For decades, the Bay Area’s marquee export has been rap slang. Since the early days of E-40 and Too $hort, the region has been reinventing the hip-hop lexicon, and Oakland’s ALLBLACK is poised to be one of the next great linguistic innovators to break out on a national level.
With a charismatic, cascading flow with qualities similar to those of newly minted stars like Drakeo the Ruler and Blueface, the MC born D’Andre Sams renders vivid pictures with the dark humor of a Coen brothers movie and sports metaphors that will have a seasoned color commentator scouring Pro Football Reference.
Take his verse on “Y.N.A.F.” in which ALLBLACK doesn’t even need to trash talk his rival because he already knows the contents of his pockets: “N***as got chargers, wallets, lint, more lint / Carmex, fourteen dollars, and a dream in them broke ass jeans,” he spits, somehow stifling a laugh. ALLBLACK may not be addressing anyone in particular, but the specificity of the dig is on par with some of rap’s best diss tracks, and it’s hard not to feel humbled simply hearing it as a neutral third party.
Initially a hype man for Berkeley rhymer Kossisko, ALLBLACK first started making music towards the end of 2015 and began to get serious attention with 2017’s bruising No Shame 2. He took another leap with last year’s polished Outcalls, but his most undeniable star turn thus far is on 2 Minute Drills, his EP with Kenny Beats. If Kenny is the quarterback, ALLBLACK is his do-it-all wide receiver in the mold of an Antonio Brown or DeAndre Hopkins, capable of making highlight reel plays out of every kind of setup, from the zippy “2 Minute Drills” to the bass-heavy, crawling “76 Buccaneers,” which we’re premiering the video for right here on P&P.
Bay Area rappers sometimes struggle to break out of the local bubble, but ALLBLACK has his eyes firmly fixed on the “national dollar,” while not losing sight of his roots. In an era where the limelight hits many MCs before they’re ready, ALLBLACK is emerging as a fully-formed artist and individual, one who has grown considerably in his short musical career while continuing to refine a sharp and frequently side-splitting pen game.
At the dawn of what's on track to be a breakout 2019, the Play Runners Association’s resident gamebreaker took some time to discuss his ever-expanding personal dictionary, the Bay Area’s exciting new movement, and how he and Kenny Beats connected for an absolute riot of an EP.
You started off as a hype man for Kossisko. When did you realize you wanted to make music of your own?
It was the end of 2015. It didn’t really get sick until like 2016 after No Shame 2 dropped. That’s when it started being serious. No Shame 2 was when I got out of jail in July 2016. When I made that first project [No Shame], I was just fucking around because my friends were just fucking around and they were into the music heavy, but I was in the bleachers still. I was just having fun with it, and then everything turned around. Rolla started managing me—that’s my blood cousin, we real family—so he started handling my business, and then it was just on after that.
When you were growing up were you into the Bay Area rap scene?
I listened to them, I listened to Unc [E-40]. I knew their songs when they came out, but I was really on ‘90s R&B, classic ‘80s rock... I didn’t know Pac well, but my mama played Pac when I cleaned up, so I knew Pac off that. I just loved music, period. Whatever I was listening to when I was cleaning up or whatever was pumping in my pop’s whip, because my pop had loud speakers. Whatever he was slapping was what I was off of.
I was off classic ‘80s rock. “Eye of the Tiger,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey. I’m serious, you look at my Pandora, I was off that. I’m off old school Bobby Brown, “Don’t Be Cruel.” I’m off crazy shit like that. Teddy Pendergrass, The Stylistics. I’ve got an old soul.
Do you think that’s affected how you make music now?
Not really, because I don’t make music based off what other people did, even if I do have a sample. The music is a diary—I write music in silence, literally. I will listen to the beat just to get the cadence of it, then I turn the beat off and write. Or I’ll start the beat over, the first 15 or 20 seconds of the beat—I’ll keep starting that shit over until I’ve got my kick off, then I can write from there. I’ll know probably off the first five seconds after the beat drops if I’m going to fuck with the song.
If I’ve got to express myself on the dice—the dice is the beat, wax, whatever you want to call it—then I need that beat to be real. I throw pain on party beats.
Turbo, who produces for Young Thug and Gunna, told me once that they’re able to tell within about five seconds if a beat works for them. It’s not surprising you operate similarly given how prolific you are.
Yeah, because I’m not pushing it. If I’ve got to express myself on the dice—the dice is the beat, wax, whatever you want to call it—then I need that beat to be real. I throw pain on party beats. I’ll take a “club banger,” as they call it—I call them “party beats” or beats that you can really go dumb to—and I’m about to put my pain on that motherfucker and get away with it. That’s why I feel I make timeless music, because later on you’re going to double back and be like, “Oh, what did he say? That’s crazy.” I can slither that through there.
I read a quote of yours in The FADER where you said, “I wouldn't care if I ever sold a record. I'm not hopping off wax ‘till I'm done telling my story.” Has that always been your goal in rap?
Hell yeah. If I can’t think of something that means I’m making shit up, so I’ll stop. I’ll just leave the whole beat alone. I’ll go away from the music until I come back and know what I want to do. That’s why I don’t freestyle. I love people who freestyle because it’s art, that’s hella muscle memory. That’s a talent. I can’t do that with real life though, I can’t sit there and just be like da da da. I’ve got too much shit on my brain. I’ve got to write this shit down.
It sounds like for you writing is pretty therapeutic and solitary. You’re not the type to be in the studio with 20 friends chilling around you.
I don’t write in the studio with people. I’m not acting bougie or nothing like that, they know... It’s 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, that’s when I’m writing music. When I’m by myself, when I’m running plays, I’m trying to pull some Jason Giambi shit off. That’s when I’m writing music. Unless I’m in the studio with David Teel [DTB] or Kenny Beats, and they’re making the beat in my face, then that’s when I’m writing.
How did you and Kenny first connect?
Shoutout Ari [Simon] at EMPIRE. That’s my dog. He was telling Kenny about me hella much and then he started slapping [my music]. That same day I had on a big ass t-shirt, one of those fucking long tees, but I pulled up because I’m like, “Whatever, they’re trying to introduce me to a producer when I already have DTB.” I’m like, “Ain’t nobody coming harder than DTB.” That was already set in stone, when I fuck with somebody I hold them tight. They try to open my mind to producers anyways, and I’m in L.A. already so I’m like, “Fuck it, where’s he at? Let’s go link up. Y’all are telling me he goes crazy, I believe that he goes crazy.”
So I pulled up, and I’m talking about the first fucking beat—he already made it when I was on the way. And I’m like, “Oh, this n***a saucy. He raw. This white boy is saucy.” He reminds me of my godbrother and my godpops—they’re white, but they’re dogs though. So then he played another beat and I’m like, “Who is this motherfucker?” He’s not pressed at all. He already knows about me, I don’t know shit about him. I’m like, “Damn, I just came in a tall tee, hella nonchalant, smoking Black & Milds all day.” By the next time I came back I was correct and we just never stopped. I took five trips to L.A. and got the whole project done.
When did you realize that you were going to do a project together?
The first day. After that, I was like, “Oh, this n***a crazy. Them beats is sick. I don’t even care if he gives me no more beats, I just want to learn from him.” He didn’t tell me all the people he’s worked with probably until the second or third session.
I did not know who these people were until I’m hearing a song, then I’m like, “Oh that is Vince! What the fuck? N***a, you did this?” He’s got slaps. And he’s responsible for NBA Youngboy, Thug, Rico Nasty, KEY! He introduced me to KEY! But it had no influence on the beats [for me], because everything he makes for every artist is personally. He just goes into your world. Kenny Beats will go in your fucking world, live in your slums, eat the same food as you. Have the same appetite, do the same stuff.
He teaches, that’s natural him. He done did shit. He did Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, he did all that shit. He worked with all of them. He got paid stupid bags for that, he don’t even care for that shit no more. He’s there for the artists, he doesn’t care for the bag and shit. He knows the bag is going to come.
If you made the beat, engineered it, mixed it, mastered it, and were able to walk me through that motherfucker as a producer: Thank you, I appreciate you. That’s why it’s 'Thank you for fucking with me.' Thank you for devoting your energy.
One thing that really sticks out on your songs is the way you make a point of thanking your producer. Why is that important to you?
You’ve got beatmakers all day, but just because you’re a beatmaker doesn’t mean you’re a true producer. Just because you’ve got a camera and you shot a video, that doesn’t mean you produced a video, ot that you’re a real shooter. [A real producer] can teach me something or show me something. I take a lot of time when I make music, I be fucking up, glitching. You can hit the spacebar all day as an engineer, you can make me a beat—but are you going to produce this motherfucker? Are you going to sit down and engineer this motherfucker after you make the beat, or are you just going to give me as a package to take home and find an engineer, then come back and have somebody else mix and master? Nah, fuck that...If you made the beat, engineered it, mixed it, mastered it, and were able to walk me through that motherfucker as a producer: Thank you, I appreciate you. That’s why it’s “Thank you for fucking with me.” Thank you for devoting your energy.
Which songs of yours would you recommend to someone who doesn’t know your catalog and wants to get a sense of what you’re about?
I’ll say “We Straight,” “Big N***a” with Offset Jim, and then “76 Buccaneers.”
You had one of my favorite bars of last year on “Y.N.A.F.” when you called out rappers with “chargers, wallets, lint, more lint, Carmex, fourteen dollars, and a dream in them broke ass jeans.” Where did that line come from?
I’ve been there, I can speak to that. I’ve been on both sides. I fear going back to broke, I fear playing myself. You n***as are out here playing. That’s why I can sit there and be comfortable and speak the real. I can speak about myself, or I can speak about you n***as still out here fumbling, because I’ve been shoulder to shoulder with you guys once upon a time.
From your sports references to your slang, you have an incredibly distinct vernacular. Has that always been the case?
Always. That’s the game, that’s Oakland. You’ve got to come with something, spice it up. When we went to school you had to have flavor, you had to have juice, you had to have game. Before we were even going to school trying to hop on girls, our uncles, our cousins, they were players.
If you heard E-40, he came in the game and changed a lot. Everybody got the lingo from E-40; he came with the sauce. Pac came to the Bay Area and adopted sauce, adopted juice, flavor, game, whatever you want to call it. Oakland was always known for that. I came from a strong line of players, pimps, real hustlers. I watched people, and it made me come with my own little juice. I’ve always been like this, this ain’t no facade. My dictionary widens, it doesn’t delete.
You don’t really hear rappers talking about pimp culture in the way that you do anymore. Was that something you witnessed a lot growing up?
I wasn’t even in the pimp culture, it just was around. That shit was there...It’s always been there since the ‘70s, since the Ward Brothers. You’ve got Fillmore Slim, you’ve got movies that depicted pimp culture like The Mack with Max Julien and Richard Pryor. That movie was shot in Oakland and San Francisco. You’ve got Dolemite. That was shot on the East Coast but that whole character came from the Bay Area. All that juice, that shit came from here. We don’t walk around with minks or none of that crazy stuff. A pimp was always a cartoon character, an action figure—that’s what a pimp was to society. But out in the Bay Area, in Oakland, that shit is real.
On a couple of your older tracks, specifically “ALLWHITE” and “Canadian Goose,” you use the word “Fag,” but I’ve noticed you don’t really do that anymore. Was that a conscious design to remove that word from your music?
As I went with time I’ve learned. I have no disrespect towards the LGBTQ community. I don’t take nothing from the LGBTQ community. They support my music, they pull up to my shows and everything. I don’t want no white person sitting there calling me a n***a, so I can’t sit there and call somebody of a different sexual orientation a fag.
Earl Sweatshirt mentioned you in an Instagram post. What did you think of that?
Man, I was watching Earl Sweatshirt when he was with Tyler, the Creator. He was pushing Tyler. He’s just hella saucy to me. I don’t really know his music, but bro is hella clean. I respect it. Everybody was going crazy, they’re like “Earl Sweatshirt!” I’m like, “What Earl? My little brother Earl?” I didn’t know at the time, then it popped up and I was like, “That’s love.”
It seems like it can be hard for artists from the Bay to break out on a national level. Do you agree with that?
Hell yeah, absolutely. People like to say the Bay Area is crabs in a bucket. You’ve got to remember, the Bay Area is built up of hella cities. San Francisco is not the same as Oakland, and Richmond is not the same as San Francisco. Vallejo, all that. It’s not the same.
Would you describe the scene you’re part of as tight-knit?
Hell yeah. I love these dudes. I love their energy. Whoever is running their plays, we’re rooting for them. If we’re running plays at the same time, if we’ve got a show on the same day, we’re shouting each other out. It goes way deeper than me posting a flyer. It’s deep. It’s genuine, all this shit is genuine. We lock arms every fucking time.
With Rexx Life Raj, Raj has been friends with my manager since seventh grade. [Raj’s] manager is Ari, and Ari’s thrown way more fucking lobs for me than damn near anybody. We’re all gang. So when it’s Raj’s turn, we’re bangin’ Rexx Life. When it’s PRA [Play Runners Association], we’re bangin’ PRA.
I can get game from these dudes all day. I sit down and listen to them all day. These dudes are superstars to me.