As the vendors and art galleries on Telegraph were closing up shop after a recent Art Murmur, Chioke Jelani (aka Chi) and K.nightshift — better known as local hip-hop duo The Dime — were watching the sun set over Lake Merritt as they waited for a table at the Lake Chalet. Accompanying them were manager Christopher Ford and fellow rapper Binks Winston, who plays an important part in the group's biography — he's basically a hip-hop Phil Spector. Considering the lush, laid-back delivery and style of the Richmond-representing rap group, a posh eatery that makes its own amber ale was an apt setting. Deeply rooted in the Bay Area's do-it-yourself ethos, The Dime has found its niche in the Oakland scene based entirely on live shows, YouTsube videos, and word-of-mouth.
The Dime has a sound that is unique to the Bay Area. It does not adhere to elements that many have come to expect from West Coast hip-hop. There is no connection to hyphy, for example. Rather, this group creates narcotic neck-snappers of a bygone time, full of word play. Even discussing their music, Chioki (Chi), a baritone in the truest sense of the word, is balanced by the tenor of K. nightshift (Shift) and the alto of Binks, making it easy to see how these men have worked, lived, and survived together to create their first LP, Brickyard Cove, due out May 31.
Chi: The Dime is, first, an acronym for Desire Is Multiplied Everyday. We all know, living in the Bay Area, that the dime is top-notch. Our desire to be the best we can be multiples every day. If you're not trying to be the best at something, you need to move the fuck out of the way. It doesn't matter what you do — cooking, gardening, whatever — do it to your utmost. That's what we're about. We live a predatory situation; you have to be the best. And the only way to be the best is to bring out the best in people around you.
Shift: What did Pat Benatar say? "Hit me with your best shot." We just want to bring back putting your all into something. There are too many people that say, "I don't really rap. This is nothing to me," but that's taking a punk role. That way if you get criticized, you can say, "I wasn't really trying." Put your all in it. I hate the whole "go hard" thing, but it's real. There's nothing wrong with study, practice, and loving what you do. Ain't no half-stepping, that's real talk.
Chi: Binks was a big catalyst for us stepping up our game, and our musicianship. This was about four or five years ago, and he was out there contemplating his next move. Not on some music shit, but about his life. He said to me and Shift, "If y'all ain't going to get this shit moving, I'm not coming back out there." We took that to heart. He needed to know that we were serious about taking our music to the next level.
Binks: I started rapping late. About twelve years ago. I got into it when I went out to the Midwest for a while and started messing with some of my people out there.
I was planning on going to New York next. I'm a free spirit like that. I knew what I wanted to do, and I was faced with this situation of having to choose to either go somewhere else and start building from the ground up, or putting it together with family. I decided that there's strength in numbers.
Chi: There's real life going on. We come from a city that a lot of people see as a dead hole. When he came back, we said we can't have him out for nothing.
Shift: I started out in spoken word, so rapping came natural to me. I used to work with my brother 85, a maniac producer, and we would make these demo tapes. We had a little four-track recorder, and he's a real sharp cat, so he could take the demo beats off the software and make them sound like he was working on some MPC. I'd be hanging with Binks at the Chevron rapping. Chi was out there doing his thing. ... I got hooked with DJ Icewater and [his studio] The Corner Store through Chi and Binks and we started talking about how the craft was being disrespected. I said, "We can do something about this. My dudes is nice."
Shift: I used to catch the No. 71 to the BART station and walk around Harbor Way to my house and I'd see a bus, I think a No. 73, that would keep going straight down MacDonald, and it said "Brickyard Cove" and I always wondered what that meant. So Chi, who is a Richmond and hip-hop historian, broke it down to me. How it's like a well-to-do community. We used to go to Keller's Beach and Miller Knox Park a lot, but we never went any further. I mean, there's gates. We're from The Rich, you know what I'm saying? You see some gates and you're like "Gates? Naw." But Chi took dudes out there. There's some raw houses out there, on the water, on stilts.
Chi: Million-dollar-plus homes on the other side of the Chevron refinery. Through the Ferry Point Tunnel, through Miller Knox, past the railroad museum, there's a really affluent community. They call it Brickyard Cove but it's Richmond. They share our zip code. Our crime rate is theirs. They enjoy all the benefits of Richmond, but away from all the suffering people have to go through on our side of the tracks.
To take it back even further, Brickyard Cove on the docks was once a brickyard. Everything built out from there. So we named the album Brickyard Cove, saying, "We're taking it back and, at the same time, we're trying to establish our own sanctuary in The Rich. We want to be safe too." Like Pac said back in the day, "we want a place with streams running through, and safety for our loved ones. We want a place to raise our families just as much as the next man."
Shift: It's so weird how it happened. Chi was up on that East Coast stuff. We were only hip to what they played on Rap City back in the day. Chi laced us to a lot of that. So we just did what we felt worked for us. It was the natural come-up. We get love from everybody. The ladies, the grimiest cats to the OGs who say, "I don't even listen to that shit!"
Binks: It's what my uncle said: As far as the music is concerned, do what the fuck you want to do.
The Future of The Dime
Chi and Shift: World domination!
Binks: Right now, we're at a plateau. Being grown men has taken some time getting used to. We came from down here and we know we still have a long way to go, obstacles and whatnot, and the best way to face this beast is head-on.