A few years back, I wanted to have a video (or written segment) on the Otaku Gamer Spot where I had in-depth discussions about fictional characters (in the gaming/anime/comic space). I gave the concept a shot and my discussion concept crashed and burned.
Of course, with no one being original on the internet, someone was already making this concept work and was doing it much much better than I could have ever thought to do.
This dude I sat down with a couple of weekends ago is an OC (OverClocked) Remixer, a member of the Sonic-themed hip-hop group known as the Zone Runners, and currently he’s the host of the YouTube series called Who Dat?
Who dat? Digi Valentine.
Where are you from?
“The LDN! I’m from London, England. North London to be precise.”
What is your musical background?
“I grew up listening to urban music (HipHop, R&B, House, Garage) from a very early age. I still remember hiding my copy of Snoop Dogg’s debut album ‘Doggystyle’ from my mother when I was around 8 years old, lol. I started rapping a few years later with my cousins. Sometimes the local pirate radio stations we listened to use to have MC’s on the show that would spit bars during the instrumental moments of the songs, so me and my cousins started learning how to flow from listening to their examples. Naturally we weren’t very good back then, our lyrics were terrible but we found great enjoyment from rapping, lol.”
“I didn’t study music very much academically over the course of my young life and I never learned to play any instrument. The only things I really know how to do in music are writing lyrics and spitting them to a beat, which was all self-taught from the culture I grew up in and the music I listened to.”
Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
“Yo, that’s always a tough question, haha! I find myself getting inspired from a wide range of different musicians, even if I don’t record music that is anything remotely in the style that they did. Sometimes it’s the feeling you get from a song that goes on to inspire you to make something that tries to tap in to the same emotion, regardless of if you perform within the same musical genre as them or not.”
“If I had to name a few then Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Phil Collins, Aaliyah and Freddie Mercury are probably top billing on my list. I would also list Kano, Skepta, JME and Sway (all MC’s from the UK) as they were incredibly crucial to me finding my voice and flowing with a British accent.”
When did you meet Halc and what inspired you two to start the group the Zone Runners?
“Yeah, the Doc! I met Halc over at OverClocked Remix (OCR). He was an established remixer, as well as a submissions judge for the site at the time. I ended up joining OCR when Level 99 (Stevo, another good friend and Remixer) was directing the NiGHTS into Dreams OCR album (NiGHTS: Lucid Dreaming). Level 99 brought me on board the project as an assistant and through that I joined OCR.”
“I had a Remix on that album (‘New Jack Mantle‘, a collab with Tryezz) which helped introduce me and my style of music to the other people at the site. I was the first British rapper there so it was kind of a new thing for them. I got involved in a few other Rap orientated remixes, which is when mine and Halc’s paths crossed. I had copped his latest album at the time (Trending Topic EP) and he had heard me spitting some bars on a Remix and we started talking about doing a joint album together.”
(Above is the track “New Jack Mantle” NiGHTS remix that was featured on OverClocked Remix)
“Its initial concept was just him producing some remixed Sonic tunes and I was going to rap over them. Nothing crazy, nothing fancy, just Sonic beats with my bars. There was no ‘Zone Runners‘ by this point. As time went on with production, the lyric direction I was taking started to be less about random bars and more along the lines of me and Halc interacting with that game world and the characters within it. Then we decided to play on the trope of making fan-characters out of ourselves to visually represent our existence within that world, and the album also began to form some kind of story too. By the end of it we had acquired our third member Sir J (the Crazy Robo) to complete the lineup and Zone Runners were officially born.”
Do you have a favorite Zone Runners track (or tracks)?
“Off the first album I got to say ‘Crazy Mofo‘ is probably one of the biggest highlights for me. ‘Stars and the City’, as well as ‘My Rose’, are also favorites. ‘Fire All Weapons‘ and ‘Spring Yard Bounce‘ were great fun to record as well!”
“There’s a tune off a project we’ve been working on recently that I also truly adore, it’s got a very ‘Blackstreet – No Diggity‘ vibe to it. It’s not a Sonic related project, but the mood we went for is so close to my idea of a perfect track, I just really loved the way it turned out. All three of us brought our A-game for that one. Hopefully we’ll be able to release that project soon!”
(Above is the first track off of the first Zone Runners album titled “Fire All Weapons.” One of my personal favorite tracks of theirs)
What games are you currently playing (if any)?
“Right now, juggling the YouTube show and other priorities has left me with not a lot of time to put in to gaming, sadly. I am playing Street Fighter V when I can though. I’m not very good at it, lol. Laura Matsuda is that new waifu for laifu, haha! I also recently copped South Park: The Stick of Truth on a Steam sale and play that at random points. I’m enjoying both of these games.”
Do you have any favorite video game soundtracks?
“Although I’ve played it to death, the NiGHTS into Dreams OST is one of the top ones on my list. I’ve kinda killed it on loop in my playlist over the years so i don’t listen to it much anymore, but seriously that soundtrack has a lot of great stuff going on in there. Undertale’s soundtrack is also phenomenal, and Final Fantasy VII is one of my classic favorites from way back when. I also have to give major props to SEGA’s racing game soundtracks during their heyday. Everything from OutRun to Daytona, from SEGA Rally to Metropolis Street Racer. All of these titles had brilliant music.”
What inspired you to start the series “Who Dat?”
“With ‘Who Dat?’ it was a number of things, really. I had been watching shows like JonTron, Did You Know Gaming and Maximilian Dood for a while by that point and I started wondering why I wasn’t on YouTube producing a show myself. I had always been involved in voice and video recording when i was growing up as a kid, almost as much as I was with music. I had even studied Broadcasting for a short time during my youth and aced the class… so it made me wonder why I had never done anything with this skill.”
“There was a moment during 2013 when I was really down on my luck and very depressed about a few things. One night I was watching JonTron to cheer myself up. Jon was reviewing this crappy game with a terrible main character and the idea for Who Dat hit me like a truck…fictional characters. We talk about them all the time, we have our favorite characters, we have characters we hate, and they take up such a huge portion of our entertainment.”
“Fictional characters are all around us and I kinda wondered why there weren’t many YouTube shows dedicated to just talking about these characters. I’m not saying my idea is original or anything, there might have been shows out there already that were talking about fictional characters before Who Dat came along, but it just felt to me like there was a big gap in the video content market to talk about this sort of thing at length since it wasn’t a common type of show. So, I ran with the idea.”
What was the inspiration for your Digi Valentine character’s design?
“Well, the name ‘DiGi Valentine’ is actually representing two individuals. DiGi is me, the real life guy you see in the show. Valentine is the other guy, the bunny-man thing with the cool hat, lol. He’s kinda like my online persona of sorts. He represents me within the digital space. An avatar, I guess. I just put both our names together to keep it all linked neatly so people will associate the two.”
“With Val I wanted to have a character that I could just throw in to whatever I was doing and he would adapt to that medium. I use him in my YouTube show, I use him in the music I make and he’s also present in the online webcomic Engelbaum that my girlfriend TRiPPY created. It’s kinda fun having a character like that who represents you no matter which world you place him in. I designed him way back in 2004 to represent me and he’s been running with me ever since.”
“He’s not actually a rabbit, despite his appearance. He doesn’t have a tail or huge rabbit feet or anything like that. I just wanted to create a weird looking ‘dream-creature’ while I was hanging around the NiGHTS forums back in those days and that’s what i came up with. His ears weren’t even ears back then, they were just the natural shape of his head, but a few of the forum members at the time said they sort of look like bunny ears and they nicknamed him the ‘bunny man’. Over time, those things on his head did eventually end up becoming his ears and the nick-name the ‘bunny man’ is still used to this day.”
In a few of your videos you mentioned that you were very established the NIGHTS fan community. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
“Yeah, I was a fan of NiGHTS back when I was a kid. I got online at some point during 1999 but I didn’t find any websites dedicated to NiGHTS until around 2004. The website belonged to TRiPPY, with whom I formed a relationship with two years later. We co-ran the website for a while and handled a lot of interactions with SEGA, mainly because we were the only major active NiGHTS into Dreams website around and SEGA found us to be the best point of call with the fanbase. We acted as a middle ground between the company and the fans for quite a while.”
“Over the years, various things happened with the NiGHTS into Dreams property that required mine and TRiPPY’s direct involvement, such as seeing the game getting a HD port on Steam, Xbox Live and PSN. For a brief two years we worked at SEGA Europe as QA testers, while providing assistance to the higher-ups on anything NiGHTS related that was happening with the series at the time. There have been a number of times where we’ve interacted with Sonic Team too; it’s surreal to think I’ve spoken to the creators of NiGHTS on a first name basis, lol.”
“These days we still own the NiGHTS website but due to being busy with personal priorities we leave the admin work to our good friend Dex, so he’s running the site now under our ownership.”
(The site in question is nightsintodreams.com for all of you who are interested in supporting the NiGHTS fan community)
Do you have any advice for anyone getting started in composing music or trying to get started in the YouTube world?
“With music, you have got to feel what you’re doing. I tried to get involved in actual music production and producing beats but it didn’t work with me. The sounds I have in my head are not the sounds I translate to a digital audio workstation and because of that I’m never happy with what I produce, so I don’t do it. But rapping? I find such enjoyment from writing lyrics, finding words to rhyme or new ways to bend sentences and syllables to make a rhyme hit a certain way. I love to have a beat running and just vibe with it, not in the sense of a freestyle (because I can’t freestyle) but just to get a feel for the song and start writing out lyrics that are resonating with the beat. There’s something so satisfying about it.”
“That’s why I say with music, if you’re looking to get in to it you have to find the area of music that you gel with. You’ll know once you’ve found it because it’ll be the area of music that you enjoy the most.”
“For being a YouTuber though, man I could write a book about this because there’s so many things I’ve learnt from my peers and self-experience, lol.”
“I’d say that for those people out there wanting to come in to YouTube with the intentions of making a big impact, you have to understand that being a YouTuber is a full time commitment. Outside of my real-life priorities, every other hour I have is spent working on Who Dat. This is me working flat out on the show every free day I have and I’m just barely able to get two episodes of Who Dat out a month. It’s always time to work and you have to be ready for that workload if you want your channel to have a chance at growing and gaining a steady viewer count.”
“There are no easy short-cuts, it’s all about remaining consistent with uploads and keeping your quality level consistent too. Some people watch the finished product of a show and have no idea just how much goes in to making a series, they just see the 10 to 15 minute video and that’s it. But the work that goes in to it is very time consuming, you have to absolutely want to do this because it will take up a good portion of your time. And you have to be willing to learn too because nobody gets their show perfect from episode 1 and everybody I’ve known so far has learnt as they’ve progressed.”
“But if you get in to it and find yourself a groove with being a YouTuber then it starts to feel like music, you find yourself enjoying what you do and things will continue to progress naturally as you go.”
“And to those people who are considering jumping in, I truly absolutely you wish you the best of luck. Keep your intentions pure, be respectful to your fellow content creators, it is not a race or a pissing competition, and just have fun creating videos. Make it happen for you.”
Do you have anyone you would like to give shout outs too?
“Yeah, I wanna send a big shout-out to TRiPPY for always putting up with me and always showing her support to my crazy ideas, a big shout out to my bredda’s Halc and Sir J in the Zone Runners crew, an extended huge shout-out to literally anybody and everybody who has played a part in Who Dat at some point whether they are a full time team player or someone who popped in to help out with an episode, there are so many people to shout-out that i just couldn’t list them all. If you need to find them then all of their credits and links are always listed in the video descriptions. Please go and check these people out, they are great talented people and they deserve the attention.”
“And lastly, big shout out to yourself Chaz for this interview. Thanks for having me on, man :)”
I want to thank Digi for taking the time to sit down and talk geek things with me. Be sure to check out the “Who Dat” show at Digi’s YouTube channel, check out his lyrical skills with his hip hop crew the Zone Runners, and be sure to follow Digi for all of his dope content on his Twitter here. Thank you once again my bredda!