When talking to Dante Ryan it’s hard to believe that he’s only 19 years old. Just last year, he was a senior at Berkeley High School. Now, he seems to have a very clear understanding of who he is and what he wants to give to the world. A young man of many talents, Ryan has maximized his gifts. Whether it is music or politics, Ryan has his mind set on giving anything he is involved with his all.
The product of a biracial family, the Berkeley native, who performs as The Dante Ryan, recently signed a distribution deal with Empire, and has just released his first project, “Toxic Fool.” We checked in with Ryan to talk about his inspirations and ambitions.
How did you get started with music?
It’s actually a funny story, and it’s crazy how vividly I can remember this, but when I was around six years old, “Let me love you” by Mario was a huge hit and my older sister was always playing it, constantly on repeat. And I really liked the song, the beat, the melody, and I would be dancing to it when no-one was around.
Then one day my sister had her friends over and they were just playing some music, and then “Let me love you” comes on, and by then I already memorized it, so I just started singing to all the girls, and I’m dancing all while the song plays. And instead of them making fun of me or laughing, they actually really enjoyed it. They were clapping and cheering for me, and I’ll never forget the feeling I got when they responded so well to my performance. Putting that energy out and to have them reciprocate it, I felt on top of the world. So after that I talked to my mom, who had sung in the choir growing up, and my father who once was a rapper, and I told them how I really enjoyed singing and dancing, and they just started getting me involved in acting programs, I started doing musicals, and from there I just kept it going.
You come from a family that has a musical background. How have they influenced you as an artist?
As a kid, my parents always played the best music. Both are from the Fillmore district of San Francisco, and that area has a lot of culture. They did a really good job of exposing my siblings and myself to different types of music. I also think me being biracial played a big role in me being exposed to different genres of music. My mom would play me local artists from the San Francisco area, and then her side of the family is originally from Louisiana, so I’m just getting all these types of music from my mom, and then my dad is playing stuff from the ’60s and ’70s. My grandmother is playing classical music, I’m hearing reggae, my grandfather was into the opera. So I’m hearing all this different stuff, and I’m enjoying all of it. So I think being exposed to all those genres definitely had a positive impact on me. I’m able to find motivation and ideas from all these different styles of music and put my own twist on it.
At what point did you decide you would start doing music full-time?
There were stages to that decision, because of course, actions speak louder than words. So there’s saying you’re going to do something, and then actually following through with actions that match what you said you were going to do. So I’ve been saying I wanted to be a successful artist when I was in the 7th grade when I started this group called “The Newcomers”. There was one day we were messing around at a friend’s house, and we made this mash up of “99 Problems” by Jay-Z and “New Soul” by Yael Naim, and that got over 3 million views on YouTube [the original video was taken down for copyright reasons], people were using it in Vines, and other videos, but we never got credit. But seeing that our product had such a positive reaction and enjoying our creativity, I knew that we had potential.
So that was the moment when I was like “I’m about to do this. This is what I’m trying to do.” And then the last year has really made me realize how much I just need to be involved in music. Whether it’s as an artist, a manager, or me helping other artists anyway, I have to be working in music. Over the last year I’ve been spending more time with people in the industry and working on my craft more and I’ve just really grown to love what I do and what it has to offer. I know it’s not easy and like every form of entertainment, whether it’s acting or sports, the chances of being a superstar are slim, but my love for the craft is enough for me to give it all I have.
I always see you giving a lot of love, and paying homage to the city of Berkeley. How has Berkeley helped mold you as an artist and as an individual?
One of the things I’ve always admired about Berkeley is the diversity, and the community’s willingness to be open and accepting of all people. As a biracial kid, that was really big for me. I always felt like I could just be me. Whoever that was. I could embody all the things that make me, me. I didn’t have to be just white, or just Black. I could be both, and people appreciated and respected that. I’ve been able to translate that diversity into my music. I can rap, sing, and produce. Each artistry allows me to tap into a different part of myself, and I would like to think Berkeley played a part in allowing me to develop that level of trust and comfort in who I am.
In such a short time you’ve been able to experience so much. Apart from music, you’ve been involved in politics, right?
Yes, I was. I started doing Youth and Government my sophomore year.
Can you tell me about that experience and what your role was?
Originally I was skeptical about joining the Berkeley delegation. For those who aren’t familiar with Youth and Government, it’s pretty much all white people, so that was a red flag for me. I didn’t want to be a part of something that wasn’t inclusive. But my best friend at the time kept encouraging me. He thought I could be an asset to the delegation, and on top of that, he told about all the girls that I would meet… I was instantly convinced!
So I go to my first meeting and I was extremely shy, but we had to do a debate on something like, “Which is better: Gordo’s or Cactus?” I made an argument for Gordo’s. I had very little experience with debating and public speaking, but everybody was feeling my argument, and it was very reminiscent of when I would perform music, it just felt good. Being able to change people’s minds, and offer a new perspective, that moment was really cool and from there I just kind of kept the ball rolling. Over the next two years I just moved up in rank.
I ran for secretary my junior year, and I won that race. Then by senior year I had made a bunch of friends and kind of made a name for myself, so I decided to run for president, and I won that. All these positions that I held at the delegation really taught me a lot.
I plan to run my own business one day and the tools that I gained from Y&G will put me in a position to be successful with that endeavor. And also, I learned a lot about politics and how government is run. You know, the government, some people like it, some people don’t, but it’s a crucial part of our society. Especially in America. And this particular time with all that’s going on, it’s important that we know how things actually work and the most effective ways to go about creating change. So yeah, I’ll always be grateful for the experiences and knowledge I gained through Youth and Government.
What are some of your other interest outside of music and politics?
I took a year off from school to give music all my attention and follow my dreams, but I still plan on going back to school and getting my degree. I want to major in business. Like I said, I want to run my own business, so going back to school is definitely something I think about often. I enjoy writing, anything that allows me to expressive myself. I do have some interest in journalism. I’m sure you can relate to the feeling you get when you get to just learn about people and hear about what they’ve been through. Their passions, their traumas, that’s something I’d like to explore.
What can fans expect from you next with music?
Right now I have a bunch of things in the works. I have something going right now called “Honest Mondays,” where every Monday I release some form of art. Mondays can be a tough day for people and I want them to start their weeks off with some positivity. I also have an EP that I’m releasing on March 13 titled “Toxic Fool,” that I’m really excited about. I would like to start releasing an EP every month or so. I have an album that I’m working on, “Eclipse.” I don’t know when I’ll be releasing that. I want to take my time with it. Albums are different from EPs in the sense that an album is how you’re marketing yourself. You’re telling the music world, “This is me and this is how I want you to think of me when you listen to my music.” EPs tend to be shorter and more experimental.
What are your goals with music?
I just want to inspire, I want people to escape reality when they listen to my music. A lot of people are down right now. You can look at the world and see that spirits are not high. I want to uplift people. I want people to listen to my music and get motivated to make a difference and strive to be the best they can be. If that happens, I’ll be satisfied.
Dante Ryan will be live in concert on April 12, at 1015 Folsom in San Francisco. Tickets available. Stream Toxic Fool below.