Interview: Diwang Valdez
What are you known for?
I got my start working with Killer Mike a long, long time ago, when I was a teenager. He kind of mentored me and he gave me an opportunity to see and learn a lot of things about music and all that type of shit... At the time I was a photographer taking pictures, traveling all over the world, doing that type of shit. Me and Killer became really close and really cool. From being around him, I met a young dude named Pill. He and I bonded. We were both the youngest, and he was one of the more extreme members of the clique – as was I – so we gravitated toward similar things. We became really cool and really close as friends. Then that grew into a working relationship where we would work together in making music. Then I quickly got dubbed the title of Manager when, to this day, I actually still despise that title. But I was everything to Pill other than the rep. That was what I was initially known for.
He and I went our separate ways at the end of ‘09, early 2010. I kind of took a year off, like a hiatus. In 2009, I met Alley Boy through some mutual friends. He and I started talking about doing some work together. But at the time he had someone working with him, so that got put on the back burner. I was always around Duct Tape pretty much since ’09. That led to my friendship with Black. Black is the owner/ CEO of Duct Tape. We became real cool, real close. I was always behind Duct Tape, but I was away from that same role that I had with Pill for a year. Then later in 2011, Black and I had a conversation, and I expressed some interest in working with Trouble when he came home. Then when Trouble came home from prison, we started to work immediately. We became friends. We started making music and then I got labeled as Manager or whatever. Again, I had the same role I played for Pill, but for Trouble. I did that for up until July of 2012. Ever since then I’ve been doing my own thing. You can call me the Devil from now on.
You have a really specific taste and the way you approach your projects.
I definitely have a specific taste. People don’t really know me that well. They know what I’ve given to the world. They don’t know that be- fore this phone call, the last two albums I was listening to while I was working were Beck’s “Mellow Gold” and Marilyn Manson’s “Portrait of an American Family.” People don’t know those things about me. I do have a specific taste in terms of what I have done thus far. People have kind of picked up on that. I don’t really want to define it... I think it is quite limiting. I’m trying to expand people’s interpretation of me by doing my own thing. As an artist, I get to show the world my presentation, my taste-level – the way I think, the way I feel – without having to use another human as a medium for that. The only thing that matters to me, honestly, is the creativity. People seem to think for a while that I had this magic hand when it came down to marketing, or I had this crazy thing. Truth be told... I believe that what sold everything I did was the creativity or the presentation of what I was doing.
Like with Pill. I found this insanely gutter, street dude from Pink City. I used to be in the trap with him. Sitting in the trap, watching motherfuckers cook dope...I’m seeing Pill’s experience... I’m looking at Pill – at that point his name was Psycho – and I’m analyzing who he was as an individual. And his story, I felt, had not been told. Jeezy was popular, and he
was talking about bricks, but I’m sitting here witnessing somebody who was literally standing in the trap, five days straight, selling nics to junkies. To an actual consumer, and not to another hustler. It wasn’t just that part of it. He’s also this crazy, smart guy. He kind of walked that line between genius and insanity. I think he was very misunderstood. So, I’m re- ally perceptive. I see someone like him, I can take it and see it for what it is, and what the real stories [are], and try to make something unique and creative, musically and visually. So, I take this guy... A real gutter Atlanta D- Boy, but rapping on very, very different beats that you wouldn’t expect. And telling a different story about that life, about that world, from a very different perspective than what people are used to at the time. I always like to find a way to challenge the norm and the status quo. I always like to force people to look at things a different way. Everyone at that time was talking about the dope game and bricks and this and that. I wanted to talk about the other side. That was a way for me to present that... Part of it is how [I get] involved. I get with them personally. I get to know their families and almost every little detail about them. They confide in me to a certain point. Then I start to take those experiences of knowing them very, very well, and try to guide them to what I thought their value to the artistic community could be. That’s my past. Now my only concern is me.
... I am an artist myself. And if I have a specific vision for something I am relentless about it. I’m unforgiving, uncompromising, and completely obsessed with achieving this vision, whether it’s musically, visually or both. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now, because I’ve been given the opportunity to put things together and tell the story my way. Make the visuals my way. Do things my way. I don’t have to convince anybody. And at the same time I can be 100% creative whereas before, I felt like the work I did was very tepid and aver- age. I had to think with both minds. I had to think with the mind of a “manager” ... I hate the word fucking “manager,” I hate that title, so fuck that. I had to think with the mind of a business partner and I had to think with the mind of a creative simultaneously. It’s like hot and cold. When you mix hot and cold, you get lukewarm. In the arts, extremes are valued. In the arts, that’s what matters.
What are you working on now?
After Trouble and I went our separate ways in July 2012, I went through an incredibly dark and tumultuous time of large amounts of self- realization. I had Black tell me one day that I was really an artist. “You shouldn’t be in this world. You’re great at it and I want you to be in that role for me, but you’re really an artist.” That stuck with me during that time period. People didn’t really know. I was never really the guy that was in my artists’ videos, pop- ping up in pictures, on some pussy shit in the club with bottles of Moet. I was never that guy. People like Black and Alley, these motherfuckers knew that about me. Very few people did. People that interacted with me closely in the studio knew that. During that time period of self-realization, I decided that I was no longer going to play that role... I was going to focus on my creativity and myself as an artist.
Then I came up with the brand or a collective or whatever the fuck you want to call it, called One-Thousand Thieves. It’s an art collective, an art brand... It’s a platform for art that I am creating currently and I hope to curate later on. When I say art, I mean music, film, sculpture, installations, writing, photography...everything. I hate the word “branding,” because that usually means commercial objectives, a desire for it to be for mass consumption, when it’s actually the opposite. It’s actually show- casing and putting out a platform for complete and utter disgust for all of that shit. Primarily I’m focused on film, photography, and music. It will eventually be a record label or a music entity, or a film production company, maybe an art gallery for fine art, or all of the above. That is what I want for One Thousand Thieves. For right now, my main and only concern is my own work as an artist: visually, musically, both. All of the above. That’s what I am doing now.
My last project, Harbinger, is a mixtape/ep/album. It’s a body of work. It’s a music narrative that I composed... It’s a 27-minute narrative that lives as a body of work musically. But the plan all along was for it to also be a short film. I have been working on both of those simultaneously. The music part of it is out, and now I am working on a short film that’s going to have the same title. I’m hoping to fucking get my point across. That’s what the fuck I’m trying to do. I never got my point across with the artists I was working with. I got close. Nah, I didn’t even get close, because I was basically making their point. I’m only concerned now [with] making my point, getting my point across.
What is the point?
That would take 27 years of explanation. You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words. We are talking film and music. When you look at the art, you’ll get the point.
What’s behind the name?
For one, it was a name I was given because I spent the last 6 or 7 years of my life in communities full of abused people: In and out of trap houses, in and out of shitty heroin spots, or fucking whatever. I was around communities of abused people. I was around a group of abused people who I was doing so much good for, that they thought that it was all for a grand set up later on. They assumed that the good I was doing for them was to set them up for a big Donnie Brasco moment later on. That’s why I got the nickname, The Devil, because in their mind I seemed really good at winning over their trust by doing this good. It wasn’t my intention and never happened, but whatever, I got that name.
Also, I always encourage the truth. And a lot of times, the truth hurts... I see the world differently than most people do. I can see value in a 14 year-old child who’s a killer. I can see the worth in a human being and I can also see the evil in politicians who are celebrated as national heroes. And that is just a microcosm of how I see the world. I’m not saying that all 14 year-old killers are right and everyone else is wrong. I’m saying I can acknowledge the good and the evil in everybody. So, part of the name is also acknowledging that in myself. Another part is that... my whole being absolutely despises politics, religion, and authority. I hate it with an all-consuming hatred. So, there is that motivation. I believe in love, and it’s something I don’t see from that whole side of things. I’m not very concerned with the metaphysical. I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in religion. I hate religion. I think religion is a cancer on humanity. When I read the bible or a religious text, I look at it like a story. As if I am reading Thoreau or Emerson or whoever the fuck it is. I analyze it the same way. Learning about the story of the Devil, I kind of related to it. Not because I believe in everything that’s wrong or bad or evil, but I related to the story of someone who was an angel and at one point was basically abused and got cast down from Heaven, cut off his wings and thrown to shit. I related to that to a certain extent. I also related to the Devil - someone who was challenging God’s authority. That’s what I’m all about – challenging authority. Making people question their ideas of what’s right or wrong. Making people question their concepts of morality. So, I related to it on that level. The other aspect of the name, it is a way for me to give the ultimate “fuck you” to everybody who, I’m sure at some point, is going to attack me for doing or saying what I do. Because if I’m calling my self the Devil, what the fuck can you call me? Every piece of hatred I’m going to get, I am going to take a bath in it right now. I will do it myself. I’d rather give myself that pleasure.
Is that the message you are trying to get across through one thousand thieves and through your art?
In a very spastic and all over the place way, I wanted to touch on a million different concepts. Each one of them is a day long, five day-long conversation... Am I unbelievably angry at the image of humanity I see every day? Yes. Am I unbelievably enraged at how people treat each other? Absolutely. That is just a broad overview of how I feel. And there are a million different situations on how I feel that way. I can talk to you for-fucking-ever about that. To me, the only thing that matters is creativity. The only thing that matters is art, because art is our only truth. The politicians are going to lie to us. The church is going to lie to us. The Mosque, the Temple, they are all going to lie to us. The art is going to tell us the truth. It is supposed to tell us the truth. True self-expression will reveal our truths. Creativity will reveal our truths.
What is your opinion on the current state of the music industry?
Have you seen my short film, Hollywood? You should watch it. That pretty much gives a summation of how I feel about the music industry. I despise it. I hate it. It makes me sick. I’m incensed with not only the supposed executives, but I’m also enraged at the sup- posed artists that are not artists, that are worried about money, and that’s their concern for making art. I’m disgusted with it, all the way around. And I hate it. It’s making me so mad thinking about it. In my piece, Hollywood, it best describes how I feel about my time in the music business, in that role. I hate it.
What would you do to change it? or would you just not want to be a part of it?
I don’t care to be a part of the “music business.” I care to make art, and music, and films. And that’s it. Do I have any commercial expectations for it? No. Do I hope to make feature- length films and albums for the rest of my life and support myself doing it? Absolutely... And that attitude is very counter-intuitive. In the arts, if you have something that is truly valuable and it’s a true piece of self-expression, then it has a good chance of making some money. If your motivation is money, you have no chance of making any significant money in the arts. So I guess, what I would want is for some of these piece-of-shit music executives to die. Then, it would be nice if the artists had balls enough to give the middle-finger to corporations and to stop sucking master’s dick and to make music and to make art that they want to make. Do things and make things that they want to do and make it for the sake of their own catharsis for the sake of their own self-expression and creativity.
Like I said before, art is our only truth. It’s the only thing that is going to reveal us. I am not going to sit here and whine and complain... and be like, “It’s about the music industry, man, they’re holding us down.” Fuck you. Who cares if they’re holding you down? Nowadays you have a fucking internet connection, you can fucking put anything on the fucking web that you want to. So, if you have the balls, and you have the creativity, put it out. If you’re signed to a fucking label that wont put your shit out, then put it out on your fucking own. If they sue you, then walk up to the fucking office with a fucking baseball bat, and the pussy-ass A&R will fucking fold up or whatever. FUCK THEM!
I am as mad at these so-called artists as I am with these executives. The only person I can really put my finger on right now that’s in there bucking is Kanye. That’s an artist. That’s what artists do. Where are those people at? That’s what I want to know. That’s who I want to work with, artists like that... There is a lot that would have to change for any semblance of a music industry being of worth to society. Other than that, as it is now, I’d like to see it burn to the ground.