Words:Kazeem Kuteyi Photography: Kahlil Hernandez
Imad and I met a couple years ago for an interview for my now defunct blog. It was for the same reason: to gain insight into his new project at the time, Pique. Back then it was just a project that showcased Toronto’s hidden talent in 15 seconds on Instagram. From then until now I have witnessed the brand morph from a simple social media project to a community based juggernaut- events are put on, and currently the brand is posting its new series Piqued- a documentary series that delves deeper into some of the talents that were featured before. In our conversation below, a long one I might add- we discuss the various elements and inspirations that form Pique, his drive to keep the brand going and key gems that I feel will inspire anybody that has an idea to simply just go out and execute.
First of all, why are you so compelled to show off Toronto’s talent?
I think everyone has their own way on how they wanna present talent, present artists or exhibit what people do. There are a lot of people that do it but if you have your own vision of how you want it to look then you should go for it. You should definitely do what you have envisioned and make it happen. There are different elements that come into Pique and it’s not just painters and singers, and I wanna say it’s everything and it’s not everything but it’s all the elements that come together that give you a good snapshot of the city. It will have all types of talent including skaters – some will argue they’re not artists but they are really tied to the art scene. They can drive the way the art scene can go so it’s important to include them. And also it’s Toronto, you want to show off the city to other cities. You present the talent you like. The ones that are not included- it’s not like they’re shitty artists but we have an idea of how we want this to look. There’s a drive to do it because there’s a perspective you want to send out to everyone who are watching.
I think there is a selfless approach to Pique. I’ve seen it grown from the early stages till now. What sort of motivated you to be this sort of torchbearer for the community? It’s not like you’re really gaining any compensation from it.
Well I get something here and there.
Yeah I know but that wasn’t your goal at the beginning when you started the project.
Yeah, it wasn’t about money in the beginning and it’s definitely not about that right now. I just wanted to create and make dope shit. I wouldn’t say I’m a torchbearer, it’s more of like- there’s still elements of the way it worked the first season where it was just kind of working with a bunch of artists and still giving a snapshot of the city. But at the end of the day it’s just showing the love you have for the city. There’s other people that will do the same thing- create documentaries, have platforms, content exhibitions but you really wanna present the ones that you love in the best way you can. You’re interested in that. You actually wanna be a part of their growth and be supporting of that but you also have to be up to the challenge because if you wanna do shit like that you have to make sure your quality is on point or at least you’re improving your quality every year. It’s not, “oh we make dope shit now that’s it, that’s good enough”. You have to improve every year and you have to be happy with steady improvement because a lot of people expect to be tearing it up the first year and like cool, that’s great – you hit the bar so early but you gotta hit that at every point. I think it’s good to learn at the same time. It’ like building a plane while you’re flying it. You’re still trying to figure things out and you still trying to make things better.
Have you learnt anything about yourself through this project?
Learning about people in general. Not even about artists, just people. It’s a numbers game. I’m not treating them like numbers but when you meet so many people you gotta learn how to talk because everyone is different. And I guess someone who meets a lot people will say the same thing and it’s just a matter of knowing how to work with different types of people. When you surround yourself with good people, you’ll do good things. The more we surround ourselves with good talent we start to improve on the stuff we do. It’s competition. It’s good competition. They’re doing dope shit which makes us wanna raise our bar and be at that level and when we go up we expect the people around us to raise the bar too. And that’s the thing- when we curate our talent we like to pick the ones we love and build them up nice. I’ve learnt just to speak with artists, learnt how their branding works, how they promote themselves and how they make dope shit. I’ve also learnt about the scene. For example, I knew I loved the skate scene but I didn’t know much about. Now I know parks in the city, skaters from the city and areas in the city that are dope for talent. It’s not something you would’ve learned in a day. I also learned how to be patient especially when you’re doing something like this.
Patience is such an interesting thing. Social media and all that have caused us to start things and wanting that instant gratification. I feel Pique had that slow burn and then it blew up.
With anything you do you gotta practice. Practice makes perfect and you gotta keep at it. You gotta set your expectations right and you could tear it up and be where you wanna be in a year but don’t go into and expect it to be that easy or that things can happen overnight. Instead of having an end goal have targets – say like this year, you could be like “let’s make this happen” and when you look back at what you did you’re like “ok cool, we’re not where we wanna be but we still did A, B and C”. That’s progress. It’s being patient but also being mindful of what you’ve done. You know, being grateful for what you’ve accomplished but also being hungry.
“There’s other people that will do the same thing- create documentaries, have platforms, content exhibitions but you really wanna present the ones that you love in the best way you can.”
Do followers matter?
How come you say that?
I wouldn’t say 100 percent no but some artists haven’t built up their image yet or who they are and if they’re new to the game and growing – like I know some artists that are really dope and their following isn’t that great yet. Will it be? It might be in the future, it’s very possible and it probably will be if they continue what they’re doing. The issue to think about is, does it matter at the start? Cause I mean, there are some artists that get a following at the beginning and they might not be that good. It’s a good indicator but it’s not the following that makes them dope. I wouldn’t agree with that. There’s a lot of talent with less following and they’re so good. It’s definitely something that’s good; it means you’re doing something right.
For me I’m always about the quality of my following. If someone from Nike is following me and sees my work and that leads to work opportunities, I’m cool with that.
Yeah, that’s what I was thinking about for the past few weeks. I think the next thing is gonna be the quality of likes and quality of following. You can have 20,000 followers but who are your followers, right? But to step it up, if there was some social platform that measures your quality of followers and quality of likes that would be dope. That means what you’re following is actually legit. You know, you got the Nike people, you got Gavin (sheppard), the coolest guy and then your likes, like who is liking your photos? For example, Daniel Caesar, his social media following isn’t as good as other people but he’s gonna blow up.
“Do what you can to do what you want but at least you tried and won’t have to live with the regret of not doing it.”
Yeah, he doesn’t have 10,000 followers but I’m sure all these music editors and important artists are following him because his music is just so good. And that matters. These people will see what he’s doing and post it out to the world.
How do you choose your talent?
I mean, there’s obviously a criteria – we review how good the talent are, their level of passion and how much they are dedicated to what they’re doing. It’s also dependent on what we’re looking for as well. We have a quota every year on how many types of artists. We try to pick the best. We keep our ears close to the ground and see who’s popping. We also keep up with blogs and see who’s dropping new music. Toronto is super hot right now with music, you don’t even have to read Toronto blogs, you could just go to the fader. We look at branding, and how the talent put themselves together.
In the future will there be some kind of application process?
We’ve never had an application process. Because at the same time we never want people to feel rejected so it’s more of like if we like what we see we reach out or like sometime we have conversations with people and we reach out. People reach out and we try to work something out. The reputation is growing and as the reputation grows, artists reach out and want to collaborate.
“There’s nothing else I would do and spend the wee hours in the morning doing than this but that’s when you know you really like doing something and you’re doing it for more than the money.”
And for creativity and art do you believe in the education system? I know you never had any formal education in video production.
I know it’s worthwhile but at the same time what do you mean by the education system?
Like going to school. These days you have alternative school through YouTube tutorials and Google. I have this friend in Nigeria, Niyi, who went to school for economics or something related to that and he’s a graphic designer now. He learnt design through YouTube – he’s never been to design school or really travelled out of Africa and he knows so much about photography and references stuff from Hedi Slimane and Wes Anderson. And some people go through the whole formal education system. Do you think the school system works in the sense of art and creativity?
There’s no simple answer but I think it’s how you apply it. There are some artists who just have the eye for stuff but has never been to school but then you have the other person who has been to school and is an A+ student and has done everything right based on the curriculum which is great but then that artist might be even better if they learnt how to be a dope artist on their own and went to school. Or maybe what they did in school might restrict them too much. I think it just depends on a lot of things. School could play a big role. There could be some people who went to school for the first two years then dropped out and realized they don’t need it anymore but those first two years played a big role. I think it’s a combination of how you become whom you are – whether it’s school, how you grew up, your passion – I think that all plays a role
I was also thinking- if I wanna become an artist in mixed media or whatever, I don’t know if I would go to school. I think I would get a degree in something unrelated to art, something like history or sociology. I feel in that sense you learn how to critically think and stuff and I feel with art, it’s so subjective and the teachers really just mark projects on their personal tastes. It’s like “Oh, I like how this box is being drawn so I’m gonna give this student an A”. But on the other hand there could be an artist who’s from Egypt who is gonna draw that box differently because his perspective is different, he might fail that assignment. For example, my brother who’s doing graphic design did this typography thing and the teacher marked him so low and then he opens up the latest issue of the FADER and he’s like, “YO, BUT THE FADER DID THIS TOO!” I’m a bit confused in that sense.
I never went to school for art so I can’t say how it would be and how it would play a role it what I make. It might make my stuff better, maybe not but at the same time when I had to learn about photography I had to look up stuff and educate myself in some way. With photography or doing video you have to learn how to use that camera to some degree. I think that can apply to anyone – for singing someone has to teach you or be a mentor and show you the ropes. That helps a lot because if you have someone who’s gone through the same path – it’s beneficial and that’s why school is good because you can learn from that.
I’m curious, what did your parents think of Pique?
They like it. I mean it was on CBC on some point and my dad watches the National so he was happy. My mom likes it too. I think the good thing about it was that they were able to see it from the beginning and witness it’s growth. Yeah, they know I’m grinding it out.
And I ask that because you know, we’re children of immigrants. Our parents came to this country and you know- it wasn’t easy for them. So I could see why they would want their kids to follow the status quo and be a doctor or a lawyer. Have you come across any artists in this project that’s going through the motions of not having that parental approval? What do you say to that kid who’s going through that? Do they stay obedient towards their parent’s wishes?
It’s tough. I mean I want to say you just have to do it and prove to them. But it’s one of those situations where you don’t want to put all your resources and remain in a tight spot because doing art is not easy. I guess act that that’s your only option but be cautious because sometimes things don’t work out the way you want it. I wouldn’t say have back up plans but have alternate routes to where you want to go. If you just have a straight path and you’re stubborn about it – you might do it if you work hard enough and stars might align for you but that’s not always the case so expect to detour. I’m not sure if everyone is like this but sometimes you might want something so bad and eventually you might come to this state you realize that it’s not what you want anymore and you want something else- it’s sort of an acceptance – it sounds lame but it’s like get rich or die trying. Do what you can to do what you want but at least you tried and won’t have to live with the regret of not doing it.
You ever think of quitting and just not doing Pique anymore? I know it’s so much work.
I mean it’s hard. It’s not easy. I think it’s been easier having a team so it’s not just you in your head saying “do I reeeeealllly wanna do this?” Do I really want to spend my evenings and weekends doing this after work? People have brought that up several times.
Yeah, you’re editing a skate video right now- you could go to Apartment 200 right now.
Yeah, but the scary thing is that even if I go to a club I’ll still feel like I have to be editing this skate video right now. It’s like this guilt. There’s nothing else I would do and spend the wee hours in the morning doing than this but that’s when you know you really like doing something and you’re doing it for more than the money. You know, and even when the money comes it wouldn’t even feel like a job anymore. But there’s times where it’s like, “I don’t even wanna do it” but those are just breaks. You just gotta take a day off and zone out.
Pique as a brand has this spirit of doing. I know it really pushed me to start this. Why do you think people are scared to start?
I know one big one is that they’re scared to fail. It’s so obvious when they don’t wanna start something. They wanna be different but they don’t wanna be different. That’s part of it- if you wanna be different you gotta do things that other people aren’t doing. You gotta do shit that might not work out because you’re going to new lands. It goes back to being patient and things won’t happen overnight.
And how do you overcome that fear of failure?
I think I just stopped caring. If it doesn’t work out, it is what it is. It’s whatever. I think that’s the best part- when you don’t give a shit that’s when you start experimenting. You already wanna do stuff that’s different and when you’re not scared you just continue to go further with it because you’re not worried. And the deeper you go down on that path, there’s less and less people who want to go down that lane. It’s almost a sense of accomplishment because I keep doing stuff that’s not normal. Eventually it becomes a practice.
One last question, do you think you’re fulfilling purpose through this project?
That’s a good question. I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself as that person, just like when you said, I’m a torchbearer or something- it’s just not me. Even in the past I never wanted this project to be about me. It’s always been about this brand, making this brand strong, being able to create great things and having people collaborate. If I feel happy with what I’m doing then it’s the closest I can feel like I’ve fulfilled my purpose. And if what I’m doing is in good intention and it’s supporting artists and being some sort of facilitator – that even boils down to my personality- that’s who I am and that’s been passed down through this brand. I don’t think I’ll ever reach it because it’s an everlasting goal but you hope that you can come close it.