Avenues Out Of Adversity: Darren Harper Interview

Over the years, I’ve read countless interviews with skateboarders who seem to be riding the sponsor wave until it crashes. They speak candidly on the fact that they wake up day to day and skate if they feel like it. Darren Harper is not one of those skateboarders. Darren not only skates, but is a father who involves himself in charities, records and performs different kinds of music, and stays involved in his local skateboarding scene. When speaking with Darren, you understand that his family, friends and community are the things that are important to him. Coming from the ghetto of Washington DC, Darren shows us that there are multiple avenues out of adversity and every lane is worth dipping into as long as you maintain a knowledge of what you come from and where you’re going.

Let’s start with your name, age and where you’re from.
My name is Darren Harper, I’m from Southeast Washington D.C. and I’m 28 years old.

What was growing up in DC like for you?
Growing up in DC sucked, basically. I come from lower-income homes where my mother had to raise us and my father was running the streets. She had to play both household roles, you know? So, with her struggling with raising me and 3 others, it was rough. I had to grow up quick and start hustling in order to help feed my family as well as take care of myself.

How old were you when you started hustling?

Did that interfere with your schooling?
Nah, not really. I didn’t really take it [hustling] that serious, kind of just dipped in the water. It was just the introduction. With my father hustling, I was surrounded by it anyway, so at one point it felt like it was destined for me to touch the streets and follow in his steps because I had seen it all my life.

What was the toughest obstacle you have had to overcome, coming from that environment?
I would have to say just losing people, family members and coming from a broken up home. Just between the two. I remember foster care came and picked us up and things like that, you know? My father got locked up, we had to stay with family members and things like that but there’s nothing like that mother love. It’s kind of hard, just trying to be the strong, dominant male in the family with my father being gone and being the oldest male of all the kids so I had to take on that responsibility young. I adapted to having a cold heart and a strong heart at that.

How did you originally get into skateboarding?
When I was young, I had found my first board in the neighborhood in the furniture of someone who had been evicted from their home. At the time there was this show called “Sk8-TV” that would come on Nickelodeon and we would watch that. Me and the homies around the neighborhood would sit around every Saturday and watch that, go out and take what we saw on TV and try it cause we had our little skateboards. In the neighborhood we just wanted to play, we were the ghetto kids, you know? We just wanted to have fun. We used to imitate what we saw on TV.

What was your motivation to pursue skateboarding as a career?
About 5 years ago, I was really out in the streets hustling and that was my way of living at that time. One day something crazy happened out on the streets and it sent me down memory lane, just thinking what I could do to possibly save myself and my family and get myself out of that type of environment. Me and my child’s mother had spoken on some things we used to do and I told her I used to skateboard and she looked at me like I was crazy [laughs]. I started to go back and look at magazines to see what people I knew that were out there like John Igei and people who were out there making money. I said, if they could do it, I could do it so that was the motivation. Oh, and that Tony Hawk game as well [laughs]. I was playing that every night, just thinking about tricks I could do and I was just like, “Yo, let me get it back and see if I can do it”. When I had spare time from hustling I was skating. I would hustle in the morning and skate in the evening.

Who was your first sponsor and how did that come about?
My first two sponsors would have to have been Pit Crew Skateshop and East Coast Clothing. Those were the first two before the hardcore industry ones came along, you know?

Who are your sponsors now?
Yums Shoes, Famous Stars and Straps Clothing, Kicker Car Audio, Diamond Supply Co., KMC Rims, Venture Trucks and Pit Crew Skateshop.

In the past few days you announced a separation between yourself and DGK? Can you tell us what happened?
I mean, it was just about that time, you know? I got a shoe deal that Stevie [Williams] didn’t agree with and he didn’t come to me with another option. At the end of the day when you’re from the streets you do what you gotta do to survive, you don’t sit around and wait on nobody. Coming from where I come from, I have mouths to feed, I can’t stay in one spot. So, whatever is going to better me and help put me out there even more to help me grind and do what I want to and showcase the positive side to the kids, I’m gonna take that opportunity and Yums provided a great opportunity. Stevie was basically like, “Yo, Yums is wack” but they both [DGK and Yums] made sense to me because Yums already has the urban/hip-hop lane locked down and DGK has been trying to step into that lane. Recently you’ve seen Lil’ Wayne with a DGK hat on in a video but he has also been seen wearing Yums. At the end of the day, I had to make the best decision for me an my career. I stick with Yums. They can have the DGK shit, straight up. I was the one that put the dirty ghetto in those kids. But, it’s bigger than that. I can’t let no one stop my hustle. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t stay on one lane, I take ’em all. When I first chose to ride for Famous, some people were hating on that, including some people over at DGK. Then, they end up doing a collaboration with Famous. It makes no sense to me, you know what I’m saying? I’m from the streets, get it how you live. That’s what makes me different from Stevie. Stevie ain’t hood. Stevie and I may have two different meanings for loyalty. He ran away to San Francisco at a young age so he might have missed the memo in the hood about what loyalty is because loyalty is everything in the hood. You respect a man who hustles hard. Me, on the other hand, I’ve been in the streets all my life so I had to eat with the wolves and learn from the bears. But, at the end of the day, more power to him but Darren Harper is doing his own thing and I do appreciate the opportunity they gave me.

You also tweeted about a vitamin water photo shoot, what can you tell me about that?
It wasn’t really much. There’s no sponsorship, I just have a homie that invited me to the shoot so I came out and shot a couple things. But, I do have some other things I am working on right now. I have a shoe coming out, which should be next year by Yums. Also, the Famous video is dropping soon.

How far along are you with your Famous video part?
It’s done. It should be dropping any day now. We’re just waiting on… actually I don’t know what we’re waiting on [laughs]. It should be here any day now. Actually, I think we’re waiting on some more music.

You’re also in progress of making a mixtape [Skateboards & Choppas], tell us about that.
I kind of fell back, I had too much going on. I still have the music though. I just have to wait for the right time. Let me just get this cleared too, for all these little dudes just talking and running off at the mouth. Again, Darren Harper does not have a lane. When you see me rapping, it ain’t trying to be a rapper, I‘m just writing my life. I’m telling a story, painting a picture, it’s like poetry. I can write well so basically that’s what it is with me. I like music, I’m musically driven. I’ve been playing go-go music since I was a kid, as well. When I‘m writing it’s real, that’s the difference between me and some of the mega rappers out here. All the things you hear me rapping about, I’ve either done or seen.

A couple months back Transworld ran an article called “10 Skaters And Their Rapping Debuts” and you were mentioned in that, what was your reaction to that?
[Laughs]. Yeah, I’ve seen that. I love it. Anytime anything goes into Transworld is good. Those dudes have been down like my man Eric Stricker, may he rest in peace, he passed not too long ago and he was always down for me. He was Senior Editor over there, I believe. I appreciate whatever I get. I like that, to cut out the ads to add to the portfolio.

Especially when you were pretty much the only one not being made fun of in the article.
Yeah, pretty much. They know what it is with me, man. And, that’s the good thing about it. Sometimes you’ve got people that comment and it’s the kids who never lived in the hood, that would never say anything to me so I can’t pay attention to that stuff. The kids I do motivate, I love them. I love ya’ll, I’m gonna say it like that cause I’m talking to them. Keep following me, I’ve got big things coming and that’s just what it is. I love motivating kids. I’m very kid-driven, when it comes to my city. I do alot of non-profit and I give back alot and do alot of things these skaters don’t do. They claim they’re from the hood but don’t do shit for the hood. I’m there, you can touch me. Again, I’ve got no manager or none of that, I do this all on my own and I’ve been doing it very well. So I’m blessed.

I’ve come across quite a few videos and articles on the internet that show you doing charity work, how important is charity to you?
Very important, man. I’ve always been involved with helping kids. I’m just a big kid myself, you know what I’m saying? You’ll see me joking with the kids. I just love doing that type of stuff, just to help out and give back. Knowing where I came from, God has blessed me so I feel like he has chosen me to uplift somebody else.

If you could start a charity what would you do with it?
If I could start one it would be more for kids in the hood. Just trying to help the kids, show them we have other options and to not be afraid to follow their dreams.

You seem really focused on having longevity in your career as a skateboarder, what career goals do you have?
One of my goals is to have something like, a motion picture made of my life. I think that would ensure that I have longevity. I just want to show people the real struggle, which I came from. Besides that, I think I’m gonna move towards starting my own skate company. Through skateboarding, I would like to help fight childhood obesity. I just want to make a difference any way I can.

If you weren’t skating where would you be right now?
Ah, man… I’m gonna say, maybe not dead but locked up, definitely.

Who did you look up to growing up and who do you look up to now?
I looked up to Kareem Campbell, I mean as far as skating. But, if you’re saying in the neighborhood, before skating, it was the neighborhood hustlers. Cause that’s all you had to look up to, you know? You can say, “Yeah, I wanna be like [Michael] Jordan” all day but he wasn’t right there in your face, you couldn’t touch Jordan. You see the wad of money the neighborhood hustlers had, you see those fly cars they were driving, you see those women they had so the neighborhood hustlers were who I looked up to at that time coming up on the streets. When I was skating, I was looking up to Kareem, of course. The Don Dada [laughs].

What is the best advice or guidance you’ve been given?
I think it’s more staying patient than anything and being humble.

What other advice do you have for young kids going through a struggle similar to what you have been through?
Take note of me. If I can overcome it, anybody can do it. Like I said, I was down and out on the streets. But, everything is moving forward, you know? God blessed me and look where I am now. People still look at me like, “You skateboard?” like, “How did you even get into that?”. When so much was going on in the streets that we come from. All I can say is, don’t let anyone get in your head, stay focused on what you want to do no matter what it is. I’m sure you hear that all the time but I’m gonna promise you, the kids, the people, that if you stick with whatever you want to pursue and do it well and keep perfecting it, it’s gonna work.

Last words?
My last words…[laughs]. I’m coming. That’s it, I’m coming. Thank my fans, my friends, thank you for the interview. Shout out to my sponsors, Yums Shoes, Famous Stars and Straps, all day. They always are family, they help me out. That’s it, be on the lookout. I’m going in.

Check out Darren’s cameo at 3:10 in Dorrough’s latest video, “Get Big”:

I had the chance to speak to Darren during the week of Red Bull’s Manny Mania NYC. A few days later, at Manny Mania, it turns out that Darren got into an altercation with Stevie Williams. Many of you have probably heard about this now and have seen the footage. I spoke with Darren several days after the fight, which happened to be the same day he released the following video statement. He apologizes to his fans and the rest of the video is mostly a repetition of what you have already read here. For those interested, click here to watch his statement.


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