The theory of Six degrees of Separation does not apply to Damion Williams. He knows so many people, the theory would have to be re-named 3 Degrees of Separation. I first met Damion through a mutual friend, Chris. It was a cold December evening in ’96. Me, Jon,Chris, and Damion started the night by doing the unheatlhy things kids do, in Damion’s stairway. We talked. We laughed. And we rhymed. We did this for a few hours, then went somewhere I do not even remember. But I remembered walking home that night thinking, “That was a really cool guy!”
Damion always tried/tries to network and introduce all his friends to each other. When he started throwing parties in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, he would always make sure to invite me. And he made sure to get me a spot onstage. People became friends through Damion and I believe that was/is his goal all along.
I still remember a magazine article in ’97 about college kids’ night activities and dating habits. And there his face was, in a big square photo, right in the middle of the article. Sporting a typical half smile that, if you know Damion, means he’s on to something. Piazza Life was happy to catch up with the Rhymer/Promoter/Clothing Agent/All-around-fun-guy.
1) You are a stereotypical Libra. You talk to everyone and know everyone. I thought I was bad when walking down the street and saying hello to tons of people but you are on another level. Do you remember everyone you meet?
I definitely don’t remember everyone I meet, but I never forget a face. In the instance that I meet someone there is always some underlying purpose or connect that makes it so that we either have a shared experience, commonality, or mutually beneficial opportunity at hand.
2) You are a super-optimistic guy. Is this natural? And if so, do you still need to work on it and remind yourself to think positively?
Yes. I am blessed. In 2001 I was hit by two cars after an epic night which included building about Hip Hop with Ice-T, poolside on a rooftop on 4th street and Broadway. Had I not been so healthily intoxicated I would be dead. While I don’t remember the accident I do remember that at the time I was throwing the dopest parties in NYC, had a gorgeous chick, dope car, great job, and my life was GOOD and only headed in a positive direction. In the aftermath of that accident I definitely lost my job, my girl, certain people have said I lost my “mojo”… But I woke up. I was able to think, see, hear, taste, and smell. I had to relearn how to walk, regain my vocabulary and, in a way, rebuild my personality. In doing so I have made a conscious effort to build thankfulness into my character, because I am blessed and continually appreciative for the life that I lead.
3) Explain optimism for us.
I am a man of faith. I grew up in Jefferson Projects in Spanish Harlem. I am the product of a home where my father was incarcerated intermittently from the time I was 13 until I was 31. My mother raised 4 children at the poverty line. In my neighborhood it was rare to have a father who raised you for as long as I did, and most of the kids I was in elementary school with were dead or in jail before the end of High School.
Optimism is walking out into the streets of New York City, coming from El Barrio, and building a dream life out of sheer will and imagination. The will to win doesn’t have to be a competitive thing. I’m only trying to do better tomorrow than I did yesterday and I believe that I can and will.
I went to private schools through the Boys’ Club Education Plan and was accepted early decision to Vassar College with a “full ride”. At every turn I believed that I could do whatever was at hand. I did. Well.
4) You are a Managing Partner of Rhyme Calisthenics. Being a true Hip-Hop Head, down since day one, what is your goal with this project?
Rhyme Calisthenics is a Hip Hop Gameshow based on a six foot “Wheel of Skills”. I intend for the show ultimately to be used as an educational tool that helps artists to expand on their vocabulary, persona, improvisational skills. All the elements of what would make you appreciate an artist and their music is what I hope to help young folks get better at. That makes for a more enjoyable product and the potential for a person to have a career. Mac Miller is a product of Rhyme Calisthenics. He never won, but got better every time and what you see now is a product of those skills he harnessed through our show.
5) Do you ever get back into rhyming just to rip another mc to shreds?
On occasion I’ll put it to a beat or I’ll hop in a cipher. I don’t intend to put cats out of their misery, but I never shy away from the opportunity to let my light shine. I’ve found that I can definitely drop knowledge and school dudes, but i can’t even front about selling drugs or shooting you. I’ll easily explain how you’ll get damage from the hands and the brain trust, which might put a young dude on his heels, but they’re definitely always gonna bring it back with some of that new age trip clap crap trap music and then I’m out. No fronting.
6) Tell those who don’t know what it was like back then, how it was to rhyme in a cypher. The rush you got when you battled someone and then became friends after.
I was always the dude producing the show, so I would listen for who had the bars, the punch lines, the wit. When I heard the nicest cat drop a gem I would always try to be right on his last word and show them all that they couldn’t hold a torch to me. That was earning your respect. It was like hitting the game winning shot in the championship. Your heart was ready to explode out of your chest with every syllable. The energy of the cipher has changed. As we were coming up in the Native Tongues age heads were smart and they wanted to impart wisdom. They felt it their obligation, if you were going to listen to them, to give you something to think about, to aspire toward, to motivate you to come back better. Now they’re killing you and selling you drugs and fucking your sister. Even if I told a cat to “cut his head off” back in the day, it was metaphor for “show homie what you got”. And by the time the cipher was done we either really had beef cuz somebody felt embarrassed or we would step into the next cipher and burn that greenery and start in on “the dozens” or the hot new chicks in the videos or magazines. It was all love. Nobody expected to get shot and, if you got into it, you had the chance to shoot the fair one or it was a crew deep rumble and you needed to best your opponent within 10 hits before the cops came and everybody went to central bookings.
7) You have a new project “Eso”, a clothing brand. Tell us more about it.
ESO Brand Clothing is a men’s and women’s apparel company started by myself and Artist Ramon Silva. A year ago the artist asked me to represent him in an agency capacity. I went to Art Basel, one of the major trade events for fine artists like painters and sculptors, and networked. I returned to New York City intrigued by the idea, but also understanding that I could sell a million T-Shirts quicker than I, personally, could sell a painting for $1,000,000. So I bought together a team of experts in their respective fields of Art, Product Manufacture, Branding, Garment Distribution…. and The Esoteric Aesthetic was born. ESO, in Ramon’s native Spanish means “that”. It’s a term of excitement and encouragement. So, similar to how our slang was “yo that’s PHAT!”, meaning that’s nice, fly, attractive, intriguing… ESO Brand literally Translate to “That Brand”. So, in a (very PC middle America) way it makes the statement, “that’s the brand to watch for.” And in a whole other (‘hood) way it’s like “YO! That’s That SHIT right THERE!” You’ll see pieces that translate on both genders with exactly the same design and you’ll see pieces that are gender specific based on cut, color, imagery… Ultimately it’s a fashion forward way to enter the apparel business and present an artist whose work deserves recognition to a consumer whose closet deserves something that’s outside the realm of what’s expected and already exists in the marketplace.
8) Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Island hopping. Enjoying the fruits of my labor. Consulting on creative projects that I enjoy. Celebrating life on the daily with the people that I love. Since youth I’ve been supporting my family. I’ve been an entrepreneur since age 19 when I started producing events at venues that I technically wasn’t legally allowed to be in. In all of this time I’ve hoped to create a lifestyle for myself that would motivate my siblings to stay on the straight and narrow and read books and aspire toward their best. Almost 20 years in I believe that I’ve shown them ways of not being dependent on an employer to afford them opportunities and helped them to understand the urgency of doing for yourself. I want the work that I’ve done in all things to resonate.
9) Do you believe in an Afterlife?
I believe that you should seek heaven on earth. You should love yourself enough to value the relationships that you build and eliminate undue stress and manifest the dreams that exist in your deepest core. My mom said to me when I was young “If you can perceive it and you believe it then you can achieve it.” I did that at every turn. Getting good grades. Getting the pretty girls attention. Getting a great education. Great Job. Nice car. Beautiful home. All of that from the work that I’ve done to afford myself anything. I believe that the soul is eternal, and while I have no answers for what happens when your physical existence is done, I have been able to enjoy the now and be present and aware of how and why time must be used wisely. My maternal grandfather was a baptist minister and some parts of my speech may seem spiritually based at times, and I was raised to believe in Heaven and Hell. As I have evolved and learned more I know that either of these is inside of you if you allow it to be. So I intend to speak heaven into existence on the constant and, as we watch things change, prepare myself for the best and work hard toward fulfilling that.
10) What’s the first thing you think of when you wake up?
How blessed I am.
11) What’s the last thing on your mind when you go to sleep?
How blessed I am.
12) If you could go back to any age, which would it be and why?
I would go back to age 19. The first week of college. I would tell myself to be fearless and aggressively pursue my dreams. I would also tell myself to appreciate the ladies and be very honest and straightforward with them. They’re tougher than we give them credit for and, while I have made it my purpose to celebrate them, I am certain that I have abused the privilege of good genes, intellect and reserve when engaging them.
I have always been a lover. I enjoy the company and conversation of a talented and beautiful woman and, had I known then what I know now, I would have done better in my approach. I was planning to go into investment banking, but the first Econ class I took was Marxian Economics. The teacher, the director of the Econ Department, wouldn’t let me drop it. It was the only C- I ever got. It turned me off to that side of things and, as a result, everything that I did was in the arts or entertainment or physical labor. That one guy knew what he was doing and would not be merciful and give me the out I needed to start fresh, but forced my hand and didn’t try to help me know what I needed to. In a way I should thank him, because I have lived a life that could not have been predicted and is likely better than those of my counterparts in the banking world.
13) If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
New York City. Every other place is great, but that’s for visiting. When you’re born and bred in NYC, no matter where you go, it calls you back. I’ve spent time in beautiful places all around the world, but the vibrancy of this town is unparalleled! So nice they had to name it twice! I can do a few months anywhere, but I’m always going to maintain someplace on the island of Manhattan.
14) Do you believe man is inherently good or flawed?
We are sinners. It is our nature to explore and attempt to understand. Because of this we break things and jump off cliffs into the ocean and flirt with girls we know are off limits. Our instinct may be good, but the way we put it out into the world has to be tougher because we understand both sides of the coin. You’d rather win than lose or draw. Because that’s the reality we’re in constant competition with each other. So, whether its the prettiest girl, the nicest car, the “best job”… We are in an age of oneupmanship. Because that is true you’ll see brothers competing rather than helping one another, you’ll see friends become enemies because one got the promotion, or the girl, or the car…
It takes a lot to remove yourself from these shackles of possession. You’re born naked and die the same way. All the distractions are just that, but it takes getting to a certain level of maturity and experience to even understand that.
Pride, ego, machismo, bravado… All the things that are so valued in this society lend themselves to our flaws. Once we can see past them we can become our truest selves. It takes a while to grasp this concept. It takes a certain humility to respect this truth. Balance is all we can ever attempt to achieve, so to answer the question succinctly, we are both good and bad. It matters which of these we harness and encourage and allow to endure. We know the consequence.