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For David Dalla G, Southwest Portland is the true 'Gangsta's Paradise'

Rapper originally from Arnold Creek gets back to his roots, plays first hometown show


The venue smelled faintly of vodka and strongly of beer. The crowd of 20-somethings was increasingly raucous. And he wasn’t sure if it was his heart or the bass that was pulsating in his chest, but when rapper David Dalla G took the mic that Saturday night at Ash Street Saloon, he knew one thing for certain: he was home.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRIAN RAPAPORT - Rapper Davlid Dalla Gasperina, aka David Dalla G, performing at a recent concert.

David Dalla Gasperina, 23, grew up in Southwest Portland’s Arnold Creek neighborhood, a swath of suburbia so heavily forested that it was hard to see the outside world, let alone be touched by it. But while his Stephenson Elementary School classmates were busy debating the relative merits of Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, Dalla Gasperina’s six-year-old ears had a taste for something a little more hardcore.

“My brother Lucio brought home Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’,” Dalla Gasperina said. “It was the first rap album I had ever heard and I quickly memorized the whole thing.”

In the aftermath of the death of his father, Dalla Gasperina holed up in his bedroom and found respite in the musical stylings of Coolio and his contemporaries, such as Tupac Shakur.

“My biggest influence growing up was Tupac — easily,” he said. “Even though at the time Tupac and I couldn’t have been more different, he spoke to me a lot: his song ‘Dear Mama’ actually really helped me cope with the loss of my dad; Tupac grew up without a father.”

Though he, like Tupac, was forced to grow up without a father, Dalla Gasperina still had a mother, and she approached her sons’ newfound musical inclinations with a certain degree of wariness.

“My mom was fine with anything unless it was Parental Advisory, because that meant there was cussing,” he explained. “So my brother and I had to sneak those CDs out of the store, tricking my mom into buying them. She knew our music had cussing in it; I’m sure we did try to hide it but I can’t remember how … probably turning it low or off when she came in.”

As he entered his preteen years, Dalla Gasperina slowly but surely made the transformation from rap fan to emulator.

“When I was in sixth grade I started writing in notebooks. I have still have them,” he recalled. “Lots of raps of me trying to sound like Eminem, who I was really into in middle school.”

During high school, student government and amateur filmmaking kept Dalla Gasperina preoccupied, but he continued to pen raps in his spare time. And while at Montana State University, he was confronted with a poignant desire to to "spit his flow" to an audience.

“I feel like I have always been a performer,” Dalla Gasperina said. “As far as rap goes … my first show with material I wanted to hear was in June 2011. It was at a dive bar in Livingston, Montana. Nobody was there except the other people who were going to perform.”

It was an admittedly modest foray into a future career, but that was all it took.

“I did five songs. For the last two I felt like people got into it. I was pretty pumped,” he said. “I was thinking, I want to do this more regularly and see if I can really give it a go.”

Bearded, clad in a trucker hat and never without a twinkle in his eyes, Dalla Gasperina emerged as David Dalla G, a self-styled emcee with raps whose lyrics urged listeners to be themselves and whose beats were, in a word, cool. He recorded and and released his first EP and started performing regularly, including at the Bozeman, Mont. Chamberlin Showcase, which had a bad reputation but would turn out to serve as a turning point in Dalla Gasperina’s career.

“A lot of rappers in town didn’t think it was worth their time; it cost 20 bucks to play it, and you got 20 minutes. There were only two rap acts out of 10,” he said. “I played it, and the company Chamberlin Productions really liked what i was doing. About two weeks later, they asked me if I wanted to open for (the rapper) Murs, which was huge for me.”

Apparently, it was huge for the audience as well.

“The crowds were into it at my other shows, but this was the first time hands were up and people were against the guardrails,” Dalla Gasperina said.

After that, everything seemed to fall into place, and Dalla Gasperina took his show on the road, in what became known as the Big Moves Tour, performing with Minnesota artist Megan Hamilton.

Their fourth stop was Ash Street Saloon, in Old Town Portland. Days before the show, Dalla Gasperina mused about what was ahead.

“I normally prefer to strangers, but these will be people who know me. Some of my songs might reference them, or have something to do with my past,” he said. “I expect it to be a celebration, really.”

On the night of the show, Dalla Gasperina peered out into the audience and saw the familiar faces of his friends from middle- and high school, and perhaps his biggest fan: his mom. By all accounts, this was where he was meant to be.

“I would love to come back to Portland,” He said. “The sooner the better.”