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Q&A: Dee-1 On Helping New Orleans Pelicans & New Orleans Saints Connect With Community

Dee-1 is a ray of sunshine everywhere he goes in the music industry. His kilowatt smile and joyful authenticity brought a fresh energy to the New Orleans Saints last year in a season like no other. The Big Easy rapper was part of the team's infomercial involving some serious topics like COVID-19 protocol. But Dee-1 was there to keep fans pumped even with the restrictions and the heaviness of the virus.

This was a continuation of the work Dee-1 had already built with the team. One of his very first records was "Bring 'Em to the Dome," a New Orleans Saints anthem with Shamarr Allen that rang throughout the city as the Saints won their first Super Bowl in 2010. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city and its victory became a beacon of hope for the world to see.

A local sports team that Uno had a hard time connecting with in an organic way was the New Orleans Pelicans. A young David Augustine grew up loving basketball, but since the city didn't have an NBA team, he became a Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers fan. By the time the big leagues decided to plant a team in the Big Easy, his allegiances were already solidified elsewhere. It was a rocky road for the team to build an authentic relationship with the community. But once they did, Dee-1 was happy to hop on board and create the New Orleans Pelicans' theme song for the 2020-2021 season, produced by Cash Money great Mannie Fresh.

We spoke to Dee-1 about working with both the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans and how much the sports in the city mean to him.

I know the New Orleans Saints commercial was a really big and exciting deal for you, what did that mean to you to be a part of that?

Dee-1: I just feel like it’s always a full circle moment when you grow up as a kid a fan of a team and now that team is reaching out to you to be a part of their campaign. It was a magical moment. I think about all the memories of watching the Saints on TV with my daddy or trying to be like my favorite Saints player on the playground, wearing their hats and their shirts and their jerseys around my hood and then now to be in their commercial, that’s just the best way to describe it is just a humbling full-circle moment.

And it was fun, I feel like you brought something lighthearted. They were discussing COVID protocol, but what did it mean to you to bring that positivity to something that could have been heavy?

Dee-1: I think that’s what I bring to the entertainment industry is positivity and just a positive outlook on issues that are otherwise really heavy. I bring that "light at the end of the tunnel" type of vibe, that they can still inspire someone and just allow people to have fun instead of crying or hanging their head low. I really think that’s what I bring to the entertainment industry so this commercial followed suit accordingly.

Yeah, that’s so true, you are a positive presence in general, so it was natural for you. Then you dropped in 2009 “Bring 'Em to the Dome” and I was just googling like “Saints Music” and it’s in the lists of songs that people still love and associate with the team. What does it mean to be part of that legacy of the Saints’ musical history?

Dee-1: So the "Bring 'Em to the Dome" song, this was when I didn’t even really have a name as an artist. I hadn’t even released my first solo album like my first official album when I put that Saints song out and it was the year that they happened to win the Super Bowl. So it was really, really awesome to put out a song that resonated with so many people. And I remember my boy Shamarr Allen and I, we came up with this song literally in a home bedroom studio and just to see that season, that was such a fairy tale ride that season that the Saints had to ultimately win the Super Bowl. To hear so many fans singing that song, it was a big deal. It was a big deal. And it still is a big deal to know that that is immortalized as a part of history, ‘cause it was definitely a part of their run that year for sure.

Definitely. I know you did the song for the New Orleans Pelicans too, that was I’m sure so exciting to see your name on the big screen. What was that moment like for you?

Dee-1: So once again, a very humbling full-circle moment. Basketball is my favorite sport, so I definitely wanted to play in the NBA throughout my childhood and my teenage years. So to see that moment come full circle to where it’s like, "Hey, I might not be playing in the NBA, but I definitely just made the new anthem for the NBA team in my city with a legendary producer, Mannie Fresh, doing the beat and then they’re playing it at every home game." So it plays inside the arena at every home game and I finally made my way to a game this season and was able to see it. It’s humbling, humbling full-circle moment. Just a reminder that these type of opportunities are definitely happening because of God.

There’s nothing I necessarily did to deserve this. I’m just being obedient to the call that God has on my life and on my talent and these type of opportunities come about. We didn’t know when we made the Saints song in ‘09, we didn’t know how many YouTube views it would garner, how many sales it would garner like on iTunes and whatnot. That song changed our lives in a couple of ways, in more ways than one. I definitely had no idea. I was just trying to be obedient to the talent that God has given me. And same thing with the Pelicans. These are just opportunities that I’m just like, "Yo, thank you, thank you, God." And then I just do my best with the opportunity. So once the opportunity comes, yeah, I do my best to maximize it and make it memorable.

That’s so good. Sometimes we just have to be like “Wow, thank you.”

Dee-1: Yeah.

And that is important as well to do our best with those opportunities.

Dee-1: Yeah, like we are still talking about "Bring 'Em to the Dome," like you said. People in New Orleans don’t not remember that song. People definitely remember that song and it’s 11 almost 12 years later since that song came out. So it’s like if you’re gonna do it, do it big. Same thing with the Pelicans song and with the video. There’s a lot behind the scenes that people don’t know as far as the back story to how these songs come together, how these videos come together. I always try to think long term and big picture, that’s why I approach things the way I do because there’s a lot of great ideas that never get fully executed just because there were some bumps in the road along the way. And with the Pelicans song for example, everyone sees the finish product, but it was definitely a lot on the backend that went into what might seem simple, like ok, it’s a one-minute song and they shot a video to it, pretty simple. We see that every day, we hear rap songs and videos. But it was a lot on the back end, trust me. But now that it’s done and it’s out and people love it, that’s all they care about. So job well done.

I saw that it’s so important that the Black Masking Indians are in the video and it’s so New Orleans as the culture of the city.

Dee-1: Correct, correct, that’s real. That’s what I love being a part of is a production that’s even bigger than just me, so the culture of my city is so rich and New Orleans culture cannot be erased or cannot be duplicated. Oftentimes people try to duplicate it, but for us to be able to tap into the core essence of what makes our city special with the Mardis Gras Indians and with the hip-hop element with Mannie Fresh being involved like this was great.

You had met Mannie before, right?

Dee-1: I met Mannie when I was a college student, so this was a while ago. We had gone about four years after we met without speaking or without running into one another, but he saw me grinding during those four years and he just saw my name continue to pop up and saw me making moves and not waiting on his co-sign. So he always tells me that that is what led him to wanna reach back out to me four years later and extend the olive branch to come and work. So we’ve been working and collaborating for a long time now. We’ve been working and collaborating for about a decade now, we’ve been working and collaborating. I think I won him over with my grind, honestly.

That whole Cash Money really is the hustle mentality and you epitomize that. I know you have a whole story about Cash Money too, but real recognize real at the end of the day.

Dee-1: Yeah, most definitely. So that was fun. We just got to link up like old times. Me and Mannie have an album together that’s coming out in 2021. It’s recorded already. So when we linked up for the Pelicans song, it’s really a comfort zone working with Mannie because we recorded so much together in recent years that there’s nothing awkward about oh how is this studio session going to feel with Mannie Fresh and Dee-1? It really feels just super smooth when we work together.

I know New Orleans and its NBA history is so complex between the Hornets and now it’s the Pelicans. But growing up you loved basketball, so what has that been like as a New Orleans fan? How have you dealt with that complex history?

Dee-1: So we didn’t have an NBA team for the beginning of my childhood, we didn’t have one. Then when we first got the Hornets, the New Orleans Hornets, it had already gotten to the point where I had picked my favorite basketball teams and I was a Bulls fan ‘cause of Michael Jordan and a Lakers fan ‘cause of Kobe Bryant and an Orlando Magic fan ‘cause of Penny Hardaway. So that had already happened by the time we got a team. So to be really real with you, I hadn’t become a fan of the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team until adulthood, which is the past few years. I’m friends with Anthony Davis, once AD got drafted by us and we formed a friendship, it became more natural. So I would root for the Hornets at the time, but then ultimately the Pelicans.

And now, I think for me personally, the more that I see them reaching out and embracing the culture of our city and the more that I have worked with them and collaborated with them, it incentivizes me. It’s easier to have that team spirit when you feel like they care about inclusion. I performed at an NBA game last year, but it wasn’t for the Pelicans, it was for the Los Angeles Clippers in the Staples Center. So I’m performing in front of 20,000 fans and I’m like how interesting is this that the first NBA game I ever performed at for halftime, it’s not even my hometown team? And literally the Clippers sought me out and called me and I flew all the way out to Los Angeles to perform there. Ironically, they were playing the Pelicans that night, so I was like this is symbolic on multiple levels, the fact that my hometown team didn’t reach out first and I’ve accomplished a lot in the industry to the point where other teams are seeking me out to do stuff and now my hometown team. So it made me happy when they reached out for me to do this song for ‘em. ‘Cause I was just like yeah, I don’t know how I feel about that stuff, like dang, are y’all unwilling to embrace what I have to bring to the arena or to the city or to the team? So I was happy about seeing this song come to fruition.

So many layers and levels and it all turned out really well so that’s good!

Dee-1: Yes, without a doubt.

Stay tuned for Dee-1's "Finding Balance" album, join his Patreon community and stay connected at Follow Dee-1 on Instagram and Twitter.

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