Choices, everybody has them. Darren Harper had many. This is the story of a man who started out in the direction towards, prison, jail or possibly death. Realizing that those three options were not what he wanted, he quickly switched his direction and headed up the hard road to success and positivity on four wheels. The road alone is a hard path to take, but Darren Harper is a prime example that you can do anything you put your mind to. Born and raised in Southeast DC, at 37th and Ridge, Harper was a lone soldier that made his own lane on four wheels and skated out of drugs, crime, and the DC public school system to become one of the few professional African-American skaters.
Fresh off the cusp of signing to Stevie Williams Skate Team, DGK, and with an already inked deal in the bag from Blink 182’s drummer Travis Barker’s Famous Stars and Straps, “D-Streets” was able to see the bigger picture and become successful at something he loves which compensates him in more ways than one.
Format: Explain the situation in your house growing up. What was the relationship with your mother, pops, did you have any siblings etc.?
DH: Well my father, he was a dope dealer around the Potomac Avenue Southeast area and basically he was just in and out of jail. I remember periods of time where I would see him through my childhood. Mom’s started off working good, but somehow she got turned into drugs and she started doing drugs, so with him being gone, it was like my mother trying to hold it down. She was basically trying to take care of us and things like that. She met another guy down the stretch and he would produce two of my little sisters and actually he was around more than my real father. I really have mad respect for him but somehow both of them turned to drugs. That’s when it got super hectic because he was basically who raised me and he did what he had to do to take care of us. We would go shoplifting together and he had the kids in the strollers where he would put meat under the seats and in our coats just so we could eat. So that’s really what I coped with, the hood with the violence, and everything else that was going on.
“We would go shoplifting together and he had the kids in the strollers where he would put meat under the seats and in our coats just so we could eat.”
Format: How did that affect you mentally?
DH: It affected me and then it didn’t affect me. It affected me because I was so surrounded by it where I didn’t know which way to go but when I got steered to going that route there would be someone from family that would come out the blue and be like you came to far or you don’t want to end up like your father and that’s what kept me in a straight line.
Format: What was your childhood like growing up in Southeast DC?
DH: Basically I loved it, it was a struggle but at the same time I wouldn’t change anything for the world. Just growing up, you know the average stuff. Eating cereal for dinner and then when I got older like in junior high I was like the fly guy. I didn’t have much but I made due with what I had and it seemed like I had much because I wasn’t an ugly guy.
Format: What about the hood made you comfortable there, where someone else not from that area wouldn’t stay there for more than five minutes?
DH: It was at home and growing up with your people, and the times like in the 80’s when so and so grew up. It was my turn growing up with the older guys. We were the ones causing trouble. If it wasn’t the older hustlers, it was the young kids cracking windows and stealing cars and that’s just it, that’s my hood. Where else can you go and be comfortable, and know everybody, and walk into somebody else’s house and its all love, or knock on the door upstairs and say we need some sugar for some Kool-Aid.
“One day he was like, ‘Come here Little Darren’, and he was like, ‘go serve this sale,’ so he gave me a dime to give to the dude and dude gave me the money and he told me to keep the money and that was age 12!”
Format: I understand you were surrounded by drugs but how did you get involved with the drug game. When was your first touch?
DH: My first actual sale was probably at the age of ten or eleven. A buddy of my mother, they used to be out in the streets and we would kick it sometimes. One day he was like, “Come here Little Darren”, and he was like, “go serve this sale,” so he gave me a dime to give to the dude and dude gave me the money and he told me to keep the money and that was age 12! Once I did that I felt like I was a hustler for real, and I walked off smiling like, yeah I’m hustlin. We liked that type of stuff in the hood growing up and we thought that was cool. You know that’s not what it is but that’s what it made you feel like back then. After that I pretty much stayed focused and finished high school. I didn’t really get into drugs until 99. I mean I was around it all the time. I would see my father who would have it all around the table when I was small, dope needles and guns in his sock. I would walk in the room and see him sleep and I would see a dope needle in his sock and a 38, and I used to see this. I used to see the briefcases with cocaine.
Format: What was your first thought seeing this?
DH: Actually my first thought was I knew he was getting money, because he had some fly cars, wore a lot of jewelry, and he would wear suits sometimes and I could see the love when he took me around. Usually when you in the hood and someone knows everybody he would introduce me to people and say that’s your uncle such and such. So when my father was locked up I would go around and be like uncle, I need some money.
I was just that guy that people was like, “you done made it so far, don’t go that route,” and then I was coming home from school and I had just moved into a new neighborhood and I was coming up the steps one night from school and I found a crack bag but it was one of the big ones, and the bag was a block. So I discussed it a little with my friend and he tells me, “you need to chop that up and sell it.” I was like, “I don’t know how to do that.” He was like, “I’m going to show you.” Man it was on from there. To be honest, he chopped it up and helped me, and what I found evidently was the best out at the time right then and there. It took me time to sell it, but when people got hip to it, I sold that stuff quickly. I could do what I want because I’m from that neighborhood so next thing I know it was non-stop. After that I just hollered at dude and after I sold I would take my money and holler at him. Now I’m doing my thing and there was no turning back. I had quit college and started selling full-time. My mother was stressing me to find a job and I wasn’t feeling that.
“Now I’m doing my thing and there was no turning back. I had quit college and started selling full-time. My mother was stressing me to find a job and I wasn’t feeling that.”
Format: How much were you making a week?
DH: I was making $300 a day and when I got to where I wanted to be I started gambling and messed my money up the first couple of go rounds. Two guys on the block I ended up connecting with were getting money and they would come through my side driving with the systems and jewelry. Everybody knew these guys and here I am, a little dude grinding and they step up and have fiends waiting everywhere. So we connected and they showed me the way and then I was making $1,000 a day.
Format: So where was skateboarding in all this?
DH: During that part I had quit. I quit skating in junior high and then in high school I got back into it and then I fell back off, because again, I was the only Black skater and there was nobody around me, so it was kind of weird. It would always side track me because I was like damn, I’m the only Black dude doing this, and I’m alone in this thing trying to do what I’m trying to do, so I let it go and stopped for about five or six years.
Format: What brought you back to it?
DH: I was hustlin and the longer I was involved with it, I just started to see things that would go on, and I would always hear about these stories, and I was losing buddies. When you don’t see anybody in my hood for a while, either their dead or locked up. Much as I would hate for my mother to tell me that, because I hid it from her for a long time, plus I had to hide it because she was doing coke. She would ask me how I was getting money because I would pop up with cars. I told her I had a gambling habit and I was straight when it came to shooting dice. She would still be like, “you need to be careful out there.” Just the realities of people dying around me.
Format: Anybody close to you?
DH: Yeah man, my own father who died of an overdose and I remember receiving that call at like four in the morning and my grandmother was like, “I came home and found your father dead in the bathroom.” When I heard that it killed me.
Format: So what were you going through during that period?
DH: To be honest I think I’m a strong dude when it comes to going through deaths. I may think about or dream about it but I don’t think it affects me where I can’t focus. It’ll still bother me sometimes where I find myself drifting off. I think I handled it well, plus there really wasn’t a lot for me to remember him by for besides stupid dances he used to do (laughs). For the time I was with him he made me tough showing me everything he had been through.
“I was the only Black skater and there was nobody around me, so it was kind of weird. It would always side track me because I was like damn, I’m the only Black dude doing this, and I’m alone in this thing trying to do what I’m trying to do, so I let it go and stopped for about five or six years.”
Format: When did you seriously get back into skating?
DH: Man it’s like this, I think I fooled myself to be honest, I always thought I was good but I wasn’t good enough to make the moves I wanted to make to get on skate teams. I felt like it was more of my struggle because marketability is everything. What really brought me back was the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game and Stevie Williams. We kind of grew up together. He is from Philly and he would come down to DC [and] hang out with the people I would ride with. I saw him doing his thing and that motivated me to do to mine and I found another way to make money without selling drugs. Also I came up on a couple of charges and if I got caught again it was a wrap.
Format: Explain how the deal went down with Famous Stars and Straps?
DH: Well I watch MTV and I caught Travis’s show and I like anybody who is getting money, and I liked his style. He was a family man-taking care of his kids, personality, making money, and he was just a cool dude. I thought I should try this company. I had no way of getting in touch with him. So I go to L.A. and I go to this trade show in San Diego and I stumble upon his booth. I was like, this could be my chance and I walk by twice and Lil’ Chris, that’s his man, was like, “you should holler at my man.” I told him what I do and he was like, “we’re looking for a skater” and I’m like, “I’m what you need, I’m here ya’ll don’t have to look any further.” So they were like, “send me a video,” and I gave them one right then and there, but I don’t think they took it seriously. So I got home and followed up with them, emailed the manager, and he gave me a call back and was like, “send me a video.” Two days later he called back with a deal.
More info: http://www.myspace.com/darrenharper