Albar “Nation” Hasan (Project Bounce) [Interview]
Toronto, ON – This is the reason I got into writing about hip-hop. Not Albar “Nation” Hasan per say, but for the opportunity to pick the brain of a guy like this. If you thought that the Project Bounce article was interesting, read this one to find out why. He’s been doing this since he was 11 when his family owned hip-hop and R&B niteclubs back in the 80′s in Toronto. For those unfamiliar with the good ol’ days, that was when the clubs were open (and rammed) every night of the week. It was when ‘style codes’ weren’t needed to keep the ruffians out of the party, but you still dressed up anyway cause it was the fly thing to do. Albar would spend his Christmas holidays in the DJ booth. This dirty business was in his blood and being the class guy that he is, I’m surprised he stayed in. This is written the way our conversation went. It was as quick and back and forth as it reads, but he answered every question like he knew what I was going to ask. It was like he was prepared to tell the world every detail about his rise in the biz and the cats that’s helpin’ him do it; the Project Bounce Night Shift.
HipHopCanada: The opening pitch… How did Project Bounce start?
Nation: Project Bounce started up, basically from getting dissed in the game… that’s what happened. Originally, I started off writing for an industry trade paper called The Bridge Magazine and I would write under the Project Bounce name… that’s how it was created. I covered all the Hip Hop for the magazine (he gives big shouts to Russ Hergert). While I was writing, I think it was Canadian Music Week 1998, I had an artist and we put a track together. The judges for the track were Mastermind and (DJ) X. They really liked the track, they said it was hot, but (they said) unfortunately we’re not going to showcase new artists, this is more a showcase for artists that have already been around. I got pissed off, I hated that; you don’t like being told no. It was great product and we were told it was great product, unless they were just bullshitting us, but whatever it was it lit a fire inside of me. I see how this game is; you gotta have something to get something. So I said to myself, you know what, there’s going to be a day where I’m going to come and I’m going to have something that you guys want.
HipHopCanada: So how did that translate into radio?
Nation: Right away I had a concept for bringing commercially formatted, basically hip-hop and R&B music, to mainstream radio on a consistent basis, we never had. All we had in those days was Energy 108 and we had Z103.5 that was Hot 103 back then. So I sent proposals out to them and came up with a concept called Project Bounce Lunch Box, it was a lunchtime show from 11am to 2pm Monday to Friday… catered towards high schools during their lunch breaks. It got rejected by both of them… I was young, I didn’t understand radio yet, I just understood ‘do a show proposal’ at that time. My last opportunity (came) when someone said to me ‘Try Johnny Lombardi’. I had a family friend that worked at CHIN and was able to get my proposal for Project Bounce Lunch Box to Mr. Lombardi (who Albar had nothing but top-notch accolades for.) He said it’s a great concept but unfortunately he cannot broadcast in the English language during the day hours, so he passed it down to (an employee at CHIN) but it ended up being just dicked around again. I was like, I had come this far, I’m not going to stop, so I managed getting myself a job working minimum wage at CHIN in late night radio cause they had nobody that wanted to work the overnight from midnight to 6 in the morning pushing buttons and monitoring levels. A lot that I learned from radio was from CHIN, and I progressed really quickly.” (He also noted that, during this time, he did lots of volunteer work including magazines and CMW among others).
From there things just began to fall into place so to speak. Once he learned that radio stations contract out time slots to independent show producers, his hopes were once again reborn. In 1999, he began to shop his idea around. As luck would have it the University of Toronto radio, CIUT 89.5FM, then going bankrupt, was looking for a guy just like Albar, with a big bucket just like Project Bounce, to start bailing water from their sinking ship. He had something that this industry wanted.
Nation: I had written a whole new proposal for midnight to the morning. I saw the potential of listenership that you can do in the night. So I put the whole network together and picked the name Project Bounce Night Shift (with the interactiveness of WBLK’s Hooker & Dawn as inspiration). I make a proposal (for CIUT) and it gets to the point that it’s a deal. Long story short, they put it on the website (the Project Bounce Night Shift promo), big corporate guys found out about it and I lost the deal… must have been summer of 99. A big company named Virtually Canadian, stepped up and cut a huge cheque and I got bounced out… and I understand the situation that CIUT was in too. To them I was a guy that had no money, just an idea and a concept. They needed money, they didn’t need concepts, so it just opened the door for them.” But just like the next Governor of California, he’d be back.
So next we find our slightly depressed superhero working back at CHIN, but making sure to keep his head up. Little did he know that a late night phone call would change everything. While working at CHIN, the goddaughter of Frank Alverez, president of CIVR 88.9, called and while speaking with Albar found out about his idea and was impressed. She promised to get it to the godfather, and that set the molasses covered wheels of the Canadian music scene in motion… once again (“It was like good karma finally caught up to me”, Albar said.) About one year later he received the phone call he had been waiting for. Alverez was on the other end of the phone and he told Albar, on August 3rd 2000, to be ready to go on air September 1st.
Nation: This means now that officially I would be the first; I would have 35 hours of commercially formatted hip-hop music. (Not commercial music Doc, he means real radio).
HipHopCanada: What was the deal with CHIN?
Nation: We were on air 30 weeks (at CHIN). There were some complications with the administration, but I still appreciate that man Frank Alverez. I don’t care, whatever happened happened, were not there anymore… he was the first man to believe in us. From there I just stayed on the grind and began negotiations with CIUT in January 2002 and we were on air August 1 2002… and this home is perfect.
HipHopCanada: So who is still with you from the CHIN days?
Nation: World Famous Elite Squad, DJ Ritz, Classick Material (show), Levii from Redlight Radio… that’s where the family began.
HipHopCanada: How do you pick your shows? How do you pick your hosts?
Nation: Based on quality, seriousness, dedication.
HipHopCanada: Is that something you keep in line or is it in their work ethic?
Nation: All my guys are good guys, and that’s why you’ll know there’s people out there that USED to have a show on Project Bounce. So if that’s you, then you weren’t doing what you were expected to do.
HipHopCanada: Now, how much control do you give your shows?
Nation: Complete Freedom… in the sense they can play whatever they want as long as it falls within hip-hop and R&B.
HipHopCanada: When I asked why he doesn’t let his hosts speak about other stations on air, as a lot of college stations will do…
Nation: That’s just the rules of the business, you don’t hear CTV say CITY-TV.
HipHopCanada: No you don’t, but a lot of the community stations do that.
Nation: We’re not community radio, were an independent radio network, Canada’s first hip-hop and R&B radio network, people need to get that straight. There’s no reason that CHRY and CKLN and CIUT cannot have the (quality) of a commercial radio station, its just the seriousness of the volunteers.
HipHopCanada: This is not meant for you to put your foot in your mouth, but I’m interested in knowing what the most popular show on the network is?
Nation: (Listenership of) Project Bounce is pretty much even across the board. The loyalty of the listeners is across the board. People that listen on Monday, listen on Saturday, they listen every day. If they’re beside a radio and its after 12 O’clock, they’re listening to Project Bounce. (From a survey taken of over 200 callers) it pretty much worked out that almost 100% of them listen everyday.
HipHopCanada: After that I figured the outlook for Project Bounce was so bright that for the rest of this interview I would wear sunglasses (oh come on, I hardly hit you with dumb writer segways.) So I asked what’s in store for the future?
Nation: Project Bounce is going across the East Coast of North America (hopefully better than our hydro transformers do). Our goal is to syndicate to the areas that are in our time zone.
HipHopCanada: Is there a deal in place for that?
Nation: Yeah we have a couple of deals right now… it’s a matter of how fast you wanna move on it. We have a lot of opportunities, we’re just not trying to hang ourselves yet.
HipHopCanada: But there is stuff in the works?
Nation: Oh yeah, there’s stuff in the works.
HipHopCanada: Do you think that a network like Project Bounce is ready for Primetime?
Nation: I can take it to primetime… the thing about Project Bounce is it’s wonderful because it’s uncensored, it’s real raw radio. It’s a CIUT slogan ‘real radio’. I think the thing that makes us the most attractive is it’s people radio, you know, it’s not this bullshit where people try to create this image of superstardom radio. It’s not repetitive, the music is all live, you won’t hear the same song every 7th song and we don’t have labels dictating what we play.
HipHopCanada: If you were asked to clean up the language, do you think you’d lose appeal?
Nation: I can keep it real and I can keep it clean. If X could do it, then we can do it. It’ll be extra work, I will have to do a lot more work than a regular commercial station that just plays radio edits all the time, but you have to do that to be number 1. If I want to go into the market and be number 1, I’ll take that extra 3 hours a day of my programming to give people stuff that’s not clean, clean it up, and deliver it to them.
HipHopCanada: You told me once, “If God sent Moses to the slaves, then God sent Project Bounce to Canadian hip-hop”. Tell me why?
Nation: Because no one is giving the open opportunity to build this Canadian hip-hop scene the way we are. Community radio has been doing, to an extent. Even with community radio, you know how it works; this guy’s show, his buddies are in all the time, some other kid comes in and they piss on his stuff. Now his stuff could be better than the hosts friends stuff, but because he’s not his friend, ah! We are fair, we’ve made it easier, guys can come here, drop their product off and know they are hitting 14 prominent DJs.
HipHopCanada: What happens when you give these guys the music that people leave for you?
Nation: That’s one thing that I tell my DJ’s all the time, and I stay on their asses, I tell them, if you receive product, I don’t give it to you to not listen to. You make sure you listen to it, and make sure you acknowledge it. If it’s shit, call’em and tell’em you didn’t like it, you know… and I stay on that. That’s the one thing Project Bounce will do and has always done…if you are an independent artist, come to us. They are the only people that get free plugs on Project Bounce.
HipHopCanada: Do you guys think you can compete with the top dogs in radio?
Nation: If someone is willing to sell me a station tomorrow, I’ll buy. Let’s put it this way… get at Project Bounce. We have the finances now, we thank the Lord for the blessings that the recognition has gotten to the point now where there is very large funding… huge finances available to us. But you can’t buy something that’s not for sale, so if anybody out there wants to sell us a strong signal in Toronto, holla at cha boy.
Then we talked a little about numbers. I was impressed that they 150,000 listeners – like the promos during the show would suggest – and was saying that is something I was going to put in the article. He said, “it’s not 150,000, it’s more like 180,000 – 200,000 now.”
As the conversation shifted away from Project Bounce I wanted to end it talking about commercial radio (and, if you remember from the first Project Bounce article, that means any and all commercial radio stations that are considered mainstream). And don’t think he sees it as a Coke/Pepsi situation either, “We have no competition. We rule the overnight, you can’t compete with us.”
HipHopCanada: Straight up, give me your feelings on Commercial radio?
Nation: I think commercial radio is stuck in a time warp. People have forgot how to entertain. People forgot what radio was like when there was no TV. Its background music now, it’s the music people put on in the Aldo store at the Eaton Center because they don’t want to pop a CD in. People don’t sit down and listen to commercial radio anymore the way they will sit down and watch Friends. People used to sit in front of their radios (the way they sit in front of the TV) and wait for programs to come on, that’s what we do at Project Bounce. We got people that call up at 11:45 to start requesting their songs and make their shout outs. They know when 12 O’ Clock hits, you can’t get through, try it.” (I did on a Sunday during Classick Material, 5 busy signals till I got through; I had to call back because during that time I forgot what I had wanted to request. It was EMPD.)
There were so many highlights in this interview, but they strayed away from the focus I was trying to keep with our topics. I didn’t include them all, but I threw in a couple I thought would be of interest. He says that the music scene in our country, on every level is “slacking”. And during a discussion about Canadian hip-hop, everyone’s favourite answer in the ‘I don’t like their music but I respect what they done’ category doesn’t count to Albar. Why don’t Swollen Members read on his radar; “(it’s) Skater music… you don’t deserve to win a hip-hop Juno, because your not hip-hop music.” I hope you’ve enjoyed the two-part spotlight on Project Bounce, I want to feel like I stayed up every night for a reason. Someone put these guys in Primetime please, not just so my next interview can be during business hours, but for the sake of Canadian hip-hop survival. It doesn’t just stop here either. Listen to YOUR College and University station; there are treasures all around the country. My boy Ducats and the Palm-Squad in Ottawa on CKCU, Kracker Jack in Saskatchewan on 91.3FM, and DJ STV in New Brunswick on CHSR. Shows like Masterplan, Soundcheck, Real Freq’s, Stylistic Endeavours and Backroad here in Toronto. Support these cats man. Albar left me with this, “Join the big brother/big sister program, our community needs more role models.” So does our industry, so follow this dude’s lead.
Written by Chris Shaban for HipHopCanada