Deca: Prolific and profound.
In this article we speak with Deca; a highly proficient self sufficient hip hop artist based out of NYC who is charting his own course through deep philosophical meditative waters. He has been releasing albums since 2013 at a prolific rate and maintaining not only lofty standards but full artistic control of the sonics and visuals. Although his music bio predates these albums, one perceives a unique journey taking place as he expands his craft with wholly original sound fields and wordsmithing that taps into philosophy and poetry to explore the inner cosmos of what moves him to create.
Deca is not concerned with staying on trend or being artistically contained, which is evidenced by his most recent EP release of brief mostly instrumental tracks. ‘Source Material’ is at once a sharp turn, a rewarding listen and an indicator that this artist has a firm grasp of where he wants to go and how he wants to get there.
“Find the thing that’s uniquely yours and cultivate it” – Deca. He is definitely living proof of his own advice. Let’s delve in.
First of all, thank you for taking the time from a busy schedule to talk with us. For some readers this article will serve as an introduction to you and your music. Please tell us a little about your background and how music played a role in it.
Absolutely, thanks for having me. I grew up in Denver, CO, and started making music at a pretty young age so It’s always been a big part of my life. My Dad is a musician and played guitar in a new wave group called the Aviators in the ’80s so I was around him playing a lot growing up, and when I’d visit him I’d hear him practicing and recording with the band. I think that’s a big part of why I got into playing music.
As a seasoned veteran within the underground hip hop scene, you have obviously been honing your craft for quite some time. It has been mentioned in previous articles that the works of De La Soul provided much inspiration for you. Can you tell us what first sparked your interest in hip hop? Please feel free to name any other artists who inspired you to express yourself through this particular genre.
It’s hard to pinpoint my introduction to hip hop. I think it was more through the commercial stuff that was on the radio at the time, like MC Hammer, Salt N Pepa and groups like that. But a memory that sticks out in my mind is my older brother showing me a bunch of tapes, Digital Underground, Heavy D, the Beastie Boys, and listening to A Tribe Called Quest’s first single “I Left My Wallet in Elsegundo”. Most of what I listened to as a young kid was whatever my older brothers introduced me to.
How did you arrive at the name Deca? It seems laden with significance.
It was a graffiti name and means ten in Latin. The significance I gave it at the time was that I started writing graffiti when I was ten but more than anything I just liked the way it sounded and was trying to come up with a new name to write. It’s acquired meaning for me since though, and there are a lot of associations with the number ten. Pythagorus considered it the holiest number, Ten Commandments, ten plagues, the tetractys, ten incarnations of the godhead in Hinduism, Capricorn is the tenth sign of the zodiac and I’m a Capricorn, computer code is ones and zeros, things like that. Sixteen is another number that’s significant to me. I had a dream years ago around the time I was working on “The Ocean” where a dream character told me that all humans are composed of sixteen archetypal beings that appear in different forms and play up to four roles in our dreams. Synchronistically the summation of my most recent album Snakes and Birds is Matthew 10:16. Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
Congratulations on a very well chosen artist name that truly resonates with you! What are some of your other life interests aside from making music?
I read a lot. That’s always a good break from the music. Recently I’ve been trying to get out of the city more and have done a few road trips the past few years. I started camping as well last year. But really my life revolves around making art and music and the majority of my time is spent doing those two things.
Your 2020 Snakes And Birds album is filled with strong tracks such as ‘Clay Pigeon’ where the lyrical depths are undeniably poetic, as found in the chorus –
“Life’s a package deal
You take the beautiful days with dark nights
and dance with Maya in the starlight
It’s alright, we wax and we wane
There’s wildflowers growing from the cracks in my brain
Dry your eyes, revitalize, alive and well
Practicin’ my aim by a grave of fireflies
that fell like Simon Magus from the sky
And hit the ground“
I wonder, do you have a particular composition that stands out for you lyrically?
“The Way Through” is one of my favorites. The lyrics to that song came to me really easily.
That whole 2017 album is superb. It grooves, elucidates and educates in equal measure. I pulled this snippet from the title track for its wistful weary wisdom;
“I wish that we could clip puppet strings, among other things, and walk hand in hand smiling and suffering. I know a thing or two about the sins love redeems, and what it means to play kings and queens in each other’s dreams”
You are obviously making good use of that microphone and not squandering the opportunity to impart your messages. That said, your latest release ‘Source Material’, is largely instrumental. Can you tell our readers how your creative processes manifest and come to fruition?
Usually I have an overarching concept for an album and kind of flesh it out as I go. More often than not the beat comes first and then I start writing once I have a solid foundation and work back and forth adding to the beat and writing. But It’s hard to break down the creative process because it’s different every time and is never really a linear process. Right now I’m working on an album and bouncing between seven different songs, adding to all of them, reworking different parts, and writing, and a lot of times the end result of a song is completely different than what I started with.
Do you ever experience writer’s block and if so, how do you deal with it?
I do. I go through phases where I’m able to write a lot in a short amount of time, and other times where I’m blocked for months. After I finished The Ocean, I wasn’t able to finish a song for like a year and a half. The best way I know how to deal with it is just switch gears and either work on the production side of things or paint and draw.
You have been a part of some fine collaborations, such as the recent track ‘Interstellar’ with K.A.A.N. Are there other collabs that stand out for you as particularly rewarding?
Yeah, K.A.A.N. Is dope and super prolific. One of my favorites is a song called “Beastmode” on En Stereo’s 2011 album produced by Es Nine. It’s me and two of my good friends from way back that I grew up making music with, Ichibon and Mane Rok, and the beat switches up for each of our verses. That’s one I still do live with them when I’m in Denver.
In an ideal world, where anything is possible…if you could collaborate with any artist (past or present), who would you like to work with the most?
I’d love to get a verse from Dave from De La Soul. I met him in passing once at a spot called The Fat Buddha in New York but was a little too starstruck to try to start up a conversation, and didn’t really know what to say other than just to tell him what a big fan I was.
Even a cursory exposure to your sonics reveals a tapped in ontological resonance, and then you add an array of very well crafted music videos to your message arsenal to complete the Deca experience. The animation work in ‘Waiting’ or ‘Breadcrumbs’ for example, reinforces a sensation of tripping the DMT-Ayahuasca pathways and a listener who is paying attention will be captivated by the tripled power of music-lyrics-visuals. These videos are painstakingly made and that attention to detail must involve a lot of time and patience. How do you conceptualize and create them?
Typically they take a month or two to finish. Waiting was the first video I animated by myself and the bulk of all the previous videos were done by my friend Steven Mertens. It’s definitely a slow going tedious process but I love doing it. For all the videos I did with Steven, we had the storylines all plotted out and then I’d send him artwork and elements to incorporate in the videos. For the ones I animated solo, I usually have a loose concept, and then just start piecing them together and editing as I go.
Being fully involved in the hip hop scene for such a long time, I’m sure there were some pivotal moments for you that were key to your success. What would you say are some of your biggest accomplishments along the way?
I think it’s been a series of small wins over the years that helped me slowly build a following. The Breadcrumbs video did really well when it came out, which was a lot of people’s introduction to my music, and the Gabriel Ratchet video got a Staff Pick on Vimeo and was featured on their homepage. Things like that. A big accomplishment was playing Hip Hop Kemp in the Czech Republic. That was my first time going to Europe and was an incredible experience.
You have no doubt accrued a lot of life wisdom and faced your share of challenges during the course of your musical journey. Were there any major hurdles that you had to overcome in order to persevere? What drives you to continue exploring and expressing yourself through this medium?
Addiction was the big one. The toughest part came after I was clean when I had to face and slowly work through all the reasons I was using in the first place and I’m still in the process of doing that. Music is my very small way of trying to heal what I see as an extremely sick society and world. Aside from the need to create things and enjoying the process, I think I’m mainly driven by that.
As students of music and life, I feel many can relate that we all have a strong focus on improvement and growth. What are some areas that you would like to improve on when it comes to music, or even as an individual? What advice might you offer someone wanting to pursue a career in the music industry?
Too many to name as an individual. But being more patient in my life and quieting my mind more are two. I’ve meditated on and off over the years, and that’s something I’d like to make more of a routine and a daily practice. As far as music I just want to continue to learn and grow on every level. Writing wise, production, the engineering side of things, getting better at playing instruments etc. And the same goes for my visual art.
Awareness of your work is riding a constant upward trajectory, with almost 1.5 million views on your YouTube channel, and no shortage of fans whose comments indicate a very appreciative audience. What is coming up next and do you plan to tour in the near future?
Appreciate that man! I’m working on another project right now that I’m hoping to release in spring next year, and am in the early stages of setting up a tour around the release of that album.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t covered? Any shout-outs?
Big shout out to Def Presse and their whole team. They’ve been a pleasure to work with.
Here is your opportunity to share any links or back catalogue material with our readers. Please feel free to expand upon any of these tracks, their creation, and what they mean to you.
As a huge fan of the library genre, it’s a true honor to be included in this series. The first production library records I ever picked up were KPM, so to be given free reign to sample anything in the archive along with music from Themes International and Conroy was an incredible experience. It was definitely a challenge going through such a huge archive and narrowing down what I wanted to use. I ended up listening to damn near everything in the archive. It was important to me to do justice to such legendary labels that some of my all time favorites had pulled from; Madlib, Dilla, De La Soul, Doom, Ghost and Raekwon, the list goes on. I tried to flip some of the lesser known things that, to my knowledge, hadn’t been used by other producers, and I also sampled a lot from the KPM and Conroy records I own that I had never gotten around to using.