Hip-hop and skateboarding already went hand in hand long before songs like “Kick, Push” made its way across the airwaves. Both have a culture of their own that many find expression in, and developed in the same place: the streets.
Darren Harper grew up in the streets of D.C.’s South East side, where skating and hip-hop eventually set his mind free from violence and motivated him to mend his ways. After finding a skateboard in someone’s backyard, he used go to the Pulaski Park early in the morning and wouldn’t come out until after dark, when he landed his kick flips the way he planned to. Fast forward a couple of years of hard work, practice and determination and here’s one of the greatest skaters in the US, supported by a handful of top notch sponsors including Travis Barker’s brand Famous Stars & Straps. Read on as he shares his love for skating with BallerStatus.
BallerStatus.com: You grew up in the South East side of Washington D.C. What was it like growing up there?
Darren Harper: I grew up in a low income neighborhood, which was full of gun violence, drugs and poverty. So it was basically God’s plan for me to survive through all of my trials and tribulations that I have encountered. Growing up there were no role models, so as a child we had the drug dealers, which we would admire, with the fancy chains, cars and clothes. But then I came to a cross road in my life where I had to make a choice, which was to do right or wrong, I chose right. So I like to thank God and my mother for being a strong black woman who kept me on the right track.
BallerStatus.com: Would you say skating saved your life, in means of it keeping you on the right track?
Darren Harper: Yes! I do feel that skating has saved my life, at one point I was in the streets doing mischief, hanging with the wrong crowd and dealing drugs. It was skateboarding which helped me change my life around. If it weren’t for skating I would be dead or in jail. Dealing drugs is not something I am proud of, but growing up where I am from, I had to make ends meet in order to survive. That’s why I walk the walk and talk the talk to younger children growing up now. I would like to consider myself a role model for inner city children who feel they have to do the same thing to make it and that’s not the case. So yes, skateboarding saved my life and I am using my board and talent to save our future, which are the children.
BallerStatus.com: How did you first get involved in the skate scene?
Darren Harper: Well, actually I found my first skateboard in a pile of belongings which belong to a family who was evicted from their apartment. But me and a couple of neighborhood friends would just skate around the hood until we were informed that there was a plaza, Pulaski Park, located in the downtown area of D.C., where many skaters of all races would skate at. From that point on, we would just catch the bus down to that spot ever weekend. I would just take pointers from friends, watch their feet and observe any little slight movement they made that I thought would help me improve my skills, so I could learn new tricks.
BallerStatus.com: When did you come to realize that you were more talented than the average skaters you hung out with?
Darren Harper: I wouldn’t say I was more talented then the average skaters I hung around, but I just knew that with determination and dedication that I would be able to take my skating to the next level by adding my raw street style to it.
BallerStatus.com: What are some of your favorite tricks?
Darren Harper: Some of my favorite tricks are backside heel flip, switch kick flip and the basic ollie.
BallerStatus.com: Do you have any favorite skate spots?
Darren Harper: Pulaski Park back home is my favorite spot. I’ve been skating there from the age of 12.
BallerStatus.com: On your video segments, you look comfortable and natural. Where does that come from?
Darren Harper: It comes from years of practice on the board. The more you work on something the more comfortable and confident you become with it.
BallerStatus.com: You work with the “Make-A-Wish” foundation and ROOT (Reaching Out to Other Together), which is a non-profit organization that launched a campaign to reduce gun violence and homicides in the District of Columbia. What made you decide to support these specific organizations?
Darren Harper: Well, I have always been about the kids and I go to different schools or organizations to speak to them and let them know they should stay on the right path. It’s so easy to be influence by others especially at a young age or growing up in a single family home. I also have two boys myself. So basically, I just want to be a part of the solution of reducing the gun violence with the youth in the states and across the world.
BallerStatus.com: How did you get involved? Did they approach you from out of the blue?
Darren Harper: A friend of mine noticed that I was very passionate about the kids and that I have spoken to kids at schools about their futures and the positive choices they have in life. So she asked me would I be interested into joining the Guns Aside Society. Me myself, coming from a history of losing lots of friends and love ones to and from gun violence and homicides, it was a go for me.
BallerStatus.com: Tell me more about your affinity with hip-hop music.
Darren Harper: Hip-hop and skateboarding are both cultures that come from the streets, but they share a common interest, which is the music and the lifestyle, so it’s influenced by each other. I’m a part of hip-hop because at one point and time, I lived that lifestyle that most of the rappers rap about. I was born and raised on the streets, and I have been through the struggle and a lot. All I did was find another road to take, which was skateboarding and I embraced it. Skateboarding has a major impact on hip-hop where the rappers are now wearing the skateboard brands and major companies are tapping into the urban skating market, which is very motivating to me.
BallerStatus.com: Now you have quite a lot of sponsors, including DC Shoes and Diamond. What are your main criteria when deciding whether or not to do business with a certain brand?
Darren Harper: I always look to be the first to bring any brand or company something new, fun, creative, daring and trendy, which is skateboarding period! As far as choosing the skate brands, I seek brands that will fit with what I’m trying to do which is make “Darren Harper” a house hold name, not only in the skate culture, but in the hip-hop culture also. I want a brand who shares common interest to build a brand out of my name or out of an image I represent.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve been added to the Famous Stars & Straps skate team. How did you hook up with Travis Barker?
Darren Harper: I met Travis at a trade show in San Diego, California. He had a booth that was showcasing his apparel. I was noticed by them and from there, I gave them a DVD of my skating and it was a wrap not long after. I was the “first” official skater for FSAS.
BallerStatus.com: What kinds of advice would you give to anyone out there who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Darren Harper: I would only say follow your dreams and stay focused.