By Catherine E. Toth
It may not seem monumental to many, but to Darrell Labrado, living on his own
signifies the culmination of years of struggle, setbacks and success.
Sure, its a small one-bedroom apartment in Kaunakakai, Molokai. But at
least hes got running water and electricity - something he didnt
have growing up in nearby Halawa Valley.
Its cool, I like it, he says. No rules, no curfew,
Labrado, the Molokai crooner best known for his upbeat and youthful Shaka
the Moon album released five years ago, has grown up.
Now 18, he boasts two complete albums, three singles, an MTV video and Billboard
recognition. He has performed all over the world, from Japan to New York, wooing
audiences with his smooth voice and charming smile. Hes already working
on his third album, titled Darrell Labrado, which is scheduled for a
February or March release by AEG Records.
Hes even got his own car - a 1998 Dodge Stratus - that he bought outright.
I didnt think Id be doing this, Labrado says. Not
this, or anything.
Labrado was born in Honolulu on March 8, 1985. A turbulent family life forced
him to move around, from Nanakuli to Puna on the Big Island, before finally
landing on Molokai. His life has been marred by death - his father died when
Labrado was just 2 - and disappointment, abuse and drugs.
The abuse was kind of an everyday thing in our house, Labrado says
Living in Halawa on welfare was a humbling experience. Labrado, his mother
and older brother, Julio, shared a small, rundown house in the valley. Their
water came from the nearby waterfall and, with no refrigerator, they had to
keep all their food in ice-filled coolers. There were no stores, gas stations
or shopping malls. Just a church and the beach.
like being by myself, but not that much, Labrado jokes.
The roof leaked so much they had to keep moving the bed so it wouldnt
And the only way the brothers could get around was hitchhiking rides into town.
But despite a tumultuous childhood, Labrado kept moving forward, never letting
it bring him down.
Last May Labrado graduated from Molokai High School with plans to attend the
University of Hawaii-Manoa as soon as his third CD is done. He wants to be a
Ive been through a lot of stuff, but then again, everybody sees
hard times, he says. But I guess I came out OK.
So how does a kid go from poverty to recording contract? In the early 90s,
L.A. musician-producer Brad Thayne moved to Molokai seeking a real life,
started Monkey Pod Records and opened the studio to local kids with talent.
He also met Bobby Pileggi, a New Yorker with similar background.
Darrell was 10 when Brad called me and said I had to hear this kid,
recalls Pileggi. He had talent and was part of a compilation album we
did together, Molokai Now, and it just grew from there.
Labrado hasnt stopped working since age 11, when his first CD single,
Rhythm of the Falling Rain, debuted. The following year, Labrado recorded
two more songs that appeared on the compilation CD Molokai Now. In 1999,
he released his first music video, Where They Stay, which won the Best
Music Video award at the Hawaiian Music Awards. The video aired on the Hawaiian
Airlines inflight entertainment for more than four years.
That same year, Labrados first full-length CD, Shaka the Moon,
hit stores and airwaves. Da Kine was the first big hit for Labrado. He
won Best Male Vocalist and Best Childrens Album at the Hawaiian Music
Awards and was nominated for Most Promising Artist at the prestigious Na Hoku
Hanohano awards. Labrado was just 14.
Shaka the Moon was a great teen record and everyone could relate
to Da Kine, says Lanai, radio/TV host who first put the song into
rotation at 98.5 FM, where it landed at No. 1. Of course, Darrell also
had the looks.
His smile and strong features have been Labrados best marketing tool
- and something, his manager hopes, that will propel him onto the national music
Hes got the whole package, says manager Bobby Pileggi, former
veteran New York disc jockey. Hes got the looks, the commitment,
the voice. Hes like the perfect artist. He never complains about anything.
He doesnt skip a verse or make a mistake. Hes incredible.
Last May he released his second dance single, I Want My Island Girl,
written by Chris Pati and Pileggi. The upbeat, dance-floor favorite charted
on Billboard, debuting at No. 6 on the dance singles chart and No. 22 on the
Hot 100 singles sales chart. The song was also added to Promo Onlys Radio
Rhythm Series, which services more than 1,000 retail outlets, such as Macys,
2003, Labrado was invited to New York to perform his feel-good tune for Billboard
executives. The two-month trip proved successful for Labrado, who also performed
at a concert in Long Island and did a radio interview with MTV.
But it wasnt the first Billboard hit for Labrado.
In November 2000, his first dance single Master Blaster (Jammin)
reached No. 8 on the dance single chart and No. 71 on the Hot 100. He was reviewed
by Billboard twice and mentioned in Chuck Taylors New and Noteworthy
Even Sid Bernstein, the man credited for bringing the Beatles to America, has
expressed interest in helping Labrado.
He has matured a whole lot, Lanai says. This is good for
If he can go far, it would open up the doors for local artists.
What has changed in the music is what has changed in Labrado: He got older.
The influence of R&B, Labrados favorite genre of music, is obvious
in his latest recordings.
Labrados second CD, Someday, released in 2001, showcased this
transition. The album offers a range of music from R&B to pop to country.
But while his music reflects a maturing Labrado, he remains rooted in the island
rhythms he grew up listening to.
Id say its R&B with a twist of Jawaiian, Labrado
says about his new sound. I like the riffs in R&B, but I didnt
want to stray from the music I grew up with.
Labrados maturity, even at a young age, has made his an ideal vehicle
for positive messages to kids and teens. For years he has participated in statewide
youth empowerment programs such as D.A.R.E., the American Cancer Society, MADD
and the YMCA.
Hes a good singer, but a good role model at the same time,
says Allan Silva, director of Positive Connections and resource teacher with
the state Department of Education. The kids know him and like his music.
He doesnt smoke or drink. He walks the talk.
Labrado has been working with Positive Connections for more than five years,
performing at schools and assemblies around the state. The program reaches more
than 60,000 students a year, teaching them about drugs and alcohol, positive
attitudes, being good citizens and setting goals. Labrado participates in the
program at least twice a month - always on a volunteer basis.
What helps, Silva says, is that Labrado is a laid-back, friendly guy. Girls
love him, but guys respect him, too.
Its tremendous, Silva says. They can all relate to
him. They see him on TV or hear his music on the radio. Its such a complement
to the program. He enhances the message
It works out so good.
Labrado is an example of overcoming the odds. Instead of succumbing to drugs
and alcohol, he found healthy ways to deal: He surfed, boxed and sang. He stayed
focused on his schoolwork and music, taking success and setbacks in stride.
truly inspirational, Pileggi says. Its what keeps me in the
game. Hes got more potential than anyone in Hawaii. I really believe this
kid can make it.
Last year Labrado got a tattoo on his back, a tribal design topped with a kanji
character that symbolizes truth and sincerity. It was a design his hanai Auntie
Ruthie Misaki chose. She wanted him to remember to always be true to himself,
to stay grounded.
And he thinks about that all the time. He wants to win a Grammy, but he realizes
He wants to be a professional singer, but he knows the odds are against him.
But he wont give up.
Im not fixated on it, he says. I gotta think reality.
I know its rare to break into the mainstream. Id be really content
with a regular job. But you gotta keep at it.