Grant Gatsby helps bring hip-hop to CD92.9 and the Big Room Bar

Andy Downing
Grant Gatsby

Before the pandemic, Grant Gatsby was heavily involved in booking live hip-hop concerts, both with Everybody Else’s Entertainment, a production company of which he is founder and director, and as a board member with the 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival. But owing to the coronavirus, the last concert that Gatsby helped stage was a March 2020 pull-up-and-park show that featured performers such as Sam Rothstein and Nova, and which took place prior to drive-in concerts briefly becoming a summer sensation amid the ongoing pandemic.

“As far as other events and shows, there have been some opportunities, or things other people were doing out there, but from where I sat, and some other guys I work with, it seemed like too much of a risk,” Gatsby said recently by phone. “If you’re doing it out of pocket and taking on all of the expense, during COVID times it’s been even more expensive and even more risky.

“You know, it’s one thing to throw a 20-person local show with $100 overhead, and another to bring in a touring, ticketed act where you have social distancing and some of these other guidelines. … And I’ve been to some of those shows, and I’ve seen some of the bigger ones [streaming] online … and I’m sitting there watching it like, ‘That’s not even exciting.’ The whole reason I started my company was because of live performances, and the experience one gets going to these seated live shows, or even the pull-up-and-park ones, it’s not the same. … The energy is gone. At least that’s what I see.”

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So instead, Gatsby pivoted more to artist management, noting that in recent years he’d taken a slight step back from concert promotion due to an extended bout with depression and PTSD that started when he was robbed at gunpoint a few years back. Amid this more recent at-home time, though, Gatsby started to formulate a plan to try and bring hip-hop to what was then CD102.5, owing to a friendship he’d cultivated with Randy Malloy in the wake of the one-off Frontstage Fest, of which Gatsby was a co-founder.

“Although [Frontstage Fest] did not pan out, ultimately, Randy really took to me … and we’ve been talking through the years,” Gatsby said.

But, after working out most of the details for his pitch, Gatsby received the news that CD102.5 would be going off of the terrestrial airwaves, pivoting to an online streaming platform, which he viewed as a death knell for his concept. “I felt defeated,” he said, “like, ‘Well, that’s out of the picture now. It’s not gonna happen.’”

But within a matter of weeks, news broke that the independent stationwould be returning to the airwaves as CD92.9, and not long after Gatsby said he received a phone call. “And it was Randy. And he goes, ‘Hey, you’re the hip-hop guru. We want to bring hip-hop to the Big Room,’” Gatsby continued, laughing. “And I couldn’t believe he was calling me after I’d had this idea, and I told him that, and we both thought it was funny that we were already on the same page.”

As a result of these conversations, the weekly series “Hip-Hop at Big Room” was born, with the inaugural edition taking place at 8 p.m. this Friday, Jan. 15. The debut episode featuresDug & Happy Tooth and subsequent editions will feature performers such as Cold Piece of Work,Senseless and members ofNorth City Music Group (the first two songs of each set will be broadcast live on air). Gatsby said the plan is to continue the series every Friday throughout 2021, with early editions taking place in an empty venue owing to COVID-19 (you can still watch the performances viathe station’s YouTube page) with the hopes of opening up for limited seatings as the year progresses.

“Getting that phone call [from Malloy] was really the spark I needed, and it’s really the next step for Everybody Else’s … and for local hip-hop,” Gatsby said. “The station has played Blueprint and Envelope and Illogic off and on for years, and my goal is to bring in more hip-hop. … For Randy to call me like that, it’s really a blessing.”