If you're reading this, there is a high likelihood you have come across the work of Darnell Williams . Maybe not as a rapper, but certainly you've seen some of the many videos he's edited or directed for the likes of Big Sean or Mac Miller. Perhaps you've heard of the blog IllRoots.com, which he helped start before being ousted from the business.
In any event, Darnell Williams is rapping now, and you'd be wise to take notice. The Detroit native is doing a whole lot more than just directing, editing, and rapping. This young man is the poster child for perseverance and work ethic. After finding himself homeless sleeping on a friend's floor in South Central, Darnell picked himself up and pushed forward, releasing a string of stellar self-directed/edited videos.
Now, he's back and on the verge of releasing his highly anticipated Porno EP as well as writing scripts, acting and directing videos for other artists. EARMILK caught up with the young LA-based emcee to get an idea of what he's been up to and where he's headed.
EM: Darnell, how ya doing man?
DW: Yo, what's good G, I'm good man. I'm Great.
E: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
D: Oh no problem man. I've randomly been on set in Detroit for this ASAP Ferg video all day, sorry if I was a little late.
E: No worries! I was going to ask, so you in Detroit right now, huh?
D: Ya, yup.
E: Are you living in Detroit or LA?
D: Nah, I live in LA. I was just in Detroit for the Electric Forest Festival.
E: Nice, how was that?
D: That shit was tight bro. I didn't get to stay too long, but it was tight. I really fuck with the whole production setup over there.
E: Who did you see?
D: I literally didn't see anybody! (laughs) I stayed at my mom's house in Detroit and then drove three hours up to the festival. I performed, got faded, and then left. It was my birthday the next day too. So I was really just trying to get back to the fam, blow weed, and just chill (laughs).
E: I like it, how was your birthday?
D: Fucking amazing! All my family and friends came through, people I ain't seen in forever and everybody was showing mad love and support on the career. I don't know; it feels good to be around people like that.
E: So if you're living in LA, do you miss that a lot about Detroit? Do you come back a lot to visit?
D: Ya, that's what I miss about Detroit the most, the people. Like, the city itself, there isn't much going on. There's a lot of gentrification and rebuilding the shit that doesn't need to be rebuilt but beyond that, nothing. The people in the city of Detroit are some of the best in the world, though. And I don't know if there are people like that anywhere else, I don't know, maybe. But ya that's definitely what I miss most. LA is dope as fuck, it's got hella opportunities, but sometimes people can be kinda weird. Or, people in the industry, I should say.
E: Ya (laughs) I mean, you're not wrong. I'm from LA, and there are some weird and questionable ass people. So I get it.
Let me ask you about your latest track real quick, "Yung Spike Lee." The video, which I know you directed and edited, has you in Detroit but you've edited in bits and pieces of LA. Why did you choose to have it play out that way?
D: I was trying to show exactly where I'm at in life. I'm in LA, I'm around opportunities, I'm around dope shit happening. Things are going better with my life; it's getting beautiful. But at the same time, I come from this shit area where everything is all fucked up. So I might go to the studio, but when I fly back home, I'm still in the same situation. LA is like a superhero costume. You can put it on when you go out there, be whoever the fuck you want. Like 'I'm livin, I'm ballin, I'm in the studio smoking weed, I got bitches.' But none of it's real. But then you get back to Detroit it's like, 'man I've got a family to take care of. I've got to get them out of this situation.' So, it's kinda just the duality between the two. Of knowing where you're at but not forgetting where you come from and what you need to change.
E: I like that superhero costume metaphor, that's accurate. Let me ask you this, hip hop is, of course, a big part of your life, but you're coming at a rap career from the behind the camera perspective, and even a blogging perspective. How has that affected your career as a rapper and where you're going with your career?
D: I mean, to be honest, at first I almost looked at it as a handicap. I knew so many rappers from just directing their videos, or editing or helping them out with things before my rap career, so, a lot of times people didn't take it seriously. They were just thinking 'oh he just up and started rapping' but I started rapping before I ever did film. So at first, it was hard just to get people's respect. Like 'yo this nigga can actually rap.' or 'Oh shit the dude who directed our video can actually rap.' But as time went on and I just kept putting out dope music and putting out songs that actually did shit or go onto a tv show, more rappers from the past started showing respect. So now, it's easier.
The old rappers I do know, I can hit them up like, 'yoo what you think about this.' I'm actually getting features and shit lined up for my project now. And most of them are people I worked with way back when, on music videos and different things, you know what I'm saying? Now they're coming around full circle. At first, it was a handicap, but now, it kinda helps out. Every rapper loves a director like they love a producer. So it's kinda easy to get into the scene when you can tell somebody 'Ya, I shoot videos.' Most times they want to see what you can do in the video because they want something for them, but throughout that process, I usually show them my video with my rapping, and they see that it's all dope. But ya it worked out man, it definitely worked out.
E: That's a good skill to have. I feel like video is where the whole world is going so if you know how to shoot a video that's a great place to be.
D: Ya, it's definitely a good trade to know.
E: Speaking of television and video, I saw that "Blown" made it on the soundtrack of Silicon Valley. How did that happen?
D: I got a message from this dude on Facebook named Steve Rhythm and he just messaged me like, "yea man, I fuck with your music, man. I'll get you into TVs shows" but you know how it is, everybody hits you with that kind of shit. (laughs) So I was like "alright bro, whatever. Whatever songs you see on my SoundCloud, just take em and let me know what you can do or whatever" and much much much later, right after I dropped "Blown" he ended hitting me up. We talked over a couple of months and it came together. He works with this company, Pusher Music Group, and the dude who runs that company, Rudy, is the head music supervisor at Silicon Valley and a couple of other shows. He's one of my biggest fans and I guess they played it and they sent it through to the editors and it worked out. It was really unexpected.
E: Damn, that's gotta be pretty dope though. That show gets a ton of views, that's a great way to get your music out there.
D: ya, I was definitely excited and shit. It's been a gradual change since that dropped. And even before that, the shit that I did with Skrillex and OWSLA.
E: Yaaaa, yo that track is dope.
D: (laughs) Thanks, bruh.
E: Speaking of that track, and segueing into SoundCloud a bit, tell me what it's like to be you right now. You're doing well on Soundcloud, all your YouTube numbers and plays are high, what's it like being a rapper in your shoes right now as your career is starting to take off?
D: Honestly bro, it's a real balance. I try to stay grounded and humble and not get too frustrated while appreciating everything that I've got right now. But in between that, it's still the perspective that I understand where I'm at but I don't take it for granted. I still understand that you can be two moves away and you can just fuck up. I don't know, I accept it. I don't let it get to my head but like right now, I'm in a position where people are hitting me up in my DMs and I've got people from France hitting me up. I've gotten plays on French radio, it's cool, ya know?
In LA I got noticed a couple of times. I definitely don't feel famous yet, but I definitely feel something brewing, there's something in the air, some type of magic going on. But, ya man, its cool, it's a weird place. Back home, they only see what's going on through the Tube or highlights of life like Instagram and music videos. So to them, I'm living the fucking most super life. They don't see any of the stresses that I'm going through. They're just like 'damn, this nigga Darnell. He's just making videos and rapping and smoking and he just like living and traveling." -
E: -"living the dream."
D: (laughs) yaaaa I can't lie, it's definitely dope as fuck. It's way better than working at McDonalds, but there are things about it too that's just like "fuck this is some challenging shit mentally."
E: So let me ask you this, what do you have next for the rest of the year? I know you've got the Porno EP, when is that going to drop?
D: Porno EP is supposed to drop by the end of August. I'm working on something right now where I'm just shooting all of these videos. And the last couple of videos are just going to be one long video. Beyond that, just directing videos for a couple other artists. But not any artists that I'm close with, just artists that are paying enough (laughs). Though I've also got a script in development, that's a whole nother story, but ya, pretty much right now the main focus is the music and the film. I just got an agent and he's been sending me scripts and shit to read for acting. I'm fucking with that too. But my main things are the music and the videos. I'm starting back up the company, Ninety Frames, which was my video directing company.
E: Damn, you're a busy dude.
D: Ya bro, it's a lot (laughs) there's a lot going on. I'm also working on the next season of the Porno line. It's merch but I don't really design it like merch, I design it just as fresh shit to wear, even though it is my merch. But I don't want people to feel like walking advertisements.
E: I respect that. I feel that can happen a little too much when it comes to music merch and that's not the way to do it. As a fan, I appreciate it.
D: Ya I just want people to like it and rock it. But ya, it's a lot. The main thing is getting the project up. The project is done but we're juggling back and forth different ideas to make it better. I'm finishing up the presentation because I'm getting samples and talks and shit from my family here in Detroit.
E: Ooo nice, making it personal.
D: The whole thing is super personal, bruh.
E: Well I'm stoked to hear it. It sounds like you've got a ton coming through the pipeline.
D: Yaaa I definitely do. And it's all in effect right now and moving but it's just like, like you say, it's a lot. You know, every time I drop something I go silent for a minute, but then I'll come back strong. A lot of people like to consistently drop shit and everything might not be as dope as the last, but I just keep trying to raise that bar keep it on the same level, so you can't get bored with it.
E: Well I feel like that's a good distinction because you're right, these days it seems a lot of people are just dropping a song every week, and there's a lot out there, but it's not always good music. And you're sort of diluting your brand if you do that.
D: Ya, like for me, every song I make is like a painting. Not literally, but that's how I think of it. I put it out as a piece of work, and I'm proud of it. I want it to be put there next to a statue, like that level of art. It's not something I could just scribble on a piece of paper and give to you. It's actually a lot of work to craft this and I'm going to put it out with good presentation and I'll put money behind everything, from the promotion to the marketing so it just makes it right. Do it how they do anything of high standards of art.
E: I think that's a good way to do it. There aren't enough artists attacking it that way and that will set you apart as an artist which is the right move at the end of the day.
So that's all I have, anything you want to add? Can fans of Darnell Williams expect Porno to drop in August?
D: I mean, yeah, they can expect it to drop in August, man. I ain't really got shit to say but if you fuck with my work, definitely hit up my Instagram because I talk back to everybody. I try to give back to everybody. Sometimes it takes a long time because I've got my real life to deal with, but I still hit everybody back because I remember how that shit made me feel when I was little. I want to keep that energy going.