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You might think that Vernon Davis, a University of Maryland football star who played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos before coming home to the team now known as the Washington Commanders, would have spent his childhood focused solely on football.
While the game was a priority, young Davis was raised in Petworth during the 1990s, when groups like Junkyard Band, Backyard Band, and Northeast Groovers were inspiring a new generation of go-go fans. Davis also listened to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Tupac, Biggie, and Jay-Z, but go-go was special.
“I used to have buckets,” says Davis. “I would go out back with these buckets that I was putting together and I would just make up my own little station and just be playing some go-go.”
Now, an entire football career later, Davis is returning to go-go, or, more specifically, what producer Tone P calls “go-go trap,” rapping on a new single, “Bounce Like Dis,” featuring Tone P. Released Friday, Sept. 23, on all streaming platforms, the single will also appear on a future EP. The track’s music video premieres on Oct. 2 at 10 a.m.
“It’s a high-energy, cheerful song. When you hear it, it just makes you feel good,” says Davis. “‘Bounce Like Dis’ was inspired by my life, just everything that I’m doing, from art to music, from football to painting. This is how life is supposed to be. I want everybody to bounce like this.”
So how does a tight end become a rapper? Davis has always been drawn to the arts. At Maryland, Davis majored in studio art, and once he arrived in San Francisco to play for the 49ers, he signed up for an acting class at the Shelton Theater of the Arts. His interest in acting eventually led to parts in the Hollywood films Chariot, Gasoline Alley, and A Day to Die. Of course, Davis still played football, eventually winning Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos in 2016. Later that year, he came home to play with Washington, where he remained until he retired in 2019.
After Davis returned to D.C., he found himself moving in a new direction. “I discovered that I could write poetry,” he says. Then his poems turned into hip-hop recordings. “During the quarantine. I started writing and getting on my laptop. I would get on GarageBand, and I started recording some of the stuff. I was writing about how I was feeling, about my life, and just different situations, but cut it into hip-hop.”
Davis was introduced to Tone P–who is best known for his work with Rick Ross, Meek Mill, and Wale–by their mutual friend, comedian Rob Gordon. As the pair envisioned their first collaboration, Tone P was certain that the best musical setting for Davis’ rhymes would be a fusion of go-go and today’s popular trap sound. “The foundation of the record is trap, and it’s fused with go-go elements,” Tone tells City Paper. “Go-go trap is basically the new rap mix with some Chuck Brown and the new school Backyard Band-inspired elements.”
For Tone P, the combination of Davis’ celebrity and his own industry insights is poised to not only ensure the single’s success, but also help solidify the future of go-go. “By pushing this record within Vernon’s network, I think we can really influence younger people to come around to trap music that reflects indigenous Washington, D.C. musical roots,” he says. “I think that’s important that we stay here musically. If we don’t, we lose our identity and start to solely sound like Atlanta, Georgia.”
Tone P sampled bouncebeat band New Impressionz’ track “Strip Girl” for “Bounce Like Dis,” but Davis hopes that someday, he’ll be invited to feature with Backyard. “I think Big G is awesome… If they ask, I’ll get up there and perform,” Davis says. “I’ve always been an artist. I think I was always an artist first who happened to be good at football.”