Robin Hoodd detects some bullshit. After growing up in Los Sures, the South Side of Williamsburg, historically one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City — Robin Hoodd woke up one day and found his home neighborhood gone. Where there were once block parties and bodegas, there are now cops and organic markets.
By telling the story of Dominican culture in New York, Robin Hoodd is giving his old neighborhood a new voice.
With popular tracks and galleries at Art Basel under his belt, Robin Hoodd is going to keep doing what he does best: hanging out with his people and running wild in his streets. CONVICTS caught up with this man of many talents for our second episode of LOCALS and heard about the changes he’s seen Brooklyn undergo, the upside side of hustling and the harsh words he has for lawmakers on their high horses.
What’s up man? To start, can you introduce yourself to us?
Yo what’s up, this is Robin Hoodd. Recording artist, music producer, visual painter.
Where are we right now?
You guys are at my store in the South Side, Brooklyn, which is basically Williamsburg. They named it East Williamsburg but we’re in the old Williamsburg, where I grew up. This area where we at is called the South Side.
How do you say that in Spanish?
For someone who has no idea about Brooklyn, can you explain how this neighborhood has changed?
For someone from out of this country coming to Brooklyn and thinking, “Oh wow, Brooklyn is so beautiful.” It wasn’t like that when I was growing up. It was Murderville back in the day: murder, drugs, shootouts, dope fiends everywhere… it was crazy. People from Manhattan would stay in Manhattan. Brooklyn was Brooklyn. It was really divided, but the Hispanic community stood strong with each other. Now it’s like, what the fuck happened? It’s literally like you went to sleep, woke up and it’s like, “Yooooo! It wasn’t like this.”
So what happened?
I really don’t know what happened. When we was young running around in our own little circles we wanted to be basketball players, we wanted to get out of the hood…not knowing that our hood was gonna turn into the place where people want to live. That’s the crazy shit. People go crazy to live here. It just happened in literally the blink of an eye. Bedford was all warehouses. There was no apartments, none of that shit by Marcy Avenue. It was horrible. Everything was horrible down here you wanted to get out and then it’s like fuck, now we’re struggling to live! That’s crazy.
How was it going to school here growing up?
School was cool, they didn’t really teach us much. It was more like a place where you would go to just get these hours done. It was basically a fuckin detention place. You go hang out, they teach you the same bullshit. There was never really a class you actually learned things you could take out to the field, because around us was all drug dealers. Like what should we have been learning? You go for jobs and you don’t really get much. You grow up in the streets, there’s so many kids. Actually, our mothers were really strict while a kid was in the house, but at a certain age you had to come out. You had to have that type of style, that type of ruggedness. Around us, all we saw was hustling and this and that and the quick money and the quick bucks. Like I said, we were trying to get jobs, we were trying to do great, we were trying to do this and that, but some of us wound up doing what we knew how to do.
Talk about that toughness you had to have?
You had to have a tough exterior out here. You go anywhere, to a party or something, it was always like “Hey who’s tough, who’s hard?” So we always had to have that exterior. They’re going to eat you alive if you don’t have it. It made me crazy and stronger at the same time. Sometimes it kind of fucks you up having that tough exterior. Some people mean well and you really think that they mean wrong. So…you grow out of it. You learn from it.
Is there a positive side to that New York hustle?
A lot of places move really slow, so when you come with that New York mentality, you get it anywhere you go. You can survive anywhere. You come from Brooklyn, you can survive anywhere. You come from New York, you can survive anywhere. Anywhere.
Does that hardness still exist?
No. That type of shit doesn’t exist now. Everyone is basically together now, everyone is chilling and all that shit was stupid. Now, everyone is in the same pot…but a different thing is now you’ve got the white folks here. You’ve got the yuppies in. You’ve got these, all these money people in, so it’s like everyone just went fuck it, nobody gives a fuck no more. All the white folks are moving into the spot. The buildings that is all Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, now you see white folks in there. So it’s kind of like everyone else is all together. It’s all changed up
How do you feel about that?
To tell you the truth, I feel for the community and myself, with the place changing and the rich white folks moving in, we feel it’s really fucked up. It’s a change, it’s beautiful, things have become better but it sucks for us because the culture has been living here for years before anybody was here. We kept this place running, as violent and fucked up as it was, we kept it running. Like with the delis…now you come into the deli and you find everything organic. We can’t afford that shit. Where are our bullshit sodas and fifty cent chips? Where’s the shit that we can afford? It’s not there no more. They’re buying everybody out or kicking them out. There were people here paying three hundred a month, four hundred a month. Now, everything’s three thousand dollars a month. So people get pushed into Bushwick, out of Bushwick, into East New York. So you’ve got people that don’t have shit moving more into the ghetto, with more people that don’t have shit. They’re going to be at war with each other, scrambling for every fucking penny. I personally don’t like it. I’m walking around looking at some of these people that ain’t from here, they’re from fucking Seattle, Cali, Denver, all this shit. What the fuck is he doing here? Who the fuck is this? Motherfucker you ain’t even from here, come on. I’m not the only one to say it. All the mom and pop shops disappear and all these brand new shops are coming up. A person like myself from the community that has been here for years can’t afford to open up something. I might have a great idea, but I can’t afford it. That’s wack. Why can’t we do what they are doing? Because we can’t afford it. We do a festival, we’re going to get shut down because it’s us. They do a festival, they have people guarding them. Cops around. The last Dominican festival was two or three years ago, but they threw a fucking army of cops there just to watch us. We are always going to have our guard up looking at these cops. They let the fucking white folks have a damn festival on Bedford and it’s going to be beautiful, peaceful. Everybody chill. So we feel like it’s not fair.
What advice would you give to policy makers on this?
They need to stop having that older mentality. People that make laws aren’t out here. They’re not in the streets seeing what is going on. That’s fucked up. They should be able to change their views. Life is changing, the world is changing, they should be able to change their views. They’re are trying to take out the middle class. There’s barely a middle class because you’re poor or you rich, that’s it. We can’t have nothing nice here but they don’t know that because they are up there just hanging out, chilling, saying, “Oh yeah pass that law,” instead of really seeing who you’re fucking up. Go to the suburbs and you barely see a cop. There’s a lot of fucking crime in the suburbs. That’s the place you have little fucking kids tied up in a basement. You over here and you have a bunch of fucking cops running around. That’s my advice: get off your fucking high horse come down and explore. Spend a week or a month and see what’s going on and see what’s going on in Bushwick, see what’s going on in East New York and you’re going to see why crime is happening and cops are shooting people and rent is going how it is. Up there, you ain’t going to be able to realize that.
For someone who knows nothing about Dominican culture in New York, can you tell us a bit about what it’s like?
Dominicans…we just love to have a great time and party. Someone that’s not from that culture comes to New York and hangs out with the Dominicans, you’re going to party from the day you land until the day you leave. And you gonna eat, they gonna fucking feed you. It’s going to be chicken. The next day chicken, rice, and beans. The next day chicken, rice, and beans. And you’ll be like, “Yo this shit is good.” You’re going to be ten pounds heavier by the time you leave. Dominican culture is amazing man and it’s an amazing culture in New York. Same thing with Puerto Ricans. Same shit, different flags. Everything is loud. You’re going to have a great time.
Tell me about your artwork that we see, like the painting behind you.
The passions that I love doing are music and art. I grew up in the hood hearing gunshots, hearing “where my money at?!” and shit like that and I used to be home writing. Writing music. Writing while my mom sang, cooking in the kitchen. She’d be singing and I’ll be in the room just listening to her playing Michael Jackson and I’d write a bunch of poetry and music. The reason I came into drawing was because we didn’t have much. My father worked for factories and all he was able to get was hand-me-downs. He used to take hand-me-downs from all the Salvation Armies. He would go in there, take all that shit, bring it to us and we would be mad happy. Meanwhile it’s used fucking toys and my dad’s bringing us old clothes. But you know, growing up there was always the kids that had the dope shit, the cool things. I was one of the kids that didn’t have shit. So in order to make my clothes look different, I would draw on them or paint on them and that’s where I got my painting and drawing from. If I wanted to wear something fresh, I had to paint it to look different and that was crazy to me. I’m an artistic person ‘cause of the type of shit I went through. Having nothing made me create more. From there on, it just grew as I got older and my talent got better, better, and better until I started doing galleries for Art Basel.
What about your music?
I produce my own music. I produce, write all my own lyrics and compose. Everything that I create is mine. It’s an amazing experience to be given that. God gave me some shit. Didn’t give me too much brain, but gave me an amazing talent. I started doing all this music and my music was doing really well and still is. I was always an outsider. I was always the Robin Hoodd. I was always hanging out in Harlem with some crazy motherfuckers. I was the only Spanish one in Harlem…they used to call me Ricky Martin. I’ve always been with a different crowd. I’ve never been trying to do the same thing everyone was doing. Even the style of music I created was different, but it’s gotten me to fucking Thailand, to Italy, to Spain. I’ve gone to all these places to perform and do music that’s loved by, not my own people, but by others. I was always ahead of my time.
Where does the name Robin Hoodd come from?
I’m always out, I’m always in the streets running around. I know everyone. I get loved by everyone ‘cause I’m everybody’s Robin Hoodd. I take from the rich, I give to the poor. I hang out with my people.
Lastly, tell us about your new Williamsburg store The Robin Hoodd Experience?
It’s the Robin Hoodd shop. It’s in my neighborhood where I grew up. That’s one of my best things: I’ve got a spot where I used to walk around and wanted to get out of. I couldn’t have shit, now I have a place. It’s an amazing accomplishment to have a spot here. Whereas most of my peoples are still trying to stay here and being bought out or kicked out. I’m here and I’mma make sure all the culture is still alive.
Recording Artist, Music Producer and Visual Artist Robin Hoodd’s first pop up shop in Williamsburg Brooklyn, will be opening soon at: 175 Roebling St, Brooklyn, NY 11211.