Hailing from the project buildings of the South Bronx, NYC’s D-Flow first came to the attention of most in the mid-90s, introduced as a new recruit to the legendary Rotten Apple crew Diggin’ In The Crates via two stellar appearances on Showbiz & A.G.’s well-received “Goodfellas” album.
Having combined forces with long-time friend Party Arty to form the Ghetto Dwellas, Flow’s intricate verses and battle-hardened rhymes were heard on numerous D.I.T.C.-related releases throughout the late-90s / early-t0-mid 2000s, including classic tracks such as “Themes, Schemes & Dreams” alongside O.C. and “Who’s The Dirtiest” off Show & A.G.’s “Full Scale LP”.
Always clearly able to hold his own when sharing the mic with some of the greatest emcees to have emerged from the five boroughs, D-Flow’s standing in the game hasn’t always mirrored the level of his talent, with circumstances and life situations sometimes disrupting the BX representative’s career plans, not least the unexpected passing of Party Arty in 2008.
With his new “Paraphernalia” mixtape due to drop imminently, Flow took some time out to discuss his early days as a member of D.I.T.C., working with Party Arty and future plans.
The Bronx is back!
What was your first introduction to Hip-Hop?
“I was in middle-school. One day I was on a school trip and a partner of mine he had the headphones. You remember when you’d get on the bus to go on a school trip and everyone would be trying to get into something, whether you got a book to read or your music to listen to? Well, I didn’t have anything and this partner of mine next to me had a Walkman. He gave me his headphones and what I was listening to was “The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick”. I was so amazed by what I was hearing with the story-telling and everything. Then from that point, it was on. I was trying to figure out how to do it, how I could hear more of it and where I could get it. So that was the very first taste I got of Hip-Hop when I was about fourteen-years-0ld.”
Growing-up in the South Bronx did you already have any awareness of what was going on in the BX in terms of Hip-Hop?
“I mean, around that time I wasn’t really of an age where I was allowed to be out in the streets of the South Bronx alone. But eventually I would get out and hang-out a little past my curfew time (laughs). I’d sneak in the back of places and get a taste of the jams that were going on in my projects. I’m from Mott Haven projects which is in the heart of the South Bronx. You can’t mention the South Bronx without mentioning those projects. Now, in Mott Haven they had a community centre and in the back of the community centre is this dome where they’ve got a stage with an awning on top and dudes used to get on stage and perform. So that was another early taste of Hip-Hop that I got when I used to sneak into the back of the jams and see what was going on with dudes from the neighbourhood spinning on the turntables trying to come up.”
Did you see anyone performing who went on to do bigger things outside of the local jams?
“Absolutely. I’m right next door to another project called Patterson projects, which is where A.G. is from. Now, when I used to go over to those projects I used to see Percee P tearing the mic down at the jams. This was way before I started doing what I do. But I used to watch cats like him and Lord Finesse and A.G. doing their thing at the time. This would have been around the late-80s. Like I said, I was kinda young so I was kind of unaware of what was going on with them at the time. I knew Finesse was a battle rapper and that he’d battled Percee P and would go to different schools and just tear dudes down. If I’m not mistaken, that’s actually how A.G. and Lord Finesse met through battling each other. But I was young at the time so those were the stories that I’d hear the older dudes talking about. I mean, I didn’t even know A.G. at this time.”
At what point did you actually start rhyming?
“Well, after the jams and stuff like that I started running into dudes on the street, like seeing A.G. in the neighbourhood and other cats from other projects that were close by. Like, over in Mitchell projects there was this group called Hellbound and I remember this guy called O-Smooth who was another rapper from the neighbourhood and also a guy called D-Terror who was from another building in my projects who used to be out there rhyming. I used to see those cats doing what they did and I was just in awe. I was real interested in what they were doing. Rhyming was something that I just gravitated to and it kinda came to me easy when I tried to put it down. So that’s basically how I started, just seeing dudes do what they do and it was something that I loved to hear and something that I loved to watch. So I just gravitated to it and started trying to put my pen game down, listening to different people, emulating what they did, and that’s how I learnt to rap. Then when I went back to show my friends what I was doing they were in awe and liked what I was doing, so from there it was on.”
At what point did you hook-up with Party Arty?
“Me and Arty grew-up in the same projects. He lived in the building right next to my building and we were actually in the first grade together. I mean, I knew Arty for longer than I knew most of my family members and it was the same for him. He was really a brother-from-another-mother. I grew-up at his house and he grew-up at my house. So we were together all the time before we even started rapping. Before the music it was basketball. We did everything together. I actually started rapping before Arty did. I didn’t introduce it to him because he had an older brother who used to spin on the turntables and write his little raps down, so Arty was kinda in a musical family already. But the idea of us doing something together was something that I brought to him as he was my best friend, like ‘Yo, I think we should do this.’”
So that was when the Ghetto Dwellas came into existence…
“Yeah. I mean we had a couple of other group names which I can’t really remember now, but Ghetto Dwellas was something that we stuck with from the early-90s. That was us.”
Did Party always have that gruff rhyme style that he became known for on record?
“Not at all. When we first started rhyming, Arty rhymed just like everyone else. He didn’t really develop his voice until he started maturing. Back in those days we used to drink the forty ounces, go in the studio and just bug out. I remember there was this one day when Arty was just extra hype when he was rhyming and we were like, ‘That sounds crazy! You’ve gotta rhyme like that from now on.’ So that whole style he had was something that he transitioned into after we started doing music.”
I always imagined him being mad tired after a studio session with the amount of effort it sounded like he was putting into his delivery…
“He was never, never tired (laughs). It was something that just came natural to him. He always made it seem effortless the way he delivered his rhymes.”
How and when did you officially become part of D.I.T.C.?
“Well, becoming part of D.I.T.C. was definitely something that me and Arty had to work for. A.G. was a little older than us and he was a friend of Arty’s older brother and was a part of that generation. We were like the little guys at the time. We watched A.G. do what he was doing and put out all that early stuff with Showbiz like “Giant In The Mental” and “Soul Clap”. I witnessed that in my neighbourhood, just seeing all the older cats being excited about it and playing the tape. I remember I asked this guy where he got the tape from and how much he paid for it. He told me it cost him fifty dollars and I believed him! That’s how incredible it was for me at the time. I believed a cassette tape would cost fifty dollars! So A.G. was part of that older generation and we were introduced to him by some of those older dudes who were telling him that he should check us out. Eventually we got with him, he heard us and loved what we were doing and immediately took us under his wing and started introducing us to other cats in different neighbourhoods that we might not have been aware of at the time. So we would go around and we would battle different cats just getting our name up and getting our buzz up, but still we weren’t allowed to go into the recording studio. We were still young dudes who were wet behind the ears and we really had to work for it.”
Were there any particular battles from back then that still stand-out to you?
“Absolutely, absolutely. There was a legendary battle we had on Big L’s plot up in Harlem on 139th. It was actually something that L set up for us because even though we weren’t from his neighbourhood we were still all family in D.I.T.C. and that’s how we all looked at each other. So Big L would be in his neighbourhood and have young cats coming up to him telling him, ‘Yo, this is what we’re doing’ and L would be like, ‘I’ve got some young dudes that’s doing it the way that it’s supposed to be done’ and he would bring us through to battle cats. I remember this one particular battle you had the Lox out there and Mase as well. There was about forty people out on the block with dudes standing on cars and everything. Dudes were capturing the footage on cameras. You might actually see some of that battle in the Big L documentary DVD that’s coming out either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year…”
So was it just you and Party Arty going up against people?
“We were out there going up against the whole of Harlem (laughs). We were out there for like seven hours and cats were just coming from different sides of the town to do what they do. But me and my man stood there all night with Deshawn as well and we just held it down from day to night. By the time it was over it was night time and dudes were gone already (laughs). It was a real memorable time. I was just happy to be involved and see that dudes were feeling what I was doing. So at that point I basically knew everybody in D.I.T.C. because, like I said, Big L would come through and get us anytime he felt like some kids needed to be put in their place. We were kinda in the mix of everything that was going on at the time. But it did take time for us to meet everybody in the crew. I mean, when we first started going to the studio you’d probably just have Big L in there one night and then maybe the next time you’d have O.C. and Lord Finesse. Then maybe the next time Buckwild would be in there with Showbiz. So gradually we became part of the family and got up with everybody.”
What influence did that have on you as a young upcoming emcee to be around other artists who were already considered giants in the rap game?
“It had a great influence. I mean, to this day, all the lessons that I learnt back then from being around those dudes I still apply to what I do. The way I do my music, the type of music that I do. That’s my family right there and their influence just rubs right off. I mean, I got to be around so many talented artists from being with the crew up in D&D Studios and Chung King. I got to experience so much at such a young age that I felt like a vet at the age of twenty-one. It really opened my eyes as well to all the hard work that went into making the records, like with the mixing process, the mastering process, dealing with the reels and all of that. Back then we were carrying around forty pound tape reels from the car up three flights of stairs to the studio and all of that. So all of those details really helped shape and mold me, like seeing how different dudes all had their own different way of working and things like that. Like, O.C. might record his verse differently to A.G. who might record his verse differently to Big L. I got to see so many dudes working through their recording process. I remember one time I got to see Das EFX record and watch how they laid their verses down. I mean, I always thought they went into the booth at separate times to record their individual parts, but they were in the booth together using the same mic and laying their verses on the same tape track. They were in there going back and forth like they were performing a show (laughs).”
Your first appearance on wax was on Show & A.G.’s 1995 album “Goodfellas” with you featuring on both “Got The Flava” with Method Man and “Add On” with Lord Finesse…
“When I did that first song with A.G. and Lord Finesse it was something I had to work towards. Party Arty was on the album before me, but getting that spot on there was definitely something I had to work towards in terms of going through a process and writing a couple of verses. It was a privilege. I knew there was an album being done and I knew I had to get on that album. So I had to put that work in. Like I said, Arty had already secured his spot on the project before me so I had to go extra hard and really prove to A.G. that I was worthy of being on there. Once I got on there it was a beautiful thing.”
“Got The Flava” is one of my favourite posse cuts of the 90s – what do you remember about that studio session?
“Yeah, that was definitely a memorable studio session and I’ll tell you why. Right before that studio session Party Arty had been shot three times and he was still recovering when we did that song. Plus, that session was the day we met Method Man. We were all in Chung King and Method Man came through and we were all introduced and he jumped on the song. At the time, Method Man was Arty’s favourite artist so that was a real good day. I’ll never forget that day.”
Was Method Man actually supposed to be on that track originally?
“He was actually on tour at the time and had left the tour to come back to New York to take care of something. I think he was just coming to the studio to drop something off or maybe pick something up or whatever. We happened to meet in the lobby and I introduced myself, told Meth who I was and who I was there working with and it was all love from there. Method Man came into the session and we just vibed out for about three hours. That’s exactly how it happened.”
I remember that Method Man appearance really stood-out because that was the first time that a major emcee unaffiliated with the D.I.T.C. camp had featured on a Showbiz & A.G. track…
“Right, right. Well back then, D.I.T.C. felt they really didn’t need any extra emcees guesting on their projects. As a crew they really had it all together themselves. I actually think putting Method Man on “Got The Flava” was something that A.G. wanted to do for me and Arty because like I said, Method Man was Arty’s favourite artist. So I think A.G. asking Meth to get on that track was something that he did for us. If that had just been a track that A.G. was on I don’t think that would have been his first thought back then to ask someone outside the crew to get on it. But being as we were all on the song together, that was perfect.”
Around that time how much work were you actually doing in the studio with Arty on Ghetto Dwellas material?
“We were consistently working. We weren’t necessarily working on any particular project but we were always working on new material so that we were always ready for whatever opportunities might have presented themselves at the time. We were in it for the ride and we loved to make music. It was fun to us. It was incredible to us to be a part of everything that was going on around us. We worked hard and a lot of those songs that we were recording at that time really blended in with what the rest of the crew were doing. “Make It Official” was one of the first tracks we recorded when we first got in the studio which was produced by Wali World. From listening to that, you could really hear the potential.”
“Feel The Beat” was another early track that’s definitely stood the test of time…
“Yep, yep. I remember all of those songs. Man, you’re really bringing back some memories…”
Considering the reputation D.I.T.C. had built by the mid-90s for delivering classic Hip-Hop, did you feel any pressure knowing that fans would have high expectations for any new artist coming out of the crew?
“Man, I wasn’t thinking about no pressure or anything like that. I just wanted to rhyme. I didn’t care who I was rhyming in front of or where I was rhyming at. I just loved to do it. Whenever it was time to get it in I was always prepared and ready. Like, if you watch that legendary Big L interview with 88HipHop.Com, that right there was totally unexpected. I was just up there for the ride and then it was like, ‘You want me to rhyme? Okay, cool…’ I was always focused and ready to step up. If you actually watch that clip closely you can even see the nerves in my face moving around (laughs)…
As the Ghetto Dwellas you and Arty definitely built a nice cult fanbase for yourselves – were you surprised by how quickly people gravitated towards you as artists in your own right?
“To be honest, I didn’t really get the full effect of that at the time. We weren’t really doing any touring as the Ghetto Dwellas and I wasn’t really getting around too much. The music was just out there and people were listening. The internet wasn’t really that big at the time, so I couldn’t really see the size of the response we were getting out there. So I would get the information through A.G. and other members of D.I.T.C. who would tell me how well things were going with our music when they’d come back off tour and things like that. So I didn’t really get to experience that love until later on. I was just happy to have music out and to be doing what I was doing at that time. I mean, if I’d have got the full effect of what was going on in terms of how people were responding to our music it might have changed who I was at the time and, who knows, I might have been someone different today. But back then, I was doing music and living real life and going through real life s**t. I have two sons and my youngest son who’s twelve-years-old now is handicapped, so I had to deal with that. That was something that I had to be there for. So at some points, my total focus wasn’t music. It was an in and out thing. So what I’m saying is, if I’d have known back then exactly how people were gravitating towards what we were doing and how big our following was, maybe I would have gone a little harder and I’d have been in a different situation today. I mean, it was kinda hard for me back then to see how things were growing from where I was at. I was dealing with real life at the time and it was kinda hard for me.”
Was there ever a full-length Ghetto Dwellas album project in the pipeline?
“There wasn’t really a plan for a full-length album or anything like that because I was dealing with what I was dealing with at the time. Which is partly why you might have started to hear me and Arty appearing separately on certain joints and different projects. That’s just how it was at the time and we weren’t really concentrating on recording a Ghetto Dwellas album. Arty had more time for the music at that point than I did. My eldest son is nineteen-years-old now. I had my first son in 1994 and me and my wife were together for that whole time. Arty had a kid as well but he kinda had a break because his daughter lived with her mother so he was able to be in a lot of places and get a lot of stuff done. But I was dealing with other things. So the Ghetto Dwellas album was never really the focus for all of us. We just wanted to do music and I did it whenever I could. I tried to get on as many projects as I could and was always around but my focus wasn’t always on music even though it was something that was always in my heart.”
Was it difficult for you to step back considering the momentum you’d been building?
“Don’t get me wrong, whenever I was away from what was going on with the crew, I was still doing music. I always made sure my sword stayed sharp in-case I ever came across a battle or something. I mean, the only hardship that came out of that was seeing what maybe I could have been doing after the fact. But that’s normal for everybody. Whenever you step away from something and you see what you’re missing, you always feel some kinda way. But that’s also what kept me loving music. I never want to stop doing music. But if there’s something that I need to deal with at the time for me to make sure that I can continue to feed myself and my family, then I’m going to do that. I mean, if I don’t take care of myself then I can’t do music. But D.I.T.C is my family, so there was never hard feelings from anyone about me doing what I had to do back then. It was always love and I could always walk back through the door when I was able to make music. I could always call my brothers about anything because aside from the music D.I.T.C. is about friendship. I mean, I look on these dudes like they’re my family. That’s Uncle Finesse right there and my big brothers Showbiz and A.G. They know my family and I know their families. They were always there for me.”
When Party Arty passed away unexpectedly in 2008 did you consider stepping away from music or was it a case of you feeling that you had to continue to honour his memory?
“Absolutely. That’s exactly how I felt. At first I had to step back and look at the situation and really deal with what had happened. Arty was like my ear, y’know. If Arty told me something was dope, then it was dope. Couldn’t anyone else tell me any different. If Arty told me something was dope, then I didn’t care what the rest of the world was saying. I mean, I really lost my best friend. But I had to recover from that and I knew the music was something that I needed to continue to do for him, it was something that I needed to do for me, it was something that I needed to do for us because we both loved to make music. I know he’s looking down on me right now happy that I’m still doing what I’m doing. I’m still doing what we started and it’s never gonna stop. Music is a part of my life and that’s never going to end. Hip-Hop is always going to be in my life.”
Bringing things up-to-date, what’s the status of the Barbury’N project you were working on with Milano and Majestic Gage?
“When you’re doing the group thing it’s kinda hard because it never seems to work exactly how you want it to work. At this point, we all thought it would be better to each do music on our own time because it wasn’t working trying to get everyone together with different schedules that just weren’t matching up. So we felt that we would all be more effective musically just working on our own music and doing what we do for ourselves. Milano felt the same way and Gage is still working with Showbiz on his new project along with A. Bless and a new cat Tashane. So Gage is doing that right there, I’m focusing on my solo projects and Milano has his new mixtape coming as well. We wanted to do the group thing first and then branch off to do our solo stuff but, like I said, trying to get three schedules to match is kinda hard so we had to flip it around.”
So what can people expect from the “Paraphernalia” mixtape you’re about to drop?
“It’s eighty percent original music. I’ve got Showbiz producing on there along with Drawzilla and E. Blaze. There’s only three freestyle tracks on there. Out of the thirteen tracks on the mixtape, ten of them are original. I’m basically giving away an album with this project, you could say. Then after this I’ve got my official album project dropping at the top of next year.”
That album is going to be produced entirely by Ray West, right?
“Yeah, he’s doing all of the production on there. Ray is so unique with what he does. You can tell that there’s a lot of heart that goes into the music he makes. He’s not really influenced by what other people are doing and he’s genuinely doing something unique. It’s Hip-Hop and you can’t ask for no more than that when you’re working on a project. It’s just good music. I love Ray West, man. But the album itself is going to feature me talking about different things that people can relate to. I’m a narrator and I want people to really feel me in their soul and be like, ‘Damn, I know what this dude is going through.’ That’s what you’re going to get on the album, straight real s**t about real situations that hopefully might help cats on the other side of the world get through some s**t that they need to get through. I want to be able to relate to people and I want people to be able to relate to me.”
As a Bronx emcee making music today do you feel a responsibility to both preserve the history and further the legacy of the birthplace of Hip-Hop?
“I think we’re holding on to the culture and the authenticity of Hip-Hop. We’ve got a greater respect for it than a lot of dudes do. When you hear an emcee coming from the Bronx, there’s normally a lyrical thing going on. I mean, I wouldn’t feel right switching sides at this point (laughs). It’s just not in my blood to do that. I mean, music is worldwide now and the game has changed so much that we’ll probably never get back to the music being as authentic as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean that I have to let it go. There’s always going to be someone out there who’s looking for some real Hip-Hop s**t and who wants to know about what’s happening out in these streets instead of what’s happening in the clubs. That’s what I’m interested in knowing about. I want to know what’s happening in these streets right now. I want to know what’s happening in that project building over there on the tenth floor in that corner apartment. What’s happening in there? People are still going through the same struggles. Those things don’t change. But not everyone has to like what I do. I just want to do this and take care of my family off of it. I don’t have to be popular or have millions of dollars. I just want to be comfortable, be happy and live long. If I can do that through music and reach the people that I need to reach then I’m happy with that.”
Follow D-Flow on Twitter – @DFlowDITC – and lookout for the mixtape “Paraphernalia” dropping June 7th on DatPiff.Com.
Show & A.G. ft. D-Flow, Wali World, Party Arty & Method Man – “Got The Flava” (Payday Records / 1995)
1998 88HipHop.Com freestyle featuring D-Flow, Party Arty, A.G. and Big L.
Barbury’N (D-Flow, Milano Constantine & Majestic Gage) – “Living At Still” (Mugshot Music / 2011)