justLISTEN! Heatwave

Interview by Jenkin Au
Words by Alan Ng & Amie Nguyen
Photography by Patrick Giang

HeatWave – Bad Girl

[audio:badgirl.mp3]

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The justalilhype! Crew talked to HeatWave, a young rapper full of ambition in achieving whatever that comes in his way. Starting at a young age, he had always challenged himself in going after his goals. While the dream of joining the NBA seemed promising for him at first as he was able to successfully receive a scholarship to attend college at the States, he found out that music means the most to him. HeatWave speaks upon his early life struggling as a kid living alone in the states, his attitude upon his life, and what he would like his lyrics is able to convey. HeatWave’s travel experiences and associations with Red1 allowed him to gain a large insight into the music industry at a young age. He tells us about his upcoming project where he will be utilizing new sounds, including the new genre of indie-rock that he has recently found interest in.

Tell us a little more about yourself.

Heatwave represents the whole world, you know? Sees the world as its playground but doesn’t believe in boundaries or orders. Just believe that the world is a playground. I started doing music and writing when I was 14 years old. Actually, I was writing when I was 13 but I never took it seriously. I would be playing basketball too. I moved out to Boston with my Aunt when I was young. That’s probably when I really started to rap because I lived in the hood.

What is the story behind your stage name?

It came from Boston, Massachusetts. When I was there in the summer time, it was like almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so after playing basketball during the daytime, in the heat wave, I would come back into the projects. Either I am rapping or I am battling, but I will go all day. They call me Heatwave because it was so damn hot and this kid got some hot ass raps. I came back to Vancouver, I am Heatwave now. But before that, everybody would call me Little E.

(Everyone laughs.)

Where did you come from, before moving to Boston?

Crazy story because I was born in South Africa and I moved to Canada when I was 3 years old. I grew up here until I was 13 and that’s when I left to Boston. When I came back, I moved to Seattle, Washington and that was around 15 when I did that. Seattle, Washington was 3 hours away from Vancouver so I would always go back. When I was in Seattle, I was really into basketball but music was my life, ever since I was born. Even before I was creating music, I would be dancing to music that my mother would play, from Run DMC to Michael Jackson. When I was younger, I wanted to get into the NBA, I wanted to get a scholarship and play basketball but I was good at rapping. I didn’t take it seriously until I was 19 years old. When I was 19, I was living in Iowa and I was going to college there under a basketball scholarship but I wasn’t enjoying it.  The only reason I would go to class was basketball; the only reason why I got good grades was because of basketball. I didn’t really care about the class. When I was in class, I was writing lyrics. I was writing songs. I wasn’t even paying attention.  When I got the opportunity, I flew back when I was 19 years old. I got this demo created when I was living in Washington and I was around 17 when I made it–went to my boy’s house to record it. When I came back to Vancouver at that time, we would pass out CDs down the city. It got through to Jay Fresh, before he was even a DJ. He was just Jamine. He would past it along to all the club promoters and that’s before when I could get into the clubs. People were like, “That shit is hot!” and the shit that we had at that time was so original. We were sampling some crazy shit when we were younger, like Ninja Turtles, and that shit was crazy. Inspector Gadget, it was insane! That demo was bonkers for some little kids. I made it back when I was 17 and we were making our own beats and recording by ourselves. Nobody was doing that at that time. We didn’t even know what were doing, we were just having fun.

How old are you now?

24 now. When I was 19, the CD would start getting circulated around and promoters got me on shows. They put me on this big gig, I was opening at Plush. It was a sold out show, packed crowd. I never did a show in my life. I was actually in still college in Iowa. I knew I had a show so I left school. I was in school and then told my teachers that I was taking off, that I was going to get rich. I am going to get signed, everything, peace! Gave them a letter, everything. I was gone! I went back home, sold out show. I rehearsed with my boys, The Block Stars. We rehearsed for a good week. I came in there and  visualized that I could shut it down, and I came on stage. First show ever, sold out. I was like, “Fuck this!” I am going to shut it down, just like a basketball game. I put on a good show, shut it down and Red1 was in the crowd. He was there with all his boys and that’s how him and I linked. After the show, I was in the VIP, and he came up to me and gave me some respect. He said he liked what I got going and I told him that I was a big fan of his. Then we exchanged numbers and from that day we linked up. Weeks passed, I hit him up and shared him some music. He was busy too because he had his things going on. When I went back to school, he sent me a message and told me to go back to Vancouver and get back at him to work on some music. When I got back, he got me into the studio; I actually got a song with him on his album. His first album was Red1 Beg for Nothing. It was suppose to be Kardinal on his track, but something happened with him. I beat him to the studio. I ran in there and told Red1 to let me get on it. I rapped a crazy verse and he said it was a keeper. Kemo said he liked it. From there, that song is probably the song that got my tour because once his album dropped, he toured the whole country. He toured to Haiti, Columbia and we also did shows in New York. He took me to all those shows. I was like, “Peace to school, I am not going to school. I am going to do this and I have an opportunity. I am going to make some money and this is what I want to do.” He took me around the world, we did shows, and from there it was history, man. If Red was going to teach me how to do it then I was going to take it further, you know?

How has it been since then?

Awesome, man! I learned a lot. For me, it’s pretty crazy because just in life in general, I had lots of learning curves. With life, with music, moving around as a youngling, you know? I mean, I don’t regret anything. I loved all the times when I had no money, when I was eating ramen noodles. Just to be in studio, I cherished that because I would remember being in the studio for 40 hours straight not sleeping and I remember one day, I thought, “I am going to be rich, not even rich but successful”. One day, I’ll have people that are going to listen to my shit. One day, people are going to give me interviews.  One day, people are going to take photos of me. One day, I’m going to have a classic. This was way back when I was struggling. I had no team. I only had him and three other people and Red1 that believed in me. Now I got a big squad. I chipped through it even though I knew that I was going to go through some ups and downs. I am happy to be where I am at right now. Even though I got a long way to go, I am happy with where I am at because I am doing what I want to do and I am above water.

How did your early life inspired you to make music?

Wow, so crazy, man. I mean, when I lived in Seattle, Washington, I was living on my own. I had a landlord and everything. When I was 15 years old going to the inner city school, I went to school in the States and it’s completely different. The feel, the turf. It’s rougher up there. It’s a tougher playground; bigger kids. For me not to get into trouble and not having parents, like I had to wake myself up to go to school even when I didn’t want to go to school and I was 15 years old. I graduated without my parents. I did whatever I had to do. I got my scholarship and I got into trouble, but I didn’t get into that much trouble. I didn’t get into real trouble. Just growing up in all those curves, it taught me how to be independent. As I grew older as a young man, when I was 21, I took my shit seriously. It made me take life seriously. When I was 15, most kids would go back to their mom and they would get their dinners cooked. I was doing everything by myself when I was 15. I never knew that it was going to help my future. At that time, I was like “Why I got to struggle? I wish I could be that kid.” You know it’s all good. Because if I had it, I would probably still be in college right now. I had to struggle just to get what I wanted.  My whole thing at that time, my mind state was like if I fail, I want to fail. I don’t want my parents to make me fail. I want to go to school because I want to go to school. If I am going to fail, it’s not even nobody’s fault. That’s how that whole thing went through my mind. It was a big risk and I was never scared to take a risk and never scared to lose. If I survived it, I knew I was going to be stronger in the future. It helped me to mature as a young man. It helped me make decisions as a young man. Made me be more independent and that helps a lot right now because it’s a tough life and it’s always a struggle to make it out here.

How has that translated into your music, style, and everything you do?

Honestly, all those experiences are real, man. On music, I was putting my life down, you know what I am saying? I am real honest, everyday I go through stuff. Everyday it’s something. Back then, everyday it was really something. In just one day, there would probably be 20 things that happened in that one day and it helped me with my honestly. I was never scared to be me. A lot of rappers had to put on a mask or put on an image or something to put on them. I am just happy to be in a position where I could be me and people actually like me for my life stories. When I make songs, I talk about my friends. People sing those lyrics. Even though they don’t know my friends, when I tell my friends, my boys go crazy. It helps me be honest with my stuff, man. That’s going to get me along going ahead and I know that because if you feel music, then you will feel me. If you feel me, then you will feel my music.

That also translates to what you want to do. You said that you want to make things more relevant to people. What kind of messages are you trying to make relevant to people right now?

You have a long life to live and you got to value and cherish everything that life’s got to offer. Life’s a gift by itself. I feel like, don’t sit down and waste your time. Go do what you want to do and go after whatever you want to do, man. Go very hard and enjoy it. Make sure you are happy. Don’t worry about making everyone else happy. If you make everyone else happy, that’s a plus, man. But if you make yourself happy, you’ve won. That’s the message, man. Do your thing, man. I feel like everybody just wants to be happy and there’s only one life to live, man.

Earlier you mentioned your mom telling you to go do your thing. What has your family said about your music so far?

My mom loves it, you know?

It’s unconvential no matter where you look from it. It’s conventional when you go to school, get a job. My dad got a degree in accounting and my mom is a nurse. My dad was never behind it. He was never behind it, never ever. He probably wanted me to be an engineer or a president of a country in Africa.

(Everyone laughs)

I don’t know. My mom was always like, she knew when I was little, I was different. Ever since I was five. The character that you see now in comparison to when I was five is very similar. The only difference is that I am probably more mature now. The ambition, the crazy dreams and pushing mountains. Talking about impossible things and making it happen. I was about that, when I was five. I always tell myself all these impossible things and I would go hard and make it work. I wake up early to get done what I needed to do. My mom knows my ambition, man. When I was 10 years old, when we had the Grizzlies out here, the Bulls were coming and Jordan was my favourite dude. The ticket was like 2 bills.  I don’t know how to make that money but I got flyers and put them around the whole block. I would wash people’s cars, cut their lawns, do everything to save up all that money over the summer. I saved up all that money, and I was like 50 bucks short. In the end, my mom helped me and I got to go see the game. I was little doing that. When I tell my mom I am going to do something, no matter if she was going to help me or not, I was going to do it. Some basketball camps that I went to back in the states that were five stars  cost about a grand. I hustled myself to go get that money. When I was 14 and 15, I would get things paid myself. My mom would help me but she saw the hustle in me early. My dad knows that about me too. I mean, my dad wanted me to do something else but my mom told me to do whatever because she understood that I was different and told me to travel around the world and do whatever I had to do. Everywhere that I went in my life, I had people backing me, which is really crazy. When I went to Boston. I had a group of friends behind me. When I lived in Seattle, a whole hood. When I go to LA, a whole hood. When I come to Vancouver, a whole hood behind me. Not even off music, it’s just that I keep it real with everybody. I am not afraid to deal with any personality; bad guy, good guy, any kind of guy. I have met so many different personalities that I listen and understand, you know? It’s all good. Wherever I am at, my mom knew I was good so when I was young, she let me go into the bigger cities.

Talking about a lot of traveling and always moving around, right now you are living here. Will Vancouver always be home, or will your home be moving around with you?

Man, I say two things. Vancouver’s home and I haven’t built my home yet.

(Heatwave laughs.)

But I love Vancouver, man. Right now, Vancouver’s home. It made me who I am and gave me a lot of my characteristics but it’s hard to say that, man. I love Vancouver, I might one day when I get super famous, I would definitely remember this city as my spot but also Africa too, build a house out there. I don’t know, man. Vancouver’s home forever. I’ve built so much stuff out here so Vancouver’s home.

Right now, the state of hip-hop is pretty statured due to the evaluation of new media. What do you really cater to? Do you cater to the online audience or do you cater to the hip-hop heads outside of the net?

I believe in groundwork. Playing with The Heatwave classic. When I had the mixtape, I was really industry pushing everything, just to say I did that. The ground is important and then viral marketing, online. The internet has like 300 million people or something, so you got to work that out too. The radio is important and then T.V. is important, making sure you are doing shows, doing shows around the world. All aspects are very important. If you can lock down in all of them, then you got your game. I believe that the music industry is the real hustler game. If you can be successful in this industry, you can do it in any industry because you have the ambition.  It’s a real real real hustler game. If you are 99% hustler, you won’t make it. Drake’s a real hustler. These guys are all real hustlers. They don’t need to sleep till they are dead. You got to do it and cover all grounds. Get the whole pie and if you are not that aggressive, then you might just stay local.

With you mentioning Drake, a lot of people don’t even label him as a rapper because he does a lot of R&B especially with his mixtapes, what do you think about that?

He’s music. Well, he’s a businessman and when it comes to his artistic side, he’s music, you know? Drake can work with anybody he wants. I feel like that too. No track of mine is going to be exactly the same. You might hear me hop on a track with guitars or a band with an indie-rock feel. You might hear me on a jazzy song. I don’t sing like Drake and that’s such a great talent that he has. I mean, to be Drake is just music. And music to me is just this,

(Heatwave claps a beat on the table.)

That’s how it started with me. Beating on the garbage can and start rapping. It didn’t matter what the beat was. 808s in it or classical whatever. It’s just music. I don’t consider myself just a rapper. I am not afraid to go out of my boundaries or anything like that. I don’t believe in boundaries. I believe in world music. Red took me to Haiti and we met all this French music, Haitian, Soka music, Caribbean style and I saw all these stuff with music, and I just fell in love with music. That’s why the state of hip-hop might be whatever, but music is always going to be music. That’s why I can relate to grandparents and my mother because not everyone loves hip-hop but they love music. Everyone needs music. I just create music for the world and that’s why Drake does it too. That’s why the whole world is embracing him. He makes good music.

Many people say that Vancouver doesn’t have its own sound. Do you think it has its own distinguishable feel?

I can pinpoint at it, man. I think the strongest sound is the indie scene right now. The indie rock scene is probably the sound I hear and I am influenced by that. Some of the music that you are going to hear from me in 2011 is going to have a lot of indie sounds. I approach that because I am from this coast. I don’t know. I think in the hip-hop world, that hasn’t been saturated yet so I might be able to bring a new vibe that me from out here, makes sense. The indie scene, I don’t know what to call it, but that sound is raw.

You shared the stage with a lot of different artists from small to big, to even huge. For Nas and all those guys. Was this humbling for you?

It’s all humbling, man. For me, seeing Common live and I was just like, beside him backstage. Seeing Damien Marley, Nas live and being that close, it did more than humbling, man. It made me a student again. I am a fan always, but it made me a student again. I remember when I was 14, 15 years old, I was really a student. I was listening to Prodigy. I was listening to Jay-Z, Beanie Seagull, and Jadakiss, nonstop, doing my homework. That made me do my homework on my live show game: how people work the crowd, how these big majors really do it. Because it’s a big difference when you watch these guys and really good local kids. No offence to anybody. It’s totally different. If you are watching Damien Marley, those guys are really on point. I could see that they put a lot of hard work into where they are at. From keeping themselves healthy, to their focus, to their mentality; where their mind is. It’s crazy if you can ever see that kind of zone these artists get into before they get on stage. I have the privilege to see them before they actually hop onto stage. What kind of zone and what kind of focus. Even with The Rascals, Red and Kemo, the focus that they get into.  Sometimes when I am going on stage, I would focus once the beat drops. But when these guys are backstage, they are focused. They put on a good show. You got to do that worldwide to be on that level. You owe it to them. That’s probably what I’ve got to learn off that. How focused people get. Super focused. Damien Marley’s people came up to me in Rock the Bells and told me that I was good but told me to focus. “You focus, it keeps you out of trouble, you focus it gets you over that plateau.”

How do you maintain your physical appearance within the music community?

Stay aggressive. Be strategic on your moves. Know when to go in, know when to fall back. A guy like me, I try to see things months ahead. I try to see what’s going to happen next. If you try to listen to some artists like Jay-Z Blueprint, he would call out that he was going to be CEO, make millions of dollars, way back. He saw probably months ahead, so, that’s focused, buddy! That’s visualizing. That’s what I do. You see what it is, man, and if you are able to do that, that’s how you are going to stay relevant. You got to see ahead. You can’t do that by yourself. You need a great team.

What is HYPE?

HYPE is exposure. HYPE is you are bubbling. You are doing something. HYPE is a buzz. HYPE is possibly the real deal. Possibly, HYPE is your next. HYPE could be possible, HYPE could be negative. It could be just HYPE. There’s lots of just HYPE. Some people are just HYPED up and they are not the real deal. People are HYPED up and they are real deal so that’s HYPE to me. HYPE can be positive, HYPE could be negative and possibly the real deal and everybody wants the real deal, man. Everybody who is the real deal, most likely got HYPED up before they became the real deal.