Washington, DC native Darren Harper has a story
that, on some levels, weve heard before a rough life stricken with severe
challenges that hes had to overcome. The difference between Darren and many of
his peers is the route hes 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 its 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 Barkers 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 hes channeled
his rebellious energy and how hes 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
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
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
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
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
AllHipHop.com: Talk a little bit about what’s next
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