Dee-1 on His Days as a Teacher, His Relationship With God & New Album 'Slingshot David'

Diwang Valdez
Dee-1

On a chilly Thursday afternoon in New York City, Dee-1 arrived at the Billboard offices exuding a swagger that you would rarely see from an up-and-coming rapper. Arriving with no entourage or any publicists, Dee-1’s laser sharp focus and desire to have his story told to the masses resonated with several writers hanging around the office.

Raised in New Orleans, Dee-1, born David Augustine Jr., has been making a name for himself ever since he first took rapping seriously while being enrolled at Louisiana State University. It wasn’t until graduating LSU in 2009 that rapping would become a priority for Dee-1. While working as a middle school teacher, Dee-1 released three mixtapes and was featured in several media outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post.

For two years, Dee-1 balanced being a schoolteacher by day and a buzzing rapper by night, but it was far from easy. “It got to the point where I’m doing shows at night, getting out of the club at 2:00 a.m. and I have to be in the classroom by 6:30 a.m. the next day," he recalls. "It was difficult. It was also difficult keeping my rap career a secret, as I didn’t want my students to know I was a rapper. I wanted them to respect me as a young black man who was an educator, not a gimmick.”

But this was short-lived as one of his students spotted his image on a poster on the street. Once the secret got out, it was time for Dee to choose which path his life would take. For Augustine, rapping would serve as his calling, or as he likes to refer to it, his “slingshot.”

“In the bible, David was the brave underdog. He figured out he was good with his slingshot, and once that happened, he took down the giant Goliath,” he explains. According to Dee, people have these “Goliaths” in their lives -- such as poverty, depression, anxiety, racism, violence and more. The key to overcoming these issues is finding out what our slingshot is. “It’s your talent, your gift, your passion. Hip-hop is my slingshot. I’m literally using hip-hop to change the world in a way that I feel like I was called to do so.”

Slingshot David, his debut album from RCA Inspiration released earlier this November, doesn’t have one specific sound. Upon listening to the album, there's a different vibe through each track on the project. One moment, Dee-1 is rhyming over a vintage Cash Money-like beat on “Wanna Be a Hot Boy,” and the next, he’s rapping over a ‘90s throwback groove on “Hood Villains.” Each song talks about a different experience that Dee-1 went through, and the result is story-telling at its finest. 

“If I’m telling the story of my life starting from my elementary school years and up, it has to be authentic,” the rapper explains. “In elementary school, I wanted to be a Hot Boy and their music was the soundtrack to my lifestyle, so 'Wanna Be a Hot Boy' features a vintage Mannie Fresh type of feel."

Aside from skating on beats with his silky, southern drawl, he makes it a priority to touch on his relationship with God throughout the album, especially on tracks like "For the Stars" and "Love Always Win."

“My faith in God wasn’t forced on to me. My life experiences built my strong faith because I witnessed what God has done in my life,” Dee-1 explains. He’s aware that not every one believes in a higher being but that doesn’t stop him from sharing his life with anyone willing to listen. “Hopefully while listening to my album people will look at their life and their perspective will change,” says Dee-1.  

The guest appearances on Slingshot David compliments the story that Dee-1 is telling his listeners. "Some people deserve the look," Dee-1 explains about the features on his album. "They have been paying dues with me while I was coming up." Some of the guests include Kango Slim, Sean Carey, Sevyn Streeter and Kourtney Heart. 

With God, his confidence and his gift of gab serving as his tools, Dee-1 uses Slingshot David to tell his story after years of trying to find a way into the hip-hop world. “I approached this album like, 'What if I never make another album?'" he says. "We wouldn’t all be here if it wasn’t for God.”