THE RISE OF DGK
STEVIE WILLIAMS BREAKS DOWN HIS PAST TWO DECADES RUNNING WITH THE DIRTY GHETTO KIDS
Words by Mackenzie Eisenhour, from our April 2012 issue.
Skateboarding has always made the outsiders shine. That’s one of the miracles in riding one. It’s a pastime that lives and breathes to see the underdog rise up. From their inception as a skate crew at LOVE Park in Philadelphia during the mid-’90s, Stevie Williams and The Dirty Ghetto Kids were outsiders amongst outsiders—marginalized from society for being skateboarders—then marginalized by local skaters for simply being dirty kids from the hood. After embracing their outcast status, and repurposing the very name originally intended to dismiss them, the DGK crew all but took over the LOVE Park scene only a couple of years after their formation. While the original crewmembers slowly packed up and moved on, the name DGK, and everything it had come to represent, was forever etched into Stevie’s heart and carried with him over the course of his early career and sponsors, through Underworld Element, Fit, and Profile.
Following his meteoric rise to stardom in ’99 with a part in The Reason, his Big-L-backed last part in The Chocolate Tour, and first pro shoe from DC the following year, most would have been content (and prudent) to rest on their laurels and enjoy the ride. Instead, Stevie took a huge gamble in ’02, quitting Chocolate—arguably the most respected team in skateboarding—and once again become an outsider (this time on the industry level), in hopes of building his own board brand based on the name and spirit of his former skate crew. Partnering up with Troy Morgan to launch an entirely new distribution house called the Kayo Corporation in Carlsbad, California, Stevie’s ’02 decision not only launched DGK, the company, but ultimately provided backing for Organika, Expedition, and Gold Wheels.
From their point of departure as a crew at LOVE to their present-day incarnation as Justin Bieber and Lil Wayne’s favorite skateboard company, the following conversation represents Stevie’s take on his near 20-year run of trials and tribulations with the DGK. With the company’s first true full-length video just released, and a host of new ams yet to be fully discovered, this right here is the rise of the Dirty Ghetto Kids. All Day.
Where did the name DGK come from?
We was a bunch of kids from different neighborhoods in Philly. We was like anti Ricky Oyola, Matt Reason, and all those dudes. At the time, they didn’t really want photographers taking photos of us. Sort of like, “Don’t take photos of them. They just dirty ghetto kids.” I remember sitting on the ground at LOVE Park one day. We was all in a circle like a cipher talking about it. My friend John Puca was like, “Yeah. F—k it. We the dirty ghetto kids. DGK. Dirty Ghetto Kids.” Just embracing it basically. And ever since then that’s what we called ourselves.
When did Josh Kalis get involved? Was he down with the original crew?
If he wasn’t down with Ricky and them, then he was down with DGK [laughs]. At the end of the day though, when all of those dudes stopped coming to LOVE Park and we basically took it over, LOVE Park was DGK. If you came to LOVE, either you was with the squad, or you wasn’t with the squad.
What went down with the board jackings and stuff like that?
It was what it was. At certain moments it could have been good times, or it could have been bad times. You needed to pay attention. If you were coming to LOVE Park, that’s all it was about. You ain’t know nobody, you shoulda called somebody before you come. It sucked, but that’s just how it was.
Stevie’s part in The Reason (’99)
So kids would just roll up in brand-new gear and…
Man. It was terrible [laughs]. Like I said, you just needed to be aware at any given moment.
“At the time, they didn’t really want photographers taking photos of us. Sort of like, ‘Don’t take photos of them. They just dirty ghetto kids.'”
What became of the DGK crew when you got on Underworld Element then Fit/Profile?
They had pretty much all stopped skating by then. When I turned pro for Profile I put DGK on my first board. It was a Jeru The Damaja graphic, and I put DGK right under the Jeru artwork. So that was the first time DGK appeared on a skateboard.
Getting on Chocolate was basically your big break, right? When did it occur to you to start your own company?
I always wanted to do my own company. Just seeing the hard work at Profile and Fit. When I got to Chocolate, I realized that that was basically an A-list brand. Around that time [Rob] Dyrdek was starting Seek. We had talked about me riding for it. He kind of explained to me what I should be getting from Chocolate. There was a lot of emotional attachment for me to Chocolate at that time, and I didn’t end up pulling the trigger on that deal. But I always paid attention to what Dyrdek said.
When did you decide to make it happen?
Not too long after that I got an offer from my partner now, Troy Morgan, to have my own team, have a budget to pay my riders, and also own a piece of the distribution company that would eventually become the Kayo Corp. At the time, I was only 22 years old and I had been on a f—king roll. I was just thinking, “Hey, what’s the worst that can happen? I’m already selling all this product with my name on it. Let me take it to the next level.” So I decided to agree to the deal. We started the Kayo Corp., which was DGK, Expedition, Organika, and Gold Wheels. My partner at Gold, Eli Soto, was the person that actually introduced me to Troy.
Switch crooked grind. photo: BLABAC
Were people around you questioning the decision? Leaving Chocolate is a pretty big gamble.
Everybody pretty much turned their backs on me. It wasn’t anything new. I had people turn their back on me before. A lot of my friends that I thought was with me because of who I was got mad at me for not skating for Chocolate anymore. This was probably about 80 percent of the people I had befriended in the industry at that time. I felt like, “Well, why don’t y’all f—king skate for Chocolate then if you’re so mad at me? Why are y’all so mad at me for making a decision about my life?” I wouldn’t say I felt alone, but I leaned on Ken Block and Rob Dyrdek at that time. I asked them for support, like, “I got to go through this, and I need DC to support me.” And that allowed me to get my shine on with DGK in The DC Video. They introduced me to Tony Hawk, and Tony put DGK in the video games. It helped give the push to DGK it needed and replaced the void left by the people that had turned their backs on me.
Are the people that turned away from you back with you now?
After a couple of years of dedication and watching me do my thing, a lot of those dudes have humbly come up to me and apologized. It’s nothing I hold a grudge over. I believe in myself. I’m a firm believer in myself, and I believe that if I have to make certain moves for myself, then I can’t expect people to understand. The only thing I can do is ask them to support me and keep believing in myself, regardless of their response.
Do you still have the Chocolate tattoo?
Oh yeah, I still have the Chocolate tat. It’s not so much about me leaving Chocolate. It’s more about what I believed in. It’s more about what Chocolate meant to me. Simply from the hood, and at a time when the whole industry had their backs turned on me, Rick Howard and Mike Carroll took a chance and brought me into the industry under their wing. I’m forever grateful for that, and I would never get rid of this Chocolate tattoo because that shit is still in my heart.
Stevie’s part in The DC Video (’03)
How do you scout people for DGK?
Well, it started off just being the homeys, but people started saying like, “Oh DGK, they don’t skate. All they do is smoke weed and hang out.” It’s almost like we tarnished our image at that point because people really believed that’s all we did. Having a team with just five dudes and three pros—me, Marcus, and Jack, then Lenny and Wade as ams—of course people are going to say what they’re gonna say. So we knew we had to make additions to the team but also make sure we kept it in the parameters of what we all believed in. It’s been a pretty steady growing process.
Are there any entrepreneurs outside of skateboarding that influence the way you run DGK?
I look up to Michael Jordan. Jay-Z. Russell Simmons. A lot of other iconic athletes that found a way to cross over into other types of business or genres from wherever they started their careers and craft from. I try to look at marketing and promotion that those people use and see if I can find newer ways to communicate what we’re about. A lot of different things inspire me. The question is whether I can stay inspired by skateboarding. Sometimes that’s the challenge.
“Everybody pretty much turned their backs on me. It wasn’t anything new. I had people turn their back on me before. A lot of my friends that I thought was with me because of who I was got mad at me for not skating for Chocolate anymore.”
So, is DGK marketed to people outside skating? It seems like it has a bit more of a following outside skating than most brands.
As a skate company we’re always going to be rooted primarily in skateboarding. But I think the newer consumers to DGK might come from other places too. At the end of the day, business is business, but we don’t forget where we came from and definitely keep skateboarding first in the mix. Our ties are to the streets.
What sets a DGK video apart from the rest?
It’s about being out in the streets with your homeys. It’s about brotherhood. We really like to hang out with each other. It’s not like a team where we don’t like each other when we’re not on skateboards. We are always together. Even when we’re apart—we’re all on iPhone, iPad, Skype, text, or whatever together. That energy is what people will see in the video, along with what we think is the best skateboarding out there. A lot of the ams are pushing to go pro, so they’re trying to blow people’s minds with this. I hope that kids can look at DGK and be like, “That’s a dope skateboarding style right there.” I think that’s what’s missing in skateboarding right now. Style is everything to us.
Who comes up with that stuff like “DGK All Day” and “I Love Haters”?
We all basically come up with it. Most that stuff will just come out of one of our mouths at some point. We could be hanging around and somebody might say some cool fly shit and then Baker, the graphic designer, will turn it into something fly. I can’t remember who came up with “I love Haters,” but it definitely came out of somebody in the crew. “DGK All Day” definitely came from Marcus. We was in Japan one time, just so out there screaming and carrying on that that’s all we would say. It started like, “It’s all day, son. We doin’ this all day!” Next thing you know we were on a radio station out there, and Marcus starts in with “DGK All Day!” Right there it sort of became our slogan. Next thing you know it popped up on boards. That’s what I mean by like the brotherhood of the team. We’re always hanging out and being all goofy, crackin’ jokes on each other and keeping our swag up—so much fly shit will come out of our mouths that a team manager or our graphic design dude or another homey will pick up on some of it and collect those things and build it into graphics or whatever. Like we had one with Lenny. You know he smokes weed, so he started coming up with “Mota-vation.” Like, “I need some Mota-vation here.” Basically, we can come up with dope things and have a unit translate that back onto product. I think a lot of kids like DGK or like us because we’re just like them. Except we’re a little bit older and are lucky enough to be able to put this stuff on boards and shirts.
You said it started to take off after that. How has it grown over the past five years?
I think it’s still growing every day. I think it gains a lot of the lifestyle appeal with people off the skateboards that understand DGK and the message just from the riders we have now. It’s not just Stevie Williams that has lifestyle appeal. Any one rider on the brand is capable of representing the whole thing we encompass and doing their own self-promotion. A lot of the time in skateboarding you can be this big-time pro. You can have all these little kids and all of these grown men high fiving you, but once you get off the board you ain’t shit to nobody. I was never really a dude that could swallow that. If I’m gonna be the shit, I’m gonna be the shit on and off the f—king skateboard. F—k that [laughs]. I don’t think a lot of skaters have that mentality. But when it comes to the dudes on my team, that’s how I want them to feel about it.
How involved with music has the brand been?
We’ve done collaborations with Pusha T, Bun B, Meek Mill, Travis Barker, Beanie Sigel, Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, Jaden Smith. For Justin Bieber or Lil’ Wayne, or any of these high-profile megastars to show support for DGK really means a lot to me. Because it shows my family. It shows my kids. They don’t understand skateboard tricks. They understand Lil Wayne or Justin Bieber holding my skateboard—like, “Oh, now you made it!”
They don’t understand the switch heel over the picnic table?
They don’t understand the four hours of people trying one trick [laughs]. I don’t stop until I can show people what I’m all about. I think that with the support of those other athletes, musicians, entertainers, a lot of people can look at DGK today and go like, “Damn, Stevie actually pulled off what he told people he was trying to do.” I get that a lot now and I’m psyched. I don’t hold a grudge against anybody, but I know who was there to support me when I needed it.
“It started like, ‘It’s all day, son. We doin’ this all day!’ Next thing you know we were on a radio station out there, and Marcus starts in with ‘DGK All Day!’ Right there it sort of became our slogan.”
Is the target skater for DGK solely fellow Ghetto Kids, or is it marketed to everyone? Can a kid from the suburbs in Kansas be down?
It’s definitely for him too. DGK is not defined by your race. Keelan [Dadd] is my little homey, and we talk a whole lot. The other day we were talking about how skateboarding is basically it’s own race. For me to say, “Well, DGK is only for real motherf—kers from the hood,” that would go against everything I believe in because I’d be chilling in the suburbs too. DGK is just what we got called. DGK to us was a statement. It was about showing that you can overcome adversity. You can be called a dirty ghetto kid, or you can be called a corny white kid from the suburbs, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stay that way. It ties back to the motivation to lift yourself out of it. It’s about accepting what you are and then bettering yourself. Taking on those challenges and being proud of it. If you’re a f—kin’ dirty piece of shit—be proud of it. If that’s your shit, and your shit stinks, stand by your shit. You dig? I think that’s why a lot of people kind of looked at me like, “Well, his shit sounds crazy. And he’s the only dude standing by his shit. Let’s see if this shit works.” And it works. I didn’t do this alone either. I have a great team. I have a great group of distribution partners at Kayo. All that allowed DGK to happen.
What are the future plans for DGK?
We always have plans for growing this. I think now that the video’s coming out, kids will have a chance to place the names of the skaters with their styles and tricks. We have to get these parts done right now. But then we’ll probably head out on the road after that. Sometimes I might have two or three jobs, but everybody on DGK knows Stevie will get it done. If I gotta do something on the board, I’ll do it. If it’s off the board, I’ll do that too.
Is there anything in skating that you still want to do? Do you feel like you’ve had a definitive part?
I don’t really think like that. I have my days. I’m human. You want to hear something crazy? It took me 10 years. Wait, the Chocolate video came out in ’99. It just took me 13 years to realize that I had the last part in The Chocolate Tour. I didn’t even realize it. I was tripping on Guy Mariano one day with a friend like, “Yeah, Guy Mariano had the last part in Mouse. That would be sick to have the last part.” My homey looked at me like, “Are you stupid? You had the last part in the Chocolate video.” I was like, “Oh yeah. I did.” [Laughs] I don’t really look at video parts like that. I look at it like, “It’s done and over with.” I don’t think so much about me and my video part, I’m more thinking about what I want to see from my ams. They already know I know how to do my job. If my shit is better than your shit, you got a f—king problem [laughs].
STEVIE BREAKS DOWN THE SQUAD AND HOW THEY ALL FIT DGK IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER:
I had always been trying to get my best friend Marcus [McBride] on every company that I skated for. We had known each other since we were super young, so he was my first choice. We basically made the decision together. He quit Deca and I quit Chocolate. So Marcus and myself are really the backbone of DGK. Lenny Rivas, Henry Sanchez, and Jeremy Holmes joined us next, and that became the first squad.
He’s the team captain. He’s the pretty boy. He’s the executer all the way. He had to go through a few complications to get thoroughly on the team, but he deserves everything he has to this day. I watched Jack come from wanting to getting. It’s amazing.
Josh is OG. If it wasn’t for Josh, there would be no DGK. Josh is a legend.
He’s an assassin, man. I’ve always wanted to skate for the same team as him. I used to always ask Rick Howard to get him on Chocolate. It never happened. We tried for a couple years with DGK, then right when I finally gave up on it, it came through. I’m forever grateful to have that dude on our team. He motivates everybody.
Wade Des Armo:
Wade is the people’s champion. He’s the skater’s skater. He’s a big part of the synergy of the team—especially in the beginning of the second squad along with Jack. After Henry [Sanchez] and Jeremy [Holmes] left the team, it was kind of Wade and Jack that kept the morale up. He kind of pioneered what DGK was about in terms of style and tricks. He embodies what we’re all about. Except he’s not from the hood.
The OG baby gangster of the team. He got on DGK like the second day it started. He showed me his sponsor-me-tape at ASR, and I put him on right there. I took him home to his mom’s house and gave him some money. Told his mom and his brother that we was taking care of him. He was 13, he’s 23 now.
Marquise came with Josh. I was trying to get him on a long time ago. He was on flow then got off to get on Kalis’ flow. When Kalis came to us it was like a two-for-one type situation with Marquise. He’s a dominant am. He embodies everything DGK is about, too, and came under the supervision of Kalis, so you already know how that is.
I’ve known Keelan since he was 13. I always wanted him to ride for us. It’s not that easy to get on the team. But I always made sure that he was taken care of. When we did the deal with Reebok, I brought him along for that. He wound up just being a cannon—a young champ. I seen it in his eyes and from then on he was my pick. He definitely shined through all the trials and tribulations of getting on and became the dude.
Oh man. Derrick’s footage speaks for itself. We saw that part that he put out on the website, and we got light of him before anyone else could. He’s the little homey from Long Beach. He fits right in the DGK pocket. Rest in peace to his mom—we definitely are his extended family, and he fits like a glove in the circle. You would think he had been on for years, but it’s only been a couple of months.
Dwayne is my homey from Brazil. I found him on YouTube. We flew him over. He’s having a little visa situation right now. But he’s one of the illest skaters in the world to me. The best style. He reminds me of myself. Just a little bit taller and way younger.
We got a new dude. Dane’s sick. He’s a nomad from Florida.