Born Khalil Kinsey – son of philanthropists and owners one of the largest collections of artifacts tracing African-American history Bernard and Shirley Kinsey – Diz Gibran has always made his own way. Whether it was starting his own parking lot, to accommodate a nearby golf tournament, in his parent’s driveway at the age of 11 or becoming a leader in the Streetwear world Diz has been a life-long entrepreneur. Now as he set his sights on an already bubbling music career Clutch sits down with Diz to talk about the path that led him to our ears.
Clutch: What was it like growing up with such renowned parents?
Diz: Well as a kid it doesn’t really hit you as far as what your parents are involved in. They’re just your parents. But at a very young age my parents started taking me on the ride. I’ve been with them pretty much every step of the way, whether it was their travels or on the business end. I was exposed to a whole lot from day one. So growing up as a youngster they just opened my eyes to so much and as I got older and started developing an appreciation for who they were and what they did it just became a whole new world. Of course, the things that was available to me, resource-wise but also just the experience and knowledge that was given to me. So its definitely one of those things where I’m still appreciating it all and still learning so much from them.
Clutch: So is it safe to say that growing up the way you did directly contributed into you going into things like graffiti?
Diz: Absolutely. Both my parents are extremely creative people. My dad was more of the businessman and my mom was more of the heart driven one but I grew up around so many different people, outside of my parents – extended family. So I saw so many different ways of thinking, ways to make a living and just ways to express yourself. So it definitely all had an influence and it came out in a different form through me but it’s definitely an extension of what I was exposed to.
Clutch: So you went from graffiti to skateboarding?
Diz: It was all around the same time really. Growing up in the late 80s, as I was becoming my own person I was heavily into hip hop and everything that was encompassed in that but I also grew up in Los Angeles so I was into skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. So they were separate worlds but they all intersected with me.
Clutch: How did the love of skateboarding translate into becoming involved with the Diamond Supply Company?
Diz: That was a natural thing. Stemming back to my parents and what I grew up seeing and people I grew up knowing. I just started getting into anything creative and anything that wasn’t just the normal thing to do. I was always into fashion too and that was one of those things that really came to light in high school. I think that came from my love for hip-hop and the whole culture. So in high school I really got into clothes and dressing and all that. I was best dressed in the yearbook (Laughs). So when I went away to school I had some buddies that I linked up with from DC and they had a clothing line. An independent line that they were doing themselves. They kind of saw me as being a trendsetter, tastemaker type on campus and I really liked what they were doing so I got involved. My boy and me would rock the stuff and give the stuff to the homies. Then we started selling the clothes out of our dorm room and within a semester or two we were able to open our own store in the Tallahassee Mall.
Clutch: So wait, where’d you go to school?
Diz: Florida A&M University. And that’s a long tradition in my family. From my grandparents on down so I pretty much grew up knowing I was going there. So we opened the store, just some kids, with a relatively unknown clothing line with our own store in the mall so that was real big and that was my first taste of the fashion business. And that took over my life and my school life and I didn’t finish school because of that. I really got into just doing the fashion thing and being an entrepreneur. So later down the line when I moved back to Los Angeles I really jumped into the fashion world and that’s when I linked up with Nick and the Diamond Supply Company. We were friends and I invested in the store and we went from there. No longer involved with Diamond anymore but it was a good run.
Clutch: And from there you co-founded Stevenson-Gibran Agency?
Diz: Well that was actually before Diamond. Ever since like 1999 I’d been going to the Magic convention in Las Vegas. I’ve always been a real social person, always been networking and always had a lot of friends working in the fashion world so I would always help but I was living in Miami at the time so there was really only so much I could do. Some friends of mine, Upendo Taylor and Ron Upperman (Co-owners of Leroy Jenkins), were buying these crazy fabrics and making these hoodies from them – a lot of floral prints, all kinds of wild stuff. Along with my partner Teron (Stevenson, one half of the Stevenson-Gibran Agency) we put it on our backs. It started off as me really loving the stuff and buying the stuff from the homies and rocking it. I saw real potential for it so I would get promo hoodies from them and give it out to people, a lot of people that were out and about on the scene. We started to develop a really big buzz from these hoodies and I started using my connections and contacts to really help Leroy Jenkins, helped get them in a few stores. So we went out to Magic in 2005, didn’t have a booth and people were coming up to us knowing the line already. And this was before it was a full clothing line, they just had the hoodies. People were asking us how we could order them, we would go to other people’s booths and they would tell us “yo buyers are asking us where your booth is.” And we didn’t even have a booth; we were barely a company yet. From that I met Adrian Aitcheson (Founder of Too Black Guys), out of Toronto Canada. Great designer, he’s been in the fashion game forever, tons of accolades. He knew all about us and he set up a meeting between himself, one of his colleagues that has a distribution company out of Montréal called Twelve Ounce and us. They really wanted to take it to the next level and make it a full clothing line. We didn’t end up doing it with them but from that spawned the Stevenson-Gibran Agency. Teron and I started taking on clients and our first was Too Black Guys. In our talks about Leroy Jenkins, Adrian mentioned wanting to bring back Too Black Guys, which was a very well supported and popular line in the hip hop community of the early 90s. So for us to be involved with a line that was so well respect and regarded as a pioneer of sorts it was like we had to jump at that. So that started Stevenson-Gibran and we’ve been going ever since.
Clutch: Who does Stevenson-Gibran represent now?
Diz: We’re still with Too Black Guys. We do UNDRCRWN, we’ve just started working with C+ Jewelry and we’re getting ready to launch our own clothing line.
Clutch: So between Diamond, Leroy Jenkins, UNDRCRWN & Too Black Guys – I think its safe to say that you were on the forefront of the Streetwear movement. How do you feel about where it’s headed now?
Diz: This is something that I’ve been talking about with my peers and friends for a while now. I feel like we’ve been pretty in tune with the climate of things and being able to forecast what’s next and what I’m seeing with this streetwear thing – and in part its due to over-saturation – things are getting a lot cleaner. I’m seeing a lot of brands get weeded out as well as a lot of stores. I’m seeing things get less logo heavy and more mature. I think we’re all into a lot of different things and we all want to express that with something other than just loud colors and huge graphics. So streetwear is cleaning up and I think there are a few core brands that are really going to be able to stand the test of time. Not by totally reinventing themselves but by putting a twist on what they’ve already been doing. Streetwear has been pretty much a t-shirt based industry and while t-shirts are a staple to be regarded as a true clothing line you have to do so much more. You have to get into cut and sew. The quality has to be there. I think some of these brands are learning a lot more and really gaining an understanding of what being a true clothing line is and its not just getting on a computer and doing some graphic design work.
Clutch: So you’ve done all this in one world. What have you learned from that world that you can apply to the challenge of being a hip hop artist?
Diz: With being your own boss its a double edge sword because everything is up to you, how hard you work and your schedule. Over the years it’s definitely made me a lot hungrier because I see how fast time flies. I see how quickly things can change and now I see how important it is for me to be self-motivated as opposed to having an idea and going after it half-assed. I understand that I have to attack because no one else is going to have as much passion as I do.
Clutch: How long have you been emceeing?
Diz: Well that goes back to graffiti and skating days. I’ve probably been emceeing since I was in the fourth grade. I’ve loved music since I was little. My parents tell me stories about little performances I used to do with this toy guitar. My grandfather used to drive me around the neighborhood with music playing to put me to sleep. So music has always been a big part of my life. When I was old enough to develop my own taste hip-hop just spoke to me like nothing else. I started playing with writing songs; I had a little rap group in elementary school.
Clutch: Oh you know you have to tell us the name of this group.
Diz: The Ill Kids! It was a little bit before Guru came out with his Ill Kids Records but by the time that came out we were already defunct.
Clutch: Where did the name Diz Gibran come from?
Diz: Diz comes from Dizzy, which is what I used to write back in the graffiti days but also its a name that was given to me because my eyes are always real low. I used to smoke a lot of weed and I was given the name because of that. Gibran comes from my namesake. My parents named me Khalil after Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran. Him being a poet and me being a poet of sorts it was only fitting that I took on the name of my namesake.
Clutch: So in 2005 you released Spin City. From that release to where you are today, how have you seen your creative process change?
Diz: That goes back to what I was saying about the drive. I’ve been making music for so long and was never keen on chasing it. It was more about personal satisfaction and for my friends and family. Spin City was something I had to get out of me. I was living in Miami at the time and Miami was a great place for me because it was a time of great personal growth. It was a time when I quit smoking weed, which was a huge thing for me … one of the best choices I’ve ever made. And then I just started writing a lot but production wise; the people I knew weren’t really what I was looking for. So I just started doing the mix tape thing. Then I met this dude Blanco, who’s still a part of my team and he suggested we put something out. So we did Spin City Volume One, we pressed up 10,000 copies, paid for it out of our own pockets. This was before the blog explosion so we pressed up hard copies and got them out everywhere we could. Sent them out all over the country to different friends and just got it out. The whole mission from there was to keep it going, I mean it was called Volume 1 so there was supposed to be a Volume 2 but it didn’t quite go that way. I didn’t keep the momentum going. And around the same time I moved back to LA, got into the fashion thing and was really just trying to get my life situated out here again. So the music just kind of fell to the wayside.
Clutch: So you get settled, get the fashion business off the ground. What’s next?
Diz: The next project is slated for release in January 2009 and for lack of another name we’re calling it a mix tape but I’m sure we’ll have another way of describing it. The actual title is Soon You’ll Understand and it’s an album. It’s me and Moonshine (Who plays producer Premier to Diz’s emcee Guru) and it’s presented by Crooks & Castle. It has all original material, so it’s not a mix tape but we’re putting it out as a mix tape.