Mix hip-hop with a message of financial literacy and you get Dee-1. This 28-year-old, former middle school teacher turned recording artist raps about embracing a lifestyle of hard work, mature choices and fiscal sanity.
Dee-1’s music celebrates paid-for beater cars and smart money habits – not topics usually covered in the music of many mainstream hip-hop artists.
Dee-1 is New Orleans native David Augustine Jr., and he has intentionally avoided traditional rap lyrics that glorify materialism and excess. Songs such as “No Car Note” and “Sallie Mae Back” (see videos below) encourage his fans to consider the long-term financial ramifications of their choices – even at a young age.
On “No Car Note,” he raps, “I don’t care what they got. So what if my car old. I love my ’98 Honda. Think I’m fina let it go? No. No. Why not? Cuz I ain’t got no car note.”
A financial adviser may not use the same words, but the message in Dee-1’s music is solid. Through his music, Dee-1 is challenging a new generation to rethink their approach to financial matters.
CreditCards.com spoke with Dee-1 about his music and how he’s using this platform to improve financial literacy among young people.
Q: Let’s just start from the beginning. After graduating from Louisiana State University, you began your career as a middle school teacher. What classes did you teach?
A: I taught eighth-grade math and sixth-grade life skills.
Q: Did you talk with your students about financial topics, such as money management or budgeting?
A: Yeah, it came up a little bit. Because they were middle schoolers, I was really interested in talking to them about decision-making skills, how one wrong choice could cost them their freedom or life.
One thing a lot of them were struggling with was their identities. Finances came up as a part of that conversation because how they choose to manage their money would also affect their quality of life.
They used to see that I was driving my 1998 Honda back then, and they used to laugh at that. And I was like, “Now I can tell you why I do this.”
Q: Did your students know you were Dee-1 by night?
A: They didn’t at first. By the second year I taught there, they found out.
Q: I reached out to you because I saw the “No Car Note” video, and I loved the lyrics. What was the inspiration behind the song? Was it the joking from your students, and do you still have the ’98 Honda?
A: Yes, I do still drive it. At the beginning of the song, I make a comment about a fan on Instagram saying that they don’t listen to my music because I don’t drive a fancy car like a real rapper. It was honestly a comment as trivial as that by – well, I guess I wouldn’t call him a fan.
It was that comment online from a person that made me realize there are people who will not take my music seriously because they hear me talking about driving a 1998 Honda.
That just shows how twisted some of our priorities and mindsets are in terms of how we view people. We’ll assign a person value based on the type of car they drive. I see a big problem with that, especially in the black community. That’s what made me want to write the song.
Q: What’s been the reaction to the song from your non-fans?
A: It’s letting people see that I’m not afraid to embrace my spending habits and my unique lifestyle – unique by rappers’ standards. I think that’s what allows people to accept you. They’ll see that this person is different, but they’re confident with it.
The confidence that comes along with being different makes people say, “Even if I don’t get it, I kind of have to respect it.”
The fact that I’m boldly stating that I drive a ’98 Honda and that I love it because I don’t have a car note makes people open up to it. I’ve seen a lot of new fans come about because of the song.
Dee-1 recently participated in a dfree (debt free) conference in Somerset, New Jersey, with the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens under the leadership of Rev. Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr. The dfree program is a strategy for living without debt that has been made available to churches, credit unions and colleges across the U.S.
Q: Can you talk about your experience spreading a message of fiscal responsibility through hip-hop at the dfree conference?
A: It was great to see that I have settled into a pocket or circle where there are other like-minded individuals, people who share [not just] the same faith but also the same value system, who prioritize being financially literate.
I got to speak to and perform for a bunch of teenagers who are not otherwise presented with a message of being financially literate and being smart with their consumption habits. They were introduced to these concepts by attending the dfree conference, and they get to see an artist who is the living manifestation of someone who does care about these principles.
It’s not just vague concepts. They get to see it in real life. It was great, and it’s great to know that I’m not alone in this journey.
Q: Have you started to notice any changes in attitudes toward material consumption among young people?
A: I actually have. Growing up in New Orleans, we were at the epicenter of materialism when it came to our culture as it pertains to the type of values we were raised with and the type of music we listened to.
The term “bling-bling” originated down here. We call it “being a stunner.” That originated down here. “Bling-bling” is all about buying jewelry. “Being a stunner” is all about showing off what you have.
Basically, if you don’t have anything to stun with, you’re not invited to the club. You’re not invited to the party. You’re not a part of the popular crowd.
It was almost like a part of the hip-hop uniform. You had to have a certain type of car. You had to have a certain amount of jewelry. It was like you’re not even a real rapper unless you had these type of things.
Now, when I just look at the rappers that are prominent where I’m from, there’s a lot less emphasis on that type of stuff. That’s not even a subject matter of choice for a lot of rappers coming up now, and I appreciate that.
I think people just don’t emphasize material possessions as much anymore because rappers aren’t making the same amount of money as they were in the past. But I haven’t seen anyone embracing the realities of what their lifestyle really was.
I didn’t just want to not talk about driving a Bugatti or not driving a stretch Hummer on 28-inch rims. I don’t want to just abstain from talking about that, I want to embrace what I drive and why I drive it.
I wanted to give people an anthem – people who drive regular cars or people who are working to pay off their car loans. There’s a lot more people who drive Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans than drive Bentleys, Beamers and Bugattis.
See related: Why more schools should teach financial literacy, Charged Up! Podcast: Becoming financially literate, Financial literacy has cost me thousands, Financial literacy begins moving into the workplace