Happiness Through Hustle
Three years ago, H-Kane had a revelation.
At the time, he was 24 years old, working as an operations manager at a call center. It was terribly exciting. Fifty grand a year, customer service, manage payroll, etc.
People mostly called him "Gregg" then, or occasionally "Mr. Brock." His life was moving along appropriately as a blossoming, stifled constituent of the business world. And then he wasn't.
"I remember sitting at home counting money I'd made from promoting one night like, 'This isn't right,'" remembers Kane. "I was making as much or more promoting as I was at my day job. So I quit."
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Now Kane is sitting at a back table in Azteca's Margarita Bar & Grill off of Richmond. He is wearing a solid black T-shirt, a black Florida Marlins baseball cap and some curious but probably fashionable blue jeans.
It is early in the evening, 10 p.m. or so. Kane promotes a regular Monday-night party here. He's done so for 18 months, and has built it up quite nicely. It's now one of the premiere nighttime activities for members of the young, attractive black community.
As it is, the room is relatively quiet. The only substantial noise is coming from comedian and evening host Ken 2 the Fool, who is onstage at the head of the room. The Mavericks and Lakers are playing in the Western Conference Semifinals, and Kobe Bryant is picking apart the Mavs' defense.
Ken, as he tends to do when the Lakers are playing, is shouting his opinion of Kobe Bryant into a microphone: "I fuckin' hate that nigga Kobe Bryant! Hate him!" His vitriol is more funny than venomous, but Kane is oblivious to the background static.
"After I walked out on that job, I had to make it work," says Kane.
"Making it work" means conjuring up a new career as a party promoter and event host from thin air. That's what he does now. And he is exceptional at it, becoming a key component in Houston's burgeoning hip-hop community.
Kane had been emceeing at clubs since before he was old enough to legally get into them, so the idea, at least, had always been there. The execution followed. He'd emcee and he'd learn something and he'd do it again. He'd get burned and learn something else, and do it and do it and do it. He did it until he'd done it.
Most famously, he hosted the recent Kanye West/Jay-Z show at SXSW.
Most proudly, he coordinated last October's Screwed Up Click reunion show, corralling Lil O, Lil Keke, Big Pokey and Z-Ro onto the same bill for the first time in ever. The concert, held at House of Blues, sold out.
Perhaps most importantly, though, he invented Frontline Tour, an ongoing concert series for underground musicians, which many of the current buzz guys in town have now played. Kirko Bangz, currently in rotation on your radio's music stations and your television's music channels, signed with Universal after he was spotted performing at Frontline 2.
At his previous job, Kane was able to hone his business acumen. As an active member of the nightlife and hip-hop community, he has sharpened it to a ruthlessly efficient point.
He's adept in conversation, only answering directly the questions he chooses to and lollygagging around the rest, offering up generalities and anecdotes that only give the illusion of being substantive.
You ask a question, he says some words; you say "cool" and ask a follow-up question. Then three minutes later, you realize he never really answered the original question, and now you're suddenly talking about this when you had intended to be talking about that.
Kane reveals no secrets to being successful in the business, which is probably one of the key reasons why he's successful in business. He says things like, "You have to build relationships," but never explains how to do so, or "You have to do things the right way" without explaining what the right way is.
He knows — of course he knows — but it's not information one gives away readily. It's interesting and frustrating. He's like a real-life version of that Rich Dad Poor Dad book.
This he tells: The first big promoter job Kane had was promoting his own birthday party at Club Glo in 2008. He managed to get Patrón to sponsor everything but, naturally, doesn't explain how. The party was a success, and he followed up in 2009, this time at Club Isis. Things grew organically from there.
Today, in addition to coercing acts such as Nicki Minaj to town, he promotes Mondays at Azteca's, Tuesdays at W Bar, Wednesdays at Scott Gertner's Sports Bar and The Roxy, Thursdays at Bamboo Lounge and District Lounge, Fridays at Drake, Saturdays at Club Venue and Sundays at Belvedere Lounge and Scott's again. That's ten clubs over the course of seven days.
"I work a lot," he smiles. "I have to, I've always had to."
Kane is a single father to a seven-year-old son. He talks about him, but only tangentially.
Kane grew up in Conroe and has a total of five brothers and sisters. He didn't move to Houston until he was 13, when his nuclear family splintered.
"My mother and father moved here to get their lives together," says Kane. "We lived with other family members until they did. When they got it together, they were able to get their children back."
He hedges when asked what that means, "get their children back." He talks, and his eyes stay on yours, but they're elsewhere.
Later in the interview, he's talking about how important customer service is in his line of work, how he preaches it to his staff and how he applies principles he learned within the corporate infrastructure to the "street marketing" that powers nightlife.
"I just want people to be happy," he says. "I want them to come out and, regardless of what's going on in their life, whether they've been fired or if they had their children taken away, and I want them to have fun."
"The way I grew up never leaves me," says Kane. He doesn't specifically mention his son here, but it's clear that all of this — the work ethic, the offstage humility, the corrosive past — is woven together.
"I won't say that I'm a man that's easy to impress," he says, "but I'm impressed by simple things."
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