Thinking like a CEO, 88 Killa is ready to change the Dallas Hip Hop Scene.

 Photo Credit:  JerSean Gollatt

Photo Credit:  JerSean Gollatt

88 Killa is raising the bar on what it means to be a hip-hop artist in Dallas.  Taking a page right out of the playbook of those big-name rappers like Jay-Z and Diddy, 88 is thinking about more than just music and looking at the bigger picture.  Not only does he bleed charisma but his outlook on how other artists should act is refreshing and inspiring.  The co-founder of local hip-hop collective Brain Gang Misfits signed to the DEFDISCO label a year ago just released a new EP and is currently putting the finishing touches on his first full-length album.  We had the pleasure of sitting down with 88 Killa to talk about the new album, his fashion/merch line, and the current status of the local hip-hop community.

At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in music/hip-hop?

I’ve been rapping seriously since probably 2006. I started in high school mainly as a way to talk shit to other fools.  I’m a big troll; that’s really where it started.  I started taking it seriously my senior year going into college.  My freshman year I linked up with some cats at the school. We were pretty sure we were going to get signed our first semester— that clearly didn’t happen.  We were like “yo we're not evening going to class, we’re getting signed next month [laughing]”.  I started getting some critical acclaim. Dallas Observer started picking up my music around 2008-09, when I came out with mixtapes, and that how I started getting a little more well known.

How did the Brain Gang collective come together?

We all met on MySpace.  It was basically me and another dude, and I listened to his stuff and was like, yo dude that shit’s tight, who made the beats?  His beat guy now goes by the name Blue, The Misfit. He was like, “I made the beats who’s asking?”  This was all in a MySpace comment.  So, we started hanging out a lot over time and we would still do shows separately.  Blue was in another group at the time, and then him and another guy had a falling out, so he was by himself.  We met some other kids on Twitter and YouTube, and we all had the same attitude towards the scene; we were very cynical.  

Being the outcasts in our circles we just banded together, and Brain Gang was the name.  It was supposed to show that we were far more intelligent than fools —that's where the “brain” part came in because we were all like, “yea we’re smarter than fools, but we’re like a gang [laughing]”.  That was around the time when the whole Illuminati YouTube thing came out. We had all these hand signals and our sound was very dark and really pre-Yeezus sounding.  Everyone was like, “OMG you are in the Illuminati”, so we ran with that for a little bit.  We basically spent the rest of the next year or so doing shows, just killing it.  We never formally broke up, but one of our members got snatched up by Dr. Dre, Blue is producing for Kendrick and all of them, and I was making my own music, and then started working with Sam Lao.  So we all just started doing our own thing, but we all still get along.  We had performed everywhere and did everything, so we thought, unless we start getting on the radio there is really not much else we can do. So we all started shifting our focus to the next level.

What is your take on the current status of the hip hop scene in Dallas, and where do you see it going in the next few years?

Right now in Dallas, it’s a friendly competition because we’re really all too broke to be jealous of the next man.  The scene is a lot more knowledgeable than it was back when I started in 2009-10.  For the most part, a lot of the OG acts realized it’s more than just music and more so a business, or how much money is involved in getting to that next level, so a lot more people are focused on that and going in that direction.  But a lot of people are wanting something to happen. The media says, “The Dallas hip-hop scene is on the cusp of something really big happening.”  But were all like, “Alright we're ready to cross that cusp or whatever it is.”.  That’s the main thing— a lot more people are competitive because of the quality of music we get.  We’re making music right now that can be played on the radio right next to Drake and these other acts, but we’re just on a local scale.

You just released a new EP and are working on a full length album.  The name of the album hasn’t been announced yet, are you able to share that with us and what we can expected from the album?

It’s gonna be called G8Keeper [Gatekeeper]*.  All my projects, like 88 Karats and 88 BPM, all have 88 in them [ I was born in ‘88].  I picked that title because that’s what I feel like I want to be/am in terms of the scene, because a lot of people co-sign and get behind stuff that’s just not good and I’ve always wanted to be that voice that was like “nah” or be the one to usher in things that are good.  I want to be in the story of Dallas like, “yo if you didn’t meet 88 Killa then you didn’t have the juice, you didn’t get to the next level”.  In the grand scheme, 10-15 years down the line I want to get to a point where music is more of a hobby and not the main source.  I want to have artists work underneath me and put them out and do it kind of like the Jay-Z approach.  G8keeper album has songs that touch on that a little bit.  

*Crate Diggers Exclusive

Will this be all new material or will songs from your previous EP’s be on there?

I think the album is going to be all new material.  There might be a song from the EP, but I might switch it.  I hate that about artists you follow.  They put out all this material, and then you look at the album and half of the 10-12 songs you have already heard.

You mentioned being like a Gatekeeper, can you give an example of what in particular you are trying to keep out or not represent?

I’m pretty open to a lot of stuff, but more so artists, period, aren’t being held to a higher standard and rapping to their full potential.  So many people are just lazily getting by, and there was that energy back in the early 90’s where somebody would check you for that.  Or even now Dallas is notorious for letting people from other cities come to this city, take our culture and run with it— like the Dougie.  Yea, it’s only a dance move and they shouted out a couple artists, but that was very big in our culture here.  I’m not going to go out to L.A., soak up the vibe, then run around the world, go back to L.A., and nothing happens.  Not that we have to beat up everyone that comes and steals the culture, but there needs to be someone that checks them and says, “Nah fam, unless you got the past then…”

I rap and I like to have fun like the next guy, but me, I rap about my life and the stuff that happens everyday to me. I don’t have to be a character of myself.  Some artists have to be so ridiculous all the time, like Ozzy Osbourne is not chewing bat heads all day.  My favorite rapper Cam’ron, the whole time I was growing up in my impressionable youth, was disrespecting women as if they were pure sex objects.  This fool has been in a serious relationship the whole time on Facebook— he’s the most in-love rapper I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’m so hurt. It’s like, “Do you know how many women I disrespected in your honor? [laughing]”  That let me know right there that it’s a shitty way to live—if you are in love than be in love.  There’s so much better music you can make and a bigger demographic you can appeal to if you are just real and that’s what I have always modeled myself after.

I heard that you are working on a new music video, what can you tell us about the video and what song will it be for?

We’re going to do “The Code” and “Brief Talking Points.”*  “The Code” seems to be a favorite amongst everyone that listens to it and “Brief Talking Points” is my personal favorite. It’s always cool to make music that you don’t mind listening to and I feel like a lot of artists don’t do that.“Like you don’t even like this shit, why do I have to listen to it?”  

*Jeremy Biggers who directed “Boomerang” will also be directing these two new music videos.

You also have a fashion/merch line, how did that come about and what are your long terms goals for that?

Me being a control freak.  I model my career after Jay-Z, Diddy, Baby from Cash Money...CEO’s; and I noticed branding.  Every time you see them, they’re repping their brand.  In the Brain Gang days I was like, “We are getting hundreds of pictures taken of us every show. What if we just came up with our own merch, and instead of wearing the skateboard brand that doesn’t give a fuck about us, we can wear our own shit and pump our own shit”.  They were too cool for that stuff, so I basically transferred that idea to me.  When I am out and about or chilling, then I am fine wearing whatever, but I understand the power behind marketing and the reason people look at artists with stars in their eyes.

I wanted to come up with something that you would wear in real life— a real classic, old school, clean feel to it.  So until these other brands start cutting me a check, I’m not going to wear their gear on stage.  I don’t understand why more people don’t do that.  I know so many local designers or dudes that just print up T-shirts, and I’d rather wear their stuff because they get excited when someone wears it.

My goal would be to just be a lifestyle brand, like how a lot of skateboard brands do.  I would rather take that and be able to sponsor other upcoming acts like how the Jordan brand sponsors athletes.

88 Killa will be playing this Friday at Oaktopia Music Festival in Denton and listen to his new EP 88 BPM.  To hear more details about 88 Killa's upcoming album and shows follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Be sure to stay tuned to Crate Diggers to hear more music news and interviews from your favorite local artists. 

Austin James