Pulling Strings Part 1 – GMAN and RIZK [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – In any cultural context, there’s more than meets the eye. In Vancouver’s hip-hop scene we see the dancers, the graffiti, hear the DJs and watch the MCs, but those aren’t necessarily the people running things. In the coming year, HipHopCanada will be presenting a ten part series on the heavyweights in the Vancouver scene that we don’t always see: promoters, club owners, DJs, booking agent and label reps who are pulling the strings. The point of the series is to help paint a picture of what’s going on with hip-hop in this town, and to garner some wisdom from the ones in the know. We start the series with GMAN and RIZK, owners of Fortune Sound Club and ubiquitous promoters.
HipHopCanada: Tell me about how you got into hip-hop, and how it became your profession.
Garret: Rob was actually b-boying and coming to my parties, he and the Rascalz crew were kind of sneaking in the back door and coming to these parties I was doing. It really started out as warehouse parties in little spaces, and having the hip-hop being played there. The big turning point for us, and when Rob and I partnered up, was when we started up this night called El Famoso which was at the Red Lounge and it was just pure hip-hop, pretty much. One of the first nights that was around and it was during the week so it was kind of weird but at that time no one would want to give up a weekend night for a hip-hop night. We did this night on a Wednesday that basically ended up going for seven years off and on and it was just packed. A lot of the DJs started out there, Marlin and P-Luv were door hosts at this place, kind of bouncers. Kemo and J-Swing were DJing there, Prev and Flipout battled at one time, there were just a lot of cool things happening at this night that made it a special time for all of us cause it was just legendary.
Rob: And the skate community took to it really well too, so it’s like the skate community and the hip-hop culture community were partying in one place so it was two underground communities coming together. It was a new art form, and skateboarding was raw and new as well.
Garret: At the time I was starting a skateboard distribution so we would tie in some of the brands to the event and cross-promote that way. At the time you just want to fill the club with good heads that wanna listen to the music so you’re reaching to the skate community, to the snowboard community, hip-hop community – I know there’s always been a common respect between them. B-boys, skateboarders, there’s a certain skill level.
Rob: Hip-hop started in my life a lot sooner than doing parties. In grade six I was break dancing for my birthday party, I picked up on the culture from seeing certain videos and I was always super acrobatic and always jumping around and dancing so I really took to the b-boy element of the culture. I would just practice from the pamphlets and the VHS you would get where they gave you a cardboard to set up and break on. And as I grew up, into high school, I ran into GCK Posse where Flipout and my other friends were dancing and during lunch periods we’d all go to the stage and practice moves. As things progressed, we started forming a group and then our groups met with other groups in East Van where the Rascalz were, and we became part of a big group of friends and they added a lot to the elements through graffiti and DJing. That was kind of the roots of it for me.
HipHopCanada: How have you integrated the business end of hip-hop into your passion for it?
Rob: It’s a matter of adapting to your surroundings. One thing that both me and Garret were really smart about is that we noticed the change in hip-hop at the Puffy era. From the underground there was no hip-hop being played on the radio. The times that you’d hear about new songs that came out, A DJ would kind of break songs and you’d maybe see it on MTV or Rapcity but it was mainly the DJ that was breaking music back then. And as soon as it came into more the commercial world, we noticed that guys wanna go where girls are, and girls wanna dance. So we adapted and changed a little but but we didn’t forget about our roots. We would still do more underground shows, and work with other promoters, and other companies like House of Blues and LiveNation where we would help them promote but we’d work with other local promoters like Spectrum and bring in these underground acts, and kind of make money off of the jiggy but always still support the hard core scene and do those underground shows. It balanced our passions out and kept us business-minded at the same time.
Garret: I’m really open to all types of music. Doing that hip-hop night at the time was challenging and we did it for seven years and did various nights that related to that like Rare Groove, and then we went into the original breaks part of the music, did the hip-hop thing. And then this era came where you threw in a little bit of stuff for the ladies and they started to come and the guys just wanted to follow the ladies and now you’re in this club scene trying to pack a club that’s six hundred or eight hundred people so we had to switch our music by flipping some more stuff that was more danceable instead of all this raw energy hip-hop where you just weren’t gonna pack enough people in. There’s all these new guys and it’s changing so fast and there’s people that like the new shit. Super surprising, like two sold out Wiz Khalifa shows and then you’ve got your old school like Nice n’ Smooth, EPMD so it’s very interesting because there’s so many different shifts in between those time periods. Keeping up with the times and adapting and having fun with what we do.
“…guys wanna go where girls are, and girls wanna dance. So we adapted and changed a little but but we didn’t forget about our roots.”
HipHopCanada: GMAN and RIZK tend to partner up with other promoters a lot, why is that?
Rob: We have a reputation in this city, and a lot of other promoters will hire us to help them promote their shows. And we’re fair with them and it’s not like we’re out there to gauge, and we see what they’re doing and if they give us the opportunity to help them, we’re helping each other build the scene. The better they do the better we do, so we’re always working with different people and we’re open-minded and fair business people.
Garret: In other cities you had people that were thuggin in out with each other, outbidding and doing dirty stuff but Rob and I just aren’t those guys. There’s all different variations of it but if we’re gonna put the GMAN and RIZK stamp it means that we’re involved somehow and it’s gonna be a legit show, we’ve approved the whole concept.
HipHopCanada: Fortune Sound Club opened up at a time when not a lot of venues wanted to do hip-hop shows and clubs like Richards on Richards were closing down. Was that a strategic move?
“The better they do the better we do, so we’re always working with different people and we’re open-minded and fair business people.”
Garret: It’s weird because for us, we will represent hip-hop shows but we’ve also done a lot of non hip-hop shows, we’re doing all types of music. We feel that we want to diversify everything cause we don’t want to have the same crowd coming and getting burnt out.
Rob: Both me and Garret come from the music, we both DJ’d for a long period of time and we both enjoy lots of different music. I DJ house music and Afrobeats and I like funk and soul, so we have many different sides to us. But I think that the hip-hop side is the roots of who we are and some of the shows we’ve brought have been some of my childhood favorite groups. Seeing them in here rockin it and being so passionate about it makes me feel young again and it gives me that energy. But we’re not trying to rely just on hip-hop either, as a business and as a club we have to think outside the box and work with all different people and take chances with shows we know nothing about. We’re just gonna keep doing what we feel is right. Some other nights aren’t succeeding in this city, and Garret and I have a joke, if you go core you go poor. If you’re too underground you’re above everybody’s head and young kids these days want the new and fresh leading edge. And the old school crowd are married and have kids and maybe come out once a month. To run a business you can’t rely on one crowd alone. You need the young crowd that’ll come out and build that culture up again.
“We feel that we want to diversify everything cause we don’t want to have the same crowd coming and getting burnt out.”
HipHopCanada: What advice would you give a young MC trying to make it in this city?
Garret: I think it’s a hustle, you have to have talent, you have to have your shit together and be ready to work and grind it out. Have your website ready, have your social networking, have a promotional network. There’s a lot of skilled guys out there and we wanna show them all love and we always have local acts that represent and the ones that we see that are really hustling and grinding and pulling crowds and involving community – and skills on top of it – we like to see that grind. From the mixtapes to the youtube videos to the twitter, you can’t just be a great rapper. How did we sell out 2 shows with Wiz Khalifa and he hasn’t released anything yet? People are putting that stuff out there on the internet and boom, you can blow up with the right tools and hustle and grind and the skills and that creative edge, something a little different.
“…make money off of the jiggy but always still support the hard core scene and do those underground shows. It balanced our passions out and kept us business-minded at the same time.”
Rob: There’s a lot of dope MC’s but I think a good foundation is that he’s a poet, that when he rhymes he’s rhyming and talking about stuff that makes sense. One thing I always notice in an MC is if I can learn something from them. I wanna be able to hear that their flow is dope and their beat’s gotta be really dope, and it’s an important time right now where they don’t need labels, they can promote themselves like never before. It’s important that they work hard to establish themselves and establish their own fan base without asking other people for help, or if they do ask for help to partner up with somebody that has a good business sense and it’s a joint effort. The great thing is that they can get their music all over the world, they don’t have to only focus on the area they live in.
Son Real was here and he’s opening up for J. Cole and I love his style and his approach. He was mad humble and his lyrics were dope. One of our busboys here –Kaboom – I’ve heard him and he’s super versatile, unique and animated, and he’s an actor too so he’s up there. A couple of our other busboys are rappers and one of them has won freestyle championships. I see them doing their thing and the kind of guys they roll with so you still see that hustle. Some of them have sold over 5,000 CDs by hand, and some don’t even have a price on their CD, and they got five bucks from one guy and the next time he liked it so much he gave em 20. They’re building those relationships on their own, no manger, PR, none of that. They’re building their own base and once you do that, as an artist, then other people will promote you and you don’t need to always be promoting yourself, and the goal is to get other people to believe in you like you believe in yourself.
“Have your website ready, have your social networking, have a promotional network.”
HipHopCanada: Anything else you’d like to add?
Garret: I just would like to thank everybody for supporting GMAN and RIZK all these years. It’s awesome 20 years later people are still coming out and we’re still involved in it. When I started the first club night, up until I opened this club, I thought it was kind of a side thing for me, just for fun. I never really thought I’d be promoting, and I kept going year after year, the night kept going, I kept my distribution day thing going. I’d be like, Rob, I don’t know how long I’m gonna be doing it. I’ve got a kid now, I’ve done it, it’s been great, and then Rob hit me with the club license that came up. And up until that time it was a fun hobby and I loved the music, and now I own this club and we’ve been open for a year and I’m still in it, and we’re still having a lot of fun checking this shows, and going to them, putting them on. We get excited about how the flier will look, and who will open, like bringing Kilo Cee for the Rascalz. We still feel that buzz from it all because we do love it and that’s the main thing. The business side comes after, but it’s like how’s the vibe of the party gonna be, how’s the show gonna be, if we can execute all that then everything will fall into place.
Rob: Do what you love and love what you do. Super important, that way you’re never counting the hours, you just do what needs to get done and you’re passionate about what you do. Do what you say and say what you do, let your actions speak lounder than your words.
Garret: How about do wa ditty ditty dum ditty do?
Rob: La Da Dee La Dee Da. These things might sound cliché, but just work hard. I think everyone’s got the same amount of talent, it’s just a matter of who’s gonna work harder than the other person. To achieve your goals and dreams…
“It’s important that they work hard to establish themselves and establish their own fan base without asking other people for help, or if they do ask for help to partner up with somebody that has a good business sense and it’s a joint effort.”
Garret: What’s with all this brush your teeth wash behind your ears stuff?
Rob: She’s gonna write this down so if people are looking for advice then that’s what I’d give them. It’s the same advice I’d give your kids, G!
Garret: Eat your greens?
Rob: I don’t know about that, I’ve seen some crazy green shit in the club on the floor that you wouldn’t eat…
HipHopCanada: Great, thanks guys! Good advice!
Interview conducted by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada
Photography by Chris McKibbin for HipHopCanada