There’s no harder worker in the Canadian urban music scene than Duane Gibson aka D.O. (Defy the Odds). With the life credo of “Stay Driven” the Sarnia-raised, Toronto-based artist is an accomplished rapper (Guinness world record holder for longest freestyle), author and professional speaker who has managed to carve out a busy career doing what he loves–on his own terms. Whether he’s speaking in schools about positivity and anti-bulling or making hot new music, D.O. has a business focus that’s unparalleled in the Canadian scene.
I connected with Gibson to talk hip hop, his new motivational book Stay Driven and his thoughts on persevering as a hip hop artist in Canada.
When did hip hop start for you?
I really got into it in my early teens. I was a big fan of the music coming up with guys like Fresh Prince, L.L. Cool J to Run-DMC back when I was 10 years old. But I think that it really started connecting with me in the first few years of high school, being more serious with it, whether it was Wu-Tang Clan or Nas, where I started really looking at the complexity in the lyrics and the social issues. While I was a big fan of the East Coast, I was really into what was going on in the West Coast too, whether it was N.W.A. or Ice-T. I grew up in a really small town so I would do whatever I could just to find out more about the culture from reading magazines or taking trips to the States to buy CDs and clothing to live the culture to the fullest.
What motivates you to keep striving in a tough Canadian music industry, particularly when it comes to a genre like hip hop?
I’ve been a professional for over ten years. I remember when I started out there were people in the game that aren’t around anymore. Nowadays I see a lot of young artists coming up who struggle with finding a sense of balance. While it’s cool to make music, you also have to put it out there. You have to be able to create a fan base so you can tour consistently. If you want to make music your job, I think the biggest thing for me was really learning the business side of things. I really was able to pursue that by going to a lot of music conferences.
In 2005, I took at trip to France to attend the Midem music conference, which is the biggest in the world. One of the big things there for me was meeting Chuck D again. I’d met him before and he said to me that it was great that I was there because [today’s music biz] is about being independent and trying to create markets worldwide. What I find in Canada is a lack of infrastructure in the music business, particularly in urban music. You can’t just wait for somebody to come along and say you have talent. That doesn’t really happen that much. So I realized that if it was going to happen, I’ve got to make it happen.
How did you become a professional speaker? What motivates or inspires you to talk to the younger generation?
It really started when I was in university. I was a teacher-tutor in school. My mom’s a teacher and she had a lot of teacher friends who contacted me and asked if I wanted to speak to their class on goal setting. I think a lot of kids want to be rock stars or rap stars but the main thing for me was chasing that dream and also having an education behind it. So that was the ultimate message to pass on and as I started doing it, more and more schools would request me. I think one of the things that youth need is an outlet. For me, hip hop and rap music was my outlet. When people would call me names or bully me, I didn’t react by getting into a fight but sometimes I would keep those feelings of anger inside. When I would start writing, I was able to let out that aggression and at the same time build myself and my self-esteem up. Rap was a positive thing for me.
How do you balance the artistic and business sides of managing your career? How do you focus?
It’s great having a team that you can delegate things to. I put it in my mind that doing the business-side will help me get further along in my career. Some days I have to fill out a lot of paperwork, like grant applications, but I just keep it in my mind that by doing this, I can get funding for a video. So in my mind I’m thinking about making that video and how it will premiere on Much Music. I also do a lot of tour grants. As frustrating as it is to do a lot of paperwork, those are the grants that help me get out across Canada and Europe to tour. So I think it’s always keeping the end result in mind but also approaching it from a hip hop standpoint. When I’m doing the paperwork, I’ve got beats banging in the background and I’m still trying to attack it as an emcee but in a different way.
What’s the story behind your book Stay Driven? How did it come into being?
When I was university, I took a few creative writing classes. English was my major so I always enjoyed writing. From speaking in schools, I knew I had a lot of stories to tell the youth. I wanted to take those stories and put them in a book format because I know a lot of kids don’t read but that the power of reading is in building imagination and creativity. The reason I wrote the book was to encourage more kids to read. One reason kids don’t read is that they can’t find the right books. I felt that writing this would be something that they would enjoy.
What’s happening with the music? What can we expect from you in 2013?
I’m really excited. I’ve got two albums coming out. One is an Art of Fresh album, working with my man Slakah the Beatchild. That album is just about completed. And I’m also doing a full length solo album working with Classified on production. So that’s about to be dope and both coming out in 2013.