Albany, Georgia, 1986. Two young boys are walking down Gaines Avenue. Des, 7 years old, and his 8-year-old buddy Eric playfully bounce rhymes back and forth to each other just like they would a basketball. They have tapped into something extraordinary. A new language, a way of sharing their thoughts and ideas by inflecting bars of free verse poetry. It’s art, it’s brilliant…it’s rap. And it’s making the walk down to the Dougherty County Southside Library seem like a trip to another dimension.
Mr. Thomas had recently bought his son, Des, tickets to a Run-DMC concert. The hip hop trio had made an indelible impression on the boy, showing him a new way to use words. The words weren’t exactly sung, and they weren’t simply spoken, either. Somewhere in that gray area, a cadence of attitude, culture, and swag erupted forth from the vocal cavities of the three artists out of Queens. The vibe from that night, in all its raw emotion and artistic innovation, accompanied the two youths as they advanced down that Albany sidewalk.
Thirty-one years later, Desmond Thomas is fulfilling the call that was conceived back on Gaines Avenue. It’s been a long time coming, but Des is not one to lose sight of his dreams with the passage of time. In his debut album, Finally Free, Des provides listeners a window into his life- how he has been set free from negative mindsets, behaviors, and the past- completely through faith in Jesus Christ.
“I’m finally free…I’m destined to be what God called me to be.”
His songs are original, truthful, testimonial, honest, necessary, they are the gospel in street form. Bold City Voice recently sat down with Des to hear about the man behind the rap.
Bold City Voice: So the album is called Finally Free. Tell me a little about the title.
Des Thomas: The original name of the album was Broken Silence. It had to do with things in the music world, in the community, and my own personal life that people were not talking about. They’re talking more about cars and jewelry and money, versus life and truth and things that really matter- the crime and the different things, you know the element of the times.
So Finally Free came about from some things I dealt with personally, where I felt like I wasn’t free. I was mentally in chains, I felt like I was insecure, you know… doubtful. Had no idea of my own self worth, my purpose, what God put me here for. You could say I’m finally free to be able to go and share this truth, share my heart about the truth that I’ve learned in life and about the different things that could change somebody else’s life.
BCV: Did you grow up in Jacksonville?
DT: I grew up in Albany, Georgia until I was 8. My Mama moved me and my sisters here at that time. Grew up on 103rd.
BCV: Tell me what your songwriting process is like.
DT: I could be anywhere…I don’t have to actually have a beat. I could be somewhere with a pad, or recently I’ve gotten a hand recorder. I have a thought and it might just rhyme in my head and I’ll set on the recorder or pull out a pad and just jot it down. It’s really just scattered ideas, scattered thoughts, and I sit down when I have a track and formulate it to fit the track.
BCV: Is there a consistent theme throughout your songs?
DT: There is a consistent message. Finally Free stems from my own story, from the things I was insecure about within myself, my upbringing. It’s a common thing in the hood man…a lot of different kids go through the same thing I went through. It’s being insecure, having no idea of what my identity was. So I’m runnin’ with other cats who were my age, trying to figure out life at 10, 11, 12 years old…with no father in the home. I had men that were around that were in different cities and different places, but no direct communication as far as, “this is how you do this, this is how you do that.” That voice was gone once my Dad had passed when I was 9, right before my 10th birthday.
The first song, Finally Free, is talking about my upbringing, with the street background, and then saying basically- I’m finally free…I’m destined to be what God called me to be. And I’m trying to help other people see that kind of thought. From there, breaking the shackles off your thought processes. The Lord can take you from one frame of mind and completely put you in another frame of mind, completely change a strong part of your thought process.
“All you have to do is to accept Him, and everything else comes…once you believe.”
BCV: How do you find time to work a full time job and produce a rap album?
DT: To be honest man, it was a tough process because I had recently gotten married when I had made up my mind that I was going to go ahead and do the project. The project was long in coming, long awaited. You know, I stopped letting the enemy talk me out of doing the project. I decided this is what God gave me to do, no matter how old I’m getting. Just started a new job, you know… you have life, church.. I really just forced it. Went in the room, closed the door…my wife, she got frustrated with me at times, but I stayed committed.
BCV: When you were growing up, did you have a favorite rap song that you could sing front to back?
DT: A lot of Tupac. A lot of Pac’s music I embodied growing up.
BCV: Do you have other musical influences?
DT: Lecrae, some of the guys from that era. But growing up, Pac and Scarface.
BCV: How about your influences in life in general?
DT: My Mom, my Dad. The short memories I had of him up until I was 9 years old. He was a strong influence. A lot of the influences I got after that were negative influences. I had uncles in a different state, different places. But it was a distant voice. Then my Mom ended up getting married, and he was a drug dealer, and before him it was guys who were kind of like players. So I kind of idolized guys in the dumps, and the slabs, you know the dope boys type.
BCV: What’s your take on rap music nowadays?
DT: There’s still some guys out there now with some messages in their music. But most of the music that’s pumpin’ out now, even some within the gospel rap world, it’s not really speaking about life- more about floss, more about material, more about status… versus reality. It’s more like how tight I can be on this song, versus this kid’s mom just got killed last night. In the 90’s man, it was different. Guys actually had messages. Even still today you have a few cats outside of the gospel world that still have messages, and I would say yeah, man, I like that.
BCV: Which tracks on Finally Free do you think people will gravitate towards, and why?
DT: There’s “Get up Off Me.” It’s basically about getting all the voices away from you, and actually hearing God outside of everything else’s input. “Finally Free,” because it’s talking about being free from the things that kept you bound mentally.
BCV: You have a song called “Pass the Rock.” What’s that about?
DT: The Rock is actually Christ. It’s metaphorical, it’s basically saying, instead of passing the rock of dope- passing Christ, the message of Christ on to somebody else. We have it internalized, we go to church and all that stuff; it’s all cool, that’s good for our own edification. But when we leave them church doors, are we sharing that with anybody?
BCV: What do you hope that people will take away from Finally Free?
DT: To not be afraid to do what God put in your heart to do. To be you, even if it’s exposing your true mind or heart. That’s really what we are called to do- live out our purpose, on purpose. But basically, to hear the message of Christ, what He actually came for. He came so that you don’t have to stay in that place you might be in, that you could be broken free from that. All you have to do is to accept Him, and everything else comes…once you believe.
BCV: Des, I know you. I go to church with you, and I know that you’re kind of a quiet guy at first glance. But being a rapper, you’re going to have to be onstage in front of a lot of people. How are you going to put yourself out there like that?
DT: Great question. So…I have no choice. The whole thing with God saying to use the title, “Finally Free” in the name of the album is to basically break free out of that. I used to stay quiet around large groups of people, and be afraid to share my heart and mind, my true thoughts- because of what people might think. The whole thing of Finally Free is saying I am no longer mentally bound by that. I’m spiritually free, mentally free to do all the things that God called me to do and be.
“I decided this is what God gave me to do, no matter how old I’m getting.”
BCV: One day Des Thomas is at the Grammy’s- Who does he have on his arm?
DT: My wife…Tese…Natese. My whole goal isn’t even to be no famous dude or nothin’. That’s part of the opening statement of Finally Free. I never wanted to be famous, that’s why it took so long to come forward with this message, because I knew it would propel me into the public space.
BCV: Okay, but if you are there, what kind of shoes will you be wearing?
DT: No clue. Depends on where I am in my life.
BCV: I ask because, like I said, I know you…and you’ve always got nice shoes on. So I figured you might have some designer you like, maybe Michael Kors…I don’t know. I have no idea who makes nice dress shoes.
DT: They might be some regular Forces or some Chucks, but nothing fancy. I keep it me, man.
BCV: Where can people find Finally Free?
DT: On Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, Google Play. I got physical copies…trying to get ‘em in stores too. Yeah man, Finally Free, it’s finally time to push this album, to get the message that I’m talking about out in people’s ears.