“I Was Gonna Be My Own Boss, I Just Never Knew What It Was”: An Interview With DaBoii

Dario McCarty speaks to DaBoii about growing up in Vallejo, being inspired by NWA, his solo career and more.
By    August 3, 2022

Image via DaBoii/Instagram

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Dario McCarty knows the deal

“I just felt like it was too attached to me,” DaBoii tells me over the phone. “I was having dreams for two years straight of cutting it.”

He’s talking about his old hairstyle. DaBoii recently made a significant change to it – his once iconic, voluminous afro is gone and replaced by locs. The album cover for his latest album Can’t Tame Us depicts the transformation. It’s a symbolic moment for the rapper, a shedding of his old self that marks the beginning of a new epoch.

DaBoii originally came to fame with the all-star crew SOBxRBE – a group that started in 2016 as a fusion of two North Vallejo rap crews: rappers DaBoii, Slimmy B, and Lul G’s Strictly Only Brothers (SOB) camp and rapper Yhung T.O’s Real Boi Entertainment (RBE) crew.

In 2016, the group began by recording songs in a makeshift studio in Yhung T.O’s garage. Yhung T.O’s melodic pop raps and DaBoii and the rest of the crew’s concussive bars were overlaid over production that channeled the knocking bass lines of classic 90s Bay Area mobb music, 80s rap a la Whodini, and modern Oakland-inspired tempo.

“Shit was like mobb and disco music at the same time,” DaBoii described it.

“Calvin Cambridge,” wholly rapped by DaBoii, was one of the collective’s earliest hits, and provided a preview of DaBoii’s solo promise. By 2019, the group had headlined some of the biggest festivals in music, including Outside Lands, The Governor’s Ball, Rolling Loud, and Coachella. In under three years, they had become one of the most popular hip-hop acts to come out of the Bay since the hyphy movement.

In 2018, the group’s success reached another level. Kendrick Lamar tapped the collective to write a song for the Black Panther soundtrack, providing them with a historic opportunity to participate in Marvel’s first Black superhero movie. The resulting “Paramedic!” was a high-octane, adrenaline-inducing tour de force. Its placement brought SOB x RBE’s Bay Area street rap style to a national audience, and the song topped the charts at #65 in the Top 100 earning the group their first and only RIAA Platinum plaque.

But before the year was over, SOB x RBE’s meteoric rise was cut short. The group split up over a fallout between T.O’s RBE crew and DaBoii and Slimmy B’s SOB camp. DaBoii, who has pivoted and thrown himself fully into a second act as a solo artist, sees the split as a blessing in disguise.

“I’m grateful for that shit — I needed it,” DaBoii said. “A lot of motherfuckers don’t understand how good it is to bump your head sometimes. It makes you look at yourself in the mirror, makes you realize shit about yourself. Like oh, this is where I fucked up at, and this is what I’ve got to do now.”

DaBoii did not always have this attitude, however. In the first year following the group’s break-up, DaBoii says he lacked consistency and often did not have the motivation to go to the studio. This changed, however, in early 2021 on a vacation to San Diego during which he played an at the time unreleased “Gangsta Sh*t” for his uncle. Impressed with the track, his uncle felt DaBoii was wasting his potential and implored him to put more into working on his craft.

“You need to sacrifice,” DaBoii’s uncle told him. “Do three months of just work and see what that shit do. No trips, no going out and kicking it, just straight studio and sacrifice.”

When DaBoii returned home from this trip, he was unexpectedly placed on house arrest for charges stemming from a high speed chase incident that had occurred earlier in the year. The confinement offered DaBoii the perfect opportunity to do exactly what his uncle had advised him to do – stay home and work. Even after his time on house arrest finished, the routine DaBoii developed during this time period stuck. This newfound work ethic — along with a crucial change he made from writing his raps to freestyling them made recording songs fun again. This process fueled DaBoii’s last two albums, the most recent of which is Can’t Tame Us.

Can’t Tame Us showcases DaBoii’s sheer force behind the microphone that makes him such a captivating listen. On tracks like “Heater Close” and the Bay Area posse cut “Michael Myers”, DaBoii’s raps like a lit stick of dynamite. On “KickDoe”, DaBoii brings the familiar SOB x RBE high-BPM, hard funk formula to a 80’s Stevie B sample. The result is a pinwheeling tour de-force that rivals some of the best SOB x RBE tracks of the same ilk, like “Carpoolin’” and “Lane Changing.” “Bro ask me if I’m strapped,” DaBoii raps. “Yeah – fahshitsho!”

I spoke to DaBoii about his new album, growing up in Vallejo, his love of NWA, and more. The following is that conversation.

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

You grew up in Vallejo in Northern California. What was that like?

DaBoii: Vallejo is hella small, so it’s really what you make it. Some n***as, they fall victim to the street life, some go to college, some play sports — it’s all what lane you pick, for real. Theres n***as who grew up there that be on some real college shit, on some real scholar shit. I feel like that’s everywhere, though. It’s trenches everywhere, but it’s really what you make it. You could be around all negative shit, but that don’t gotta be you, you feel me? You just gotta follow your heart and have a strong mind. Like a lot of n***as they get influenced easily, but if you just stick to yourself your environment only matters to a certain extent.

How did that work out for you as a kid growing up there? What were you like?

DaBoii: See, I fell victim to the streets. Because when I was a kid, I didn’t give a fuck about none of that gangster shit. When I was a young n***a — like on some elementary school shit — I wanted to go to the NBA. All I cared about was basketball. I used to stay with my Grandma in these little trailer park homes in South Vallejo, and everytime I’d get home from school, all I wanted to do was hoop all day. I’d have my Grandma yelling out the window at 8 o’clock like, ‘D Boii, it’s time to come in the house!’ — that type a shit. Other than basketball, I liked wrestling and WWE, catching bugs and shit — I liked regular little kid shit. The gangster shit didn’t really start flattering me until like the end of middle school, around ninth grade.

Since basketball was such a big passion for you, what was it that made you give it up?

DaBoii: When my mama moved me out of Vallejo High when I was in 10th grade. She kept warning me that if I didn’t get my grades up we was gonna move, but I didn’t take that shit serious because we was on Section 8. I’m thinkin’ like, n***a, we can’t move if we wanted to — we in this bitch for life. But she did move me. She moved me to this little white town like ten minutes away called Benicia, and I started going to school there with all the white people. Mannnnn, them n***as was giving me no [playing time]. What’s crazy is that when I came to practice, I had these little white kids scared to guard me. Like I was bullying n***as the Coach thought was the rawest on the team. But I still didn’t get any [playing time] because at that high school they wanted you to run plays, but the plays never stuck to my head. Like one day I came to the game, they put me in and I fucked around and scored. Coach took me out the game talking about ‘why didn’t you run the play?’ Cuddy, I never came back.

What made you start rapping?

DaBoii: Growing up, I loved music but I never thought I’d start rapping for real. As a kid, I had a pen and pad and I’d write hella little raps, but I never took it serious or anything. I did always have some type of superstar mentality though — I never knew what I’d be in life, but I always felt like I wouldn’t have to work for the white man. I was gonna be my own boss, I just never knew what it was. Then I end up in the studio one day, and I remember my potna telling me like ‘brodie, this shit raw.’ It came to a point where whenever my n***as was in the studio recording, they all wanted me on their song. That’s what made me realize I’m the man with this shit. Kinda like how I wanted to be the man with basketball, just I ended up being the man on the mic.

I know that growing up, you listened to a lot of Ice Cube from your Uncle who put you on. Are there any particular projects or songs that are your favorite?

DaBoii: Yeah, one of the main songs that influenced my whole life and career was that “Straight Outta Compton.” A lot of that NWA shit, really. I love them n***as and how they all complimented each other. I feel like they was the rawest ever. Cuddy, when that movie [Straight Outta Compton] came out, I was so hot. I was watching that shit on bootleg every day. So when [SOB x RBE] started, T.O and I wanted to come out with that NWA approach. Like we some young wild n***as talking reckless on these old school beats, you feel me? We was rappin’ on some funky shit, stickin’ to the roots. Next thing we knew that shit took off.

That’s dope to hear because I’ve always thought your guys’ sound was like the modern Bay Area version of NWA. I also know that growing up you were big into Chicago drill. What about that, was that an influence?

DaBoii: Cuddy, I used to fuck with the whole Chicago. I used to download everybody’s tape. I’m talking P Rico, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, Fredo Santana, Rondonumbanine, L’A Capone, Chief Keef. Chief Keef — that n***a Keef was running shit. He had everybody running around this bitch tryna be on some gang shit. That shit was a big impact on what we got going on — Chicago damn near just as big an influence for me as NWA forreal.

Are there any other types of music you grew up listening to?

DaBoii: I listen to anything from 2Pac to Pooh Shiesty to Marvin Gaye to Rod Wave, it just depends on my mood forreal. I also was around a lot of old people growing up, so I really love listening to a lot of oldies too. Like a lot of songs I get on that got samples, I be knowing the real songs. I also fuck with Michael Jackson. He had a big impact on my life because of his superstar mentality and how one of a kind he was, that’s where I get my standing out shit from. I used to try and moonwalk and everything. I still watch Michael Jackson perform on YouTube, take all my little notes and shit.

I wanted to ask you about your family a bit. You’ve spoken about how your dad was a jailbird and wasn’t around as much. How did that affect you?

DaBoii: All the way until I was seven, my pops was in and out of jail, and then one day when I was seven, he went to jail and never came back. Growing up, I used to do little shit that would make everyone in my family be like ‘Oh you gon’ end up just like your dad.’ That shit always made me want to be the complete opposite of that n***a. It motivated me like a motherfucker. I always tried to avoid the system, all the dirt I did, I always played it smart. That’s why I tell n***as I play by the old rules. These new school gangsters, they do shit so sloppy and loud and wonder why — RIP to them boys — wonder why n***as be dead or in jail. N***as moving too sloppy, and this shit isn’t GTA.

What about your mom, what did she do for a living?

DaBoii: She was doing in-home care shit.

In interviews, you’ve told the story about how in tenth grade, your mom was hospitalized from stress and how a large part of it was stress from worrying about you. How has that relationship with your mother changed now that you’re a successful rapper?

DaBoii: My mom knows she can count on me for anything. Like her boyfriends she had when I was growing up, she could never really count on type shit. But I step up to the plate a lot — if she needs me for anything, I’m there for her. But I ain’t gon’ lie, she still be worrying about me like a motherfucker. She got my location on her phone and all that shit, so she’ll be calling me at 2 o’clock in the morning if I ain’t at home because she know a n***a not leaving these streets any time soon.

That makes sense. Some things never change — and moms worrying about their sons is definitely one of them.

DaBoii: Yeah, my mom knows how I am too. She knows I got real anger problems. Like sometimes it be real hard to talk me out of shit. Like a lot of motherfuckers that know me know I’m cool as fuck, like how I play it on the internet — but I got a switch though. I try to never get outside my character, because once I get outside my character, I’m going to take it there. And once I take it there, it’s over — I black out. I fuck around and throw my whole life away off of a quick little stupid five second decision I should’ve never made. So I really just try to be on some spreading the love type shit. I try to stay positive as much as I can, because I really got a son to be here for. That’s my main motivation.

Speaking of your son, that’s obviously something that’s been new in your life since 2019. Do you think becoming a father has changed you?

DaBoii: Hell yeah, like a motherfucker. I aint gon’ lie, before my son came, I was thuggin’ to the neck, like just a regular ass n***a. But I’ve started grinding on my solo shit, so that’s why you see the progression. I’m finally working.

Grinding out your solo career has probably been very different from your work with SOB x RBE — the group took off really quickly, only six months after you guys started rapping. I’m curious how has starting over again and having to start a career as a solo artist changed your perspective on the rap game?

DaBoii: When this SOB shit first started taking off, I was not working. We was in the studio just catting off. Like we wasn’t really practicing trying to be the rawest n***a, that shit was just in us. So imagine you don’t even know how to really rap yet, and you drop 2 or 3 songs and shit starts taking off already. You still a regular n***a, you thuggin’, you in the hood everyday — you’re not going to realize who you are yet. I wish I had this enthusiasm for working I have now when we was in the group, because I would’ve been pushing everybody around me. But nobody in the group had this mindset, so it was easy for everything to fall down because we was all regular ass n***as forreal. We ain’t give a fuck.

There’s obviously been a lot of change since the break up. One thing I’m sure long time fans are wondering about: you’ve gotten rid of the iconic afro and now rock exclusively dreads. What’s up with that?

DaBoii: Maaaaan, it’s crazy because I was having dreams for two years straight of me cutting the fro. I just felt like the fro was too attached to me. I remember T.O used to always change his hair and we’d have talks where that n***a would be like ‘If you cut your hair, your career OVER.’ We’d be laughing about that shit, like shit, you damn near right. So I feel like I had to find a way around that shit. One day I just woke up and I was like ‘I’m gon’ go get dreads.’ I couldn’t believe I really went and did it, but it’s one of the best things I ever did. Gang, during summer when I was outside with my nappy fro, my head would get so damn hot. Around hella bitches I’d get to itchin’ the fro and hella shit would be flyin’ out my head — that shit wasn’t a good look bro. I was scaring bitches, hella shit.

Let’s talk about your latest: Can’t Tame Us. Any favorite tracks off of it?

DaBoii: On some solo shit, I think this my best album. And to be honest, it went up more than any other solo album I’ve put out. I always been on the charts — like Top 200 — but this one was Top 80 in all genres. But my favorite song on it? Shit, I really like hella of these. I really be proud of myself, like pat on the back type shit. But what I slap the most are “Michael Myers,” “Heater Close,” “Cole Bennet,” and “Real Boii.” And I be off that “Stuck in the Middle” heavy.

Speaking of “Michael Myers,” you got that San Francisco link up with ZayBang and Lil Bean on there. What was it like working with them?

DaBoii: They my boys, mane. I been fuckin’ with Zay and Bean since 2019. We almost three years strong, so that shit was just natural. I could call them n***as right now, they gon’ pick up the phone. Same with me. We don’t talk every day, but n***as know we locked in.

You’ve also got a Drakeo verse on the album. What was your relationship with him like?

DaBoii: Drakeo’s my n***a forreal — like I been talking to him since before he went to jail. One thing about him, he was hella genuine. He was one of the first L.A. rappers like really fucking with us, and he used to always play our music on his story. When he got out of jail, he was like, ‘come pull up on me, I need you on my album’ type shit. I pulled up, knocked that shit out quick then came back like the next week to shoot the video. We been locked in ever since.

I aint gon’ lie, I got my independent motivation from him. That n***a was in the studio until like 4 or 5 in the morning, consistently. Putting all that shit out himself, independently, getting big checks. That shit motivated the fuck out of n***as, because once I seen that shit, I was like, ‘I gotta start doing it myself.’ I think I’m probably gonna get his lil n***as OTM on an unreleased track me and Drakeo got. You know them?

Yeah, definitely. Their Cliff Hanger Remix with Drakeo is fire.

DaBoii: Yeah, I just locked in with them like last week. I been talking to [Ralfy the Plug] for a minute too. I ain’t gon’ lie, Ralfy a real n***a. He just like Drakeo, that shit mainey. Them n***as talk the same, they got the same attitude. It’s hella funny, it’s really like another Drakeo. But what made me fuck with Ralfy the most was when I dropped on the same day as Kendrick, he was on Twitter and in an interview showing major love. He ain’t even have to do all that — and it’s crazy because Bay Area n***as don’t even do that.

Okay, last question for you — where do you see yourself in ten years?

DaBoii: [Laughs] Man, I remember interviewers used to ask me this question all the time. I used to never really have a real answer for it, and I’d just say whatever came to mind — but now I really think about that type of shit every day. For one, I don’t see me rapping anymore. Imma go crazy, stay in the studio almost everyday for the next four or five years — just black out, all work. But if I still got shit coming out in my thirties, it’s old. I ain’t rappin’ in my 30s, cuddy. By then, I’m tryna be making like 200 to 300 thousand a month off streams and be signing n***as. I’m going to put my hands in anything I can get in: AirBnB services, renting out my whips, owning businesses, owning restaurants, starting a clothing line, investing in apps, making movies on some Ice Cube shit. I’ll do anything around this bitch. I’m not finna be blowing a check, buying hella jewelry, doin’ all that — I already done did all that shit. Now I’m in this bitch for the long run. In ten years, the goal is to be making money in my sleep.

We’re definitely going to have to be appreciative of what comes out in these coming years then, but it’s good to hear you’re not limiting yourself.

DaBoii: Hell nah, I’m not limiting myself bro. I understand that I might be put on this earth to rap for right now, but come on bro, for how long? I’m not going to be rapping until I’m like 40, 50. Plus, I already done glorified shit, gave the world my young n***a side — now I gotta give them my grown side. I gotta start spreading my message and taking it more serious. Like I been spreading the devil’s message rapping about this and that, but in the future I’m tryna be on some ‘don’t do this and that cuz this’ll be the outcome’ type shit. If you got a position of power you got to use it, so I’m tryna be on some lesson shit instead of glorifying it. Like yes a n***a was glorifying all this, but there are the consequences for all that shit I was glorifying. My plan is to just spread that message, start owning businesses like all these fuckin’ white men do, and collect. That’s what I’m gon’ be on.

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