Dream Chaser: ViZion

Recently, I sat down with Barbadian Hip-Hop/Reggae artist Oliver “ViZion” Gale to discuss his recent move to NYC and his goals/vision of bringing the Caribbean hip-hop scene to the U.S.  With a number 1 single, a mix-tape, an album and recently winning the “Rap/Hip-Hop Artist Of The Year” award at the 2013 Barbados Music Award, he has already made a name for himself and created a worldwide buzz.  Now he is trying to bring that buzz to the U.S. and break into mainstream music, he has moved to New York to take his music career to the next level….

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So tell me about yourself?  I know you are a musician and you just moved to NYC, give me your background?

Okay, so I am a Barbadian Hip-Hop/Reggae artist.  I started my music career in 2006 in Barbados, that is when I first got into the studio.  Like most artist I started off writing.  When I was in Canada (where he did two years of boarding school), that is where I really got involved heavily into listening to Hip-Hop.  I study a lot of Tupac, Nas, Biggie, and Jay Z there.

 Is there a big hip hop scene in Canada?

Yeah, for sure, I mean Canada is what really put me on.  At boarding school, you have a lot of time in your dorm, because you are always on campus, so that was a way for me to pass the time, listening to music.  Once I graduated from boarding school, I decided I wanted to pursue music full time.  I got my name “ViZion” from a DJ/Friend of mine.  The way the name came about, is a pretty cool story, initially I was telling him that I could see where I was going to get to, he was like “well how about Visions”.  I had just read a biography about Bob Marley, written by Rita Marley, and my friend and I were talking about young artist and dreams, and he said that “dreams are for all man, you should have a vision” and I had just came across that in the book.  I was like that is dope, so I came up with ViZion; I added the Z for Zion, that way Zion would be in the vision.  Once I got my name, a lot of thing fell into place, because you got to have a character.  So I actually moved from the Hip Hop side and got heavily into Reggae Music when I moved back to Barbados.  Reggae music is closely related to the  Rastafarian movement, and I found myself involved in that movement.  I taught myself how to sing, the first song I recorded was actually a reggae song, called “Girl I Need You” and Barbados embraced it fully.  I submitted it to the radio and I got a call the next day saying I had to come in.  The song was playing in Barbados all over the place, and once we did the video, I had people reaching out to me all over the world; Canada, England, my cousins are from South Africa called and told me the video was playing on the television in South Africa.

And this is your first song?

Yeah!  I wasn’t really ready for that.  I did the first song in the studio and it left me behind, sort of speaking, it went and did its thing.  I had no management, no publicist, no booking agent, no lawyers, no nothing.  But it was still good, I got nominated at the Barbados Music Award in 2008 on the bases of that song and other songs I did.  Then I went to an University in England (Bristol University) and Bristol has a very good music scene, which was one of the main reasons I choose that university: they have a big Caribbean scene and the music scene is vibrant there.  By this time, my goal was always to put melody and flow together because that’s the dancehall style.  It is really like a style of writing in hip-hop with melody on it.  That was always the avenue I was looking for, I was looking to bring the hip-hop back into my music, while I was performing in England.  Well anyway, I graduated and came back to Barbados and I made a decision with my Reggae music that I was going to shift emphasis away from the focus being spirituality and Rastafarian righteous/conscious music; not that it wasn’t important to me but I wanted to reach as many people as possible with the music.  So I took Hip-Hop and started to really focus and diving into it.  So in 2011, I started recording my debut album, “Dream or Die”, which I released in May 2012.  I had like 3 or 4 singles off that album playing on the radio in Barbados, one of those songs “Gone” made it to the West Coast (U.S.).  I also had a song called “Beach House” which had a music video that in 2012 got to number one on Tempo TV’S Cross Caribbean Countdown, it was number one for two months.  That was a great thing for me last year.  So I got that, and then I started recording my first mix-tape “Solar” after that in the summer.  I wanted to come to the US because Barbados is so small,  I am known in Barbados, I am on the radio; it is too small to make money and you need to make money to take things to another level, you need to be exposed to take it to the next level.  I thought I needed to do the mix-tape (Solar) and get everything together because once I get to New York it was going to take a while to find a studio and find the right people to get this together.  So that was my game plan, get the mix-tape together, move out here in November of 2012, and release the mix-tape (which he did on November 30th).

 So where are you at right now?

I am trying to push the mix-tape, gain more exposure, let people hear the music and see the videos, and perform as much as possible.  That is the key, every time you perform, more people see you and you get more fans, followers, and exposure.  For me it is like a new begin, but I am not starting from the beginning.

Right now, since social media is so big, a lot of artists have taken the independent route.  Are you looking to sign a major deal or are you comfortable with taking the independent route?

Right now I am comfortable with the independent route.  First, most of the majors aren’t really interested in you, unless you are already doing something on your own and have established yourself.  Once you are making money, they are more willing to come in and take most of it and make you make more.  So it is not that I am against signing with a major, it is just something I am very cautious about; all the tools are here, on the ground-work level.  You just build your team up and focus on reaching people and winning people over. Artist like Mac Miller did it independently, artist like Wiz Khalifa was successful and he did it independently, there are a lot of examples, like Drake, he got his whole following  up and then that lead to the major deal.  So when I look at it like that, it is the way I want to do it.  Build that following from the ground up and keep pushing my music.  I am looking to put another mix-tape out in March, so I am starting to work on that.  My game plan right now is literally just to meet new people, good people, get myself in the US permanently, and do shows and raise awareness; do what I did in Barbados, for a small market and turn it up for a big market, by delivering the music.

 Who are your musical inspirations?

Tupac was huge for me, his life, you know like the fact that Tupac was an emotional dude and he connected with a lot of people with his passion.  My music is quite personal most of the time, so I really admire that about him.  He was one of those artists that dedicated his life to the music.  Pac was huge for me!  Bob Marley was also huge for me!  Bob was another one, that is an icon across the world for what he represented; his music and his message are timeless.  I also love Tracy Chapman,  I think she is great.  I also love Jay Z, Nas, and Biggie, I really study them.  More recently I would say Wiz Khalifa has had an influence on me, because I love the life style movement.  He does what he does and he is so attached and connected with people, I think that is dope.  Drake is another dude that I am grateful for, he kind of open up a lane, where you don’t have to be out there and gangster to do hip-hop, you just have to be nice with the flow, the lyrics, and deliver the message.  You just have to be real, whatever real is, and true to yourself. So I am grateful for dudes like Drake, I wouldn’t say I study his style, but I tip my hat to dudes like him that open up that lane.

How do you feel about the Hip-Hop scene, in specific the Caribbean side?

Well to be honest the Caribbean Hip-Hop scene is being pioneered by myself and a couple of other Barbadian artist and a couple of Trinidadians too.  In the Caribbean, the major Islands are Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad.  I have never really heard of a Hip-Hop artist of Jamaica, I am sure they have talented Hip-Hop artist because Jamaica has talented artist/musician, but that culture is so strong in their dancehall/reggae music that that is what their culture is doing.  In Barbados and Trinidad, especially Barbados, we are in a unique position; we are very much a Caribbean island influenced by Jamaican music, and we have our own Soca/Calypso music, but then we also have influence from North American culture and music.  That is reflected in artist like Rihanna, and Shontelle who has done it.  So there is a lot of talent in Barbados and a lot of urban cross over music that has come out.  In terms of the Hip-Hop in Barbados, the team I work with is “Million Dollar Music” (MDM).   I work with a producer Minim, who is certainly one of the top regional producers for Caribbean Hip-Hop music.  There are two other hip-Hop artist, one is Rihanna brother GQ, who just put out a mix-tape, the other is Teff Mayweather.  We all work in the same studio and I’ve got collaborations with both of them on my mix-tape.  We are really the only three dudes in Barbados that do Hip-Hop.  Caribbean Hip-Hop is definitely finally finding its own feet.  The older dudes, the generation before mine, that were doing it all rocked with an American accent, so I don’t feel like that worked.  When you try to come to America trying to sound American but you don’t sound American, you sound like you are trying; again be true to yourself.  We (MDM) have a large following.  Bajan people are difficult to please, they come to your show and just watch, like impress me mutha-fucka, if you do impress them, then they do embrace you.  In Barbados even to get recognition, you have to be very good; Bajan are not easy to please.  But again, we have a really nice vibe and it is being received on radio and in Trinidad; it is making moves.  My boy Teff was at the Atlanta Hip-Hop festival earlier this year and I was in Atlanta myself earlier this year, I did a couple of shows.  Now it is just a matter of reaching North America, reaching the people, and allowing them to make the decision if they like the music; I mean I wouldn’t be here if I did not feel it was that time.  Everyone who has heard my mix-tape since I have been in the U.S. has liked it, so I am very happy about that and it shows me I am on the right path, now I just got to keep pushing it.

 So what has the transition been like moving to the US to Barbados?

It is cold, first thing is first (laughs).

Had any crazy fan experience?

No not really!  It is not like I am walking down the street and people know who I am.  But, definitely after shows, people are easy to show you love and hit you up while you are doing a show.  I have definitely notice through my social media my success, in terms of picking up new followers.  It is a good thing; I am just trying to reach new followers.

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How has that been? I know New York has a big Caribbean population, but I also know  New York is one of the hardest markets to break into musically?  How has that struggle been?

Well I mean it has been limited experience, but I had a good one the other day.  I went to an open mic session down in Brooklyn and it was like 20 artists that was doing a song or two.  There was a lot of talent there, I was really amazed; some ranged from first time performance, others were established in NY.  So I did my two songs and a lot of people came to me after saying that I was dope.   I gave the organizers my contact info and when they contacted me they told me about a competition they were having and wanted me to be a part of it. The next day they contacted me and said I couldn’t compete because I am too seasoned and they would rather me headline the event, so that was good.  I have only had like 3 performances since I have been out here, but with all of them I have gotten positive feedback.  But, I know what you are saying because the market is tuff, and how are they going to take the fact that I am a white Barbadian dude that is rapping, like how will they receive that?   But it is the same thing with reggae music in Barbados, I had the same questions, how will they receive me.  I was the first white reggae artist in Barbados and first hip-hop artist, to get nominated for the Barbados Music Award.  I find that if the music is good, that is all that is important, if you are being honest and real then they will like it.  I do not get up on stage and try to be somebody I am not.  So when I say what I do you can look at me and see it.  If you move forward and keep it real with people, then they will respect that.

 So what are your goal for 2013?

I want to do two mix-tapes at least or a mix-tape and an album.  I want to get some collaboration with some internationally known Hip-Hop artist, that are regularly on the scene and are household names; I feel that is a big clutch for breaking into the industry.  Generally what I am trying to do in 2013 is kind of penetrate into the industry and get those collaborations set-up.  So by 2014 I will have a fan base here in the U.S.  Get in the studio with the right people, I am looking for the producers that have that top level production, because there is no point in having the talent if you don’t have the productions, so the production is key, the contacts are key, and at least two mix tape is the minimum.  Overall get that buzz going.

Have you been finding it hard to network in New York?

Yes, I could say so.  I am an impatient person, but I have been here for almost two months and I have met a lot of good people already. New Yorkers are really fast talkers, you get a “yes” and sometime you don’t hear from them or you hear from them weeks later.  It has its challenges, because it is a whole different society, everyone is in buildings; you are either coming from somewhere or going somewhere or you’re home.  People aren’t really accessible that way, unless you meet them through the right people or you meet them at the right place at the right time, so it is definitely challenging.  But, I am surrounded by good people, it just a matter of continuing doing what we are doing and things will fall into place.

What keeps you motivated?

Yes it is tuff, but I feel like there is a reason I am doing it and that I am doing it for the right reason.  I have a message that I need to get across, that is what really has kept me going, to know that music is my passion.  I mean it is tuff, the day-to-day, some days are good days and some days aren’t so good.  I think it is my love of music that keeps me going, also the progress.  I don’t have time to waste in anything I do, so once I see the progress and once I see the forward motion and that it is getting somewhere then I keep doing it.  The day I see that no one is listening and no one cares that will be a bad day, but that is what keeps me going, because I do not want to see that day come.

Lastly, if you do leave NY, what do you want your legacy to be?

I would like New York to take me in as an adapted son; I came to NY because I feel like it is the place. I could have gone to Miami, LA, but NY is a hustler city and I love the spirit of it.  To me, it is the city of dreams, it build on dreams, there are broken dreams at the bottom and then there are dreams that everyone is climbing for at the top.  I am here because I relate to that hustler mentality.  At the end of the day my name is ViZion; it is a dream if you sit down and do nothing about it, but if you do something about it, then you can call it a vision, because you can see where you are trying to get too, you know.

Please check out ViZion website for more info here: vizionofficial.com

ViZion latest single “All My Dreams”:

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