"I was thinking, 'When I do the magazine, I want to put something in the magazine like this - just showing off somebody's house,' " Thomas remembers. "Well, no more than six months later, 'MTV Cribs' came out. I saw how that took off, and kind of put my project to the side. ... Years later, I got sparked again."

That spark led to this summer's debut of What Millionaires Spend Their Money On. The first issue of the lifestyle magazine features interviews with two Oakland legends, rapper Too $hort and basketball great Gary Payton, along with a diverse group of success stories, including real estate developer Phil Oates and Exotic Custom Jewelry retailer Ray Khan.

It comes with a DVD and CD and can be purchased at www.wmstmo.com. Thomas hopes to have Issue No. 2 out later this year.

We spoke with Thomas, 43, over appetizers at Lake Chalet in Oakland.

Q: The first Millionaires seems to focus less on spending and more on the personal stories.

A: I embarked on this because I know there are a lot of good stories out there. Hopefully it will give people a sense of "if they can do it, then I can do it."

Not everybody in there is going to be a millionaire. There could be someone out there with a hot dog stand ... maybe I see him a few years later, and he has three trucks or six trucks. To me, that's a feel-good story, and I will publish that. It's not all about what they've got. I want stories that a lot of people, the 99 percent, can relate to what I'm talking about.

Q: How did you get Too $hort and Gary Payton on board?

A: I've known Too $hort for a long, long time. He feels like family. And Gary Payton is a great guy. I knew he was the prototype on how I wanted to set this project off.

Q: It might have been easier to start a magazine in Los Angeles or New York. Were there advantages and disadvantages to doing this in the Bay Area?

A: The advantage out here is this: If you can make it out here, you can make it anywhere. That's the same thing Too $hort did, it's the same thing E-40 did, it's the same thing Master P did before they blew up.

We've got a collage of good people. And everybody is grounded. You don't have people who think that they are better than others. Everybody stays in their own lane. And that's why I'll always consider this home, regardless how well the magazine does or if I hit the lottery, or whatever. I love it here. I'm not going anywhere.

Q: You're talking to a lot of millionaires. How is your golf game?

A: Pretty good. Last time I played, I shot a 76, and that was with a fractured elbow.

Q: Favorite Bay Area course?

A: I like the Presidio a lot. But I'd take Harding Park.

Q: Who is your dream interview?

A: I'm all about the underdog. The underdogs appeal to me because I've always been an underdog all my life. As far as someone on the top of my list - it would range from Eddie Murphy to Oprah Winfrey to Jamie Foxx. There are so many.

Let me recant that. There is one guy: Willie Mays. That's the one guy I'd really like to interview. That would be monumental for me.

Q: Where would you like to see Millionaires in five years?

A: I could definitely see this as a 30-minute segment on TV. I'm as excited about the music and (the DVD) as I am about the magazine.

Hopefully the magazine is up and running. I know I'm going to be around. I just see it continuing and progressing and changing for the better. It's not something I'd ever want to walk away from.

Q: What was it like for you growing up in Oakland?

A: I was born in San Francisco, moved to Oakland when I was 7 or 8. I went to Castlemont High. I had my own struggles, but I was always content with what we had - I never looked at it in the sense that I wanted more.

It was during a time when there weren't a lot of video games inside. It was about playing with your friends after school. Football, baseball, basketball, whatever it was. I had a strong family structure. That's why I appreciate money and value it different than some other people. It really comes down to your health and happiness. Money comes and goes. Friendships and love and family - that's forever.

SF Chronicle Interviews Darnell Thomas
Written by Peter Hartlaub - SF Chronicle

Darnell Thomas considered starting a magazine focused on millionaire lifestyles more than a decade ago. The Brentwood resident and Bay Area native remembers taking a video camera around his home in early 2000, capturing images of his flat-screen television, bedroom set and BMW 740.