New Orleans rapper Dee-1 recently went viral for a song about using the proceeds from his big record deal to pay off his student loans.
His single about this achievement, “Sallie Mae Back,” is catchy, inspirational, and strikes a chord with the millions of Americans who collectively have $1.3 trillion in student loans. One Washington Post columnist calls the song an ‘anthem’ for this spokesperson-less audience.
We spoke with Dee-1, whose real name is David Augustine Jr., about his upbringing, career, and money mindset. He graduated from Louisiana State University in 2008 and taught middle school in Baton Rouge for two years before focusing exclusively on his music career.
You grew up in an area where the big-time rappers display their wealth. How did you break away from that? What were your surroundings growing up that influenced how you perceive your wealth?
I never had a lot of money growing up so it was never something where I felt compelled to flash my money whenever I did get it. That’s not a sign of humility and I was raised to be a humble man and to work hard for what I want. The point of working hard isn’t to throw it in people’s faces.
[But] to be honest with you, I went through a time when I was infatuated with the whole “making it rain” phenomenon. I just wanted to get money, and go to a party and throw my money in the air and make it rain like all my favorite rappers do. And I literally went through a phase where I would do that type of stuff, unfortunately… That’s just me being 100% real with you.
By the time I got out of that phase, it really clicked in me. I wanted to be an example of someone who is a rapper, just like the other people who I grew up listening to, and to be a relevant rapper, but one who approaches money management in a totally different way. I just want to be an example for others. [Tweet this]
What brought you back to being humble with your money?
It was a very empty feeling when I was just trying to flash money. It was to impress other people and it didn’t make me happy to be flashing my money or showing off what I had. I’m from New Orleans and where I grew up, you make yourself a target if you’re flashing what you have.
I like to walk around with no security. I like to know that I haven’t made enemies because people feel like I’m putting myself on a pedestal and looking down and talking down to them.
I want to be the guy who is an example of something different. In New Orleans, you can’t name one rapper who has ever had any type of success and who has shown people a different route when it comes to spending habits and financial priorities. I want to be the first.
Do you still drive a ’98 Honda Accord?
I do, and I can’t wait to get back to my baby. I’m in Atlanta as we speak. I’ve been out here for about three weeks recording my new album, but the Honda is back in New Orleans.
Does it have a name?
It doesn’t have a name. It’s literally been coined “The ’98 Honda.”
Dee-1’s Money Tips
- Live below your means. “I’ve always bought cars for cash … and I’ve had five cars. Every car I’ve always paid out of pocket.”
- Spend money on experiences. “Experiences are priceless and make life worth living. Whether that’s live concerts or vacations; if it’s actively doing something that will enrich my overall life I don’t mind paying for that.”
- Get an education. “You don’t want to drown yourself in debt, but you also don’t want to deprive yourself from getting an education because you’re afraid to take out loans.”
Are there other examples of ways you live below your means?
Yes, definitely. When it comes to clothing, for example, there’s a lot of synergy with being a hip hop artist and people who have clothing industries. Often, they want their clothes to be worn by hip hop artists. There are people that either give me free clothes or pay me to wear their clothes. That’s a cost I’ve been able to save.
Outside of that, I definitely try to keep things in check as far as my spending on things that aren’t necessities. I really try to stay conscious of “Do I need this?”
One thing with the Honda is I’ve never had a car note in my life. It’s not even about driving the Honda … It’s a cool car, and it’s been with me through a lot and it has sentimental value. But, my whole thing was I never wanted to have a car note. So, for me, that’s a way that I’ve always lived below my means.
“My whole thing was I never wanted to have a car note. So, for me, that’s a way that I’ve always lived below my means.”
I didn’t want to finance a vehicle that I didn’t have the money for at the time and then depend on the success of my music career to pay for it. I’ve always bought cars for cash… and I’ve had five cars. Every car I’ve always paid out of pocket.
Do you keep a regular budget or track your spending?
At this point, I’m beyond having to keep a budget. I think my budget is internal, and it’s actually a way of life for me. I’m careful of what I’m spending and what I have money going out for.
I enjoy spending when it’s related to my career … but I do separate my personal and business expenses. I spend way more on my business and my career than I do on myself. I think that’s fine because I am my business and it’s an extension of who I am so it works out.
You started your music career during college and continued while you were working as a teacher. Teachers have notoriously long hours and are often underpaid. How did you find the time and money to invest in yourself and your business?
That was an instrumental time in my journey. I was living in an apartment that was close to the school where I taught. But, the rent was low enough – and even though I had a modest salary and bills – that I was able to save money.
Saving money allowed me to fund my studio time, pay for posters and flyers, and pay for travel costs. I had to eat off the dollar menu a lot of days just because I wanted to save money on food.
Having that savings was important because when I quit teaching I had never been compensated to do a show. I didn’t know how to monetize my music. I was preparing for that by saving money.
Once again, not having a car note and living in an apartment where I wasn’t living above my means really helped. I even shared an apartment to subsidize the cost. It’s things like that that have become a part of my lifestyle. Looking back that cut my rent in half – just because I was cool enough to say, “Why not have a roommate?”
We know about your student loans, but do you have any consumer debt like credit cards, mortgage, or other?
No, I don’t. At this point in my life, I’m only buying stuff that I know I have the money for. I do have a credit card. I use it every month to build my credit, but I pay the whole balance off at the end of every month.
Can you share some advice for today’s graduates? The average student loan debt is over $30,000.
You have to be conscious when you’re taking out the loans. Is it worth it? Is the amount proportional to what you plan on making? Some people go over $100,000 in debt, but they know their graduate degree can get them a job that pays six figures. It can pay for itself in the long run.
Ask yourself, how much debt is worth it? You don’t want to drown yourself in debt, but you also don’t want to deprive yourself of getting an education because you’re afraid to take out loans.
Also, know that education is a hustle. What I mean is, [even when] you get an education, you still have to hustle to get a job. It’s about who you know and how marketable you make yourself … it’s a complete package that people are looking for. Use the knowledge that comes from education, but understand that it’s all a hustle and you have to play the game, or you’re going to get played.
I don’t think I’ve told anyone this, but part of what I did with my student loans was to start different businesses ventures while I was in college. I was trying to be an entrepreneur, and literally my startup money was partially coming from my student loans.
For some people, that’s the smartest thing in the world. You get access to capital that you can use to fund something. Other people might speak against that, but that’s what I did with part of my student loan money. I had about 10 different businesses: a clothing line, I sold Lamborghini-like car doors, I sold shoes. We started all types of random businesses. Everything made money except for the music.
Do you ever splurge?
Outside of investing in my business, I don’t mind paying for experiences. Experiences are priceless and make life worth living. Whether that’s live concerts or vacations, if it’s actively doing something that will enrich my overall life I don’t mind paying for that. I love to have the money to be able to do that when I want to.
Do you have any other money-related tips or recommendations?
Living within your means is the key to everything. Once you can break free from trying to impress people or trying to fit into what people want you to do, be, drive, wear, or where they want you to live, you’ll really find yourself able to comfortably live in a lot of instances.
A lot of people who are struggling financially have a better car than I have. Well, they have a more expensive car than I have. But, I have thousands of dollars in the bank that they wish they had. It’s a difference. Both of our cars get us from point A to point B, so who’s really winning?