Are there certain artists or studios that you prefer to go to?
Nah, I don’t care. I’ve got some wretched tattoos. It don’t matter to me. I just make sure that shit is clean. I’ve gotten a lot of tattoos in different places and different parts of the world. All that matters is what they mean to me, not to anyone else. As long as that needle’s clean, baby.
A dodgy tattoo doesn’t take away from the story or the meaning.
Yeah, [and] I got a couple of them. My mom don’t like my Uzi spitting out money on my back. I was just having a great time in Australia a couple of years ago. I was stressing from all the bills and child support. At that point of my life in Australia I felt as if I was relieved from all the stuff I had been tangled up with the past couple of years. I had a chance to free myself and not worry about how much money I was spending or how I was spending or who I was spending it on. I just didn’t give a fuck. For a good three weeks I just partied. Money gun. I knew that I had to go home and hear my accountant talk shit about how much money I spent. So this is how I remembered it. I was just firing off as much as I wanted, however I wanted, whenever I wanted. Everything is in moments—nothing lasts forever.
You mentioned your tattoos of San Francisco and Philadelphia. Did you go to the West Coast because that’s where the majority of the skate scene was at the time?
When I was 15 I hitchhiked from Philadelphia to San Francisco.
When you were 15? That had to be a pretty crazy experience for a 15-year-old.
At the time it wasn’t that crazy to me. When you look at it now, it is pretty crazy. I wanted to get sponsored and turn pro. I wanted to make more money and get a bigger name. I could do that if I went to where the money was, and that was San Francisco.
Even though that trip was the first step in a very successful career, is it something that you would want your own children to do in the future? That’s the thing—my son doesn’t have to grow up as fast as I did.I had to grow up fast living on the streets of Philadelphia. My mom kicked me out when I was 10. But I didn’t get into selling drugs and shit; I got into skateboarding. By the time I was 14 I’d decided that was all I wanted to do. I spent a lot of time on the street being homeless and wishing that I could be in the position that I am now. It takes a lot of time, patience, hard luck.
Do you ever wonder how things would have turned out if you hadn’t found skateboarding?
Man, I think about that all of the time. I don’t know where my life would be. I’m so blessed that I had the opportunities and that I took on the opportunities to alter my life. Actually being known as an innovator of a craft is amazing. I’ve been around the world—the whole world—and nobody can do what I can do. Once you understand that and after you have traveled the world, after you’ve been everywhere twice and you get respect from people everywhere you go, there ain’t nowhere else to go. You can’t go to Mars. Once I understood that I was one of the best in the whole world, I was glad that I had made those choices.
Traveling around the world seems like it would have been an impossible pipe dream for you when you were growing up.
I grew up without any boundaries. So my idea of the American dream isn’t the same as most people’s. I never had the American dream. I just had my dream.
What’s the farthest away from home that you have been skating and still been recognized by people?
Everywhere. [Laughs.] From Finland to Switzerland to Australia to China to Mexico to the U.K. to South Africa. Everyone knows Stevie Williams. I had to realize that. ... When people realize that you are an original and innovative kind of skater, you get respect for that.
My whole career is based on that originality. The integrity lies in that originality.
One of the most prominent places for a skater to be featured is in one of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, and you’ve been in more than a few. What was it like to see yourself in a video game?
It’s crazy. Doing all of the motion capture stuff, being there with Tony and doing all the voice-over stuff, I learned a lot. At that point in time, in both skateboarding and video games, Tony Hawk was pretty dominant, and I get to say that I was a part of that too. If you made it into the Tony Hawk game, it meant you were really doing your thing. After the second one I started to see the effects of it on my career. We started to have good placement for DGK in the games. It was crazy, really, really crazy. My family and friends would walk into Target and say, “Man, look, you’re in that video game!” It’s a blessing because it goes back to your ability and how people respect you and what you can do.
To some degree the video game helped turn gamers into skating fans as well.
Yeah. Sometimes at demos they expect you to do video game tricks and you have to remind them it’s just a game. They expect you to be able to do it all without falling. [Laughs.] It’s good to be an icon in a game because people can recognize the value of who I am.
Now there seems to be a big connection between hip-hop and skating, whereas it used to be between punk rock and skating. Do you think you’re at least part of the reason the connection exists?
Yeah, I’m definitely part of that. I can admit that. I had always hoped and dreamed the day would come, and now it’s here. I can’t say that I did it all myself; I can only say that I played a small part. The end result is that I’m still here and my sport and hip-hop are hand in hand. Now you have guys like Lil Wayne skating, and he’s the biggest hip-hop star in the world. Wayne’s the biggest in the world and he skate- boards, and he’s one of my close friends. When you have one of the top lifestyle skateboarders in the world and one of the top hip-hop icons in the world, you can only expect that hybrid to be stable enough and a big thing.
It seems as if skate culture in general is shifting away from the suburban kids of the ’80s and ’90s toward a more urban environment.
Yeah, most definitely. That’s evolution—it’s inevitable. Skateboarding is an attractive sport, and you don’t need to be a certain race to skateboard. Once people break those boundaries and it comes down to simple skill, then you just test your talent and it’s not about your race—it’s about your physical abilities. Just like any other sport.