Dirtbag Dan was born in San Jose as Daniel Martinez. He first got onstage when he was 14 years old and saw LSP (Kung Fu Vampire’s old group) perform at Java Stop in San Jose. At the end of the performance, they invited the audience onstage to freestyle. His friends, knowing he liked to rap, coaxed Dan to try it.
“It was the coolest thing ever. I was like, ‘I am definitely doing this. This is my thing,’” he recalls.
He got his name years later at 19 when his buddy Mario saw him lying down on the couch in his apartment looking scraggily and unshaven. He said, “You’re a fucking dirtbag, Dan.”
The nickname stuck. “You never pick the cool names. People remember Dirtbag Dan because nicknames are designed to stick to people,” he says.
He continued to freestyle or battle rap whenever he could. “When I was a kid, there was no option to record an album. Nobody had studios or shit like that.”
Though he could hold his own, freestyle battle rapping was never a format that he excelled at, but he was never one to turn down the opportunity to rap onstage. He recorded his first solo album,Dirt 4 $ale, in 2003, joining Thunderhut around that time, then Counter Productive a little later.
Eventually, he left Thunderhut and devoted himself to Counter Productive full time. In 2005, he, Able Abilities & Skylar G found a DJ named Itchy the Killer, and the Counter Productive crew was officially complete.
Grind Time was started in Orlando, Fla., in 2008 by two battle rappers named Madd Illz and Drect. At the same time, King of the Dot was starting up in Vancouver, Canada. Both of these leagues were inspired by an earlier Canadian battle-rap league called Elements, which began in 2006.
“Elements started doing openly written a cappella battles,” Dan says. “I don’t want to say they’re the first people to ever do it in the world. That’s totally not true. But these people were the first to say, ‘OK, we’re openly writing our battles. We’re not freestyling off the top of our heads anymore.”
Dirtbag Dan’s first battle for Grind Time was on Aug. 30, 2008, in Oakland against the Coroner. This was also the first official Grind Time West Coast battle. The event was a spontaneous thing for Dan, and he didn’t come with anything written ahead of time.
“It was a terrible battle. But people really liked it. For some reason, it got a lot of views,” Dan says.
Dan accepted a second battle and decided to take it more seriously, going in with prepared material. “There was a moment during that battle I realized that this is my thing. I’m good at this,” Dan recalls.
Dan quickly became a major name in Grind Time circuit and started traveling all over the United States. He went up to Canada on several occasions to compete in the King of the Dot league. By the time Don’t Flop (England) and Got Beef (Australia) were emerging, he was already a top name in battle rap and eagerly flew there to compete. Fliptop Battles in the Philippines came later.
So far Dirtbag Dan is the only person in the world who has competed in all five leagues.
“It blows my mind how much I’ve gotten to do on the back of dick jokes. I’ve been traveling the world on foul humor. I always thought it would be some moving song I wrote,” Dan says.
Playing at the Blank Club | 12:30am