Growing up in a time where the crime rate in the biggest city on Earth was disheartening, to say the least. Being a young Black boy growing up in Brooklyn didn’t always lead to a positive path in the eyes of many. The choices one had at the time wasn’t as bright and open as it is nowadays. Sports and entertainment were always a way out, but even then, the numbers never favored you because it seemed like everyone was competing for the same shine (Similar to how Hip-Hop is these days!).
But, slowly emerging from the inner city was a lifestyle that very few thought would lead to being the worldwide phenomenon it is today. The so-called ignorance of the streets, the vibrant mindset to get away from the inner workings of New York City at a time when all around you was grief and negativity. There was a solution White America didn’t suggest or even know about that would lead to not only financial rewards, but, career defining moments for many Blacks and Latinos occupying the ghettos and neighborhoods corporate America didn’t care about in the least. A culture called Hip-Hop wasn’t a category that people were supposed to make a career in. To the outside world, it was nothing but poor people letting out their grief and it was quickly called a fad, but little did they know…….
So, with those elements in place, Dana McCleese, a young fashionable Brooklyn boy, found a way out of the ghetto as he embraced the culture and everything that went with it, so that way he can live a dream that still pays him now. You know him as Dana Dane, originally Brooklyn’s Finest, before you heard of Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls and 20 years before Wesley Snipes, Richard Gere and Don Cheadle claimed the name.
The Industry Cosign caught up with the still working rapper as he discusses how he started in Hip-Hop, what he is up to these days and his reaction to having one of his songs covered by another Legendary rapper, Snoop Dogg.
What led you down the road to the world of Hip Hop? What drew you to become a rapper back when Hip Hop, as a business, wasn’t quite developed yet?
The movement, the sound, fashion, artistic flavor and unification it represented was an instant lure for me. I always believed myself to be a creative type, just wasn’t sure what my talents were. As I was finding my drawings talents, Hip Hop was emerging. At first I fancied myself as a graffiti artist with a B-Boy flair, but after hearing my favorite rap group of all time, Whodini and meeting Rick (Slick Rick) in high school, prior to that, I set out on a path as an MC/Rapper.
With your early songs being ‘Nightmares’, Delancey Street’ and ‘Cinderfella Dana Dane’, you had the storytelling genre on lock. What inspired you to tell stories as opposed to, let’s say, battle rapping or providing exquisite wordplay in your songs?
In the beginning, like most people, I was just reciting other MC’s rappers rhymes like Whodini, Cold Crush, Super Rhyme, Treacherous Three, etc. When I met Slick Rick and hooked up with the rest of the Kango Crew members (Omega The Heart Breaker, The Man Lace Brown and Kool Alski) it was part of the fabric of our routines. Abstract and/or battle rapping never appealed to me as much as a good story did. It was something about telling a chronological story via words and music that made it feel unique from everything else all the rappers were doing at the time. I also believed it held the listeners’ attention better.
It’s a coincidence that a fellow rapper, Snoop Dogg, was the first artist to do 2 ‘covers’ of Hip-Hop songs, something STILL unheard of these days. He did ‘Lodi Dodi’ (La Di Da Di by Slick Rick) and ‘Snoopafella’ (Cinderfella Dana Dane), what was your reaction to the fact that not only did he cover your partner, Slick Rick’s song, but then he came back and covered one of yours? And how did you feel that a rapper actually had the balls to do something that was a Hip Hop no no?
When I heard him do Rick’s La Di Da Di, I thought it was too soon, but on the other hand, I also thought it was kind of cool. It was like he was paying homage to what he liked. When he covered my song Cinderfella, I was kind of surprised, but also thought it was the ultimate form of flattery.
You’re often credited with being one of the first rappers, if not, the first rapper, to bring a fashion sense to Hip Hop, way before it became a thing. Was this purposely done and where did you get your sense of style from?
Coming up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and basically, my moms was always into fashion. Which in turn, somehow rubbed off on me. I was buying material and designing my own tailor made pants at the age of 11 and even then Delancey Street was my spot to shop. My moms would always take me there because they had good bargains, but they also had fashion styles that appealed to the future Hip Hop culture. And can’t forget the blaxploitation movies they had a lot to do with how I interpreted my style. Also my friendship with Rick had something to do with it. We were both into looking and being fly.
You’ve written a book, ‘Numbers’ a couple of years ago, why did you become an author and can we expect another book anytime soon?
I initially wrote the book to challenge myself to see if I could actually have the discipline to do it. I was trying to find my path as a person, an entertainer and an artist. I wasn’t sure what was next for me when it came to my life in Hip Hop. Turning to writing, I was able to find my creative passion, which is being ….CREATIVE!
Dana Dane has done many things over the years that some people may not be familiar with, such as being a radio personality on Sirius Radio. What are you doing now to continue your legacy?
I actually enjoyed being on the radio. If the right opportunity presents itself, I would do it again. As for the present I am actively building my multi-media production brand Def Beat Entertainment, Inc.
Now that The Business of Hip Hop has grown so much over the years, how has the growth looked in your eyes? What do you see happening for Hip Hop?
In my eyes, the possibilities are endless. As a culture, we have touched every part of the world. With that, Hip Hop was able to give a voice and thus opportunities to others. The culture of Hip Hop will continue to grow and change the world. The music of Hip Hop is another story and interested to see what’s the next phase.
Brooklyn is a locale that has had major success in the Hip Hop game. Why do you suppose that’s the case, is there something in the water in Brooklyn?
Honestly, when it comes to boroughs, I think we have equally had great success stories when it comes to Hip Hop. I do agree we have a lot of stand out talent emerge and represent Brooklyn. All I can say it’s just the way Brooklynites are built. It’s style, movements and swag if I may say, are unique to Brooklyn.
Is there anything that we don’t know about you that you’d like to reveal now?
I battled with depression in the early 90’s. I learned that our mental potential is a process of habits that we repeat or not in our mind to create movements.