"Rappin' wasn't my first dream," admits 20-year-old D'Angelo Porter. "It was pro basketball. I always had good grades because of basketball."
Yet fate had other plans for the man known as D-Lo. A dabbler in rap who'd only made a few tracks, D-Lo went into his friend's studio alone one night in February 2007, determined "to find [his] swag" on the mic. He made a stomping, minimalist beat his first on Fruity Loops, over which he discovered his style: a hyperactive staccato with a slight rasp, a little like Keak Da Sneak in a higher register. The song, "No Hoe," undeniably slapped, prompting D-Lo and his brother, Sleepy D, also new to rap, to burn CD singles and hand them out at BART stations, schools, and so on.
Two months later, D-Lo began serving a year in the county jail for attempted robbery, ending his hoop dreams. Yet Sleepy continued pushing "No Hoe" in the Oakland streets and on MySpace, and the song went viral. On the evening of his release in 2008, D-Lo performed his first show, in Richmond.
"I wasn't nervous," he says. "I wanted to see if people knew the song. As soon as I come on, everybody went crazy."
Throughout 2008, D-Lo kept pushing the song, which soon found its way into the clubs. A low-budget video on YouTube kept the buzz alive; meanwhile D-Lo hooked up with Clear Label/PTB, the label responsible for Beeda Weeda's success. Before long, KMEL was getting tons of requests for a song it couldn't play on the radio.
But D-Lo managed to make an acceptably "clean" version for airplay. He also put together a high-profile remix featuring Beeda, E-40, and the Jacka. More crucially, to prove he wasn't a fluke, he released a new, broadcast-friendly single, "You Played Me," with a hook sung by Rico the Kid. D-Lo's MySpace page tells the story: "No Hoe" earned an impressive 900,000 hits over the past two years, but "You Played Me" garnered 1.1 million in a matter of months. While "You Played Me" is slated for D-Lo's upcoming SMC debut, Undeniable Talent, the original and remix of "No Hoe" are available now on his "pre-album," The Tonite Show with D-Lo (Clear Label/PTB), among the best so far in the DJ Fresh-produced series.
With his grassroots rise and radio-readiness, D-Lo has attracted the attention of companies like Interscope and Def Jam. Perhaps he could be the new Bay rapper who finally breaks through to major label glory a prospect he greets with both impatience and resolve.
"The shit be slow," he says of major label talks. "But I wouldn't be as popular as I am for nothing, so I keep pushin'."
>>GOLDIES 2009: The 21st Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery awards, honoring the Bay's best in arts