Nas Haddad on curating musical experiences from U+Me+RNB to About Last Night - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Love for music doesn’t mean you have to be a music artist or a musician. That passion might lead you into radio, like it did for me and my coworkers. You might find your way into the record business as an A&R, engineer, or etc. For North Philly’s own Nas Haddad, the love for music led him into the night life. In the beginning, the Germantown-born event curator started his career in Atlanta during his college years. While learning about the business, Nas was still trying to find his way while people made him question his choice in being a party promoter not only to make money, but as a career. Even with that doubt going against him, his love for music and unwillingness to allow a 9 to 5 to have control over his life not only kept him going but also led him back to his hometown to make an impact.

Both Nas and his business partner James Nathaniel, aka DJ LIMO, saw a need for the nightlife in their city of Philadelphia. Nas saw that there was no space for young Black professionals to have fun in a place that made them feel safe as well as played the music that they wanted to hear. That type of demand led the two of them to create the marketing company known as 6ix 8ight, specializing in events and brand consultancy. With the help of other creative thinkers, collaborators, and Philly DJs — like Michael “Bull City” Brock, co creator of Animal House — 6ix 8ight has been able to bring events to the city such as Reminisce, HBO Mixtapes and Roller Skates, and But First, Brunch. Their most known event, U+Me+RNB, was making its way into venues like Jerry’s Bar and Johnny Brenda’s, bringing new crowds into spaces that aren’t known for hosting urban events. Over the past six years, U+Me+RNB has grown in popularity and has even caught the attention of singers such as Lloyd, Khelani and Ashanti to attend their events.

As Nas and his 6ix 8ight team got ready to throw their most event — last Friday’s About Last Night at Noto featuring Grammy award winning singer Lucky Daye — I was able to talk to him about his early beginnings, 6ix 8ight’s growth, his feelings about the DJs in Philly and much more.

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Rahman Wortman: What was it like for you when you started to become an event curator?

Nas Haddad: Things started when I got accepted into Morris Brown in 2001 and went to Atlanta. I linked up with this guy AJ from AJ productions and he was teaching the game, introducing me to people and then started to treat me as a partner. He allowed me to shadow him, taught me about negotiations, and started to invite me to meetings, instead of just trying to use me because of the people I knew. I was doing my thing and making a name for myself but I was letting people get in my ear saying “You can’t make a career out of throwing parties. Oh you just going to be a party promoter all your life?” I got a job at State Farm working in the claims office for stability, but still had the passion for music and nightlife, so if there were people who I knew that were doing events and needed assistance I was helping here and there.

When I was in Philly I would always tell my guy Pesos, who was also my coworker at the time, that Philly was missing something and that I wanted to do something there, and he would encourage me to do it. He introduced me to HBK, AMH, and Paperz. The turning point for me was when I wasn’t getting a raise based on people not liking me instead of my work performance. That rubbed me the wrong way, so I put in my two weeks after my homie contacted me for help with marketing and branding for his brand Rare Addiction. I felt like if I didn’t leave at that moment, I wasn’t going to leave, especially when my coworkers told me that once the benefits start kicking in after two years you get more comfortable.

Then I linked up with Jamie, who’s a DJ and my business partner for 6ix 8ight, to throw a lite event in Philly called Between Us in 2014 at Jerry’s Bar in Northern Liberties. For a while, to have a good time you had to go to New York or DC. It’s like we didn’t feel safe in the spots that had the music we wanted to hear, but then when we went downtown the spots were nice, but they didn’t play the music we wanted to hear. There was nothing in the middle, so we decided to give folks from Philly another option to have fun instead of going out of the city. It snowed the day we had the event, but the people came and in droves. It was to the point where there was a line outside and we couldn’t let people inside. The next event we did was The Recipe at Barra Rossa which was my favorite jawn because of how organic it was.

RW: What were some things that you learned before creating 6ix 8ight that you used for your business currently?

NH: It goes back to when I was in the hospitality industry. I was working as a bartender / server at Ruby Tuesday’s and this general manager named Ernest Jones was teaching me how to get into management. The one thing he said that stuck with me was “Whether it’s a restaurant or an event you’re throwing, look at it as your home. Treat it as if you’re having a get together at your house. When you do that, you pay attention to the lighting, the mood people are in, if there’s trash on the ground pick it up. Do what you need to do because it’s a reflection of you.” That mindset made me focus on the consumer. With the DJ’s, we didn’t like having an opener and closer because we didn’t want it to be a hierarchy. Let’s get DJs who are kind of similar but can work together sonically. We also didn’t want to do VIPs because most of the times when you think of that it’s roped off, elevated and looking down at people. We didn’t like that mindset, because you’re not better than anyone else. We’re all here just to have a good time and vibe.

RW: How did 6ix 8ight come about and who’s a part of the team?

NH: 6ix 8ight came from both me and Jamie graduating from Morehouse, I graduated in ’06 and he graduated in ’08.  There’s been a lot of people who have joined our team or contributed like Brittany Norman, Ciara Lambert, Imani Briscoe, Pesos and of course the DJs who spin at our events.

RW: You’ve worked with a plethora of DJs; HBK, whom you have been rocking with since your days at Animal House, Caution, Na$h, Acktive, Matthew Law, Don Will, Kendollaz, and Greg Nitty. What do you think is the most unappreciated thing about the DJs in Philly?

NH: How skilled they are. Going to other cities and hearing other DJs make me appreciate Philly DJs much more, I feel like we have the best DJs. DJ Jazzy Jeff, Questlove, Drama, and Cannon, even folks who wanted to get into DJ culture tapped into Philly. Philly can be so hard on you that when you go to other cities, they appreciate it. A lot of the DJs mess with us because they can play what they want at our events as opposed to having to play the same thing at different clubs. If we’re hearing the same thing you hear on the radio all the time, then what’s the point? You’re a DJ, you’re supposed to introduce us to new shit and rock a crowd. I think that was something they appreciated from us.

RW: I agree that Philly does have the best DJs! But then again, I’m biased because I went to Temple and saw a lot of them like Bobby Flowers, Taaj, Hvnlee, and Kingspy spinning on campus. I always appreciated their skills, ear for music and commitment to their craft and to see years later them becoming some of the go to people for the city’s nightlife and events is dope to me.

NH: That was the other thing, they’ll practice with each other and have these friendly challenges with one another, and I’m like “why not put that on display?”

RW: HBK and AMH said that the current DJs are tighter than they were in the past, and I’ve seen you attend events by other curators like Shaq’s Issa Whine, Na$h’s International Bounce, and Taaj’s All Love Block Party. Do you believe the same thing can be said for relationships between event curators?

NH: We’re human so there’s always going to be certain elements of jealousy, but it’s never any hostility towards one another. People always say Philly has this crab in a barrel mentality, but my thing is what are we doing to change it. Instead of talking about it let’s change the narrative, let’s help each other out and support. If you want to change the culture it has to start with you and the people around you.

RW: There’s a constant theme for 6ix 8ight events and that’s R&b music and nostalgic flair, especially U+Me+RNB, which has successfully grown over the past six years. What is it about your love for R&B music that makes these events work so well?

NH: It was a good starting point because it was hard to get venues, especially being Black and seeing stuff on the news with violence going on in the city, especially after the clubs. Then they would try to get us to do a dress code and I wasn’t with that. People are either coming from work having to be in dress clothes all week and it’s not like folks from the hood don’t have dress clothes. That’s not going to change someone getting shot or not, but the difference between us and a lot of people is that our demographic had people with careers. Not just jobs, but careers, meaning they have something to lose. So stepping on someone’s foot won’t spark up a fight to lose a job at a law office. Then with R&B and it being sensible with women didn’t seem as threatening, it was a good way to introduce it. U+Me+RNB came up because I was thinking about something and AMH and HBK were thinking about something, and I was like were probably going to hire them anyway so we might as well come together.

RW: Are there any U+Me+RNB parties that stick out to you the most?

NH: We were just talking about this not too long ago! [laughs] So to me, there’s three that do it. The one at Punchline was the one that really turned the corner. Shout to Asyia Ahmed,  who was the general manager at Punchline that gave us the opportunity to throw the event there and to build a relationship with Live Nation, since that was one of their venues. Trocadero was another one that took us to another level. Also the first time at The Filmore when we brought out our first artist, which was Lloyd.

RW: You guys have also been able to bring out R&B artists such as Lloyd, Mario, Khelani, Lil Mo, Ashanti and even Lucky Daye. What is their reaction to this popular event by 6ix 8ight?

NH: They’re shocked, to be quite honest with you, not only that it’s a good time but that we also can do numbers without them. With Lloyd and Mario, we promoted the artist but we then didn’t want to be artist-based. Like now people expect an artist, but you really never know, and we didn’t want people to decide if they were going to come based on if they liked the artist or not. Our thing was keeping that experience and making the DJs, AMH and HBK, the stars of the show. Like at times I know it can be frustrating for them because financially it doesn’t always work, but for me it’s choosing to look at the big picture. Building the brand out, keeping the same business model and having the money come from sponsorships and everything like that and the surprises just changes the game.

RW: What do you think Philly’s night life has to offer that other cities like New York and DC may not be able to offer?

NH: Opportunity. Those cities understand our value and the value of the Black dollar. Having a different feel to it, especially when we get opportunities in certain venues. We’re connecting with the people and introducing them to different venues in the city and showing their potential. Like I said from the start, it’s about giving another option. We know you’re going to still go to New York or DC, but here’s another option that’s home grown.

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