As part of a new collaborative effort between Oakland North and its partner site Richmond Confidential, we’ve started a new series called Bandwidth to profile fresh music coming out of these two East Bay cities. The first profile is about a Richmond hip-hop duo called the DIME. The group’s two members, Chioke Jelani Clanton and Knightshift, grew up in South Richmond and now they often record and perform in Oakland. They describe their sound as East Bay soul and are expecting to release their first album, Brickyard Cove, in April.
Together, the two have formed one of the newest incarnations of a long line of local rap duos including Land of Da Lost, C.I.N., Subliminal Icons, and The Frontline. “I remember being around a lot of these guys when I was younger, and being able to hear them kick rhymes out on the corner, like very organic,” said Clanton. “A lot of the imagery they used were our streets, our problems, our mayors, and our teachers. Just what was going on.”
Clanton said those encounters taught him how to write about his own experiences growing up in Richmond. He referred to a line from a Melle Mel song that encapsulated many of his teenage years: “Don’t push me ‘cuz I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head.”
“A lot of times our thoughts were with the here and now, very angry. Fathers not around and things like that, a lot of social ills, a lot of high crime and violence,” he said. “So you know what’s the righteous path to walk, but there’s times when you about to lose your head because you’re young and immature and you don’t know how to deal with certain things and see everything in black and white.”
Knightshift’s memories of Richmond as a teenager were mostly positive. “I had good parents. My mom and dad weren’t together, but my step dad was there and he held us down,” said Knightshift. But he says growing up in South Richmond was still a struggle.
Knightshift said he developed his hop-hop palette in high school, when he and Clanton first met. “I was into the spoken word scene, it was really thick at the time.” He ended up going to Dorsey’s Locker in North Oakland despite being too young to get in. “But they let me just kick my little poem, and then I had to stand back behind, you know outside. So I had to watch from the back door,” Knightshift said.
The two compare their approach to making music to cooking soul food. “You go to restaurants now and you get your food in ten minutes. I remember when we used to have to wait 30 minutes, and that’s the same way we do our music,” said Knightshift. “It’s the same way we do a lot of things, no rush, no rush.”
Their first album is the product of months and years of work. Clanton said they’ve let some of their concepts and ideas for the album “simmer and brew” before they could be verbalized. ”The words are the very last thing to come out, but if you are not conveying a lot of feeling, that emotion, that subtext in the words, you’re not really doing anything. You’re just making a bunch of noise on record,” he said.
The DIME’s music is woven with countless references to Richmond, from local politician Corky Booze, to the Chevron refinery and Point Richmond—a small, affluent community on the fringes of Richmond that Clanton compared to Piedmont.
He said Point Richmond residents, “in the past have lobbied to separate, almost like you have Oakland and Piedmont.” But it’s all Richmond he says and “we all share the good and the bad of our city and our community, there’s beauty everywhere.”
“We speak on the blue collar mentality, the everyday struggle. And sometimes it comes to play with the typical stuff, the guns and the drugs, but our thing is about showing the emotion of the different hustles,” Clanton said.
“It’s also a reality of people that just have regular jobs that aren’t as risky or dangerous, people that have kids and want to play at the park, and so all that’s in our music,” said Knightshift.
You can check out past issues of our new Bandwidth series on Oakland and Richmond musicians here.
Do you have a suggestion for an Oakland or Richmond-based band that we should profile as part of the Bandwidth series? Send suggestions for Oakland-based bands to firstname.lastname@example.org and for Richmond-based bands to email@example.com.