Born in Tallinn, Estonia, to Ukrainian/Russian parents, Danny "Avatar Darko" Degtjar and his family moved nearly 5,000 miles across the world by the time he was three months old, eventually settling in the suburbs just east of Seattle, Washington. The thought-to-be-affluent suburb of Bellevue wasn’t exactly flush with opportunity for Avatar’s family at first, as they called home a cardboard box outside of an Ivar’s Fish & Chips by the Crossroads Shopping Center.
In spite of the hardships early on, Av’s early childhood was a more or less happy one. English was not his first language, as he grew up speaking Russian, and he was in ESL classes until third grade. His mother enrolled in the University of Washington, and worked full time. Raised primarily by his father and great grandmother, they instilled morals, values, respect, honor, etiquette, and the importance of knowledge in him, always showering him with love, encouraging him to think for himself and be his own independent person.
From his father, he inherited a love, appreciation, and respect for art. As an accomplished painter and artist, he taught his son discipline, and how to manifest, express, and release emotions through art, with Av choosing the medium of music. Though his parents both grew up Russian Orthodox, they practiced Buddhism in the 80s, which is why his father started calling him “Avatar,” a word to describe the descent of God into human and other forms. In other words, he knew that Danny was destined for something after witnessing him writing poetry and later rapping at the tender age of 9.
Despite his somewhat stable upbringing, Av had a knack for attracting trouble like a magnet, and didn’t exactly turn his back on it. By the time he was 13, he had learned how to properly seal bags of weed, and was arrested a year later in front of his entire school on a felony robbery charge. Since the family did not move across the world for Av to be locked up, his mother moved them out of the ethnically-diverse Crossroads to Seattle’s historically African-American Central District. Unbeknownst to her at the time, the former hub of jazz and soul, as well as the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, was also the most active, gang-infested hood in the Emerald City.
A couple years after moving, the 15 year old Av and his mother found his father a couple days dead. With his mother, the breadwinner of the entire family, traveling for work for weeks at a time, he carried on with little parental guidance, even if relatives were around. His uncle, who took on the father figure role, died a year later of cancer. The teenager plunged into darkness, what he later refers to as his “Danny Darko” phase, finally submitting to the lure of easy money offered by trapping.
Attending Garfield High School, the lone little Russian boy was the minority in the hood, and Dave Blaze, a thug with as big a reputation as a heart, had taken Av under his wing like a little brother. Like his father and uncle, however, it wasn’t long before Dave was ripped out of his life, too. After Dave was shipped away for a 16 year bid, Av looked for solace in the avenues of the inner city. Instead of it being an eye-opening experience to change his lifestyle, as he had narrowly avoided being charged as an accessory to attempted murder, he fully immersed himself in trouble and chased his own skewed version of the American Dream.
While he didn’t initially turn to the streets looking for love, acceptance, or a family, it definitely had something to do with it after losing his father, uncle, and big brother. Coincidentally, all the characteristics that had been instilled in him growing up--trust, loyalty, love--had both allowed him to survive on the block, but ultimately ended up working against him, providing him with a false sense of loyalty that no one really reciprocated. In between selling drugs, catching gun charges left and right, and being involved in shootouts every weekend, he never forgot how to use art as an escapism from reality, and released his own mixtapes with the Russian Roulette series under Avatar Young Blaze, an homage to his big brother.
ot long after, as a 20 year old, Av realized that he had to make a choice that could alter his path of life. Understanding and experiencing all the negativities that result from trapping, he knew that he would never progress by staying in Seattle, and doing what he was doing. Most of his friends had either been locked away for long bids or had been shot dead. Sensing that either of those two fates were inevitable if he kept going down that path, he decided to move to California to remove himself from the temptations of trouble and his seemingly inescapable and haunting past.
Since trading the gloomy grey skies for warm weather, he’s stayed out of trouble for the most part, aside from a weapons charge on the day that he dropped his last project, The Humble Villain, more than a year ago. Over the years, he has shared the stage with artists like Bones Thugs & Harmony, Pusha T, Young Jeezy, Nipsey Hussle, and Waka Flaka.
Finishing up his last semester for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Digital Media Arts, Av is entering the next proverbial phase of life. He’s older, wiser, and more dedicated to his craft, and although temptations arise when he visits Seattle, he isn’t the same person as he was when he started rapping as Avatar Young Blaze. Appropriately, he shed the last part of his name, reemerging as Avatar Darko. Believing that it sounded way too pretentious, he also somewhat jokingly said that he doesn’t want to be called Young when he’s 30.
Soviet Goonion is the latest chapter in the saga of Avatar Darko. Drawing on his heritage, he celebrates the fact that his background is not Russian or Ukrainian or Estonian, but Soviet. His grandparents were born on the opposing sides of the Soviet Union, with one side from Ukraine, the Russianized East Ukraine and the almost Catholic West Ukraine, while the other set was from the polarized Soviet Estonia and Soviet Siberia. His parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were each a goon in their own way, whether it was smuggling communist liquor or leading a large tank division from Moscow to Berlin on the way to victory. Without a doubt, he continues his family’s legacy of goonery on the American shores.
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