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Darren Harper: Skate To Live – Triumph of an Inner-City Skateboarder

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Washington, DC native Darren Harper has a story

that, on some levels, we’ve heard before – a rough life stricken with severe

challenges that he’s had to overcome. The difference between Darren and many of

his peers is the route he’s chosen to initiate change in his own life and the

lives of others.

 

He latched on to skateboarding at an early age,

and of course it’s been a means for him to stay out of trouble. In the big

picture, the decision to go off the beaten path has catapulted Darren into the

position of influencing the next generation through his passion for skating.

 

Through the hustle and hard work, both solo and with the Dirty Ghetto Kids crew, Darren garnered an endorsement from

Travis Barker’s Famous Stars & Straps clothing line, and has added modeling

to his list of achievements. We spoke with the street-savvy skateboarder about

his motivation, his thoughts on rappers repping the sport, the ways he’s channeled

his rebellious energy and how he’s using his own struggle to help others.  

 

AllHipHop.com: You grew up with a bit of a rough

lifestyle with definite disadvantages, and you’ve overcome those things through

skating. What got you involved in skating and why has it been so important to

your life?

 

Darren Harper: I basically got involved with

skating when growing up in the neighborhood – we used to skate down the hills

and ride rollerskates, anything for a little thrill. One of the homies had a

skateboard, there was a show that came on at the time that got us kind of hyped

on that. When the show came out we started trying to impersonate the people we

were seeing like Tony Hawk and these skaters. We would call out the names and

act like we was them and just try to impersonate their tricks doing the things

we did in the hood style.

 

AllHipHop.com: Now Hip-Hop has definitely

integrated a lot more into the skate community, but it wasn’t always like that.

How do you feel that Hip-Hop has improved or built on skating?

 

Darren Harper: It’s improved because it’s working

together. You see a lot of rap videos and things going on nowadays and you can

always find skating in the background, the rappers are starting to wear skate

clothing and things like that. It’s definitely a good look because when I came

up the children and the ghetto audience from the hood didn’t take to it too

much because it was looked at as a white boy sport. It wasn’t too many black

people doing that.

 

So now with Hip-Hop merging together and helping

it out, it’s like people like trends and usually the rappers are motivational.

When [people] see this going on with them and see that they’re taking to it,

it’s a good look for them and it’s cool now. They helped to make it cool. They

respect it too, because I’ve [talked] with certain rappers and they love what I

do, it’s just a point of making the outsiders look into it and respect it.

 

That was the hardest thing for me coming up, I

came up from the streets and I was the only one. So I had to struggle with

that, living in that environment and carrying a skateboard around. Crack

selling, violence, everything that’s going on – and I’m the only Black skater,

so it was hard. But now it’s definitely coming around.

 

AllHipHop.com: When skating became a trend in

Hip-Hop [Pharrell, Lupe Fiasco, etc], do you believe it helped or hurt your

personal movement?

 

Darren Harper: I say it helped because none of those

guys are what I am. Respect to them, but at the end of the day my background is

totally different. They can say whatever it is, but I think that it’s helped.

Bad comments [are] always good, if they talkin’ about you they talkin’ about

you so it’s all good. But they get a little bit of bad comments and reviews,

because at one point in time it was where the skate industry didn’t want the

non-skaters or the outsiders to buy the product.

 

Now it’s become popular, and it’s really a money

issue now and it’s in all of the shoe stores and everything. I thank Pharrell

and all of them, because at the end of the day it has helped because it’s put

it on a national level as far as where the world can see it.

 

AllHipHop.com: Now you have kids carrying a

skateboard around saying “I’m a skateboarder” but they haven’t

learned the technical skills and the foundational things that you’ve had to

learn. Does it offend you in any way if somebody walks up saying “I’m a

skateboarder”?

 

Darren Harper: I’m cut from a different cloth, so

I respect that, because at the end of the day as long as you’re going to buy

these boards from the shops and you find out where they’re being carried. I

fault the brands sometimes, because when I used to try and sell that to them

like, “Yo this is gonna be what’s hot in the hood, you just need a person

to help put it out there and market it” which I always thought was me. I

just unfortunately wasn’t able to get with those big guns and things like that.

 

But it’s coming around, and I respect any kid… you

never know, it might save their life like it saved my life. I love it man. Go

get a board, I don’t care if you’re posing, I don’t really care about that.

 

AllHipHop.com: So pretty much if it’s supporting

the skate community monetarily, it is helping you in the long run.

 

Darren Harper: Exactly. It definitely helps in the

long run. But again I just feel like do what you gotta do, because it’s people

like me who will come around and even if they are posers once they see it and

respect what I do then they’re gonna get involved with it and say, “Let me

learn this. This gentleman here is doing it and he’s good, why not give a stab

at it? Maybe I can become like him” when they read the history and the

background of everything that I present to the world. Definitely it’s

encouragement, so all they need is a little encouragement.

 

AllHipHop.com: You linked up with Travis Barker

essentially through hustling. How do you feel about being able to link up with

someone like Travis Barker and having him put you on this more mainstream level

with this look?

 

Darren Harper: It was a blessing. I never knew I

would bump into someone, like that and it was a blessing from God. So all I do

is continue to do my job and skate and be the best that I can be. He was a plus

because he helped me cross over not just into the Hip-Hop community, because to

be honest with you, I’m more known out of the Hip-Hop community because skating

is just now crossing over.

We only have three Black brothers who are really

doing it, who really skate, you can count them on their fingers. At the end of

the day he has helped a lot. I’m able to be recognized all over the world

because you have a million people checking out Trav. It was just a good look at

the right time, I’ve been hustling hard and finally I got a breath of fresh air

with it.

AllHipHop.com: Black rollerbladers are going

through what you have with skateboarding years before – [dealing] with racism

and also people saying rollerblading isn’t as good as skating. What do you

think the disconnect is between skateboarding and extreme rollerblading?

 

Darren Harper: With rollerblading it’s a little

different, because you don’t tend to see a guy that says, “Oh, I’m just

gonna go out and rollerblade.” You will see a skateboard when you grow up

- rollerblading is kind of new. To wrap it up in a nutshell, rollerblading is

just gonna take a little more time, they got to grind. It’s got to evolve,

that’s all I got to say.

 

AllHipHop.com: Online in skate community sites you

see a lot of blatant racism expressed. How does it make you feel as a person

that’s really paid your dues, and how do you feel it’s best for

African-American and Latin skaters to approach these situations?

Darren Harper: Well to be honest, it took me a

minute to learn to deal with that. I’m a very aggressive person coming from the

environment. Sometimes I look at it like these people hide behind their

keyboards and make their comments, but they’ll never say it to my face. I’m

learning that all criticism is good, even if it’s racism. They had to check you

out, look at that video and watch something about you. Even if it was racism

and it was hate, I’m sure they showed their friends like, “Yo, look at

this person.” It’s all good, right now you can talk bad about me, whatever

you need to do. 

 

I’m in my lane and I’m gonna continue to do what I

do, but at the same time I feel like for the average person who can’t accept

that, they need to just chalk it up. Words don’t hurt nobody, you can say what

you wanna say, but at the end of the day when you reach the peak or goal that

you’re trying to get to, you look back at those ignorant people like,

“Hey, look at me now.” Not really throwing it at them, but you gotta

also understand that they were the people that doubted you – so here I am.

 

AllHipHop.com: What advice would you give to kids

that wanna follow in your footsteps?

 

Darren Harper: Well, the most problems I had was

peer pressure with people who didn’t skate. Don’t let that get to you. Stick to

your craft, because one day you’ll be able to look back like, “I did this

for something, I’ve overcome that.” I know it gets hard, because peer

pressure is a mug when it comes from the streets. There comes a certain time

where you get involved with the ladies, whether it’s the block game or whatever

and they have you. You just gotta stay focused and that’s my main thing, just

stay focused.

 

AllHipHop.com: Talk a little bit about what’s next

for you.

 

Darren Harper: Skateboarding has a long way [to

go] with Hip-Hop intertwining into it. I’m trying to be that person to do it,

because I know as far as the audience, marketing and promoting means something.

I’m just trying to be that face, when you hear about skating – shoutout to the

other people they’re doing their thing – but I’m in this to grind. I come from

a long way, so I want the kids to really associate when they hear skateboarding

with Darren Harper, I wanna be that forefront person. 

 

I’m definitely trying to get with a major

[company] because Hip-Hop is so powerful , inspirational, and motivational. I’m

just trying to get with that rapper who can help me promote myself, because

they get the coverage and videos. The world already sees them so when I get

introduced by someone like that or some type of Hip-Hop person who has the same

struggle like me, they understand. That’s the hardest part about skating, you

don’t get too many people that understand.

 

I had companies in the past that didn’t understand

me. They would ask where I saw myself in the future and what I wanted to do,

because I’m not in the same boat and going for the same things that they

wanted, they would single me out. I didn’t go for that because, no disrespect,

but I didn’t grow up in the suburbs, I’m not a white kid. I’m an

African-American, and I come from a neighborhood with nothing, so I had to make

something out of nothing. My main focus has been trying to glue with that

person who will see the vision and understand, it’s a wrap after that.

 

I do a lot of charity work with nonprofit

organizations and things like that. I’m with the Guns Aside Society, that’s

located here within the DC area, and I’m more catered to the children also,

because I gotta let them know what it was like. Here’s another option I’m

putting on the table that you can check out. It’s your choice and the choice is

yours, but I’m introducing it. I really go to schools and talk to children, I

go to recreational centers in the hood. I really do this. 

Find out more about Darren Harper at MySpace.com/DarrenHarper

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