Ross Cardillo

The Dopest Gringo Alive

As I pet a dog that too closely resembles a toy, a young Ross Cardillo pimped in the gear of an alternative musician who couldn’t care less about his untied shoes comes up behind me to order a mocha that he says will “cause [him] pain later but screw it.” This is a quintessential beginning to our interview with the Dopest Gringo Alive (DGA), a rapper from the Palo Alto Bay Area who recently dropped an album worthy of a lifetime’s supply of free burritos. My meeting with DGA featured a combination of the best of hip hop, sexual preference, life experience and a clear conclusion that music is in this kid’s bone marrow. I appreciate his sensitivity and dedication to represent no one but himself, and to bring a fresh face to hip hop culture. If you can be your authentic self, then nothing else is needed but a lifestyle flexible enough to keep doing what you love. His ease and free speech are refreshing and filled with great one-liners that brightened my day. You can listen to his most recent album, “FuegO SuS,” on Bandcamp and other singles on SoundCloud. I was honored to represent C magazine in interviewing this wonderfully unique musician.

C Mag: Did you always have your rap voice? How did you develop yours?

DGA:  I think the whole “rapping voice” should be demolished as a concept because there is no one singing voice. Why does there need to be one rap voice? I was talking to my friend, and I don’t know how to say this and not sound stupid, but he is a gay guy with a very classic effeminate voice, and he sent me something he recorded and he said, “Eh, I don’t like my voice.” And I was like, “No, forget that. Just use your normal voice, it’s lit, and figure out how to make your voice sound dope because everyone has something unique to their voice.” I also hated my voice up until last year, but I just figured out how I like to use my voice. It’s more screechy-screamy and I mumble, and I have weird little tricks to play to the strengths of my voice. When I meet white rappers, I’m like, “I am watching you. Please don’t try and sound like a black person. Don’t do it, just do your actual voice.” That was really hard for me, because everyone I looked up to musically was a black guy from New York. I tried to emulate them and asked myself, “How do I do that?” I have this little voice from California, you know, I don’t talk like that and it felt weird. But now that I listen to stuff besides rap, I learned the other directions that you can go in with your voice.

C Mag: Where do you get your inspiration from for your rapping, and who are your favorite artists?

DGA: I made this list on Spotify [of my favorite artists], there is Das Racist, that’s a big one. I was obsessed with them all through high school, so anytime I was at Paly that’s what was playing in my headphones, and Run The Jewels… the Pixies were also a really big influence on me, and Nirvana, because I have gotten into that stuff over the past three years.

C Mag: When did you start rapping, or when did you start writing rap lyrics?

DGA: I think I was 12, and I didn’t like rap music up until that point. Then, I found a few rap songs I thought were cool, and I was like, “I can do that,” and then I just did it as a joke. But, eventually, I decided it was really fun so I increasingly rapped until the end of middle school. Then I was known as the kid that was pretty weird and got into [crappy] rap battles with people.

C Mag: What is your music to you?

DGA: You know, making the album. I was like, “Thank God I have value somewhere in my life.” Art is the only thing that can 100% distract me in a healthy way, you know. I just sink into it and I forget who I am. I don’t remember anything, and it doesn’t feel like a bad thing. I’m not hiding from myself; I am just living totally in the moment for a second.

C Mag: On average, how long do you do music. Are you more of a structured artist or is it when you feel inspired, or is it just constant?

DGA: Well, the constant part is that I am always writing down little ideas and things. For example, if my friend says a funny phrase, I will write it down and that will be the potential for a new song title. I am always coming up with weird titles for songs, and that inspires me. And just little tiny lines I will write, but I used to be nonstop writing rap. It was a problem … I would be in class and I couldn’t focus and I would write a verse on the back of the homework and it was pretty dumb.

A lot of the time, I can’t force myself. It just kinda has to come, and then I suddenly have to go do something. I’ll hear a sample, and I’m like, “I have to go do this right now!” So that’s good and bad. It is natural energy I am going off of, but it’s bad that sometimes I just won’t make anything for like three months and it’s kind of a sad feeling, and you feel like you’re stagnating, and how are you calling yourself a rapper person if you aren’t even writing anything?

C Mag: So you identify as queer?

DGA: I use that a lot because it’s vague, and most people know what it means rather than pansexual, a lot of people argue it is different things. When I was little, I tried to just not think about it, but for me sexually, I just don’t care about gender. It’s just everyone, it doesn’t calculate into my sexual thinking, but I feel like I very much don’t have LGBT experiences in many ways and I try to be aware of that and how I bring it into my music. I don’t want to overly speak for something that I don’t experience, I just decided that I wasn’t going to use that in my music because it’s too traumatic for too many people. I don’t need to use it. For me, no one beat [being gay] out of me while calling me a faggot. I didn’t go through that, but a lot of people did. A lot of people are afraid of being called that and killed, so I am just going to speak true to my experiences. It is the same thing with being Latino; I am Latino by heritage but not by lifestyle or my day to day culture, so I try to be respectful of that. That is where Dopest Gringo Alive comes from, it’s that I am a white person, but I am Latino, so I’ll call myself white in a Latino way and that was the whole joke.

C Mag: For the future, would you want rapping or making music to become your career?

DGA: Yes, 100% yes, but I am very cognizant of the fact that is really unlikely, no matter how hard I try. I am very done with the idea that I can’t be happy unless I blow up, and that is what I need for validation, so with this album, I was like, “I made a good album, no one’s even heard it yet, that’s good enough like I don’t even need everyone to like it, I made a good album.” Basically, I just want to live life so I can keep making albums constantly, however that is. I can be a janitor and then have just enough money to have a microphone and record at home and then maybe get a little better job when I have a kid. There is no better time than the present to try and blow up, so I am going to give it my all. I am trying to make music videos, hit up blogs and stuff, my collaborative projects, more shows. It has been me since I was 14 just thinking I need to be a rapper, and me constantly trying to convince myself that there is something else I like more that would make more money or a more obvious route, but now I am done resisting it.