D3szn creates music that’s rooted in survival. The world he once knew growing up – the “thugged out, gangsta shit” – is a part of his past. Still, the sound and history of LA’s Watts neighborhood is spread throughout D3’s intrepid rhymes, smashing together bulletproof bars with introspective spills about trauma and gang culture.
His music feels hood-rich with an autobiographical approach, and the protagonist is played by D3 himself.
“The homie Jaay [Ambjaay] made the ‘Uno’ song and it blew up,” D3 recalls as we discuss his origin story in rap. “We recorded that in my uncle’s living room, in the studio. Right after that, I made the ‘Jump Out’ song and I saw how everybody was reacting to it – everybody was fucking with it.”
At his best, D3szn is a product of his choices, and of condition – directly influenced by the experiences he’s encountered over a significant period of time. YG is a key touchstone, too. You can see the inspiration bleed into D3’s state of readiness, crediting much of his sudden success in the music industry to the 4Hunnid Records CEO.
From standing on the block to signing a record deal, to creating music with the likes of Lil Wayne and E-40, D3szn has continued to elevate since first hearing his music on the radio at a gas station on the East side. His biggest source of motivation is doing whatever it takes to protect his family, steering clear of those adverse childhood experiences that made him into the man he is today. “My kids are banking on me to make their life better. That’s my number one motivation.”
How were you first introduced to rap?
I was introduced to rap through my uncle ‘cause he do his rap shit and I was hanging around certain homies that were doing it. I started rapping more often and going to my uncle’s studio with the homies and we started progressing over time. I just stuck with it.
Was there a specific moment that made you want to pursue a career in rap full-time?
The homie Jaay [Ambjaay] made the “Uno” song and it blew up. We recorded that in my uncle’s living room, in the studio. Right after that, I made the “Jump Out” song and I saw how everybody was reacting to it – everybody was fucking with it. You know how you pull up to a gas station and they playing your music [on the radio]? It’s a different type of feeling. That’s when I knew [rapping] was something that I wanted to do.
I know that’s a rewarding feeling, especially when something like that happens in your own backyard.
Growing up, you listened to other artists like Lil Wayne or YG and you reacted to their music. So for people to do that with my music, it’s like okay, I can do that, too.
What was it like growing up in Watts?
Man, shit, it was hard, but we made the best out of it. Coming out of the East side, people don’t get to make it where I’m at right now. Coming up, you see all kinds of shit – I ain’t even gon’ speak on it, but you see all types of shit that could traumatize you. You go through certain shit, the police, all that.
Did any of the shit you went through change you for the better, or is that something you try to keep under wraps?
I feel like it made me the man I am today. As a project baby, you do shit younger; we don’t wait until we get older to do shit. The shit niggas doing, we been doing it. It’s people that’s still on that type of time but that get boring, niggas gotta figure something out. That’s what I figured out. I don’t find myself with my old ways but it’s easy to get in that space; the old thugged out, gangsta shit. It’s still in me but I got kids and shit now, I got this music shit going. I still be in the hood but niggas be tryna stay away from that shit, ya feel me.
Talk to me about fatherhood – what does that unlock in you?
When it hits my mind, I gotta survive, I gotta make shit happen. My kids are banking on me to make their life better. That’s my number one motivation. My kids ain’t even been to the projects yet. They haven’t even been to LA. Just that alone, I can’t let them go through what I went through. That’s a big motivation for me, and I got my mom out the way, that’s another one. It’s all on me now, though. That’s an everyday thing; I wake up, I gotta be great – I gotta be better than yesterday.
Is it hard balancing your responsibilities and everyday life?
This the part where everybody thinks rapping is easy but that’s the issue we go through on our own, the stressful moments where everybody banking on you. There’s times where Ion even reply to people that ask for money and shit. Let me make it first, let me do my thing. The stress alone, you just gotta deal with it – the rap shit will make you or break you. It’s really for the strong. By continuing to chase my dreams and shit, it’s all a work in progress. God got me, you just can’t fold under pressure. The people I’m around, like YG and nem, they fasho get me through it ‘cause they done been through it. That’s the best part about being signed to an artist that’s already established, they done been through it, and they can walk you through the whole shit.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten so far under YG’s tutelage?
I got a game of game; music wise, life wise, decision-making wise. 4Hunnid is more like a family thing to me. It’s gang, too, but what I got from it is that we all gon’ win – everybody locked in. Everything I’ve learned from bro, you see it right now; the fashion shit, the way I stick and move – I’ll be in the hood and then I’ll be somewhere in Beverly Hills or something. I got a lot from YG, though, from every angle.
What has signing with 4Hunnid Records allowed you to do with your work that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to accomplish?
Before I got signed, I ain’t mention no money, I just mentioned exposure. The song with Lil Wayne, E-40 and allat, that’s the label, that’s [YG] work. Ion think I would’ve gotten that if I was doing my own thing. I would’ve had some features but Ion think I would’ve gotten with Lil Wayne, that’s big.
How did you and YG first meet?
I was doing freestyles and YG homie [CTE] discovered me. He was watching my page and ended up DMing me. One week later, I’m hanging on the block and YG text me tryna link. That shit didn’t process right until I got back home and told my mom. I was like, “This nigga YG wanna link with me.” I had just quit my second job and I ain’t gon’ cap, I ain’t know what I was going to do with my life – the rap shit was my only hope. I ended up linking with him and boom, niggas been locked in since day one. That’s how that went.
You went from standing on the block to signing a record deal.
Man, on my kids. Ion never question God, but in my head I’m like what the hell – it just didn’t seem right. A nigga went from plotting on bad shit and now I’m in the industry. I feel like it’s a gamble; I got chosen. It’s a lot of good artists out here and they don’t get the opportunity that I got, ya feel me.
Do you feel like you’ve made it yet?
There was a time where I felt like that, but I’m so disciplined to where my standards are set high with this shit. You can make a hit and then that hit will only mean but so much if you can’t make another one. I ain’t made it yet – I’m in my beginning stage. It’s a far road that a nigga going down right now.
Are you nervous about coming into your own as an artist?
I ain’t gon’ lie, I wouldn’t say nervous, but everything I do that major artists are doing, I be in disbelief because it’s like damn, look at what I really came from. I’m ready for it, it’s about being prepared.
Stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.
You know where I got that from?
Who taught you that?
I got that from YG, no cap.
Please expand on this.
With my music, right – it’s just now coming out. We been working on it since the pandemic but we wasn’t ready, and we not just about to move. You can be prepared, but if you’re not ready, it just ain’t gon’ work. If you half-do it, it won’t work. The plan is always in the works, it’s just about being ready. I got shit already in motion, everything is lined up. It’s perfect timing – we ready.
And your fans are ready, too.
My fans know I procrastinate the most. I’ll say I’m dropping something and it won’t come out [laughs]. We did that all year last year.