Last year at this time, I was on the other side of the planet in a man made city that was built over a desert in the Middle East.
I was with Fresh, Dan and the rest of the Kaabi family.
We were all dressed up in our finest suits eating at a New Year’s Gala on Palm Island in Dubai. It was an outdoor engagement that was set up on the beach. Some of the world’s wealthiest people were amongst us. There were giant ice sculptures (mind you we were in a desert), thousands and thousands of lights that lit the sky above us. There were several bands and singers in shiny sparkly dresses dancing and performing.
There was an open buffet of over a 100 different foods from all around the world that included steak, whole lobsters, fishes of all sorts and a dessert table that had trays and trays of macarons and sweets that would easily give you a mouth full of cavities.
The event was sponsored by Perrier Jouet, which brings me to the craziest part of the whole event. Most times when you go to a New Year’s Eve shindig, you might get some complimentary glasses of champagne, or maybe get a free bottle of Bambino at your table, or if you a pay a bit more, maybe you’d have access to an open bar. But because we were in Dubai (the land of beautiful excess) at a party sponsored by Perrier Jouet, we had unlimited bottles of Perrier Jouet at our table. Im talking about, as soon as you sit at the table theres already 2 buckets on your table with 3 bottles each inside it. And as soon as you just got to half the bottle, someone came by and replaced it. Needless to say, we drank til we had headaches. There was obviously an open bar as well.
I remember how overwhelmed I was when I showed up. I had never seen anything like this in my life, nor did I even imagine it.
The first thing I said to myself was, I wish my mother, father, siblings and Julie could be here with me right now. I wished so bad that I could have shared that moment with them.
Everyone was rich. Everyone was beautiful.
Ive never felt so out of place. But I never felt that I belonged so much as well.
Not necessarily because I wanted to be rich or beautiful, but because I never wanted my ability to see beauty and luxury to be limited or to end. I come from humble beginnings. I come from the projects/ government housing. I come from a divorced family. I come from pain. I came from a place where not many of my boys made it. By no means do I have the worst life story, but by no means did I come from a place of fortune.
For the first time, both literally and figuratively, I felt that I had really made it pretty far in life.
When in my life did I ever dream of being in such a place with 2 of my best friends?
As midnight approached, we grabbed our glasses of champagne ran to the shore of the beach. We counted down all together. Fireworks went off in front of us. We shouted happy new years out loud together, shook hands and hugged all the people around us, whether we knew them or not. The fireworks went on for about 20 minutes or so.
I was doing my best to capture the night with my camera. I was taking pictures of the venue, the people, the food, the everything.
But my camera suddenly started acting up.
And somehow deleted everything on the card that I had taken until that point.
I was stressed. The most magical experience in my life would now only be a memory. I would only be able to describe this moment through words now, and if my memory failed…than that was it.
After a few minutes, I accepted my fate.
Maybe it was the world’s way of saying, just enjoy yourself. Live in the moment. Forget remembering. Just live.
All around me were successful people. People that didn’t look particularly special. They looked like regular human beings. No super powers. No capes. Just people. And that to me is always motivation.
Two weeks later, I head back to Toronto where I immediately bumped into misfortunes, mostly that of the financial kind. The failed project at 28 Atlantic with Fresh and Brooklyn really set me back. But after seeing what else the world had to offer me, I refused to let myself refuse the offers.
When there’s a will, theres a way.
Fortunately for me, I am Will.
I quickly got cracking on several projects. Lost Ones, Thursday parties, traveling, photoshoots, Forever Young Ink and Lostinthewillderness. I wanted to have all of those things I saw. I wanted it everything. And I wanted to do everything based on my own merit and my own pockets. As much as it was awesome having friends treat you and showing you the world, I wanted to be able to grant myself that opportunity on my own. And I wanted to be able to grant my family and loved ones that same opportunity.
Amidst my financial issues, I scrapped up some money to head out to LA and Vegas with Fresh, Addy, Rich Kidd and Fellz. New experiences and new scenery motivates me and fuels me. The more I see, the more I understand, the more I want, the more I push. I went to the Magic clothing convention for the very first time ever and drove to the top of the hills in Hollywood where I felt like I was Simba at the top of Pride Rock. Im telling you, your views change your views.
I get back from LA and Vegas and get ready to head to Montreal with DJ Tilt, one of my favorite traveling buddies to do some more shooting.
I get back and I head out to Miami with Julie for Chris Bosh’s birthday where I saw a side of Miami I had never witnessed before and for the first time in my life, I sat in a yacht.
I mean, we were always hustling, but watching “How to Make it America” every week really reminded me of how extraordinary our lives were. Entourage was dope too, but HTMIA really hit home. I really felt like we lived that life. From the clothing lines, to the parties, to the stores to the friends and the situations.
Fresh, Lee, Landlord and I decide to build a series of events and campaigns that celebrate the culture, lifestyle and fashion of Queen West and start throwing monthly parties at our shops. Ive thrown a lot of parties in my time, but in all honesty, I never felt more fulfilled by what we created at the Thursday parties.
Next thing you know, we were holding meet and greets for French Montana, Iggy Azalea, throwing after parties for Casey Veggies. We really felt like some young kings.
One night, Julie tells me she thinks shes pregnant.
Don’t get me wrong, a child is a blessing but like anyone, I got a bit nervous. I obviously started calculating the changes I would have to start making in my life. After weeks and weeks of emotional rollercoasters with Julie where we expressed our concerns and excitement, we finally accepted our future. After we kind of figured out our future, our financial plans, our personal goals, we created a better path for ourselves and for each other.
And don’t get me wrong, a pregnant woman is not easy to handle. We fought almost everyday to a point where we probably dreaded seeing each other. And on several occasions we were going to break up and just raise the child with only one parent at a time.
We couldn’t avoid the arguments. Or the emotional out bursts. But the most important thing that we weren’t able to avoid was the fact that we actually loved each other. Truly.
Love always finds a way.
Knowing that I was about to be a father really shifted me into high gear.
One day Lee says to me, look, I know things are about to change for you. And I want you to have something that will help you. I want to open up this burger joint across the street, but I’d like to do it with you as my partner. Not just my manager. Consider this a gift to your family. Build it right. And use it to raise your family.
Within a few days, Gangster Burger was under construction lead by Lee’s direction, Adrian was working on the menu, Nev, Tyler and Dilan of the Young Astronauts start building the creative for the brand and I was leading everything visual and social.
A few weeks later, I head off to Paris with Dan and Fresh where we were invited by Dwight Freeny, the good folks of Roc Nation and Atlantic Records to see Jay-Z and Kanye perform Niggas in Paris in Paris. Paris is another trip I will never forget. Ive imagined Paris in my mind and dreams as a child, but I never thought I would have ever had the opportunity to experience it like that.
I get back, work on Gangster Burger and Forever Young Ink a bit more and before I can unpack my bags, Im off to Miami again with Ryan to continue tatting Chris. As soon as we get to Miami, we head off on a private jet to a private villa in Turks and Caicos…we spend another 6 days in paradise, surrounded by the bluest water, the whitest sand and water balloons. Lol. It was absolutely beautiful there.
I get back to reality and we kick Gangster Burger into full gear, while still running monthly Thursday parties and dealing with some unforeseen issues at FY Ink. The summer is filled with non stop work, day and night, 8 days a week.
To the surprise of most, I retired photography as a job and held a party with the homies to celebrate the end of an era.
I just felt that my love for photography was jaded by the money I was making from it. I no longer loved photography the way I once did. I wasn’t driven by it the same way. I was driven by money and not my passion for the art. And that made me really uneasy.
With my new family coming into fruition, I wanted to build something that could generate income without me personally being there. If I could set up the tattoo shop correctly, it would generate money on its own. If I set up Gangster Burger properly, it would do the same as well.
I would rather take the time away from photography and build something that would allow me more time and freedom to be with my family and actually be a father.
September comes around.
Julie and I finally break the news to our parents about her pregnancy. Our parents are stressed, but at the same time are excited to become grand parents. I take Julie to buy her engagement ring at Avi’s place the following week. I propose to her the next day in front of both our families. It was the first time in a long time I had seen my mother and father in the same room. I hadn’t seen my grand parents in years. Its amazing how love really brings people together.
The following week, we announce her pregnancy to our friends, family and the world. And that it’s a boy.
The following week, Gangster Burger opens and to my surprise, an old friend shows up to bless my new project. Drake.
Most people don’t know this, but within the first 7 days of us opening, Boston Pizza offered Lee and I $1.1 million to buy out Gangster Burger completely. They wanted to relaunch GB in Toronto, open several more locations in North America and retain me as CEO or Director of Strategic Marketing. We obviously said no. Although a $1.1 million cheque after being open for only 7 days is a pretty good deal, it wasn’t worth it in the long run to us. If they were willing to offer us that much that soon, imagine how much its actually really worth right?
They might have understood our worth, but so did we.
A few more weeks and months go by and we’re visited by all of the local celebs, we have the hottest cars parked outside the shop, Waka Flocka comes by and discusses some business plans with me, a whole episode of Rap City is filmed inside GB, Machine Gun Kelly, Complex Magazine writes an article on us, and Hypebeast writes a post on us. Gangster Burger becomes some sort of a little after hours spot where people just come to eat and vibe out to the music we have blasting. In just over 3 months, we have almost 700 hash tagged photos on Instagram, which is pretty damn exciting to me!
As the year winded down, my mind was absorbed by the peculiar idea of me becoming a father and a husband. Julie and I put together a baby shower where for the first time in a long time we had all of my closest friends and family in one room, and they were all there to celebrate our love and what it had produced.
I finished painting my son’s room, which is also our room for the time being. The crib is up, the stroller is assembled and everything’s been organized. We’re ready for parenthood and just want this kid to come out already.
For the past few days, Ive been staring at the crib for a few minutes at a time, imagining my son laying in there. Imagining myself carrying him, hushing him to sleep. Thinking about how it wont be too long until he jumps into my bed on Christmas morning asking if he could open his presents yet. Him pawing my face telling me to wake up. Helping me shovel the drive way. Driving him to his first day of school. His first role in a play. Coming home telling me he made the team. Telling me how much he loves his mother and I. Me teaching him how to shave. Me teaching how to smooth talk with the ladies. Lol.
I’ve moved in with Julie for the past month or so now and had my mother come by yesterday to look at the room and all the stuff we and our friends have bought for Benjamin. I had my mom go through the box of clothes we have for him. Seeing the joy in my mother’s face will be something I will never forget. My mom told me how fortunate Julie, Benjamin and I are. She said when she had me, she just got to Canada. She barely spoke English, didn’t have a job or any real friends. My parents were broke and were carrying me on and off the bus through the winters. She didn’t have her mother around to help her raise me. She only had a few outfits for me that she kept washing over and over so I would have something to wear. She didn’t have all these gadgets, a crib or anything that we got. She told us we’re really blessed.
My mom always says “You wont understand what Ive taught you until the day you become a father. You’ll understand when you worry about your child. If hes home and safe. If he ate. If he’s dressed warm. If he does well in school. If hes following a bad crowd of friends. You think Im just nagging, but try raising a child on your own. You’ll understand how hard this was and what Im saying then.”
Its not that Ive never understood her, but I sure think about about all this stuff a lot more nowadays.
Thinking back at the beginning of last year and how things are now, its kind of crazy. Its crazy when you think about how much you can change, mature, progress and learn in 12 months.
2012 was an amazing year for me. Although I had my fair share of headaches, every great thing comes with a high price tag and I accept that.
Im looking forward to the new year, fatherhood, marriage, a new home, growth of Gangster Burger and Forever Young Ink and the relaunching of Lost In The Willderness.
Im wishing everyone a happy new year. Let us forget and leave behind whatever pains and struggles we had in 2012. Let 2013 bring you all good fortune, happiness and health. You only get once chance to live this life, so live it to its fullest. Travel the world, go somewhere new, fall in love, make new friends, eat new foods and spend more time with your families.
And thank you to everyone who has made this year amazing for me. Special shouts to my fiance, Julie, our families, Fresh, Dan, Lee the FY Ink crew, Addy, Landlord, Sid, Adrian, Avi, Chris, Adrienne, Geno, Vince, Sherwin, Monika, Moe and Seven, John, Gerald, Nev and Tyler, Dilan, Dame, the Gangster Burger crew, Jorje, Jigga, Rahmuhl, Bruce, the Proper Reserve crew, the Kaabi family, Bry, Brock, T-RexXx, Drake, Mickey, Vasco, Drex, Gavin, Milana, Lola, Ashley, Karla, DJ Tilt, Jack, David from Banh Mi Boys, Alan of IQ foods, DJ Dark Knight, Ricky of Chronic Ink, Michael Nguyen, the Society crew from Boston and everyone else who's supporting me and the my projects. Thank you so much.
Peace and Love.
T’s and O’s.