Oakland Rapper AllBlack Is Nothing If Not Grateful

Oakland MC AllBlack can’t help but laugh. Before getting on the phone with me in March, he was tending to a comedy of errors in his home. “They were mounting one of my TVs up on the walls, so I’m trying to talk to the TV mounters while I’m trying to give my daughter a pacifier, but she keeps spitting it out,” AllBlack says. “It was crazy. Then I got this call that I can’t miss. I was so overwhelmed. I just sat back and busted out laughing. I’m just like, it’s good stress.” 

He has reason to be calm. AllBlack, born D’Andre Sams, has dealt with much stickier situations. On his most recent project, last October’s No Shame 3, he’s confessional and raw about a life of hustling, trapping, and everything in between. Across the rapper’s discography are clear-eyed missives about a life spent going down the wrong path. It’s a long and winding journey that’s taken Black all over California and, briefly, to Atlanta, where he tells me he used to hype his friends’ music at strip clubs before ever touching a microphone. In 2013, he was arrested on weed charges and moved back to Oakland where, a few years later, he recorded “Dallas Cowboys Starter” basically on a whim. The track found Black essentially inventing his own flow. The bubbling rhyme schemes and intricate storytelling of Bay Area staples like Luniz and Too Short were evident, but there was a dash of something close to Detroit rap’s rapid-fire delivery, too. Still, AllBlack didn’t want to release any music. To him, it was too personal, and becoming a rapper was nowhere in the plans. His friends leaked the track on Soundcloud anyway, and the rest was history. 

In the years since, AllBlack has released a slew of EPs, each a display of his confidence in the booth but also in himself. He crafts stories about his life with genuine sincerity. On “Keep Count,” from No Shame 3, he raps, “You know I got it tatted twice, I had to start rappin’/This my diary, I also call it legal trappin’,” and there’s no reason not to believe him. A refrain that rings out over a number of his tracks is the phrase “thank you for fuckin’ with me.” It’s also the title of his upcoming debut album, TY4FWM (Thank You 4 Fuckin’ With Me), which arrives May 7th. AllBlack knows that to rap professionally is a privilege, and he’s grateful for the opportunity each day. Over the phone, he describes music as truly therapeutic, a means to untangle the many twists and turns in his life. 

Now, with a proper debut featuring everyone from Vince Staples and Drakeo the Ruler to Mozzy, G-Eazy, and E-40, AllBlack is ready for his next chapter. None of which is to say TY4FWM waters down the experiences Black is known to rap about. But he is decidedly more relaxed. You get the sense that he’s growing into someone that he himself would fuck with, and in turn seems happier. 

AllBlack spoke about his upcoming album, personal growth, and why he can’t wait to turn 30. 

What has the past year been like for you?
It’s been a lot of weight fluctuation, and my hair growing, and great music. It’s being tired, it’s masks, all that. It’s pretty cool for me, though. I guess I’m pretty cool. I dodged Covid. Everything good.

Were you working on this project a lot during Covid?
Yes, I was. Actually, I was working on this project before Covid hit. I believe in January of last year I was working on this project. I made a few songs we got to choose from. I made a lot of music though, through the pandemic. A lot of music.

Do you see a story arc in all of your releases up to now?
Just a lot of growing, honestly. With every project that I’ve put out, it’s everything I’ve been going through, you know what I mean? The good, the worst, the expected, the unexpected, all of that. It’s been nerve-wracking, but I had a lot of fun, so I can say that.

What made you start recording music?
All my homeboys rap. I’ve always been a fan of music. I was in the bleachers before I ever touched the hardwood. I grew up listening to all different genres of music, and then my homeboys in the hood, they rap, and I’ll always support their music. So, when I had moved to Atlanta, I was pushing their music, giving it to the DJs, every club I was going to, strip clubs. I was giving the DJs their music, trying to put them on. Because I just really loved the music. And then I ended up coming home for a minute and the same guys I was pushing, they had a studio session that day, and I wanted to see how they made some of my favorite songs. So I ended up going to the studio and that was that. 

Listening to your projects up to now, especially No Shame 3, it’s all very autobiographical. How did you first approach writing lyrics and bringing elements of your life into the music?
I believe the reason why I stuck with it and kept going back to the studio was because the music was my outlet, the music was my diary. I had so much stuff going on outside, from working, running plays, and trapping. And every time I went into the studio, I would forget about everything that I had going on outside. I’d look up and be like, ‘Damn, I’ve been here seven hours.’ The way it made me feel, I was able to just let my feelings out on the beat. And one day I just told myself, the beat will never judge you. And then it was up from here.

Before the music started, where did you think your life was going to end up?
I come from a heavy sports family. We all played sports. That was literally the only route for us. Everybody plays sports. My brother ended up making it to the NFL, and my cousins made it to the NFL. All we cared about was football. And then in 2010 I lost a lot of partners, a lot of friends that year. My life as a teenager — you all over the place, you think you know it all, you got it figured out. I just started going down certain roads and then I just started trapping. I wanted money. I wanted the finer things, I wanted nice shit. So I started running around and kind of stepped away from football. I ended up getting shot — well, grazed — and got into some trouble. And I just steered away from football. It wasn’t really my passion anymore. I was seeing the people around me, they were going 10 times harder than me with the football. My manager, my cousin, he was at practice every day. During the summer, I’m at functions and parties and all that, he’d go practice and then go to parties. So I saw that they were more driven than me. Then I just start running around.

You’re very open in the music about past criminal activity. I’m wondering, as you start to expand the music to a larger audience, are you thinking about the types of things you rap about?
Absolutely. But that comes from growth. It’s me evolving, the people I’m around, my diet, what I choose to listen to, what I choose to entertain. That’s where I believe my content will change. Not for anybody else. But at the same time, I can say where I’m at in my life, it’s like perfect timing for my debut album. I went through a lot of things. I went through great things, crazy things, but I feel like my content is for all the people. I got songs that cover every region, every walk of life. I don’t know how to really put it in words, but I got some good shit. I got some relatable shit.

As you finish this project up and you get ready to put it out into the world, how does it feel to look back on the younger you and the places that you’ve been to get here?
I like that you said that, because I just got a draft back of my documentary, not to get off subject. I got a draft back to my documentary yesterday and I cried all 17 minutes. I didn’t understand what it was for, because I looked at myself, I’m like, “Damn, I went through that? Damn, I forgot I went through that. Damn, I did do that. Wow, this has been a journey, it’s been a long road.” And we ain’t even nowhere near getting started. We ain’t even nowhere near done. I remember when I used to act like that, I used to feel like that, I used to wear that type of stuff. It just made me feel like, damn. I don’t know what the tears was for, though. I don’t know if it was because I was happy. I don’t know if it was because I was getting nervous. I don’t know if it was because I was angry at how I used to act or carry myself, but it was just tears. I laughed. It just made me feel some type of way, like ain’t nowhere near done, we know we’re just getting started, we just putting in our feet.

You’re still in your twenties. How do you feel as you approach 30?
I don’t like to rush age, but I can’t wait fucking wait until I get to my thirties. I just feel like I had a lot of fun in all my stages, but my twenties, I had a lot of fun. I did a lot of great things, went through a lot. I feel like in my thirties I’m going to be able to just be sitting back, throwing barbecues every Sunday. You know what I mean? Get on my OG, antique shit. I can start wearing my shoes and no socks type shit. I just feel like I got an old soul. Everybody knows I have an old soul, so I’m just ready to get up in that bag. I feel good though. I can run still, my knees ain’t hurting, my back don’t hurt. It’s pretty cool.

When you think about this project, something that’s interesting to me is, there are quite a few features on it. Do you feel like collaboration is a part of what makes music exciting for you?
Hell yeah. It’s a plus, definitely. I’ve learned that along the way, but just to hear how [other artists] feel, to hear their side of the beat is always exciting to me. How I look at the beat versus how they look at the beat, that’s what makes me excited. That’s what always made me want to do more collaborations, and lock in with my favorite artists. Anybody I ever did features with, I was a fan of them. I was a huge fan of them. I know their music top to bottom, and if I didn’t at the time, I got on it and it was over. So I’m huge fans of everybody that I collab with.

Going back to the point about the music being an outlet for you emotionally, what’s it like sharing that alongside someone like Drakeo the Ruler, who you also admire as an artist?
I really appreciate it even more, because I met Drakeo through the music. He’s a great friend. I met him through the music and then when he wasn’t doing music, when he was incarcerated, I was talking to him on the phone all the time. We’d just talk for hours while I was on the road. So once he got out and I heard his music, it just made me feel OK because of how I express myself, he expresses himself in different ways, but it’s all on the beat.

Do you find that music is a good way for you to create friendships with people?
Hell yeah. I gained a lot of great relationships through music. I can say I’ve had some good luck with some people I call my brothers now, friends that I call brothers, people I can’t live without because of the music. Music has done a lot of great things for me. It fed my family, it fed me, it kept me out of trouble, kept me from tricking myself off the streets. A lot of things. Saved my life. Music saved my life in a lot of ways.

The name of the album is Thank You For Fucking With Me. What does that mean to you?
Yes, Thank You For Fucking With Me. It can go a lot of ways, but it’s millions of artists out there, and for people that donate their ears to my music, or just give me a try, I really appreciate that shit. You ain’t got to fuck with me. I appreciate what music has done for me. I appreciate what music does for me to this day, how it keeps me grounded. It can stop a lot of negativity. It can stop me from tricking myself off the streets. I’m thankful for the music, I’m thankful for everybody around me.

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