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DaVinci: A young cat straight out the Fillmoe sidesteps the hyphy hype—and gives it all away.

Just a couple years ago, you couldn’t chuck a thizz pill a few feet in the Bay Area without hitting a hyphy-rapping newjack. While there are plenty trying to recreate that carefree vibe, others realize there are realer issues to discuss. Rapper DaVinci (a.k.a. John DeVore) represents San Francisco’s neglected Fillmore district. His debut album, The Day the Turf Stood Still, looks at gentrification and the changing faces of black communities, while reminding fans what raw rhymes and gritty beats sound like. Skinny-jean dance-rap this is not.

Tell us about The Day the Turf Stood Still. Why the title? What do you explore with it?
I came up with the title because I wanted to base the theme of the album around how the face of black communities nationwide has drastically changed over the years. I touch on gentrification and exactly how the people who are most affected by it have been forced to respond... I was born and raised in Fillmoe [San Francisco’s Fillmore District], which was once considered the black Mecca of the West Coast. In the '60s and '70s, this was one of the only places on the West Coast where black people could come and actually have ownership. It was 95% black-owned homes and businesses. The crack epidemic hit so hard in the '80s and '90s, Fillmoe was looked at as a slum. That was the era that I grew up in. From the '90s until now, I've seen our population shrink every year. This was fuel for me artistically.

You rap a lot about economic survival, so why the hell would you offer Turf as a free download? The goal is to get paid, right?
Yes! The goal is to get paid, but, realistically, I realize I'm a new artist. Our goal at this point is to be viral. We just want people to hear the album, to earn their trust. We felt like the best way for people to hear it is to give the consumer the option to buy, or download it for free. The money will come later down the line. We believe in long-term fan investment.

How would you describe your sound? I’ve heard people say you’ve got an east coast flow, and your music’s definitely not hyphy, which most folks assume of Bay Area hip-hop.
I think people probably just say that because my choice of production and I'm a little more lyrical and conceptual than most rappers from the Bay. I describe my style as thorobred—it’s deep, dark, rough, smooth, sharp, slick, and specific.

A lot of rappers try to collaborate with better-known MCs and producers, yet you’re pretty much the only voice on the record, with most of the production handled by SWTBRDS in-house producers Al Jieh and Ammbush. Why is that?
We stuck with our in-house production just because we wanted the album to have a cohesive sound. So many albums these days are all over the map, but if you listen to all the classic albums from any genre of music, it’s always one or two producers, like one production team. My producers... don’t try to force a certain sound or a certain type of song either, which I think, in the end, made the album what it is. In terms of features, we didn't want to force anything, or get features just for political or business reasons. A lot of people do that these days and their album looks more like a compilation. This isn’t about politics or business, this is about my music.

The Day the Turf Stood Still is out now on SWTBRDS.

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