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Everybody has self-esteem issues," declares Dyalekt. "But you gotta work with what you've got."
Born to an Apache father and a Latina mother, Dyalekt — the MC, producer and self-made cultural sociologist known to his family as Justin Romero, the younger brother of rapper, producer and fellow Diamond Boi Zome — just issued a new album called Death by Ego. The third in a trio of solo releases, the record represents the culmination of the MC's growth and confidence, as well as the idea of following your own muse and sacrificing any sort of ego-driven agenda.
"Really," he explains, "the theme of the album was surrounded by the idea of not just dying from your own ego, but being killed by your ego or other people dying from their own egos and watching it happen."
Whereas the first album, Dreams, Caffeine, and Nicotine, was filled with bruise-inducing punchlines, and the second, November Hates Me, was brimming with heady notions and grown-up verses, both of those albums were ultimately the result of Dyalekt trying to appease everyone. "I've always been like, 'I don't give a fuck what anybody's doing,'" he points out. "I'm gonna do me. But there's a point when I did things to please people who are saying this or saying that. That's why Dreams, Caffeine, and Nicotine and November Hates Me are so different. Certain people liked it, and some people didn't like it." Breaking that mold was not only carthartic, it also helped dictate the direction of the new album, including the production, the features, the rhymes, the artwork — which depicts a more flagrant image of the MC shooting an unwitting and T-shirt-clad version of himself — and the approach to marketing. Dyalekt set the release for the album on March 16, a date that was significant not only because it's his birthday, but because it also happened to coincide with a spring break trip to Mexico, a visit to the "Mayan Motherland," as Dyalekt fondly puts it.
Rather than embark on an exhaustive promotional campaign, the rapper simply made the CD available for download at the cost of a Twitter or Facebook share, and then essentially left the country for a week. "I made my birthday the deadline, mostly so that I'd definitely get it done and not procrastinate," he says. "It turns out that a trip to Mexico happened to fall on the night of my birthday. Pretty much, I released the album and went on vacation for eight days and let the album do what it was supposed to do."
And while that happened, Dyalekt was in the midst of a spiritual cleansing of sorts among the sacred Mayan ruins in Mexico, deepening his already thoughtful approach to his music. "I already had a lot of knowledge about indigenous people and the history behind it," he says, "but to be standing in that very place — not just knowing my history, but experiencing my history — it changed my life. It blows my mind to look at the sky and think that's the same sky the ancestors were looking at 550 years ago."
Needless to say, the trip had a tremendous impact on the rapper. Now back in the States, freshly tanned and with the glow of that watershed moment shining in his eyes, Dyalekt is more confident than ever of his ability to move forward with self-assurance, not arrogance. "With the ego, I feel like it goes deeper than being egotistical about everything," he muses. "It's almost like a point of vanity. No matter how egotistical or humble I am, I don't present myself the same way I do when I'm at home. It might appear egotistical, but really, I'm just more confident in my own life."
The decision to kill his ego came for Dyalekt right before the release of Dreams, Caffeine, and Nicotine, a time that was tense between him and older brother Zome, who often disagreed with the direction of the music. "I grew up and came into my own style of art more and decided I'm just gonna do what I want to do," Dyalekt remembers. "There was a time when we were disagreeing on everything, 'cause I wasn't giving a fuck, and he'd want to know why I was doing it a certain way." Like most artists on a mission, there wasn't a clear reason why the change was taking place, but Dyalekt knew there was something different enough about his growth that the risks to create the music he wanted were worth it.
"When I started out on the I-don't-give-a-fuck limb, I couldn't explain it to him," he says. "It was just what I wanted to do and what I felt like I had to do. It had nothing to do with my brother or anyone else. Dreams, Caffeine, and Nicotine was entirely about me. Death by Ego is even more about me, or who I've become since then."
And who he's become is someone who's completely focused on the music and the message. But while his focus has shifted, his passion remains intact. Ask him about Christopher Columbus, for instance, and you'll get an earful about the troubles of indigenous peoples and the dubiousness of observing Columbus Day. And on Death by Ego, he's all about slaying demons left and right, his own and those of his fellow rappers.