SCOTT SIMON, host:
Hip-hop artist Dana Dane broke into the music scene in the late 1980s. This song may sound familiar to you.
(Soundbite of song, "Cinderfella")
Mr. DANA DANE (Musician): (Singing) Once upon a time, Brooklyn was the scene, in the projects that they called Fort Greene, they lived a young man, Cinderfella's his name, to make it interesting it's me, Dana Dane. I lived in a house with my cruel stepdad
SIMON: That was Dana Dane singing with a passably good English accent. But, you know, he grew up a long way from the British Isles. He spent his childhood living in a housing project in Brooklyn. Since then, he's continued to have chart success. He's become a father, operated a clothing store and recently released his debut novel, "Numbers," based on a song that he wrote. It's about a boy whose knack for math gets him involved with the drug trade.
Dana Dane joins us from our studios in New York City. Thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. DANE: Well, thank you very much, Scott. Thanks for the introduction as well. I greatly appreciate it.
SIMON: Well, our pleasure. We enjoy having you on. But I do got to ask: what was that British accent all about?
Mr. DANE: Actually, some classmates of mine that I went to Music and Art High School here in New York City with, one of the most famous of them, Slick Rick, he was from London via Jamaica, and two other of the group members - Lance Brown and Omega the Heartbreaker - they were Jamaican descent and they had somewhat of an accent.
And hip-hop in its early days, everyone wanted to sound more American and they were trying to sound more American, but I loved the accent, so we kind of meshed the American and the London accent together and thus came my style.
SIMON: Now, your debut novel, "Numbers," has a soundtrack to go with it.
Mr. DANE: Yes.
SIMON: Is this something that, god bless, great novelists like Joyce Carol Oates never thought about putting a soundtrack in there. What's the idea with this?
Mr. DANE: My son, he's an aspiring actor and singer and he wanted to get into the music business. And he asked, yo, dad, can you help me out. And I'm like, Dane, I don't really do the music thing anymore. But he's like, come on, help your son out. And I said, you know what I can do? We can do a soundtrack for my book and that'll give an opportunity for people out there to hear your music.
So, we started working on this endeavor and I'm enjoying the process of working with my son on this project, and it's incredible.
SIMON: How old is your son, may I ask?
Mr. DANE: He's 18. He's going to be 19 actually very soon. And so far we've done five records together. The album is not really complete, but the lead single, "The Summary," that really gives the whole idea of what the book is about is out right now. They actually can download that song from my Web site.
(Soundbite of song, "The Summary")
Mr. DANE: (Singing) Numbers Wallace is always about his dollars, since he was eight years old, coming up (unintelligible) ghetto. He started as a runner to make chump change. This was his introduction to the hustling game. From there, he got the knack to memorize numbers, predictions and calculations, no small (unintelligible)
SIMON: Are you concerned that people will just download the song and not read the book?
Mr. DANE: No, not at all. I'm just trying to do some untraditional things to bring people into my first novel. Because I'm new to this and I want people to know that I'm serious about what I'm doing.
SIMON: Tell me about your protagonist, Dupree Numbers Wallace.
Mr. DANE: Dupree Numbers Wallace, in the early days, is more of my childhood. You know, some of the things I had him doing or created around his character was more of how I grew up, you know, being a young hustler and gambling in the streets. He is really a mama's boy that feels like he's the man of the house at a young age and he will do anything he can to help his mother out.
He finds a mentor, Crispy Carl, takes interest in his mathematical abilities and leads him into the path of becoming a real big-time hustler, gambling and things of that sort in the street. So, he's really just a loyal person just trying to make his way through the hood.
SIMON: You were like that?
Mr. DANE: Yeah, actually I was kind of like that, except I didn't have a mentor. My father wasn't around but my mother gave me all the opportunities in the world to be the best that I could be. In turn, I just learned a little street gambling and hustling and running numbers and things of that sort. I know she didn't really like that much but she wasn't mad when I brought in some extra change. But I stayed out of trouble for the most part, so that's why she was never on my back. So, I knew how to stay out of trouble. That's the best thing.
SIMON: I think you suggested this a little bit, but I wonder if I could get you to talk about your mother, the role she's played.
Mr. DANE: You know, I didn't want to write a biography but at the same time I took a little bit of my real-life history and put it into the book. And whereas Numbers' mother, Miss Jenny, she didn't get her high school diploma until she was 28. And that's parallel to my mother. She didn't actually get her high school diploma until she was about 27, 28, 29, as well.
She was a great woman, I mean, not was, but is a great woman in regards to making sure that me and my sister always had what we needed. Even though our father wasn't around, she never said anything nasty about my father. She just said, look, people do different things with their lives and that means whatever they did, that doesn't mean that you have to do that. Be better than the next person, be better than me.
SIMON: Can you tell us what it was like to grow in the, I guess, the Walt Whitman Projects in Brooklyn in Fort Greene?
Mr. DANE: As a young boy coming up, I know that I didn't think that I would live to see the age of 18, more or less 21 and have kids of my own because the streets were so dire at that time. And coming up in the projects, I got to say it was hard, but it was the best childhood that a young person could have at the same time.
Because I had an opportunity to learn a lot of street common sense on what to do and what not to do. And nothing was handed to me. I had to get out there and work for everything. And, you know, people use growing up in the hood as a crutch; I used it as a stepping stone to get to the next level.
SIMON: Dana, very nice talking to you.
Mr. DANE: Well, thank you very much, Scott. I greatly appreciate your time, and you know, having me on your program. And I want to say one thing before I get out of here because it's very important. I hope people understand that this is very important to me, hopefully it becomes very important to them as well.
(Singing) DanaDane.com, DanaDane.com.
That's my Web site. Hit me up.
SIMON: I gathered, yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Dana Dane's new novel is "Numbers," published by One World Books.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.