Old Dave: Detroit’s Godfather of Hick-Hop
by Chariti Joi Ntuk
I left a party at 5E Gallery on January 25th, 2011, drunk off of music and with a new tattoo. Forever etched on my mind was “I (heart) Old Dave.” Did I expect to fall in love with country hip-hop? No. I didn’t even know it existed. But from the moment the “Godfather of Hick-Hop” grab the microphone, I started feeling good vibrations.
5E Gallery is perhaps the most prominent staple in Detroit’s hip-hop community. It is where those who are serious about their craft come to get better. Owners, DJ Sicari Ware and Piper Carter have done well to make “The Gallery” a nurturing, yet competitive place for one to hone one’s skill.
With that said- no one expected a fifty-something year old white dude to come through and rock the joint. Twenty-something year old white dudes come through and rock it out all the time. It’s hip-hop and it’s 2012! Hip-hop doesn’t care about complexion. Age or ageism, however, is something the culture has yet to address primarily because it’s still a relatively “new” genre of music;. Hip-hop legends are just now beginning to age a bit. Afrika Bambaataa is 54 yrs old, the same age as Old Dave; Kurtis Blow, 53; and Kool Herc, 56. It’s really more special than strange for Old Dave to be doing his thing.
So there I was at 5E Gallery, open-mic was in effect and lo and behold- Old Dave grabs the microphone. Because this was open-mic and not the cipher and poets often get up there and do their thing a cappella, I remember DJ Sicari waiting for the cue to cut the music. I mean, surely this guy is not about to spit…. Well, a cue came but it wasn’t to cut the music. Nope. Old Dave motioned his hands in a way that let Sicari know to keep spinning, then said into the mic, “Play whatever”.
To those of you who might not understand the significance of that single moment, understand this: a DJ shouldn’t have to cater to an MC. A DJ’s job is to measure the mood of the crowd, then govern their spins accordingly. If the MC is indeed an MC, they’ll be able to rock to whatever the DJ spins. At that point, when Old Dave told DJ Sicari to “play whatever” the antennas on every hip-hop head in the building rose.
Sicari, not missing a beat, scratched his way into his next spin and Old Dave “went in” as they say. Chins were on the floor for about the first 30 seconds as he started rapping the first verse of his song “Check Yourself” then he sang the hook. By the time the hook rolled back around, we were singing it with him. It was a magical, musical experience. And it was pure.
This guy isn’t good-“for an old white dude”. He is simply phenomenal at what he does; take hip-hop and put a country twang on it.
Hip-hop and country music are the two most narrative genres. His storytelling and his rhymes and are introspective and they reek with the wisdom 54 years of living is sure to bestow upon an individual. His delivery has a “this-is- game-you-can-take-it-or-leave-it-youngblood” type of feel.
The man works as a gravedigger at a national cemetery for goodness sake! As if his gravedigger perspective wasn’t unique enough just by default, here’s a man making his way in a genre where homicide is sometimes glorified and treated with a callousness that is cringe worthy.
You get the sense you’re listening to a man very much aware of the fragility of life and you respect the fact that he’s doing what he loves to do and is doing it well.
TheDetroiter.com recently sat down to talk with Old Dave.
TheDetroiter.com: How did you discover hip-hop and how did you discover you were good at it?
Old Dave: Well, my kids got me listening to hip hop. One day I was looking around in their room just wanting to know what all they were into and what they were listening to and I discovered a Biggie and a Tupac CD.
Old Dave: Yeah, this was back in 96, 97. Then one day when my wife wasn’t home I told them to go and get that Tupac CD. (laughing) You should have seen the looks on their faces. It was like “oh shit, he knows”.
TheDetroiter.com: So needless to say, you loved what you heard?
Old Dave: Yes, especially Tupac’s Makaveli cd. I never lived the lifestyle he wrote about but i was still able to relate to the angst I hear in his voice. The struggle of working a 9-5 for 40 years, you know? Working for other people and having them tell me what I’m worth. It was the ‘this ain’t enough’ in his voice that I related to the most.
TheDetroiter.com: What made you want to write rhymes though?
Old Dave: I started out writing poetry. Then I started just playing around the house. The movie 8 Mile made me want to go perform my stuff live and I finally worked up the nerve about seven years ago to go down to the Cactus Lounge and the Dynasty. Now I go anywhere they’ll have me: Bullfrogs, Alvin’s…
TheDetroiter.com: When you stepped onto the local hip-hop scene, how did people respond to you?
Old Dave: I still find myself amazed at the love the Detroit hip-hop community has shown me; is showing me. I really don’t know what to think sometimes. I’m a slave to my vanity, but I like to believe it’s the karma of the love coming from me.
TheDetroiter.com: It’s obvious to see that the Detroit hip-hop community truly does embrace you as one of its own.
Old Dave: The first time I stepped on stage, I was encouraged so much by guys like Cliff Notes, J-Kidd and Phat Ray, but Cliff Notes especially. The funny thing is, if when I went in there, they had booed me off the stage, that would’ve been it for me.
TheDetroiter.com: Well, thank goodness you ran into some awesome dudes who knew talent when they saw it. What is your process?
Old Dave: I just write poems. Then, I go through beats and pick which line I’ll make a hook. I don’t write a “catchy” hook and then try and figure out my verses. I just write what I feel then decide the layout. The hook is really the chunk of the song I feel sums up the mood of the song the most. I ain’t dummying shit down.
TheDetroiter.com: You’re very serious about your craft from an artistry standpoint but you seem to be unsure of how serious your prospects are to make a living off of this… please explain.
Old Dave: I try not to get my hopes up. I have a great job and a pretty good life. It’s hard to step out of that comfort zone at my age. I know I have a marketable product… I’m just glad that people are able to feel what I’m doing. I put people in the ground every day. A lot of them are younger than I am. I’m just riding the wave.
TheDetroiter.com: Yeah, you work at a cemetery as a gravedigger. What effect does that have on your writing?
Old Dave: I haven’t really thought about it. I imagine it must have some effect, I guess, but I don’t know.
TheDetroiter.com: Dude- not only do you have a message that needs to be heard, you also bring something new to the game.
Old Dave: I will say this- I believe a country/hip-hop fusion is the next big thing.
TheDetroiter.com: That should make for some amazing storytelling. What does your family think of all of this?
Old Dave: I think they’re kind of embarrassed by the whole thing. They’d come out and support if I twisted their arms a little, but I let ‘em do their thing and they let me do mine.
Photographed by: Shonnie Mayen