“I feel like I’m close, like one step further…”
A few weeks ago I came to you hat-in-hand for having overlooked Los Angeles-based emcee Diz Gibran.
Now that I’m up, I won’t ever disrespect him again… never not at all – Andre 3K.
The man has seemingly lived five years for the average person’s one – a globetrotting, gear head with business savvy and crispy swag. You crack open the door of discussion and he’ll kick the shit wide open with a story you never knew you had coming, speaking on varied topics ranging from family, business, or making the dope shit we’re just starting to hear from him and producer Moonshine.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Diz in L.A. at DJ KiiLu’s house — a nice spot with a room converted into a haven for vinyl poppers and pen-and-pad scrawling emcees, a sanctuary for Hip-Hop fiends, an asylum for audio addicts. It was there that we previewed Diz’s forthcoming (and currently untitled) mixtape dropping this September. You can expect a journey from neo-soul silk to crushing basic fours to ethereal consciousness joints that go well beyond hand-to-hand tapes. There’s tracks on there harder than SAT exams or a fist full of knuckles — West Coast ride out shit so tough that it’s difficult.
Diz is a lyricist who understands the toughest struggle often comes from within. I spoke with him about the music he’s about to release with this mixtape, in a time when the West Coast is willing its way back into the spotlight. From family, to college at FAMU, to starting out in a career and life of fashion — where he met a like-minded Moonshine — Diz Gibran has a story to be heard.
TSS: Would you say the streetwear industry is equally as important to you as the music? Or are they kind of separated.
Diz Gibran: They become separated, but they do go hand in hand. You can’t deny that. I got into fashion because of Hip-Hop. Growing up, looking at New York cats I was a big Polo head and all of that. Nautica. So growing up, seeing Hip-Hop dudes from New York, that’s what got me into it, what started my love for it. So like, it goes hand in hand but they’re two separate things. That’s why I don’t really talk about it in my music â€“ like I may talk about being fresh or something like that, but it’s not too in depth talking about fashion and all of that because I’ve been rhyming a long time and that’s not part of my identity, as far as the music goes. But it is my way of supporting myself, so it is a big part of my life.
TSS: People have been talking a lot about a West Coast resurgence, but do you think there’s too much emphasis placed on the fashion? Because everyone kind of talks about them at the same timeâ€¦
Diz Gibran: Well, the whole streetwear thing and all of that, a big part of that has been West Coast. A lot of that has come from the West Coast, and that’s been a huge movement over the last five, six years that has really been dictating a lot of what goes on in the fashion world, you know? Whether people know it or not. So it’s like, with the music resurfacing on this side, and it’s not what people normally expect from the West Coast â€“ you know, the gangsta stuff and all of that — I can see why people put it together. And you know, a lot of emcees dress similar, you know what I mean? But I think it’s more about the timing of what’s going on with the West Coast, period.
TSS: So you don’t necessarily see it as a good or bad thingâ€¦
Diz Gibran: No I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I always look at it different because I’ve been in this forever â€“ both music and the fashion stuff â€“ and I’ve know a lot of these cats when they first started these brands. But I always took a different approach and was never one to exploit that.
I do see a lot of people who are hopping on a bandwagon or a trend, but at the same time it is what it is â€“ it’s a trend. If it’s the cool thing to do, you’re going to do it.
TSS: Tell me more about the West Coast connection, like with Pac D and themâ€¦ how did y’all meet.
Diz Gibran: What’s dope about my associations, as far as West Coast Hip-Hop, is there’s always been a connection that wasn’t the music. The Pac Division boys I’ve known for years, but they’re my business partner and best friend’s cousins â€“ Mibbs and Like are â€“ so he’s been telling me about them forever. He’s like, “Man, my little cousins out in Palmdale, they’re rhyming and they’re actually pretty dope!” So he would tell me about that and then I met them a couple years ago. And it’s been like that since â€“ we’ve always supported what they do. There used to be like a little monthly thing at Little Temple a few years back that we used to do as a forum for everyone to just get up and rockâ€¦
TSS: At “Root Down?”
Diz Gibran: Nah, we called it the “99 Cent Special.” It was good â€“ we lasted for about a year and half or so, which is pretty good as far as L.A. goes.
So yeah, Pac Div, like J*Davey I’ve known forever, not through music. Yeah, Bleu Collar â€“ I grew up with Reese, he was a year behind me in high school. Teron I knew of before I met him. So yeah, a lot of this stuff has been a crazy connection â€“ the circle keeps getting smaller. KiiLu â€“ he’s been integral, he’s been out in the Hip-Hop scene in L.A. for a long time. So you just bump into people and even if you don’t know it, it comes out later like, “Yo, I remember you from somewhere,” or “You know such and such?” It’s that crazy connection that keeps happening.
TSS: The city keeps getting smallerâ€¦
Diz Gibran: Exactly. El Prezâ€¦ there’s just so many of us. Like my boy Kartwright… he’s a designer and we met him through fashion. So it’s just crazy circles. But a lot of it hasn’t had anything to do with music, which is dope. I’ve always been a really organic person â€“ I just like things to happen naturally. So it’s like the way things have been moving is just real cool and it’s great to be a part of it. And you know, it’s like TiRon â€“ I knew TiRon through Pacific Division a little bit, but I never knew he rhymed until a little bit ago. Ayomari â€“ all the same things. And that’s what’s dope â€“ no one’s wearing it like, “I’m a rapper.” Everyone’s just genuine, cool people, and then it just comes out. But I think that shows how much people love it because they kind of hold it close to them rather than just always being a badge of honor or something like “I’m an MC.”
TSS: You mentioned J*Davey and of course Pac D â€“ they’re both on majors. Is that where you want to go?
Diz Gibran: I think at this point, yeah. People talk about independent stuff, and that’s great. But for what I feel me and Moon’s music is and what it represents and with the timing and all of that, it’s meant to be exposed on a bigger level. And the only way to do that is with a major…
I’m doing the independent thing right now and it’s a build up. It’s similar to what a lot of people did in the ’90s â€“ you build up your own brand, and people notice that.
TSS: You have to do your own artist development.
Diz Gibran: Exactly. Which I’m doing, and always planned to do and wanted to do. I just think our music is meant to be exposed at the highest point in the game.
TSS: So then ideally, you want to put out a couple albums on your ownâ€¦?
Diz Gibran: Put it like this â€“ I’ve been making music for so long without looking for anything out of it, to where I’m good continuing to do that and letting the music speak for itself. And Moon’s the same way. Most of us are. We really love to do this. And whatever’s meant to be is meant to be. I’m going to keep doing my thing regardless and just knock it out like that. So if it doesn’t happen, I got albums coming. And if it does, I got albums coming. Either way, I’m good.
TSS: How long had you been working on this album that’s coming out?
Diz Gibran: Well this is a mixtape we got coming out first. The album’s pretty much done too.
TSS: Is it mostly original music on the mixtape?
Diz Gibran: Yeah. I’d say 85 percent of it’s original. The synergy between me and Moonshine is incredible… I’m like “Yo, you’re the dude who makes the type of beats I’ve always wanted to rhyme over.” And he’s like, “You write the shit I’ve always wanted to go over my beats.” So we make original stuff and that’s what’s going to be on the mixtape. It’ll be some stuff that’s not in a mixtape format, or maybe it’ll be just one long verse. Some shit will be us just clownin around, but it’s mostly original.
I did a mixtape in ’05 that I dropped â€“ I put it out myself, I pressed up 10,000 copies, I sent it all over the country to different friends and kind of set up little make-shift street-teams and all of that. And it got good buzz, I just didn’t keep it going. But that was like half and half â€“ half original and half recycled beats. But even that, I chose the beats that weren’t the current. They were classic beats or something obscure someone wouldn’t have thought to rhyme over or something like that. So that’s what we’re going to do again with that.
TSS: So whose beats are you looking to for that?
Diz Gibran: The beats that I’m choosing– KiiLu gave me like a old beat from Wild Style, some Floetry shit, I wanna rhyme over that Steve Spacek song, “Let the Dollar Circulate.” Radiohead, “The National Anthem.” Stuff like that â€“ stuff that I love, but nobody’s really messed with. I don’t want to be like the flavor-of-the-month MC.
TSS: You know, it’s always a lot of haters coming out on websites, but it seems like you’ve gotten a lot of positive reinforcement.
Diz Gibran: Yeah. You know, I’ve always felt like I make good music and it’s music that’s true to me. Anybody around me that knows me can say that’s me. When I was growing up I was in a pretty strict household and my parents didn’t really support me making music until like the last year or two â€“ because now they see I’m serious about it and get that feedback from other people. But my thing was always, I want to make music that anybody that knows me can say, “That’s Khalil” and like “Yeah, I know that dude. That’s really him.” So that’s the music that we make. It feels funny to me to do anything else — shit flows when I write, but that would be the stuff that would be hard for me to write.
It’s the whole spectrum of my life â€“ the good, the bad â€“ none of it’s a secret, so it’s like, put it out there. But as long as everybody who hears it and knows me can be like “Yeah, that’s real.”
TSS: What did your parents want for you if they were only recently supportive of it?
Diz Gibran: Well, I’ll take that back a little bit. My mom has always been super supportive of the creative side. I’ve always been real close with my mom, but me and my pop have a good relationship too. My parents have been married like 41 years. My dad is a corporate dude. You know, he grew up in a time when there weren’t that many options for black folks and they did it in the way society kind of had it set for them â€“ you go to school, you go to college, you meet your wife or husband, you get a nice job, you start a life. And that was pretty much him. Now he does a lot more stuff as well and he always amazes me with all the stuff he’s involved in and what he’s done in his life. But he was that dude â€“ staunch, black-and-white, no grey area, this is what you’re going to do and this is how you’re going to do it dude. So I grew up knowing I was going to go to college. I grew up knowing there was a lot of stuff I didn’t really have no choice in.
TSS: You went to Florida A&M, right?
Diz Gibran: Yeah.
TSS: That school is like a connection in itself.
Diz Gibran: For real. I know a lot of lot of good people that have come out of there. But that was the tradition â€“ my grandparents went to Florida A&M, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my half brother, I had cousins there when I was there. So it was just a tradition in my family and in black families, period, to go to a black school. But it was all set out for me and I was a rebellious kid. So there’s a lot of stuff in my life that I probably put myself through or did that wasn’t necessary â€“ and I don’t know the full reason that I did it â€“ but it gave me different knowledge on different things.
TSS: You probably wouldn’t even take it backâ€¦
Diz Gibran: Hell nah. That’s why people who know my characterâ€” I come from the West Side of L.A. from a pretty well-off family, but I mix and match with everybody. I always have. I’ve been in the streets ever since I can remember. So it’s always been one of those things. My dad always taught me like you got to be able to walk both sides of the fence, you know? All the way around.
TSS: Speaking of your parents, I heard something about a museum at your parents’ houseâ€¦? Is that true?
Diz Gibran: Well, kind of. My parents are huge art collectors. My dad, on top of all the corporate stuff, would do home development. So I lived in a ton of different houses growing up.
TSS: All in the same area?
Diz Gibran: Pretty much. Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, all of that. But they’ve been huge art collectors and huge travelers and everything, but over the past couple years my dad just got crazy with it. So this house that they live in now, it was pretty much built to showcase their art. They just have some incredible stuff â€“ all kinds of artifacts, historical documents, everything. But in the last year it’s been touring the U.S. â€“ it started off at the California African American Museum and went to the Dusable Museum in Chicago, it’s just leaving the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, Florida, and right now there’s talks of it going to the Smithsonian â€“ so their collection has taken on a life of its own.
And what’s crazy is if you go in the house now you’ll be like, “Are you sure this isn’t the museum?” because they either replaced it or they have all the stuff in storage, so it’s like nothing is missing. Every wall is filled with something â€“ some sort of sculpture or painting or something.
TSS: Growing up, that must have been really inspirational for you.
Diz Gibran: Yeah, you know, I grew up around so many creative people. I was exposed to a lot. My parents would take me pretty much everywhere they went â€“ to different gala affairs or take me traveling or to different people’s houses. Like, the first time I went to Quincy Jones’ house I think I was like 13â€”
TSS: Wait, what?
Diz Gibran: Yeah, you know I grew up meeting all these people and having all these people treating me like family and extended family and always looking out for me. So that played a huge part in everything I’ve known. Hip-Hop is just what I gravitated towards. But I’ve always had an appreciation for so many things just because I was exposed to it. A lot of times I would be the only kid there.
TSS: In an adult world.
Diz Gibran: You know, I traveled to Berlin before the wall was torn down… I was into graffiti and stuff back then too, and I drew like on a napkin at dinner while all of the adults were talking, and I was a skater so I drew this skater breaking through the Berlin wall, and the people there asked to keep it. Like a year after that the wall came down. So I’ve just been exposed to a lot of shit.
TSS: So you got a lot of shit to say that people need to hear.
Diz Gibran: You know? And a lot of shit that I need to hear. A lot of shit I haven’t even touched on yet. I’m a real feeling person â€“ certain beats call for certain things. That’s the way me and Moon have been working. The shit that we were doing a year ago in the studio, compared to now, I don’t even think about it anymore. We’re getting to a whole new place now.
TSS: When did you start writing?
Diz Gibran: Shit, in elementary school.
TSS: Writing verses in elementary school?
Diz Gibran:: Yeah. Well I had a group in elementary school.
TSS: (laughs) What was your group called?
Diz Gibran: The Ill Kids. That was before Guru had his record label. The Ill Kids.
TSS: What happened with the tumultuous break up of The Ill Kids?
Diz Gibran: Oh, nothing happened too much. We were in like fifth or sixth grade andâ€” oh, I remember! You know, kids are funny, man. It was my boy Damon had a rhyme he had kind of copied from a Run DMC song, and my boy Andy would like taunt you and he just made a big huge deal of it, and that was it. It was like “Aw. No more Ill Kids.”
TSS: What did you major in at Florida A&M?
Diz Gibran: Journalism. I didn’t finish though. I finished in Miami at Florida International like a year, two years later. FAM wasâ€” I’ve always been a social dude. And me knowing the layout of the school, knowing people there, having older cousins there, it was my downfall because I didn’t care about school as much. During high school is when I kind of stopped being into school so a lot of stuff I was doing for my parents. But FAM U? I was running that. Me and my friends and family, we were running that school. My dad has always had a big name there and I was always the kind of kid who shied away from that type of stuff, so I don’t know if that played a part in me not taking school seriously.
TSS: Shied away from what?
Diz Gibran: From being in my dad’s shadow. That’s a conflict we’ve always had, because I grew up being Bernard Kinsey’s sonâ€¦ it was like, nah I’m gonna do my own thing. So I opened a store out there â€“ me and two friends, they had a clothing line. They were from D.C. and they brought it, and me and my boy sold the stuff out of our dorm room. Soon enough we had the whole campus rocking the stuff and we made enough money to open a store. So my last two years in Tallahassee, I wasn’t even in school, I was running the store. I was doing all that marketing stuff and we were in the mall — some college kids with a brand nobody outside of the school knows.
TSS: You had a store [in Los Angeles] for awhile too, yeah?
Diz Gibran: Yeah. Well, we opened the Diamond [Supply Co.] store inâ€” it’s been about a year and a half. I’m not there anymore though.
TSS: Do you feel like you always want to stay with the fashion side too?
Diz Gibran: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m kind of jaded now. I’m a little jaded. The store thingâ€” I used to be there so much that everything else was suffering. Everything I’m involved in I’m pretty hands on with it. So I was there like seven days a week and everything else is falling â€“ my music is suffering, everything else is suffering. So I don’t think I’d get back into retail, unless it was set up to wear the whole infrastructure was set up and I was just opening it up.
TSS: So really it’s just music full-tilt at this point.
Diz Gibran: Absolutely. You know, I feel like I owe it to myself to really give it the push that it deservesâ€¦ There was a lot of things I denied myself growing up, instead of going real hard with music like I should have done. That’s one of my only regrets is I should have done this shit a long long long time ago. But everything happens for a reason and I wouldn’t have met Moonshine and all of that.
And now it’s just something sparked in me like I’ve never felt so good about music and the shit that I write. So it’s just like, we got to do it. And now I look at it like, what else I got to do that I love so much? They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
After giving y’all “Truly Yours,” I asked Diz if we might be able to hear a couple more. He was nice enough to oblige with the dopeness. Enjoy!
For more info, visit Myspace.com/DizGibran.
Previously Posted – “I, Was That Guy…”