The Hook had the opportunity to sit down with DaZay Burnett recently, and get some really good info on The Vagabondz, growing up in Harlem, his perception of the role of women and drugs in music, and student debt.
Check it out below!
I like to build up to personal questions, have the conversations accelerate sort of, so I’ll start with the basics: How are you? How was the Asap Ferg concert?
I'm doing great and you? The ferg concert was TOO LIT everyone was moshin’ goin crazy, I loved it. Shoutouts to Asap and Tory Lanez!
Did you guys happen to start as spoken word poets? The interlude “LESSons” leads me to think that. The poem/song/interlude is great by the way.
I personally didn’t get into rap through spoken word, my homie Tye did, he’s the one doing the LESSons interlude on the album. I’ve always wanted to try my hand in spoken word, haven’t quite got around to it yet.
What is the role of poetry in hip-hop or rap?
The culture seems to be being swept under the rug by new artists partially because of trap artists (Not saying all. Just saying a lot of them are more entertainers than rappers/poets). I feel like poetry plays a huge role in rap and lyricism in general. Some of your favorite rappers started out as poets and it really helps getting your ideas out and transferring it over to a beat ya know? For example, my verse on the song “Exceptions” on LESSONS was actually a beat poem I had to write for homework back in high school in my senior poetry class (shoutouts Mr. Leon/ Beacon High)
What is your definition of a poem or poetry?
For me poetry is just the flow of words someone uses to convey an idea or how they’re feeling. Anyone can be a poet. It’s just telling stories.
Do you have a strategy when you rap or do you write freely or freestyle?
Well I started out in hip hop freestyling. I started rapping freshman year of high school and when I was 16 did something called “The Rapathon” back in my hometown of Harlem, which was basically a day long rap cypher which was broken into sets of rap teams, and I was the youngest member my year. I didn’t start writing actual songs till my senior year though, so It just depends on the day to be honest. I’ll hear a beat that’s so cold the first line comes to me automatically and i’ll be done with my verse in less than a hour. Other beats I gotta kinda sit on and take things in from my day to day to use as material, or I’ll freestyle over it until something comes together. I don’t have a solid strategy I just write.
Your music seems to more conscious or complex than just “bitches & drugs.” Now, of course, drugs are arguably great (disregarding anyone’s opinion) and women are a drug enough which is definitely enough cause for creating art, but what motivated you to focus on different things? What inspires your music?
Yeah we definitely get the conscious rap label a lot, which I’m always kinda boosted by because if you peep our earlier tracks on soundcloud (Leopard Interior EP), it’s all sex, drugs, light and dark songs. But that’s just the life we were living at the time growing up in NYC, beefin with other public schools, turnin up at brooklyn free’s (frees= house parties), so the music is like a piece of that moment in time. I feel like we matured fast from that route though, especially with LESSONS, the subject matter is more focused on issues that a lot of people don’t know youth go through in this city, and just our day to day life lessons. Whether that be through songs talking about guns, not being able to afford college, police brutality, or even a lovey dovey song like “Come Tru”. I don’t really think I’m conscious though, when I think of conscious I think of Common and Lupe. I just write about how I perceive the world, and I’m inspired by life experiences and stories I hear from teens from Harlem who feel they don’t really have a voice in society just because where we are and how black youth are perceived. Regardless of how the media tries to make it seem, we’re not all the same and I feel like I have a duty to talk about what I see in my hood on the daily so I just tell my side of the story as honestly as I can. Not every song is pretty and light because it can’t be like that, that’s not how life is for us. We got the turn up songs too don’t get me wrong, but if you have a voice that people want to listen to why not let them know what’s going on out here? That’s just my take, I just want to unify everybody.
What is the role of drugs and alcohol in music? Why do you think it’s a major topic of discussion in rap music?
Well for one it’s a major topic of discussion because it sells music like crazy. Alcohol is so marketable, every major artists is sponsored by at least one liquor brand nowadays. People get high and drink for a variety of reasons whether you agree with the use or not, it’s not stopping anytime soon, but I feel like hip hop gets unfairly labeled the “drug” genre when drug references have been tossed in songs way before hip hop was invented. People rap about what they know so if you smoke and drink all day, your music is most likely gonna reflect that.
What is the role of women in hip-hop culture? You guys seem to talk about women and romance, but sometimes, in unconventional, and I should add refreshing, ways. For example, “Come Tru” sort of resembles a raw rap love song, but mirrors something more sincere than the new love songs rappers are coming out. It’s raw in an honest way and not in a vulgar way that degrades the woman subject being discussed. It sounds hopeful, sort of reminds me of older rap love songs like Ja Rule’s “Put it on Me” or 50 Cents “21 Questions,” perhaps not the same tempo, but definitely a similar tone and vibe. Could you talk a little about your take on love and romance?
I’m not really the romantic type to be honest, but at the end of the day no one really wants to be alone no matter how hard they think they are. It’s weird talking about love for me because I never really had the chance to see what it looks like in my life, and I’ve never personally been in love, but “Come Tru” is about choosing to take a chance on someone. If they’re worth it.
From my understanding, a vagabond is someone who wanders from place to place with no particular destination to go to.
What was the incentive behind naming your group that?
Tye came up with the name our sophomore year and we played with the idea for a while, but it didn’t really stick at first. We went nameless for awhile and it wasn’t until senior year that we settled on it because we went through things by that point that really had me and Tye feeling like modern day Vagabondz, and we could relate to the idea of it a lot more by then. Also, my mom (who was once homeless herself as a teen) always used to have me serve food at homeless shelters on Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was younger, so I’ve always been a strong advocate for helping out those in need. I get tight when people disrespect the homeless or look down on them, no one has the right to do that because you don’t know what leads up to different circumstances, everybody’s story is unique one way or the other. I wanted to take the negative stigma out of the word “vagabond,” because we’re all vagabondz really, wandering place to place at the end of the day with the same destination; 6 feet under.
If I’m recalling correctly, you’re the manager of Vagabondz. How long have you guys been together?
Yeah for now! And we’ve been a solid group for a little over a year now.
Why did you start the collective? How did you or do you curate your members?
I started it with Tye, we used to always freestyle together during recess, in class, lunchroom cyphers, everybody at my school lowkey had bars. We just kept trying to find beats that matched our style and it wasn’t working out so we waited, and by senior year a couple of our close friends at school started making beats at different times so we knew we had to do something with that. With the exception of DJ ForTunes, everybody in the group went to Beacon, but now we got new additions to the squad and a whole visual art section so the movement is definitely expanding.
Tell me about the Beast Coast Bondz Bash experience. How was it on the opposite side of the stage?
Well the whole day was a stressful as fuck because I’ve never thrown a show before so I was shook at first, but it ended up being a beautiful experience. Everyone really pitched in to make it a dope night and to see so many people pull up from different areas was crazy. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my UArts fam they definitely held it down! It was definitely a humbling experience too I saw people rapping along with me it was kinda scary. To see your words and thoughts go from the notes on your ipod to a bunch of people shouting them back at you is indescribable.
How do you usually prepare for your shows?
At this point I can’t even listen to my own songs to prepare, like I’ll rehearse the set once a couple days before, but the day of I’m blasting Fabolous “Ima do it,” Bone Thugz, Future. I have a sequence of songs that just get me amped up. I do a lot of pre-gaming before our shows, but I also gotta make sure to do breathing exercises and hydrate heavy so I don’t pass out on stage.
Tell me about Harlem and growing up in New York.
I love Harlem. It’s all I know really, I’ve lived in different parts 111th st, 143rd, 125th, 140th.. There’s so much culture that people don’t know about a lot of artists got their start up here. It’s gentrifying like crazy though, every time I come home from school for a show or break I notice a building is missing or a frozen yogurt spot pops up. There’s 7/11’s in Harlem now where bodegas used to be, that blew [my mind] when I came back and saw that shit. Growing up in New York City is a blessing and a curse though I always tell people because there’s so much to do and it’s the city that never sleeps, but that can get old fast. If you not from here and you come here trying to make it big and whatnot with no heart, the city will destroy you. I don’t know why New Yorkers just have a different attitude, I didn’t realize it until I started going to other cities, everyone stays in their own lane here and minds their own business. Saying hi to people you don’t know out of courtesy is weird if you’re from NYC. I’ve lived here my whole life and seen a lot of crazy shit, you never know when the city will surprise you. I’ve been caught in the middle of multiple shootouts, seen people stabbed, beat up by cops etc.. You get used to it after a certain point. You pick up on which blocks are too hot to walk through at a certain time, who might be looking to rob you if they’re eyeing you a certain way.. the city will definitely keep you on your toes not being street smart will get you hurt here, and if you can’t fight it might be hard for you. Beautiful city though nonetheless with some of the realest people you’ll ever meet.
Are there any artists from there or artists in general, dead or alive, that influence or inspire you?
Harlem legend Big L, listen to a lot of him, I love the stories in his rhymes. From the new school, I would have to say Dave East, he’s definitely putting Harlem on the map in a big way his bars are crazy. I listen to anything though, my tastes in music is all over the place a lot of my favorite artists are overseas, Tom Misch, Little Simz, Jay Prince to name a few. Alina Baraz & Galimatias is certified heat definitely check them out.
Tell me about up upcoming projects and collaborations?
First off my bro Zymoon Merkury dropped a tape that’s smooth listen through called “Seamount” everyone should definitely check that out. I have a solo EP that’s on the way “HEAR:ThereN’BacK” that’s getting the finishing touches worked out as we speak, that’s due before the summer is over, plus I’m in the process of a debut video! The tape has collabs with MOBTOWN out of Baltimore (bump that new track “Every Corner” on soundcloud) and my bro DJ ForTunes crew The Last Call out of Flatbush. Lot of cool stuff in the works I’m hype to get it all out there for y'all.
What about upcoming shows?
July 22nd “Beast Bondz Bash II” [played] in Hoboken NJ Paul Vincent Studios! Then we [had] another show in Philadelphia July 31st at a venue called “The Dungeon," the name sounds cool as fuck so I’m real hype for that one. Also, just got news Vagabondz will be performing at Coda on Sept 18th for Battle of the Bands.. I’m just happy that people are supporting it’s a dream come true.
How do you feel about your stage presence and performance art? Do you put as much into performing as you do into recording and writing?
It’s all connected for me. I write with a performance view, meaning when I’m writing I’m already envisioning in my head how I’m going to spit each line on stage. I love performing though. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, I’ve been on Amateur Night at the Apollo three times and even won once, so to be able to sing and rap on stage is exhilarating for me. I’m not religious but when I get on stage it’s like church for me, I always rock every show like it’s my last.
Are there any new members coming to the group soon?
We already have some new members, Kyle Barrett is helping manage the group/does our photography. [We've] got photographers Wes Knoll, Annacela Cordova, and vocalist Noah Elijah who’s performing at BCBB II. Still recruiting for second wave bondz so the list will most likely keep going on as time passes.
What’s your major at UArts?
I was originally musical theater but switched to music business entrepreneurship & technology second semester, I had to. I want to do movies and TV later on in life but I gotta focus on one thing at a time.
Do you see yourself hitting the road to stardom early or would you like to finish your years out here first (Or perhaps do it at the same time)?
I don’t really know at this point I’m just focused on furthering our music, school, and doing shows. It’s so hard to make it in America without a degree so I definitely want to continue my education to have that under my belt, but I don’t see why I can’t do everything at the same time. If we stay focused, continue doing shows and making dope music we’ll be alright, everything happens when the time is right.
This is random, but how do you feel about student loans?
Fuck student loans they’re literally the devil. College is too damn expensive in general though, it shouldn’t cost an arm and leg for a decent education.
Do you think national student debt is a systematic plot of scheme?
Absolutely. Sallie Mae is the biggest pimp in the game right now with hoes all over. I’m about to start an outreach program for people trying to get out of the debt game.
Where do you see the Vagabondz in the next ten years?
I see our movement expanding globally and I want our collective to have at least a hundred enlightened individuals from all walks of life.. We’re a collective first and foremost, so our artists are constantly creating and collab-ing with other artists, and we’re solidifying ourselves as not just a group, but an actual brand. With time I want to branch out into all different forms of entertainment and media, so in ten years you’ll be seeing Vagabondz everywhere.
Thanks so much to DaZay for this interview, and for more on DaZay, check out the links below!
DaZay Burnett: Facebook // Soundcloud // Datpiff