There are walls all around us, whether it is physical or mental, they have the ability to allow us to create, imagine and cultivate what the real world is like without restraints. Of course these walls also have the ability to constrict us, but for Australian MC Big Dave the walls of prison did not hold him back, in fact it brought out his best cyphers and freestyle rhymes which he claims is due to the lack of distractions. Big Dave's debut ‘Self Made’ album features the Doggystyle artist Snoop Dogg with the track 'The Original.'
We chat to Big Dave about how the legendary KRS1 graciously told him he had laid the foundations down for the hip hop scene to grow in Canberra, how Kurupt from Tha Dogg Pound taught him to experiment with his music, and the reason behind why his name was brought up in parliament with questions of how prisons security was breached. Margaret Tra writes.
You've toured with a lot of influential artists, has there been a moment where you've learnt or taken on board something from an artist that's allowed you to grow on your skills/abilities?
Definitely, a couple of years ago I was recording some tracks with Kurupt from Tha Dogg Pound who you probably know has been in the game for like about 20 years or so.
We were working on a track on this real futuristic beat and he was coming up with a verse that wasn’t his usual style.
So we came to a point where I thought there should be one direction for the song and he disagreed and wanted to go in another direction. I was thinking we should run more towards what I guess you would call a more traditional hip hop style. That led us to having a conversation about evolution in music and hip hop. I’d been experimenting with my own style and sound a lot at that time in my career so that conversation stuck with me and gave me more confidence to travel down the road of experimentation.
Kurupt helped me realise that what I was doing was necessary. You have to try new things and test ideas to find what does, and don’t work and I think that’s really how you grow as an artist. Now that I’ve brought all that up I just realised I still have that unfinished Kurupt collaboration in the vault and haven’t laid down my final vocals on it yet… (Laughs).
As you know, making it in hip hop is tough, especially in Australia, what keeps you determined? Any tips for upcoming Aussie artists?
I guess the biggest thing that keeps me determined to succeed in music is my family.
I have two young daughters and a fiancé to look out for. If I chose a career in music and failed, I would be letting them down and the fear of that happening is what keeps me up late and gets me up early. That’s what keeps me giving 100% day in and day out.
As far as advice goes I guess the best advice I could give to an upcoming artist would be believe in yourself and understand that success in anything doesn’t come easy, especially success in music. If you think you have the talent and the drive to make a career in music then stick with it for as long as it takes. Stay focused, work hard and never give up hope.
You just released a track with Snoop Dogg, what was that like? It's a pretty interesting story of him loving your instrumentals, and then sending back your beats with some vocals on top?
I can still remember playing Doggystyle for the first time as a teenager. That album blew my mind. I never could have imagined back then that I would ever get the chance to release a song with Snoop, so to be honest that track is a dream come true.
It was pretty wild how it all came together. I have a producer mate that I’ve worked with over the years, and I told him I was looking to make a big move to help get my name out there.
Next thing he turns around and tells me he might be able to get Snoop on a track with me!
I wasn’t sure whether it would actually be possible or not but I was definitely willing to give it a shot so I grabbed a few instrumentals from my partner in crime Grantwho? and then I sent them through. Snoop was feeling one of the instrumentals, came up with a song theme and sent back a verse ready to rock n roll. I actually got the verse back from him on Christmas morning. Not sure if that was intentional or not but it was a damn fine Christmas present that’s for sure. (Laughs)
To be honest I’m still in shock that I’ve actually dropped a track with Snoop and really grateful he’d work with an artist that doesn’t have the name in the industry that he has. That’s giving back to hip hop right there.
Tell us about your project ‘Behind the Walls,’ and how you started that project up?
That project was a human rights initiative I put together quite a few years ago.
I’d just been released from prison and had a few friends inside that were being mistreated by the staff. I felt bad for the guys and wanted to do my part to help out.
I figured the only thing I could do was be a voice for them on the outside so I set up a system where inmates serving time could get info and letters to me, and I would take their concerns to the media or in major cases to the right people that might be able to help them.
It all started small enough just helping out a few friends but it ended up growing to be a nationwide system. At one point the project played a part in allegedly smuggling letters out of Supermax prison. These letters made national news headlines and wound up in the hands of the UN. My name was even brought up in parliament with questions raised as to how the prisons security was breached. The project wound up a few years ago now but I think I helped out where I could.
You're album 'Self Made' has an incredible line-up, how do you find approaching big name artists' for your album?
Thanks Maggie. I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many artists I’m a big fan of and even luckier to have them appear on my album. As far as approaching them to collaborate goes it’s different with each act. A lot of the time it starts with the live stuff.
With WC I was supporting Ice Cube at a concert and Dub was on tour with him. I picked up them up from the airport and asked Dub if he was down for a collaboration while he was in town. He was down so we dropped past my studio the night before the show and he wrote and recorded a verse for my album.
With Kurupt we performed together at a show and we got along well. He’s a real down to earth dude. Six months later he was back in Oz touring with Snoop and after the tour he hung around for a couple of weeks. He called me up out of the blue one day from Sydney and asked me how far away Canberra was. Three hours later he was at my place and we laid down a few songs including his verse for my album.
I was in touch with Necro about six months later to talk about a tour and we worked out a way to get him on the album via the internet. Kyza and Joell were the same deal, being in Canberra I’m a long way from the London and New York, so it works out easier and cheaper to work studio to studio online sometimes.
You reside in ACT I believe? What's the scene like there?
The Canberra scene’s gone through its ups and downs over the years but its standing strong. It’s been heaps quite on a national level over the past 18 months but I’ve changed that in the last few weeks I think.(Laughs)
Being a city of only about 350,000 people everyone knows everyone and that’s great at times because we have the ability to really get behind each other which I’ve seen happen a lot over the years. Other times though with everyone knowing everyone’s business it can make for a bit of a high school bitch vibe. (Laughs)
As a whole we have some great artists down here and we have a pretty tight nit community.
At KP we’ve got Eitha, Colossus and Doug coming up. Just up the street from my house we’ve got this crazy beat boxer named Kodak who’s something else. He actually ran second in the national titles. There’s some top notch DJ’s: Daz, Buick, Rush, Treach. Some young MC’s doing their thing too like Dub 7, Nix and Semantix. I could go on and on.
I’ve got mad love for my hometown and the music we make here. Big up’s Canberra!
You've had artists such as Ice Cube, KRS One and John Payne talk only positive things about you, how did that make you feel as an artist?
The things each one of those guys has said to me or about me are things I’ll never forget.
Like any situation in life having people you look up to speak positively about you is inspirational. When Ice Cube said he was proud of my achievements I actually heard that live on the radio and nearly fell out of my seat! I’ve got the utmost respect for Cube and that was a moment I will never forget.
With KRS it was more what he said to me in conversation that stuck with me as opposed to what he said publicly. He heard a bit about what I had done for hip hop in my city, and he told me that I had basically been the man that had laid the foundations down for a scene to grow here in Canberra. What could I say to that? I was floored and that’s another moment I won’t forget as long as I live.
John has been on another level above all that. He’s been a source of inspiration and advice for me since very early on in my career, and we still speak on the phone regularly. Like KRS it’s the things he’s said to me behind the scenes that have really inspired me. In fact John is such a good friend and supporter of my career that I’m sure he’ll read this interview and so I’d like to say thanks for everything mate!
You've spent some time in jail, what made you turn your life around and focus on music?
It goes back to my fiancé and my daughters. I met my fiancée Stacey after I was released from prison and I fell in love with her. From there we had two beautiful children.
I could never let them down or f*** up and end up back in jail, so I switched focus from dealing drugs to the only other thing I thought I might be good at and that was rapping. With no high school certificate or qualifications I thought that music was probably the only career I might be able to be successful in, so I gave it my all for my girls and I haven’t looked back since.
You've been quoted as saying you had your best rhymes/beats in prison, how do they compare to living in Canberra, especially now that you have a fiancé and kids?
Those things are like chalk and cheese. In prison the hip hop scene isn’t like out here where people are in it 20% then they go back to work or go back to their normal lives. Inside you have all the time in the world to focus on music and that makes for a pretty cool vibe on a good day.
You’re right I certainly had some of my best cyphers and freestyle rhymes in prison, because there are no distractions, in fact they are the distraction from long boring hours of nothing to do so everyone is just living in the moment and caught up in the vibe.
Likewise being locked in your cell with a pen and pad for days on end with nothing to do but create words and lyrics. That gives you plenty of time to create. On the outside you have all the distractions in the world but you also have all the opportunity. You can actually do things with your music but you have to stay focused. For me being in Canberra where I grew up and being inspired by my fiancé and my kids has helped me grow as an artist. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I might not have the cyphers I had inside, but the crew are a phone call away if I ‘wanna’ break one out.
What Stimulates Your Soul?
I would have to say spending quality time with friends and family, good music or a really solid creative run in the studio. That’s my soul food right there. (Laughs)