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Sucka Free History with Dregs One

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Dregs One posted on a MUNI bus in San Francisco
Dregs One posted on a MUNI bus in San Francisco (Milly Millions (@millavellz))


San Francisco lyricist and graffiti writer Dregs One is making sure Bay Area hip-hop culture is properly documented, and at the same time he’s becoming a recognized historian.

In a series of videos he simply calls “History of The Bay,” Dregs is using TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to highlight aspects of Bay Area culture that are often overlooked. In one video he dives into the use of local slang, noting that music “slaps” and food doesn’t. Dregs has multiple videos honoring the work of legendary aerosol artist Mike “Dream” Francisco of the TDK crew, among numerous posts he’s done in dedication to local graff writers.

Dregs’ videos are short, often sprinkled with a touch of wry humor, and always laced with game straight from the soil. I talked to him about what it means to have thousands of views on his videos and how the work of documenting a culture that is often word of mouth inherently brings forth differing opinions. Dregs, who is still deep in the rap game and enmeshed in the world of visual arts, says it’s not easy to continuously make videos and do the heavy lifting of keeping the “Frisco-ism” alive, but he loves seeing how many people his work is influencing — and that’s what matters the most.

Below are some lightly edited excerpts of the episode with Dregs One.

Pen: I love the first-person knowledge, firsthand historian, the person to say like, Nah, I was there, I lived it. And if I wasn’t there on that specific day, then I talked to the person who was there after, you know. There’s value in that. 

Dregs One: Yeah, I’m lucky, man. I mean, some of my big bros are legends. Some of my big bros been painting before I was born in 1983. And I’ve been to my boy Spy’s house, [of] TDK … in his basement. Where he’s just like, oh, what’s in this box? And it’s like, oh my God, it’s Mike Dream’s original notepaper pad from 1996 and where he wrote all these letters and he wrote all his thoughts down and he — what, oh, here’s a photo book of like, you know what I’m saying, graffiti in 1985. It’s like, I’ve been able to soak this stuff up from some really amazing people. 

The San Francisco hip-hop culture, the rap culture, is really immersed in the community. So I grew up, you know, seeing some of this stuff around, I grew up seeing, you know, Rappin’ 4-tay stickers in my high school. I grew up seeing posters being put up.

PEN: What was it like growing up in Lakeview? 

Dregs One: It was dope. So it was like a foggy, desolate cut that was full of families, you know. You had to experience riding your bike, shooting hoops at the gym, you know, eating Now and Laters at the store. And then, you know, I lived on Randolph Street where the projects were right down the street, so it was a lot of, you know, drug activity. A lot of like, you know, kind of scary stuff for a little kid to be growing up around. But at the same time, you know, it was a beautiful community.

You know, [I was] running around, doing graffiti, going to graffiti parties, going to art shows. I was like 16 years old, drinking forties with people in their twenties, you know, legendary writers. They’re putting me up on stuff that I was too young to know about.  … When you listen to music from the neighborhood by Cellski or Cougnut, it’s pretty accurate too — it sounds like what I saw.

Pen: You had a day, a specific day, where you jumped off the porch and got into the game — both as an artist, musician and as an artist, aerosol artist… 

Dregs One: Obviously, I grew up seeing graffiti, fascinated by it. I knew kids who tagged, [but] I didn’t know that much about it. And then one day, I had a cast on my fingers. I broke my fingers. So I had a cast on my hand and this older kid was like, You know, I sign [people’s casts]. And he was like, Yeah, I’m gonna hit up my tag. But he wasn’t a tagger. So I just kind of clicked like, Oh, you can just have a tag! All right. Well, I’m finna make a tag! 

And I told my friend in first period, and he was like, Here, I got a little … marker. I’ll sell it to you for five bucks. [It was] some dried up Magnum that he had already been using, but I’m like, Cool, I’m in the game. And then right after that class, I go to homeroom and my boy, Mike Ill is in there and I’m like, Check this out! I’m about to be a graffiti writer! And he was like, What? Okay, me too. Let’s go after school! So like after school, we went to his house and we just was tagging all along the way. And then I get to his house and — he was already a DJ. Had been DJ-ing since middle school. And he had wax and … he had Technic 1200s, and he was scratching and, and I’m like, learning all this stuff. I’m looking at all these records, it’s like local Frisco records. And then he was like, Check this out! And he played the documentary Scratch on DVD, which is all about Qbert and all the DJs. 

And that’s when everything went “Poof!” I was like, all right, can you help me make a demo tape with your turntables? I didn’t know how it worked. I just figured we get a microphone… And he was like, Yeah, let’s do it. So I was 14 years old and I was like, now I’m about to rap. And I would freestyle to myself. I would write little raps here and there. And I’m about to do graffiti.

The vinyl, the graffiti, the music — like it was all right there in front of me one day.

***

Dregs One: There’s no denying that, like, the impact [of TikTok] is crazy. I went from like a hundred followers to about 40,000 on TikTok. So it’s definitely reaching, um, new people. It’s crazy because what I’m really thankful for is that my audience goes literally from like 13 to 50, I’m reaching people who are like, Oh yeah, I remember we used to listen to that Spice 1 tape back in the day. And then I’m reaching like 13-year old kids who are like, Wow, this Spice 1 guy sounds cool. I’m gonna go check him out. It’s definitely taking things to a new level, but I do feel like this is just the beginning.

***

Dregs One: I just started experimenting, just sharing my knowledge on some of these things that aren’t too heavily documented, in terms of the culture. What I could show people besides music [to] get them to know about me and what I’m about, which is Bay Area hip-hop culture, rap, and graffiti.

And I can speak from these things from an authentic place. I might not have ever been the king of graffiti in Frisco, but like, no, I’m genuine, you know, been a genuine part of this culture. And I’m very thankful.

And then at the same time, part of what I’m doing is how am I gonna keep this Frisco-ism alive? Right? I don’t want to see the culture … I thought it would be here forever.  I took it for —  just, there’s so many things. It’s hard to even put into words … Like the way the culture was, growing up — when you’re driving around in a little bucket, bumping RBL Posse, and you know, you get off on Market Street and you’re saying what’s up to Samoans and Filipinos, and then you gonna smob to the Mission. And … you know what I’m saying? Like that, I just want to see that continue. … If we can keep this culture alive, then you know, let’s just try our best. That’s how I see my role.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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