Words + Photos by Antonio. Editing by Antonio & Ducky.
“There’s a lot of shit that doesn’t make me feel anything,” admits Baltimore-based DJ and producer D.K. the Punisher, “but I want to change that.” At only 23-years-old, Baltimore’s D.K. the Punisher has reach several milestones that many music producers could hope to achieve: placements on songs from Justin Bieber, Mac Miller and Dom Kennedy; contributions to great independent projects from TiRon & Ayomari and SiR; and a production deal under the legendary Andre Harris, of Dre & Vidal.
Despite his to success behind the boards, D.K. is hungry to get on stage and play his music in front of eager crowds. As one-half of Big Vibe, along with long-time friend and collaborator Mr. 14th, he wants to unite music lovers of diverse backgrounds under one roof, an integration that he feels is needed, but not yet fully accomplished in parts of Baltimore city.
D.K. discusses his early success, how he joined with Mr. 14th to create Big Vibe, and how he intends to change the music scene in Baltimore for the better.
^ D.K. the Punisher’s “Melt” Mix for Electric Llama
Q: Talk a little bit about your start and what you’ve done in your career to get to your current point.
D.K.: I started rapping when I was like eight and I wanted to be a rapper and I started looking for beats when I was around 12. I couldn’t afford to buy any beats, my parents weren’t going to buy beats for me, so somebody me told you could make beats on computers. I just downloaded some programs, started making beats, and kind of fell in love with it.
I was making beats and I was in a rap group with my cousins. That fell off, then I was just making beats, finding people on the Internet. When I was 16, I started working with this guy named Chaundon.
Q: Chaundon from Justus League?
D.K.: Yeah, he found me when I was 16. I did a whole album with him back then. That helped me get a lot of relationships with people like Big Pooh and that whole squad over there and it kind of branched out from there. I was working with this guy CR da Show, he had some buzz singles here, he had some clout here. We did a joint that ended up getting on the radio when I was 17, so that was another thing that helped.
D.K.: Around that same time, I started working this guy named TiRon, of TiRon and Ayomari and I did their debut group project called “A Sucker for Pumps,” and I did a joint with Dom Kennedy. When I was 18, I started working with OCD: Moosh & Twist, this duo out of Philly. Sticking with them, introduced me to a lot of people. Fast forward to 2012, I ended up flying out to L.A., to meet this producer named Andre Harris. He worked on Musiq Soulchild’s “LOVE,” and Floetry. I flew out there, met him, stayed out there for three weeks just working on joints, and that’s how everything got to this point.
I met my homie SiR – we were in the same songwriting camp. We were just working everyday, writing shit for other people, and we ended up getting such a good chemistry, we said yo, why not just work with each other? His cousin is a singer named Tiffany Gouché and their homie is Iman Omari, a producer out there.
D.K.: The situation with Andre Harris is that I’m signed to him as a producer, we work on records for outside artists, and we try to get them placed. That’s how the Justin Bieber thing came about. I was out there just working on records and his songwriter Pooh Bear — Justin’s main writer who’s responsible for the whole shift of his sound to the R&B side — that’s Dre’s homie, they worked on Confessions together. He came to the house and asked me to play some beats. The beat that ended up being “All That Matters” stuck out to him. Pooh Bear wrote something to it, recorded a demo, and then I heard that demo. A few months went by and I heard that Justin cut it and that was exciting. The song ended up coming out and that was definitely a bar for my career.
“He came to the house and asked me to play some beats. The beat that ended up being ‘All That Matters’ stuck out to him”
That was about a year-and-a-half ago. At this point I’m focusing on my solo artist career. I’m not a rapper or whatever – but it’s a lane for people who make beats. The placement thing, it’s cool, but it’s not everything. I don’t want to be chasing artists around trying to give them songs and everything. A lot of them don’t really know what they want.
Q: So, you want to do stuff under your own name?
D.K.: Yeah! And just working with the homies, like SiR, his cousin Tiff [Gouché]. Iman Omari is self-contained: he does beats, he sings, he DJs and all that, he’s dope. But I’m really trying to help out our circle, and our family, and get us to the level that we want to be.
Q: When you first started making beats, who did you model yourself off of when you first started?
D.K.: I remember specifically: it was Kanye West “Through the Wire.” The first time I heard that, and saw that video, I said “I want to do that.” It just made me feel a certain way. I heard he made beats and rapped and all that and something about that song was super-inspiring. I wanted to be like Kanye, Just Blaze, Swizz Beatz, Neptunes, Timbaland – that influence around that time was what made me want to produce. And also, earlier, when Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott and that stuff came out.
“it was Kanye West “Through the Wire.” The first time I heard that, and saw that video, I said “I want to do that.”
Q: That was a really good time for R&B.
D.K.: Yeah, I was like eight and that was when I first started paying attention to music, and that whole sound caught my ear. It’s funny that the ‘Dre thing ended up happening, because he’s kind of responsible for that sound. It came full circle.
Q: How did the Boiler Room set come about and how did you feel afterward?
D.K.: In 2012, I started playing with DJ software and stuff. I started toying around with the idea of playing my beats, along with other people’s songs. We started to take it more serious around the beginning of last year; to chase it, pursue it a little bit more. I put a mix up online, in April of last year, that was on my Soundcloud, so people would know that I DJ. Around the end of last year, SiR put out his project “Seven Sundays,” I had a joint on there, and I guess there was the interest in our whole circle. They hit me up, e-mailed me, and said “yo, would you like to play a Boiler Room?”
It was overall a dope experience. We did at Mndsgn’s house and he’s a super dope producer based out of L.A. We did that back in October. After I did it and came back home, I didn’t know what was going on. They finally put the videos out a few weeks ago, so it’s been pretty cool, I’ve been getting a really good response, so I’m happy about it.
“Around the time that Dubstep was poppin’, it became this super testosterone-driven thing. It was just dudes playing for dudes, I would see girls standing around in their phones, not captivated, not into it all”
Q: Tell me more about Big Vibe, I heard a little bit of the story from Val, but from you, how did Big Vibe come about?
D.K.: We kind of noticed something, coming out to events and everything, going to parties. [Val]’s kind of more from the era – he’s a few years older than me – and he remembers when the Paradox was super poppin’, when it was the shit to go there. He remembers that whole vibe and energy, and going to a party and everybody’s dancing, people sweating, grinding. I was getting in high school around that time, and I remember seeing people just stand around being in their phones.
^ Mr. 14th’s “Melt” mix for Electric Llama
D.K.: Our goal is to change that. We’re fans of the whole music scene, but the more left side of things, more underground artists, electronic, and house, but we both grew up on 90’s R&B and we got a love for hip-hop, so we wanted to blend those things together. But our main thing is catering to girls. Around the time that Dubstep was poppin’, it became this super testosterone-driven thing. It was just dudes playing for dudes, I would see girls standing around in their phones, not captivated, not into it all. Girls wanna have fun! When the girls are having fun, everybody’s having fun. That’s our whole thing, to bridge those gaps.
In the city, the art scene, the people you saw here, aren’t the people you would see at Oxygen. That’s a whole different scene, but the music isn’t really that different. There’s a middle-ground that we found, and I just think that somebody needs to tap into that.
“The Big Vibe thing came out of that frustration a little bit. Our goal is to bridge those gaps”
Q: I was just talking to Val and Dylan about the same thing.
D.K.: We went to a college party few weeks ago, I never knew about these college parties. It was a bunch of kids I have never seen before just coming out to have fun. Why are all these groups so separated, when they all have the same goal in mind? Everybody wants to meet new people, everybody wants to enjoy music and good vibes. So the Big Vibe thing came out of that frustration a little bit. Our goal is to bridge those gaps. I want to see hood niggas partying with college white kids. I don’t know, it may seem kind of far-fetched, but I’ve seen situations when the groups intermingle and it’s not a bad thing, it’s beautiful.
D.K.: Everybody just getting together, elevating together. It’s a dope music going on, so why shouldn’t everybody know about it and be a part of it and just contribute? Baltimore has had this bigger problem going on: it’s not really supportive. But this new generation might be the generation to kind of change that! It’s not just me and Val pushing that idea. Dylan (of Llamadon) is helping a lot. Everybody who kind of has that idea and wants good shit to be recognized is helping that situation.
“Baltimore has had this bigger problem going on: it’s not really supportive. But this new generation might be the generation to kind of change that”
Q: Where will you be in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?
D.K.: In five days from now, I’ll probably be in the crib, working on some beats or something. Probably getting ready for the weekend – that’s when shenanigans take place. In five months, my EP should’ve been out for a few of those. I’ve been working on this remix EP. It’s done, I’m just trying to figure out the right way to release so it gets the proper platform and everything. (Author’s note: His EP “Float” was released and it’s really dope!)
D.K.: Hopefully the brand that myself, SiR, Tiff, Iman, the homie Fat Ron – just a bunch of my L.A. homies should be more established. Five years from now, I’m trying to be just a beast. I look at ‘Dre (Harris), he’s my mentor, he’s what I want to be. He’s a multi-instrumentalist – really, any kind of music that you can think of, he can do. He can do the young shit, he can do stuff that sounds like it came off a record in the ’60’s.
I just want to hone my craft. I just started learning guitar in the last few weeks, so I want to add that to my repertoire. I just want to be doper as a creative within the next five years. I want to have a pretty diverse catalog established five years from now, and just push it further from there. I really just want to change music. I want to bring musicality, not forced musicality, but just that middle-ground that this this feels like something. I remember how the first music inspired me, I remember how that made me feel.