“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.”—Malcolm X
For rapper Deniro Farrar, these motivating words of Malcolm X are a way of life. In between waxing aggressive accounts and painstaking squalor of Charlotte, North Carolina, the leader of his self-proclaimed Cult Rap uses books—Cult Rap Book Club—to finds his life’s purpose and hopefully help others find theirs.
“I started it to promote positivity, for one,” Farrar said during a recent pitstop at VIBE HQ, “And to give people an outlet to where they can go back and forth and discuss different books.”
However, books, rhymes and intellectual discussions weren’t always at the forefront of Farrar’s life. It was cocaine, weed and pills combined with dimly lit crack houses and gremlin-like stares from crack addicts that gripped DF. After years of street hustling, Farrar traded the dope game for the more lucrative rap game. Building his buzz with street favorite mixtapes like Kill Or Be Killed, Cliff of Death and his most recent Cliff of Death II, Farrar garnered the prestige of a potent storyteller, which resulted in a record deal that he asked to “keep on low.”
Here, Ferrar chops it up about his book club, Five-Percent nation and personal legends. Allow him to drop knowledge below.
VIBE: You live in New York now, right?
Deniro Farrar: I’m in Harlem. Right on 145th [Street].
Harlem is my spot. I love it over there.
Harlem is just like the heart of the people. I’ve been getting into this Five-Percent thing. Not to become one but because I want to be knowledgeable of everything. When I listen to Erykah Badu and Jay Electronica, I’m like, ‘What the f**k do they know? What are they reading?’
You really have to pay attention to their lyrics to catch that stuff.
I was watching [Outkast] “Elevators” the other day. I was really paying attention and Andre 3000 was meditating in the video. In his lap, he had a book so I paused it like, ‘What book is that?’ ‘Cause I’m on this whole mind sh*t. Not on no trippy conspiracy theory sh*t, even though I’ve researched that too. But once I started researching the culture and the Five-Percent and the [Nation of Islam] and sh*t, it originated in Harlem on 7th Avenue. I’m like I know where the actual center is. I’m like right there.
Man, what you know about Clarence 13X?
Yep, 13X. He used to hold all these things in the park and all that. That sh*t was crazy. I actually researched him too. Everybody was bigging him up in the industry and all the terminology like “peace god,” all that originated from him. He taught that it’s infinite possibilities when you put knowledge in the mind, especially at a young age. So he was in the hood putting it in these kids’ minds, giving them that knowledge early when everybody else thought that these kids wasn’t responsible enough to know the knowledge.
Speaking of the Five-Percent Nation, are you up on W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Talented Tenth?
Nah, I’m not. But when it comes to all religious aspects, I’m more spiritual than religious. But then, knowledge is knowledge too. You got Clarence, you got a bunch of people that are mentioned but I want to focus on one person at a time. Me and my girl watched the doc online and it was interesting. Once he rebelled from the honorable Elijah Muhammad, it was one of Elijah’s prophets that stepped to him in the park and said, ‘If you supposed to be [Nation of Islam], why you smoking in front of these kids?’ He was like, ‘I’m not bound by anything.’ And I just thought that was dope.
What I like about Clarance is that he let it be known that what he was doing was for the hood type of cats.
Facts. I believe in that. I just don’t want to be the forceful type. It’s like, ‘Alright n***a, we know you go to church.’ That’s why I can’t get into Christian rap or anything with a direct name on it like Gospel Rap or trap rap. Yo, just give it me. Don’t put a title on it.
So what is Cult Rap?
It’s no direct correlation with anything. You don’t have to sound like this or that. It has its own identity. And it’s identity music from the heart. And anything that you created from the heart—not the industry folks making you believe that I have to do something to break into the mainstream industry. You can still have records and still have Cult Rap.
Lets get into your Cult Rap Book Club. When did you become a heavy reader?
I ain’t gon’ get up here and front like I’ve been an avid reader my whole life. I dropped out of school in the 9th grade when I was 15, 16 years old. But everything that I’ve learned, all the knowledge that I’ve accumulated up until now has been self-taught knowledge, sh*t that they didn’t teach me in school. Sh*t they teach you in school, you don’t necessary apply in real life situations, except basic mathematics and learning how to read.
You were hustling?
Man, I was heavy in the street but I would go home and watch the news because I wanted to know what was going on around me. I was reading newspapers and sh*t. And once I started getting into rap, developing my craft and figuring out where I wanted to go in life, my mission statement has been the same since I’ve been in rap. I was like, ‘Yo, ain’t nobody teaching nobody nothing.’ I was just telling my girl last night that I want to start doing college tours. Not just to rap, but I was watching this Q&A last night with Lauryn Hill at a college and they wasn’t asking her nothing about school. They was asking her about life. She was deep at 25 years old. She had a mind. That’s what I want to do. College tours and after the show, have a Q&A with the students. I know people see the interviews and hear the music and it’s like intellectual street rap. Some people be like, ‘What are you reading?’ I‘m not trying to be forceful about it.
What’s the first book that’ll be discussed by Cult Rap Book Club?
My first book, my only book because I just started it is The Alchemist. Most people don’t understand that we all have a personal legend. Until you come into contact with that, you won’t know about it. Some people are living out and fulfilling their personal legend but they think it’s something else out there for them and it’s like, ‘Nah, bruh. This is what you supposed to be doing.’ And this is how we understood what you supposed to do, through this book.
The Alchemist is a good a** book. Do you see any similarities between yourself and Santiago?
I do from a standpoint of how he sacrificed so much. He had a girl that he really cared about but he was like, ‘Yo, this could be my wife and if I pursue this, I’ll be with you, we’ll be happy and have a family. But I’ll always think about what I didn’t pursue, which is my personal legend. But if I stay here with you, I can’t pursue my personal legend.’ So he walked away from that just to pursue his personal legend. I think about it all the time. I got two sons. They live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m living in New York and in the back of my mind—with rap, I ain’t making money right now. Sometimes I wonder, do I go back home, get a job, and take care of my sons? But I’ll raise my sons miserable. How do I teach them to pursue your personal legend when I gave up on mine? But that’s what keeps me going.
He went through a lot of sh*t, too.
He did. He went through so much. Even like working with the crystal merchant. I did sh*t where I’m working with my uncle on a sweeper truck. I knew it wasn’t my personal legend but it also brought me closer to it because I realized that this ain’t for me. But I needed this, too. It’s similarities all around the board. He stepped out on faith on a lot of that sh*t. That’s how I am. I’m in New York trying to become a rapper amongst millions of rappers. I stepped out on faith and came here from North Carolina on a f**king Mega Bus ticket with the mindset of ‘I’ma make it happen.’
So explain the inner workings of the book club?
I set up an email [email@example.com] for people to send me names of different books or if they got any questions about the books. The first of the month, we announce the book and during the middle of the month, we hold the conversation about the book via Twitter asking people how the book inspired them. At the end of the month, we hold a Q&A about the book in its entirety and see how they felt about the book.
What’s the reaction been like?
I’m seeing thug n***as post books. ‘Bruh, I was in the hood today and read two chapters of the book and I feel good.’ You know, quoting sh*t. And that’s just showing people where I come from that there’s a whole other life. I’m in the apartment reading books with my girl now, but I got two felonies and history that people don’t know. But this book club is spreading awareness and knowledge. People love that sh*t.
Any fellow MCs looking out?
I talk to Busta Rhymes on the regular. You don’t have to sign up. All you have to do is say, ‘Yo, I’m participating. I’ve read the book. I’m cool with Busta Rhymes. I’m cool with Freddie Gibbs but I’m not going to be forceful in anything that I do. Not to say that they wasn’t with it but I say to them, ‘Yo, tweet out about this book.’ Try to get some engagement in. This really for everybody, not just me. So right now, I don’t have any reputable names backing it, which is cool because that ain’t what I’m really doing it for. It ain’t never going to stop. This in my mission statement. This isn’t some sh*t we just do this year or next year. This sh*t is going to stick with me. I’m going to build this so big to the point where Oprah gon’ be like, ‘Yo, I f**k with your book club. I’ve been watching, I’ve been following.’ [Author of The Alchemist] Paulo Coelho got like 10 million followers on Twitter but he only follow like 65. I’m going to make it to where I’ma be 66 or 67. I’m going to be in that number, bro.
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