Music Issue 2016: Battle life with DEA + Saint

St. Pete’s hip hop rockers relate the behind-the-scenes play-by-play of their battle to get into Brooklyn’s AFROPUNK Festival

It all began with a phone call from our sensei, Prince Golden, frontman of Samurai Shotgun. This dude has always been a solid ear and voice of reason through our journey as artists creepin’ on the come-up. Last year, the boys brought home a huge win for the Tampa Bay area when Samurai Shotgun rocked a win at the AFROPUNK Battle of the Bands in Atlanta. Now it was our turn — only this time, it was a battle to get into AFROPUNK Brooklyn.

The festival’s roots reach back to Afro-Punk, a documentary by Matthew Morgan and James Spooner that shed light on the multicultural punk/alternative lifestyle that was growing into a movement in the U.S. The doc gave voice to an identity many shared, but their festival — which debuted in Brooklyn in 2002 — provided a platform for afropunks to express themselves on a larger scale. Everything about the movement resonated with us. “NO SEXISM, NO RACISM, NO ABLEISM, NO AGESIM, NO HOMOPHOBIA, NO FATPHOBIA, NO TRANSPHOBIA, NO HATEFULNESS” is a big part of the mantra; the inclusive “all for one and one for all” attitude and quality of acceptance parallels everything we believe in.

Hundreds of bands entered AFROPUNK’s online contest in May, and scrambled for votes to make it into the Top 6. We had 14 days, so we took it to the streets and executed an old-school guerilla marketing campaign, spending countless hours walking around downtown St. Pete and Ybor City, cruising shopping malls, ambushing lines at sold-out events. It paid off, and we managed to nail down fifth place. Victory!

Come sunrise the next day, AFROPUNK shifted the rules and expanded the competition to include the Top 16, but we were proud of the work we did to rank so high. Now we were tasked with planning possible back-to-back trips for both the semifinals and the finals, and it wouldn’t be easy getting this DIY Florida band up to NYC twice.

Our regular drummer T_RASH would be touring with his other band Set and Setting, but thankfully our homie Rogerthomas (who’s pumped crowds with us in the past) joined the crew, which also included bassist/sound junkie Tysonious Mink, guitar guru Mike Susack, and MISPRINTS founder/cameraman/co-pilot/vibes coordinator Dana Nichols.

Brooklyn was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. The tangible love and energy from the crowd was crazy. We were blessed to make it through the semis, and geared up to spend our second weekend in a row pumping a stage in NYC.

You best believe DEA + Saint were ready; we weren’t going down without swingin’ for the fences. Qaasim and the Juggernaut War Party, Tank and the Bangas, Bad Citizen, Danielle Ponder & The Tomorrow People, and the underdogs from St. Pete went at it like a free-for-all death match at Friends and Lovers that night. Everyone showed mad respect for each other's artistry, which reminded us of home. Before our performance, hearts were pumping and adrenaline rushing, and 15 minutes later, once the set was complete, we knew that no matter what the outcome, Mission: AFROPUNK was a success.

In the end, Tank and the Bangas earned a well-deserved win. Although we weren’t the victors, in many ways it still felt like we’d triumphed. We are now mentally tougher and infinitely more honed-in on what it takes to be successful. There is absolutely no room for laziness, doubt, self-pity, ego, saltiness, negativity, or fear on the road to making something out of nothing. You gotta just get out there and get it. The moral of the story here? Never give up, chase your dreams, and you can change your fucking life.


We just want to extend an enormous amount of gratitude out to the people that went above and beyond to help us on the journey. Robin and Perry White, Tim, Tom, Dolores Gensure, Raquel, the Remember You Are Dreaming family, STOIC, our beloved Uncle Steve, and our biggest fan/young padawan Elijah White. We couldn't have done it without you and this is just the beginning. Love, DEA + Saint.

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