Harvey Stripes: Out Of Nowhere [Article]
Toronto, ON – Inside an intimate Toronto studio, Harvey Stripes stands pouring out drinks of Grey Goose and orange juice for those interested. Tonight, he’s missing the big frames that anchor his image in most videos and press photos, but then again, it’s nearly midnight. Topped by a black and white OBEY hat, he’s simply suited up in a black thermal, Levis and boots.
The Louis wallet dangles from his belt as he surveys the room, “You drinking vodka or gin?” he asks Malcolm, Vice-President of D&D Music Group. He handles two white Styrofoam cups as Pro Logic loads “Rock Star Lifestyle,” the first song of the night to be previewed from A Dollar And A Dream. Several bottle-popping boasts later, Harvey is still standing at attention, listening closely. The track is one of 50 competing to be on the mixtape. It turns out those two cups he’s holding serve to complement each other, as he tosses back a shot with one and follows with OJ in the other. It seems his drinking habits mirror his release schedule.
The preview continues with “Paid Pt 2” featuring French Montana, his yet to be released street single. Let’s call that the vodka. Wavy while still abrasive, it’s got some bite. “Come On,” is next. His new commercial single, it features Lloyd, contributing to what Harvey describes as “that clean sound.” It comes off bouncy and airy. Let’s call that the orange juice. Together, they reflect his strategy of releasing two records at once, one for the streets and one for the radio. He takes another shot of vodka and quickly chases with OJ again.
Harvey began this strategy last year when he released “Shawty Got That” featuring Jason Derulo and “Paid” featuring Max B. and then again with “Material Girl” featuring Jay Vado and “Must Be The Money” featuring Captain Hooks. While all of them have accompanying videos, the latter starred Rosa Acosta and to date has over 80,000 YouTube views. It’s an impressive enough track record for a rapper who has come out of nowhere in the last two years.
Originally from Ottawa, Harvey Stripes speaks about his life there in cautious tones. Careful not to glorify its impact on him, he concedes Ottawa did give him opportunities to grow into a man. However, he likens it to high school. One half of the group Deuce-Deuce (now defunct), he was impressed with their progress. He felt successful. People knew him and his music. He was running the ‘high school.’ But eventually, he hit what he calls a glass ceiling and realized the music industry was bigger than Ottawa. It was time to graduate. Deuce-Deuce, a seven to eight year partnership, dissolved and Harvey made the move to Toronto. On the back of Beat Merchant, a friend and well known producer, he started to integrate into the Toronto scene.
“We got out here and I’m the new guy,” explains Harvey. “But it’s a good thing, because it’s hard to be the new guy twice. That’s almost impossible. So I’m the new guy, but mentally I had so much experience of how to put together music, so people were like ‘who is this guy making these moves.’”
Harvey points to 2010’s Stylus Awards as a milestone in his career. Shaking hands and connecting with “the right people,” positioned him as a “lone ranger” immune to the politics and neighbourhood pressures other artists face. Coming to Toronto meant more face time with the artists, DJs and business people he needed to take the next steps. It also meant more opportunity to work alongside Beat Merchant and brought a plethora of constructive criticism Ottawa didn’t provide.
“My voice was a little more extreme at first,” says Harvey. “But there’s no criticism in Ottawa… When I got out here and people don’t know me at first and they’re like ‘his voice sounds like this.’ And I’m like ‘I have a weird voice?’ I never knew that. I thought my voice was normal. ‘This dude sounds like he’s whining on a track.’ Whining? How am I fuckin’ whining? Now, I play it back with my new shit and I’m like wow I grew a lot in the last year and a half. Since I’ve been working out here it’s changed so much. But it deals with positive criticism; you got to invite the right people to your studio sessions.”
In the last two years, Harvey estimates he’s spent nearly $100,000 towards this project when you count videos, photo shoots, studio time, mixing, etc. That number may sound low to major artists, but on the independent grind, in Canada, it’s a significant investment. And that’s exactly how he looks at it; as a long term investment. A little known fact about Harvey Stripes is he holds a degree in Business from Carleton University. So it’s not like he’s just throwing money at music and hoping something connects. It’s quite the opposite actually, which is apparent in how he talks about his songs. References to demographics, regions, return on investments and marketing plans pop up throughout the conversation.
While cycling through selections from A Dollar and A Dream, the common denominator is a portrait of lifestyle. All it takes is one look at his past videos to get the picture; upscale aesthetics, big toys, beautiful women and name-dropping fashion sense. There’s a certain glaze that permeates throughout most Harvey Stripes material, the kind of glaze that both boosts his status while also drawing critical questions from on lookers unsure of his credibility.
“People may say it’s stereotypical, but it goes with the life we live. And I think that’s why the criticism has kind of stopped,” reasons Harvey. “So it’s not some kids pulling out fake shit and cars for the video and you go home and you’re in your mom’s basement.”
It’s unclear where the money comes from to support such a lifestyle. His raps are vacant of many details on his hustles. He makes vague references to his time in Ottawa and insinuations about Beat Merchant telling him to come to Toronto “for all the right reasons.” However, for the most part it’s not on the front page.
Amidst the “seasoned character” as he describes himself, there are other elements not immediately apparent. A few tracks in, Harvey reveals “Letting Go.” It features Freedom To Worship Choir on the hook, not the type of sound fans have come to expect. He details losing a woman in the first verse. He comments later, “As a man, we’re all cocky, but as time goes on it gets deeper than that.”
A close friend of his named Polo died two years ago, which carries the second heartfelt verse. And lastly, he addresses his former group member Nelson.
“I’m just saying [on the track] we used to rap together, run the streets and regardless of all the drama, that’s still my nigga for life.”
It’s a side of Harvey Stripes we haven’t seen much yet.
Throughout the two hour listening session/interview, Harvey doesn’t sit once. In fact, he barely moves from his stance behind Pro Logic. A Dollar And A Dream is in its final stages as he focuses, intently watching the pro tools session and listening for acute variations in song mixes. Its release will be the culmination of his entire time in Toronto and serve as a product to shop to labels. He is his primary investor at this moment, which comes across loud and clear in his do-it-yourself attitude. But marketing budgets need money, tours need support, radio promoters are expensive and iTunes and SOCAN cheques can only do so much, according to Harvey.
“At the end of the day, we want to lock in a deal,” admits Harvey. “But with me, I know we have a lot of things in our package, in our portfolio, but I don’t feel we’ve maxed out our potential. Really once this project is ready then we’ll think of a game plan to approach the labels. And if it works out and there’s something they can offer us that works, we’ll fuck with it. But if not, it’s not going to stop us. It’s not going to change the plans for us. Regardless we’re going to push our shit. We’re still going to cross over to the States…Once the project is ready and we lay our mark in Toronto, then we take it to Miami and do the same formula. But at least now we have a package and a portfolio like ‘look at everything we did in Canada.’”
Don’t forget to check out http://www.igotstripes.com.