore artists are difficult to work with; they’re barbarians, they’re savage, they don’t know how to act. Also, you’ve got to give praises to the people behind the scenes. The producers who are getting major artists placements. Those who aren’t doing the whole “I’m from Virginia, I’m from New York” thing. They’re saying they’re from Baltimore, and they’re getting these placements, so that makes the region look great. I think we have great stars. I think people are learning the effectiveness of “even if I don’t like you, Imma let you live”. Do I like everybody? No! Do I like everybody’s music? No! Just like I’m sure everybody doesn’t like my music. But one thing I think people have always admired or liked about me is I’ve always been supportive of Baltimore. I love the city very much. Almost to a fault. As far as Hip Hop is concerned, I would like to see people incorporate Baltimore more, and not just in a one dimensional kind of perspective. We have so much culture here. I think it needs to be harvested a little bit better.
I’m not gonna complain it, because going to different cities and performing, we have no different problems than Atlanta, New York, DC. The difference is we just don’t have the representative yet. That’s the only difference. But the same problems they having down at the 5 Seasons, they having the same problems in D.C., same problems in Philadelphia and Atlanta. I’ve seen it firsthand. In every city there’s A artists, then B tier artists. Even though we don’t have anybody on the cover of XXL that’s super mainstream, believe it or not in Baltimore there are A artists and there are B artists that’s based on talent level, business acumen, crossover potential. Everybody likes to say, “we’re all still here”. Yeah, nobody’s made it yet, but let’s be real, some of you ain’t got a shot in Hell. And that’s just being real with you.
A. Starzz is definitely up there, whether you like him or not. A lot of people have their opinions on him. But you can’t ignore him. Of course Caddy Da Don. I really like this kid Butch Dawson. I think he has a great point of view. Visually, he’s very commercially acceptable, very, like, it could work. Some people gotta work at it. I’m not afraid to admit I had to work at who DDM is. I had to work at what my look was going to be. What my sound was going to be. Some people just have it. When it comes to Baltimore rap I’m such a historian on it because I’ve been listening since the days of Annex Clique and 50,000 Heads. I’ve seen bad artists do really well. I’ve seen good artists succumb to the pressure of doing what it takes to become successful in music. It’s definitely A and B. I never really hate on people. That’s never been my thing. I think when you focus on you, you don’t have time for that. And I understand the frustration because everybody wants to make it. But if you think you’re gonna get in the music business and the artists you’re gonna be around are nice, you’re sadly mistaken. A Lot of the people that’ve actually made it are bitches! They’re not nice people at all.
Q. Now with you representing the things you do, have you come into direct friction with any of the rappers in the city? Like on a personal level?
A. Believe it or not, no. I think the best way to get rid of a problem is to ignore it. So with me, I’ve never had to deal with people outright disrespecting me, outright saying “I don’t fuck with DDM”. I’ve never had to deal with that. I think that’s because I made it very clear who I am, what I like, what I don’t like, if I don’t really like you. So when you do that, you don’t have those types of problems. Also, I’ve never been Chatty Cassie when it comes to rappers.When it comes to rappers, we’re all competing for the same thing. This is the Hunger Games. Nobody’s really your friend. You know the saying goes “friends with all, trust no one”. And I’ve had relationships with other MCs but they don’t know my business, I don’t really side dish with people about people. Because it’s a game of politics, it’s A Game of Thrones, it’s a game of strategy. And who does that. I don’t need that kind of press.
Q. As far as music, a lot of people are cool with going the indie route. Is a record deal something you’re actively pursuing?
A. I haven’t really told anybody this, so y’all are getting the exclusive. Honestly, I’m not even thinking about a record deal. If the coin was right, and they gon’ push it, I would take one. I think a lot of people are like “360 deals, you’re gonna get screwed, and all of that”. But nothing from nothing equals nothing. In a time when then number 1 albums are selling 100,000 records the first week, you can’t really get mad at a label, financially. But to say they didn’t eat for a long time, because they did. But 50,000 records after they kicked out paying for the record to get made, your stylist, promotion if they’re really behind it, getting you on Jimmy Fallon and Pitchfork and Fader. And you’re only selling 50,000 records. I would want some of your show money too. Because how are we gonna make that back? I think artists look at the music in an old standard, and not looking at it in a money standard. Art has to meet commerce. Now if you’re a Taylor Swift, and you’re scanning 700,000 to 1.3 million records in your first week, then you need to be having a standard record deal conversation. Now you’re considered doing well if you went Gold. Ten years ago, if you went Gold that was bad. You could still get dropped. Now, if you go Gold, you’re lucky. If you go Platinum, they signing you to 6 more albums. People don’t buy it, but they will go to shows. It’s becoming like a promoter, Don King kind of system. People may not go to the store to buy that CD, but they’re gonna pay the 30, 40, 50 dollars to go see that person live. So it’s like a catch 22. Do I want a record deal? Sure. I would love the funding and the backing because i know what I could potentially do.
Click here to check out part two…