ALLBLACK in East Oakland. 'It’s my diary,' he says of his lyrics. 'I don’t regret anything I say.' (Pendarvis Harshaw)
It was a wet afternoon, one where you could hear the rain pounding the tin roof that covers the seating area for the Sinaloa Taco trucks. ALLBLACK, the rising rap artist, breathed in a sigh of relief.
“I just like the smell of the rain and all that. I dress for the winter anyway,” he said as he sat across from me, with his tattooed face, bullring nose piercing and no jacket — only a fresh white corner store issued T-shirt. “The rain is peace.”
At that moment, I realized ALLBLACK, given name D'Andre Sams, was a different kind of dude.
But what really spoke to me was this video on ALLBLACK’s Instagram, in which a crowd chock-full of hyped teenage girls recite ALLBLACK’s lyrics verbatim, at the top of their lungs.
“The girls going crazy in the front row, that was my little sisters, all of ‘em. I don’t even know them, but that’s my little sisters,” said ALLBLACK. “It was beautiful to see that I could move children like that. And my music spoke to them in their own way. I ain’t never felt like that, ever!”
I doubled back and asked why he thought his music reached them. “I wish I had a saucy-ass answer," he said, "but I really don’t know.”
But in talking to him at Sinaloa, I think I got an idea of why his music is so appealing.
ALLBLACK isn't bashful about living and speaking his truth. And given his subject matter, it’s useful to have prime insight into the “diary,” as he calls it, of a young man who loves his mother and daughter, and also has clearly been around pimp culture. It might seem contradictory to some to have one project named KimsSon, honoring his mother, and his latest project called Outcalls, a nod to the oldest profession. But the way he raps candidly about it all is what makes people feel his songs.
His music is uptempo, almost aggressive. Not hyphy music by far, and actually more mobb music, a genre which preceded hyphy era here in The Bay. When I asked who his musical influences are, his answers further proved my theory that he is indeed a different kind of dude: “I’ll say Teddy Pendergrass, The Stylistics…”
I immediately cut him off. For real?! Why them? I asked. “Their music is peace,” he replied, and then kept going. “I really like the old Prince.” He said he could go on for days, naming artists like Kut Klose, whom I had never heard of. He got to the rappers: “Migos, Gucci, Wiz. I’m a big Wiz fan, like ’09 Wiz. Mixtape Wiz.” And then he mentioned some local artists, including 3xKrazy and Kossisko, used to go by 100s.
Long before ALLBLACK was rapping, he was 100s hype man, and it was 100s who pushed him to rap about his life; put his diary on tracks.
It made sense. ALLBLACK was already cool with the leaders of the Bay’s newest wave of talent. He went to Pinole Valley for high school — “that’s where I met P-Lo, Iamsu!, Young Bari,” said ALLBLACK. “That’s the first time I heard of Rexx Life Raj.”
Even more importantly, he was already relatively well known. “I’ve been popular before music,” ALLBLACK said, just moments before a random guy walked up and interrupted our interview to take a photo with him.
He said he was known for dancing and skateboarding, with the nickname given to him by his family, Dusty — still how many people know him. And being “outside” is a major part of his program. “I been outside. I been in other people’s hoods showing love,” said ALLBLACK. “I don’t have problems with other people, I have problems with myself.”
I chose not to pry further about the internal conflicts he faces. But I got a sense of it from the next question. Having a daughter, does it make you hold back, I asked, on some of the lyrics that might be seen as misogynistic?
“No, not at all. I mean what I say, like I said: this music is a diary. It’s not for a filter, for these people,” ALLBLACK said with the confidence of a seasoned orator. “When I write music, I don’t go and watch what I say. When you’re expressing yourself, do you filter what you’re going to say?”
(I do. In fact, I think many of us do. I let him keep talking.)
“Like I said, it’s my diary. I don’t regret anything I say. If I said it on wax, I know what I said. I’m not going to go back, like, oh we got to delete this,” ALLBLACK said.
Even with the context of Oakland and the issues of sex trafficking and all of that? I asked.
“Nope, I don’t take it back, because that’s my life,” said ALLBLACK. “I’m giving my views, I’m painting a picture. I’m helping you understand where I’m coming from. Why my emotions are my emotions.”
Damn. I can’t argue with that.
ALLBLACK speaks to the experience of many young people; an experience that doesn’t fit into a staunch dichotomy of good versus evil, one side or the other. It's a worldview that was developed right here. You could take a fish taco from Sinaloa and toss it to the doorstep of the house where ALLBLACK was raised in East Oakland’s Rollin’ Twenties, a.k.a. “The Dubbs.”
He has childhood memories of his family housing an older Latino brother, who just happened to be at the taco truck during our conversation — the embrace during the reunion was heartwarming. He also has childhood memories of riding bikes on “The Blade,” or what is often called “The Hoe Stroll,” International Blvd., formerly E. 14th, and seeing the women working, getting a front-row seat to the lifestyle in his songs.
In the medical world, one of the hottest terms being tossed around is “trauma-informed care.” It’s about valuing the experience of the individual in order to find a solution to the issue. He’s providing that experience.
And in the real world, where we often filter ourselves, it’s appealing to have someone go on record and say what we’ve been thinking, feeling and living. He’s providing that experience.
Before I let ALLBLACK enjoy his burrito, I asked, years from now, what his legacy will be. His reply, “Peace.” Why peace? I responded.
“It’s comfort. Less worries. I can’t say, no worries. But if I’m all said and done, no regrets will be my legacy.”
Pendarvis Harshaw is the author of 'OG Told Me,' a memoir about growing up in Oakland. Find him on Twitter here.
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