What does Harlem mean to you?
It's the most inspirational place in the world. I always say Harlem is the center of the universe because everything that people do in Harlem, people do in New York City and everything that people do in New York City, people do across America and that extends around the globe. Harlem has been very instrumental in my makeup and my hustle. It represents the ultimate opportunity.
At what moment did you realize that you had a thing with then Henny Palooza?
I realized it we went to D.C. for Howard Homecoming. It was still in our first year and our first time traveling as well as charging people, but we sold 500 tickets. The upside was we made some money. The downside was expectations to be met on the consumer experience. We weren't really prepared to handle that yet. It was a disaster from the sound to the bar situation. However, that was probably the best thing that ever happened to us because it was the signal that this was a business, something to be taken seriously, and we couldn't just wing it anymore. From there, I built out a structure as far as staff and my friends found their roles within that. Up next was our anniversary, which we did at the Kappa Kastle in Harlem, and that was one of the better ones. Summer 2014 we made the jump to The Wick and The Well in Brooklyn, which hold 1,800. I was scared to death, but we sold it out. That’s when things really took off and requests to go on the road started coming in. I brought my business partner, Benner, into the fold and he got everything clicking on logistics and operations. We started building it like a concert with actual production and merch.
How has D’usse Palooza influenced the party scene at large?
There are a bunch of themed and open bar parties now, not just in New York but all across the country. We obviously see our influence on them, from the creative down to the brand messaging. Sometimes it bothers me personally as I don’t believe in the whole “imitation is flattery” thing, but that is the telltale sign you're doing something well, when you see your blueprint all over the place. And this wasn’t an overnight success. We’ve been doing this for six years and it’s still getting better, which I think has changed the way people view parties and what they can become. We've helped, along with the Grits and Biscuits and Brunch Bounces of the world, to change the way people party altogether. No more big club parties or having to get super duper dressed up to go out. We give you an all inclusive ticket price for a no frills good time.
What do you think makes D'usse Palooza D'usse Palooza?
What differentiates D'usse Palooza from everybody else is the people involved. We have an elite level of talent and we just all happened to be friends. I feel like our hosts are the best hosts. I feel like our photographer is the best photographer, which a lot of people are just now starting to figure out. I feel like Peeje is the best with creative design. And the list goes on. The hope is that as the event has grown, so have personal brands and skill sets.
Your team is talented but also operates as a family unit. In what ways do you think that has impacted the event?
Things usually doesn't work with friends and business when someone is trying to protect feelings or to not step on any toes. In our case, it allows for the highest level of accountability and open, honest communication. We all are very serious about our business and know when to when to wear the business hat, when to wear the friend hat and when to wear both. Growing up together, we all have a really good feel for each other and people see that from the outside. Our family unit’s care for one another’s well-being and livelihoods comes across as authentic because it is. I think the biggest key to our success is that we have and support each other.
How did the partnership with D'usse come to be?
A lot of people don’t know, but the partnership was years in the making. My good friend Lenny S approached us in 2015. At that time, we just weren't on the same page as far as timing or finance, but it was good that we had that initial conversation. Prior to it, we didn't know what we wanted or needed to make a partnership work. So, we tabled it and went back on the road for two years experiencing more growth. Simultaneously, D'usse was growing. As we were going into our fifth anniversary as Henny Palooza, Low Key and I realized it was time to revisit the partnership. We went to lunch with Lenny then he took the conversation to Jay-Z who said, "Yeah we should have been doing something with those guys. Let's get them in building." Dots were then connected and the very fun negotiation process began.
I think getting there had a lot to do with the fact that we have the relationship with Lenny and Lenny has the trust and the ear of Hov. There’s also the commonality in us being self-made and Hov is probably the most prominent self-made person in our culture. It’s great to be aligned with a brand owner who understands your story and can give tips on how to expand your brand past its infancy.
What are you most looking forward to regarding the partnership?
When we announced the partnership, it basically crashed the Internet and to see it actually come to fruition was surreal for me and for the team. I used to think we were kind of reaching our peak as Henny Palooza, but having partnership and just being in that very powerful, influential building has opened up so many doors for us already in only three months. And the possibilities are endless. We can do anything from content to merchandise to growing the overall experience. This could very well become a festival if we want it to be. We don't know how good it can get and that, to me, is the most exciting part.
You're two parties into D'usse Palooza. Has anything felt different?
I've noticed that the energy is even higher, which I didn't think was physically possible. We've done two of our more popular outside markets in L.A. and Atlanta. L.A. is super chill, but they were on ten during All-Star Weekend. Atlanta was the same way. I'm really anxious to see what New York is going to look like. I think this one is setting up to be one of those New York ones we’ll talk about for a long time.
What's special about coming back to New York?
New York is just home. The party was born in New York and it's a New York party no matter how many places we go. I love that we’re back in Manhattan and on 34th Street for this one. I can sense it will be special with the way people are talking about it. Doing one in New York makes D'usse Palooza official.
As you've matured, how have you felt about and managed being known for a party?
At the end of the day, it's work and also something I've been doing more than half of my life, since I was 13 or 14 years old. I went into Dgital Advertising, but I was always getting drawn back to this in some form. Parties are bringing people together and cultivating an experience, which can transcend anything. I think there is this false pretense that no one wants to be known as the party guy, but people always want to hang with the party guy. People always want to be around anyway, so I use that time to have conversations about the amazing ideas I have outside of parties. It used to offend me, but now it's so funny when I have conversations with folks and they say they didn’t think I was smart. If you're well-rounded, it ultimately comes out.
What life lesson do you think has carried you the farthest?
It's the realest thing my father ever said to me. He told me, "You're never as good as people say you are and you're never as bad as people say you are." That's always been my motto. I don't get too caught up in the nice things that people say about me. I appreciate them, but I don't let things go to my head. On the flip side, I don't get caught up in the negative things that people say about me. That keeps me grounded and working.
What's your proudest moment thus far?
The first time I got to pay my friends for doing what we had been doing for free. I handed every single one of them a check when we went to Toronto. There was so much fulfillment and gratification in it for me. It's one thing to have fun and another to improve your friends’ living situations and put money in their pocket.
What's on the horizon for you?
Professionally, we're making amazing strides in the agency space and on the creative side of things. You're going to see a lot more with my imprint popping up across the city and the country. I'm really excited about going in that direction. Personally, the hope is more growth. I’m in a really sweet space, one of a lot of introspect and honesty with myself. I just moved into a new apartment. I'm in Los Angeles a lot and anticipating a bicoastal lifestyle for the near future. My nephews are both graduating, one from kindergarten and one from high school, so that's exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.
How do you stay motivated as you work to achieve your goals?
My circle keeps me motivated. My circle being my immediate friends that everyone sees but also mentors, mentees and others. Everyone I've managed to surround myself with is better than me at something. They're all kicking their goals' ass every single day. When I see one of my friends close a deal, get a promotion or reach a personal milestone, it pushes the very competitive spirit in me. Not to obtain the same things but to kill it in my own lane. Nobody wants to be the guy with no good news at the dinner table. We hang out too much for that. My biggest motivation is my family. I want to make them proud, to give my mother something she can show to all of her friends at their Sunday brunches. Lastly, there’s my personal drive and will to be successful. I feel like I've been put here for a specific reason and I think it's to be a vessel and be a beacon shining light on those around me and those who come after me.