Sitting Down with D.Dove

Sitting Down with D.Dove

By Nate Whitsell


Photo by @killcrey

“I’m inspired by literally everything around me, and I hope my music inspires other people to express themselves and move their energy in ways that make them feel good.”

There can be something unnerving about the presence of a person who lacks pretense. In a sub-culture that is often preoccupied with hype, “likes”, and 15 seconds of fame trying to be stretched into 30, it’s easy to forget the love. The love that wore out the rewind button on your cassette player (youngsters, Google it). The love that had you in Tower and The Warehouse on payday. The love that made listening to hip-hop feel more natural than breathing. Believe it or not, the love lies beneath the veneer that the corporate commoditization of hip-hop culture has packaged and sold the face-value fan. And some of us are still in it for the love. D.Dove has managed to, as Common says, “maneuver through the manure” and keep herself free of the shit that has sullied the love for so many. Some of Dove’s answers are so in tune with the spirit of hip-hop, that during this interview I began to wonder if I had, to some degree, fallen victim to the shiny object syndrome that has led many to lose their way in hip-hop; I am so grateful for her subtle reminder of, and guidance back to, the essence of the music and culture that has helped to shape so much of so many of our lives. I became a fan the first 15 to 30 seconds of D.Dove’s set at a recent BattleBot at the Casbah, simply because of how she carried herself on stage, and the human behind the performer’s demeanor has solidified what I knew was true during her performance: D.Dove is in it for the love. Take this opportunity to be reminded of why you fell in love with hip-hop in the first place, and get to know one of SD’s dopest emcees who also happens to embody the “why” behind these interviews I do. Read. Enjoy. Change. Share.

NW: Who is D.Dove?

D.Dove: Well… that’s a deep question. I think it’s all subject to perspectives and personal truths. Others may see things in me that I don’t identify with, or describe me with titles that feel singular and constricted. I’m multidimensional and hate labels. To say I’m an MC or rapper makes me cringe ’cause it’s just something I do; it doesn’t define me. I do so many other things and have so many desires I have yet to explore. I love art, and I’m dedicated to absorbing and producing it in any form I can. Inspiring people around me to feel free, capable, and supported is really what I want to do, or to be known for. Ask ten people who D.Dove is, and you’ll probably get ten answers. The truth is, I’m nobody to f*%! with.

NW: How has hip-hop changed your life? Can you tell a story that really displays how/when that change took place?

D.Dove: Hip-hop has been a great distraction from the evils of life. It’s helped me in every aspect of growing up. It’s been my therapist and my best friend. My parent and my child. For me, it’s beyond entertainment. It’s a spirit that lives with me. No matter what I’m experiencing, hip-hop has a song for it. It was never a choice. I didn’t wake up one day and say I’m going to be hip-hop from now on. It just took over. I’m grateful it did, ’cause I was on a destructive path that would have left me dead or in prison by now. It was the community of people hip-hop surrounded me with that changed my life. It was those connections that gave me the ambition to be better and do better. It didn’t just save my life; it gave me life.

NW: I’m curious. Where did the name D.Dove come from? What’s it mean? Who gave it to you?

D.Dove: My mom, it’s my legal name. My first name starts with a D and middle name Dove. Everybody knows me by my middle name, and since my mom gave it to me with the intentions of it being a stage name at some point, I thought it was appropriate.

NW: That’s crazy, and almost like prophetic of your mom! And leads me to my next questions. Your stage presence is what has made me a fan. You carry yourself with a subtle, strong confidence that some lack, and others over-play. Where does that come from? When did you begin to feel somewhat at home on the stage with a mic in your hand?

D.Dove: First of all, thank you, but I have no idea. It’s that spirit of hip-hop that takes over. The truth is, I’m always nervous before a show. I usually procrastinate to the point where I’m putting my set list together on my way to the gig hoping I remember everything. That doesn’t help my anxiety at all. When I’m on the side stage, I usually start yawning and feeling like I’m gonna a turn narcoleptic and pass out. I get this feeling of, “why, why did I commit to this? Why am I doing this? Why didn’t I properly prepare or practice at all?” Then it’s go time, and it’s fight or flight. I guess when I’m on stage I’m fighting with my own ego and demons. I have to be confident and strong, but I can’t try to be anything, or it will come off as tried. I want to be genuine and give people the feeling that I’m partying with them not just rapping at them. I’m a fan first, and I hate being in the crowd when people are just rapping at the crowd like they so above everybody. Lame hearted rappers give me so much motivation it’s ridiculous. If I’m not into the act before me, I usually give a stronger performance. I feel more pressure to represent the culture as I’ve experienced it. I don’t want the crowd to walk away with a false sense of what hip-hop is. If I like the act before me, I’m more mellow and just happy to be there.

NW: That’s super powerful and insightful. Let’s look back a bit. When did you write your first rap? Do you remember it? If so, share some of those early bars with us!

D.Dove:  I do not remember anything from my first rhyme book. I do remember it was given to me by someone who was a major influence to my introduction to hip-hop. It was a standard composition book, and they tagged my name on the front. I was so honored, and it felt crazy legit like someone placed a crown on my head. I couldn’t believe that someone believed in me that much. That’s that sense of community that I try to pass on ’cause it was so influential to my self-growth and confidence. I found pieces of myself in that book that I never knew existed. I remember playing with different patterns and styles trying to develop my own formula. Like what if every word rhymes what if I change rhyme patterns every two bars or make the 1st and 3rd rhyme but be different than the 2nd and 4th bar. It was probably a mess, but it taught me so much about my inner thoughts and how to make sense of everything that goes on in my head.

NW: Dope. I’m seriously geeking after each answer here. Let’s keep going in this same direction. As you developed your gift with words, who are some emcees who you looked to for inspiration? As competition?

D.Dove:  Never competition. I learned early that if you are genuine, nobody can compete with that, nobody can do you. It’s all flavors – not every flavor is for everybody, but trying to compete with someone else is already giving them the advantage ’cause your trying to be as good or better than them… and who is them? Why do I need to pull someone down to succeed? It’s not for me to judge anyone; I’m too busy battling myself. I have come across many flavors that leave a bad taste in my mouth. I just keep that nonsense off my plate. It may not be my jam, but I understand it could be someone else’s favorite. That’s the beauty of life – we are all so different, and at the end of the day, I’m glad we can explore our differences. I love love love, Rakim. To list anyone else would take too long and I’d keep myself up at night thinking of all the people I missed, but I will say Queen Latifah and MC Lyte just to keep it gender balanced.

NW: Okay, so let’s get into the music that inspires your writing. When you were sharpening your pen game, who are some producers that you liked to write or freestyle to? How about local producers that inspired you to write/freestyle?

D.Dove:  I hate the name game. My lists are never complete. I’ve been inspired by so many talented local and international producers it’s hard to remember everyone. I gravitate to anything with soul and warm tones. I prefer the staticky drums with good snap. I remember writing to a lot of premier and Pete rock production that was always my comfort zone. Sometimes I’d dig for funk and soul instrumentals off old vinyl like Roy Ayers; they where always super fun to mess with ’cause they had more switch-ups, and they were long so that I could stretch past the typical formulas of 4counts and 16bar verses.

NW: As I’m writing these questions, I’m listening to your last project, CHISH. Can you tell us a bit about it? What does “Chish” mean? Speaking of warm, soulful samples and drums that snap, the production is so good; who produced it? What has the response to it been like over the past year or so?

D.Dove:   The response was great. For me, it’s all about the experience of making it and performing it so; digital promotion does not excite me at all. I know that sucks for people who work with me. It’s like pulling teeth trying to get me to promo anything. DJ Tramlife is such a good sport; he just accepts me as I am. If it weren’t for him, there would be no CHISH; it would just be a folder on my desktop next to all my other never released projects. The producer is from Seattle; he gave me access to a bunch of beats but wanted to remain anonymous. I was like cool; I wish I could do the same. Tramlife was the one who glued the project together. He sat with me from beat selection to track list. We did it all together from samples to mixing. It was so much fun. Tramlife is responsible for the title CHISH. We decided it means anything and everything, except for “no.”

NW: Diggin’ into the content on CHISH, your lyrics are thoughtful and cover a broad range of topics. Where do you draw inspiration to write from? What do you hope your music does to the listener?

D.Dove:  I’m inspired by literally everything around me, and I hope my music inspires other people to express themselves and move their energy in ways that make them feel good. Even if someone hears it and says, “she is so wack, I’m inspired to write a song to prove I’m better than her.” Good! Get the blood flowing and the creative juices going.

NW: As I mentioned, CHISH dropped about a year ago. That begs the question, what are you working on right now? When can we expect a live show or some new content from D.Dove?

D.Dove:  I have a show, [Hip Hop House SD] September 20th at the AC Lounge, put on by some great local artists. That should be fun; it’s a great lineup. I have a follow up to CHISHsitting on my desktop, 80% done. I should finish it. Thank you for the reminder.

NW: Haha. No problem. Since you spit such deep, contemplative lyricism, I’d imagine that the writing process is somewhat therapeutic and that sharing your musings with an audience is cathartic as well. I know that you said that the marketing/promo is not attractive at all, but with so many different aspects to the process of making music, where do you draw the most fulfillment from? Writing? Recording? Performing?

D.Dove:  They are all equally exciting but in different ways. The writing is very personal it’s my “me time.” The recording is where I get to involve the people closest to me musically; it’s like a private club. The performing is fun ’cause I get to share it with the community, and once it gets to that point, it feels like such a group effort on display it makes me happy. It’s like, “hi everybody this is what I and my friends do for fun, hope you like it; we sure enjoyed making it.” I do it for fun, not for props.

NW: Can you tell us a story about a time that embodies your last answer in a real-life situation?

D.Dove: Every time I perform with Tramlife, it feels like we are playing tag team and since I’ve lived in SD most my life, I know so many people in the community that local events feel like a house party. We take our craft seriously, but the performance is supposed to be fun and care free.

NW: I try to stay away from the “female” tag in front of the word emcee, but I want to know if that is what you are referring to with the line, “You know the stigma, s!@$ I got a lot to prove…” Do you feel like women in hip-hop still have a lot to prove simply because they are women? Is there an instance in your journey as an artist where this was clear to you?

D.Dove: Yes, that is exactly what I meant, and every day I’m reminded how hard it is to be a woman in a male-dominated world. Without going too deep into it, I will say it sucks, and women need each other more than ever. We need to stop looking at other women as competition just ’cause they are women. We need to stop looking to men to validate us in the industry and life. We are strong and beautiful, and to be confident and should not dull another woman’s light. And men need to stop acting like girls are only in the studio on some secret agenda trying to get dicked down. As far as women who will trade sexual favors for beats or plugs, do you ma, but I hope you know you are part of the problem and only making it harder for the rest of us to be taken seriously. Set the standard. You’re better than that.

NW: All that said, how do you feel about the “female emcee” label?

D.Dove: I hate it, but whatever. The world is hard on women, and I’m just grateful to live in a place where we have rights. As you read this, women are being forced into marriages, sold into prostitution, silenced, beaten, mutilated and publicly killed with no recourse. These are the things that we need to change before we start picking away at labels like “female mc” or “actresses.” These terms come from men who fear women. It sits in the subconscious of developing minds and creates separation between men and women. Like Tupac said, “we all came from a woman… it’s time to heal our women.”

NW: Thanks for that. It means a lot to hear some of the purpose and passion that motivate and fuel your life, which in turn breath the life and vibrancy into your music. I’m hoping not to fall into the trap of putting women who rap into the same group/category, but I have to say, there is something in your tone that reminds me of one of my favorite emcees, Mystic. Are you familiar with her? Just curious if she has played any role in how you approach the craft.

D.Dove: I have heard of her but, I’m not familiar with her catalog. There are so many great artists it’s hard to keep up.

NW: Perhaps the song where that tone is most heightened is in love/break up song at the end. The tone of the project even seems to take a turn there, leaving listeners in a pretty melancholy space. What inspired that song, and why did you want to have that be what we walked away with at the end of CHISH?

D.Dove: It just worked out that way. I think it sounded best bunched together like a B side effect. It wasn’t premeditated.

NW: As we begin wrapping up, what’s something you’d like to share with hip-hop culture?

D.Dove: Please treat women with more respect. Be genuine and original. If you in it for the money, go back to school and try something new. I love you all.

NW: One emphasis of these interviews is to see a heightened level of unity in the San Diego Hip Hop community. Can you point to some other artists who you see as comrades, and who you also see as helping to progress the scene?

D.Dove: I hate the lists, but I will shout out Ric Scales, Tramlife, the whole #FRESHstatesquad, and everybody I make an effort to say “hi” to at events. You know who you are. I appreciate you.

NW: Finally, where should readers go to connect with you?

D.Dove: I don’t know, face to face is the best. I think I’m on all the streaming services, like tidal and Spotify, blah blah. I’m pretty sure they spelled my name wrong tho. I do have social media accounts, but I only check my IG. You can always hit up Ric Scales or Tram. They can always track me down. Or send a message to @SDlovesHipHop they got the plug.

Peace, Love & Hip Hop,

Nate Whitsell