|Next Project:||Be Strong LP (Out Now)|
|Twitter:||D.Focis on Twitter|
The path to musical success is hardly ever a straightforward one, but D.Focis’ career has taken more twists and turns than most; though he began as just one of countless aspiring emcees dreaming of getting their moment in the limelight, Focis’ artistic journey has since taken him all the way from his hometown of Detroit, Mich., to Tokyo, where he spent just short of a decade crafting beats for Japanese hip-hop’s best and brightest, and back. Now residing in Atlanta, Ga., the successful producer has picked the mic back up to record The Be Strong LP, a set of feel-good jams he hopes will inspire listeners and aspiring artists alike to do just as the title says.
Though D.Focis’ boardwork on cuts by Bobby Creekwater (see “Rainman”) and Donnis (see “Over Do It,” “High”) scored him points in the Booth, it was the emcee/beatsmith’s work as a solo artist that cemented him as a reader favorite. Heralded by Booth smashes “Miracle” (ft. Bobby Creek), “Forgiveness” (ft. Kamillion & Sashay) and “In the Beginning” (ft. The Mr), Be Strong dropped Sept.1, and is available now in stores and online.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” D.Focis steps into the Booth to discuss the difficulties of adjusting to a foreign hip-hop scene, the tragic event that spurred him to create Be Strong, and DJBooth.net’s vital role in promoting talented artists working below the mainstream radar.
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D.Focis Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a Detroit-born artist/producer who spent a good portion of this current decade crafting hit records in Tokyo for some of the biggest hip-hop artists overseas. Since his stateside return two years ago, though, he has worked extensively with Booth favorites Bobby Creekwater and Donnis, and earlier this month he released his brand new project, The Be Strong LP. Please welcome my man, D.Focis – how you doin’?
D.Focis: What’s goin’ on, man? I’m doin’ lovely, and before we even get into this, I wanna tell you, I really appreciate it, Z; DJBooth.net has been a huge blessing to my career, and you guys give a voice to people who don’t have one. So thank you, man, that’s a good look.
DJ Booth: Well, thank you, I appreciate that. We excel when we’re able to feature talented artists like yourself, so it goes hand in hand. We need to introduce the world to D.Focis, for those who are not familiar. Now, you began your music career roughly 13 years ago. When you started, where did you think you would be at, and how far have you come?
D.Focis: When I started, I thought I would be rich in the first five years, and I wasn’t. [laughs] I’m still here, man. But, you know what? That’ because I started out doin’ it for the wrong reasons; I started out doin’ it ‘cause I wanted to be cool. I didn’t really have a voice in it, I just wanted to be one of the guys all the girls liked. Over time, that changed, and I’m probably on my fifth career as an artist right now. ‘Cause there’s the “I’m gonna do it before I’m 25” career, and then there’s the “I’m gonna definitely do it before I turn 30” career, and then there’s the, “Okay, I turned 30 – should I even still be doin’ this?’ career.
DJ Booth: So you’re constantly changing the expectations…
D.Focis: Evolving, yeah. ‘Cause you yourself is changing, what’s goin’ on in your life is changing, so what you’re talkin’ about is changing – well, what you’re talking about should be changing, let me say it like that.
DJ Booth: There’s a lot of artists out there, and all they do is rap, and there’s a lot of producers, and all they do is produce, and then there’s engineers, and all they do is engineer – you do all three. Do you consider yourself an artist who can produce and engineer, a producer who can rap and engineer, or an engineer who can rap and produce? What is your calling card, D?
D.Focis: The only reason I know how to produce and engineer is ‘cause, when I started rapping, I didn’t know anybody that could engineer or produce. [laughs] So, the only way for me to hear myself over the top of whatever beat I had was to talk into some headphones through my Aiwa setup. That was it – and a star was born!
DJ Booth: It was a matter of necessity.
D.Focis: Absolutely, man, absolutely.
DJ Booth: Now, a stint in the United States Air Force is the reason why you ended up in Tokyo, as I alluded to before. What did your time served teach you not only about yourself, but about what you really wanted to do with your career?
D.Focis: I think it showed me, number one, that I could accomplish stuff. ‘Cause what I did in the military was, I was an aircraft mechanic. I didn’t have any interest in that, and fought it extensively at first, till some people explained to me that, unless I got my things together, I would not be there anymore. So I actually learned how to do it, and I did it well. My passion has always been for music. It expands you as a person, it shows you that you can actually get along with people from diverse backgrounds.
DJ Booth: Let’s discuss differences. Obviously, the hip-hop scene in the United States is far different, no matter where you go overseas. What was it like adapting to the hip-hop culture in Japan?
D.Focis: Hard. [laughs] The first thing I had to adapt to, number one, was that it was weird listening to Japanese over a beat. Let me just get straight to the point: the first time I ever heard Japanese cats rappin’ on a beat, it threw me for a loop. I appreciated what they were doin’, but it took some time for me to actually develop my ear to it. And then, after developin’ my ear, I actually started likin’ it, and got my favorites. There are certain artists I really do like, and I was able to tell the difference between a good artist and a bad artist. Turns out the first stuff I was listening to was bad.
DJ Booth: I have not heard too much Japanese hip-hop, but, from my understanding, everybody sounds like Twista – is that the case?
D.Focis: Um, no. [laughs] You know what, man? It’s the same thing as here: everybody has their own style. Down South has their style, up North has their style, East Coast, West Coast – it’s the same thing over there, man. Believe it or not, Tokyo is considered the East Coast of Japan, and Yokohama’s like the West Coast. And dude, trust me: when you go to Yokohama, they ride lowriders and the Japanese cats look like Mexican dudes. And when you’re in Tokyo, they’re Timberland and hoodie’d up.
DJ Booth: Was there ever any beef between the Tokyo rappers and the Yokohama rappers, or no?
D.Focis: I don’t really wanna go too much into their political scene, but let me just say that they follow what we do.
DJ Booth: It’s apparent that what we do here is followed very closely all around the world…
D.Focis: Absolutely. Especially now, with the Internet the way that it is, you’ve got Japanese blog sites. It’s like, they’ve got a ThisIs50; there’s something in comparison to that in Japanese.
DJ Booth: Well hopefully, while they’re surfing the web over in Japan, they’re also checkin’ out DJBooth.net – that would be nice.
D.Focis: Absolutely. Oh, I’m pluggin’ y’all all day, man.
DJ Booth: Obviously, you saw some success overseas; did you get bored with it, and you needed a new challenge?
D.Focis: Unfinished business, man. You know, I left here and it was cool… let me just keep it one hundred, man: most of the famous people that are doin’ their thing here, from the Kanyes to the Swizz Beatzes to Pharrell, I met all of these cats over there, and I would see them and I would chop it up with ‘em, and at the end of the day, their question to me would always be, “So, what are you doin’ here?” And at first I thought they were just hatin’ on me, and I would be like, “Well, I’m tryin’ to do my thing, baby.” But after a while, after bein’ there so long, I actually looked in the mirror and asked myself the same exact question. If I’m to follow my dream, and, when I started out, I always wanted to change the world through music, and it was good and fine what I was doin’, but it was my wife who came to me – my wife came to me and said, : ”Look, Japan will always be here.” And I would see dudes come from here with minimal credit, very minimal credit, they would come over there and make in a weekend what it would take me a whole year to make.
DJ Booth: Earlier in our interview you said that your motivation for bein’ part of the industry was the girls, and obviously the girl – your wife, in this case – gave you some great advice, so it worked out.
D.Focis: Right – full circle.
DJ Booth: We’ve featured several of your songs at DJBooth.net, and, in the write-up for “Forgiveness,” our team member, Richard, deemed the record, and I quote, “...a refreshing change of pace from your usual black-and-white depictions of romantic discord.” Listeners always overuse the expression, “His music or her music so is so real,” but I think that, when you’re talking about this track in particular, “Forgiveness,” the compliment’s very deserved. Where do you rank “realness” on the scale of importance while penning and producing material?
D.Focis: Well, first of all, I appreciate that. I consider you guys tastemakers right now. To answer the question, I’ll say this: “Forgiveness” was a song that I wrote… everything that I said in that song was absolutely true. I basically took everything I did wrong to every woman in my life and put it in one song. And as an artist I would say, even if you’re lying, it’s not really what you’re doing, it’s how you do it, and I think, as long as you kind of stick to that credo, “real” doesn’t really matter. Because, I don’t wanna name no names, I don’t want no rap beef, but we know some people don’t do what it is they say they do. But they talk about it extremely well, and we enjoy it.
DJ Booth: Let’s stick with the topic of the truth. In a previous conversation that you and I had, you mentioned that a lot of artists who are currently in Atlanta – which is where you reside – give off an impression that life is amazing, and the economic downturn of, let’s say, the past year and a half has not affected them like it actually has. Do you believe that your music can dispel some of these erroneous perceptions?
D.Focis: I’m hopin’ it does, man. Look: the number one message I get through Twitter or through MySpace is, “How can I get to Shady?” I never advertised that I could get to Shady or anything like that, but people, of course, because of the connection with Creek, they feel like I can afford them the opportunity to get close to these people. And what I try to tell people is, “Look, man, I’ve met these people. Most of them don’t have any money, and they’re not here to serve you, they’re not here to sign you. They’re only here to use you once you put yourself in a position to be used. And once they can’t use you anymore, they don’t have any more use for you.” That’s the cycle of it. There’s nothing else. It’s not because they like your music. We all know a guy that’s better than Michael Jordan in the ‘hood, you know what I’m sayin’? We all know people who could probably give Jay-Z a run for his money, but they’ll never be heard, ‘cause there’s no interest. And that’s really the name of the game out here, man.
DJ Booth: The title of the project, which we’ve alluded to several times, is The Be Strong LP, and it of course features your work both as an emcee and as a producer. Which skill do you believe comes easier to you, rapping or producing?
D.Focis: Two different brains, man.
DJ Booth: Okay, describe both.
D.Focis: As an emcee, I’m really into the technical side of being an emcee. I don’t have a hard time expressin’ myself, so what I always try to do is be real technical about my approach. Like, I have something I wanna say, but I focus a lot on how I wanna say it. As a beatmaker, every time I sit down to make a beat, I’m trying to figure out how to outdo myself the last time. Like, I could care less if I’m usin’ the same drum kit; I just wanna make something that’s more knockin’ than what I did the last time.
DJ Booth: Why did you make The Be Strong LP?
D.Focis: As I stated before, I started out as an artist, and I gave it up years back to just pursue producin’ full-time. The idea to do another album came to me maybe two years ago, and The Be Strong LP actually came to me two years ago, but I kept putting it off ‘cause I was really questioning the validity of it – I didn’t really feel like it made sense for me to make an album if I wasn’t gonna try to get a record deal, or if I wasn’t really gonna try to promote it or anything like that. A couple of months ago, a very close friend of mine that I’ve done music with since 1998 actually killed himself.
DJ Booth: I’m sorry.
D.Focis: I wouldn’t say all, but a part of it was that his dream of being in the music business seemed to be escapin’ him. And we had a lot of talks about this. So when he left, I was really [down] in the dumps with my faith, and I wanted to find some hip-hop to listen to, to pick me up, and I couldn’t find any. I would have to go back to old records – it was like, nobody makes this kind of music anymore, like that, to really make me feel like things will be OK. And then that’s when it came back to me, man: I just felt like, for his dream, and the other people like him and like me, that have been really tryin’ to do this and don’t really have any inspiration out there to keep goin’, I felt like I should put something on the market. So I would do 13 tracks of testimony and hope and pray that it would touch somebody and help them continue following their dreams.
DJ Booth: Last question, D: put the future of your career in the recording industry into focus, if you will – my pun is extremely intended here – what do you foresee for yourself?
D.Focis: I foresee myself continuing the mission of what I’m doin’ now, man, which is using the talent that’s been given to me as a light to those who are searchin’. I know people are gonna take this whatever way, but to give a new voice to Detroit. The struggle is not being properly displayed. I just wanna be somebody that is properly shining the light on what’s really happening out here.
DJ Booth: As long as you have a light to shine, we will happily be a place for you to shine it out of, my friend.
D.Focis: Thank you, man, I really appreciate that.
DJ Booth: D, give everybody a website, a blog, a MySpace, a Twitter, so they can find out more about you.
DJ Booth: D, you’ve got me excited. Again, thank you for takin’ the time to join me inside the DJ Booth, and nothing but the best of luck, my man.
D.Focis: Absolutely, brother. Thank you, God bless.