Tika Simone on expanding The Known Unknown brand across borders
When artists are auditioning for their big break, it’s usually in front of a large audience with a star studded panel of judges and showcased on TV. It was refreshing to see how The Known Unknown held auditions. In a downtown Toronto basement, with a few spotlights, fold up chairs and one microphone, artists had to impress the event’s creator, Tika Simone. Sitting in a majestic looking red chair fit for a queen, she doesn’t hold anything back, constantly saying, “real shit” and telling artists auditioning her one rule, “don’t give me no bullshit and I won’t give you no bullshit.”
Simone started the pop-up event series six years ago to showcase local talent, first under the name Intimate & Interactive. Not only has it evolved its name over the years, but also it has extended online as a blog, and crossed borders – currently held in Toronto, as well as New York. Urbanology Magazine caught up with Tika to find out about her vision, and her expansion.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE WITHIN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY? It’s really quite simple. I self-appointed myself the head of my own business. People categorize me as a tastemaker, someone who more or less tells the truth about how she feels about talent.
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO CRITICIZE EMERGING ACTS? I’ve been doing this for such a long time and I’ve watched forever. I feel like nobody ever takes the time to tell anybody the truth anymore. Ever. It’s never my place to tell anybody that it’s not for you, because there is a place for everybody. It’s more or less what you want to do. I’m usually the truth teller to what I think is going to happen to you.
Every time I do a show, I look into the artist’s eye and see a sense of want and desire. They want it so bad, but they have no idea what it is they want. I care because I would hope that people would care enough about me to do the same. – Tika Simone
WHY DO YOU CARE? Every time I do a show, I look into the artist’s eye and see a sense of want and desire. They want it so bad, but they have no idea what it is they want. I care because I would hope that people would care enough about me to do the same. I was raised in a very interesting household where I was always told the truth, no matter what. I got very comfortable with that and I feel like a lot of people around here are very uncomfortable with the truth. I think it’s important for all of us to be ourselves, be individuals and carry on. I’m not here to tear anybody down. I don’t do this for fun so I don’t expect anybody to audition for fun.
WHAT GIVES YOU SATISFACTION WHEN YOU’RE CRITIQUING ARTISTS AUDITIONING IN FRONT OF YOU? It gives me satisfaction to know that people respect a sense of honesty. I don’t have anything to lose or gain by having a conversation about your performance. You came here because you really think that you can get to a place and you want to know. Anybody that tells me that they’ve never heard that I’m critical, that I’m a bitch, that I’m all these things, is a liar. I know that they know. That’s what they’re coming here for. It’s no surprise, it’s no shock. I’m the only person that does that shit around here.
HOW HAS THE KNOWN UNKNOWN GROWN? Back in the day we didn’t have a blog so there was really no way to keep everybody connected. It was more word of mouth or strictly on Facebook. It’s grown a lot in terms of online presence and connecting with other people overseas. We don’t just blog about local talent, we blog about people from all over the world who are known, but not necessarily known, known. They have a great video that’s gone partially viral, but we try to give people on the cusp an extra push.
YOU’VE EXPANDED YOUR BRAND AND PUT ON A SHOW IN NEW YORK, HOW DO YOU THINK IT WENT? I had a very successful show in New York with Lil’ Mo. That was my first big headliner. She did my show and it was packed. That was a great experience for me, because I don’t know anybody over there, but I was able to put it together by using my media contacts. I really used my personality to connect and put on a pretty darn good show. It was a great experience from top to bottom.
Without failure there is no success, I’ve experienced failure many times. – Tika Simone
WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN DISCOURAGED IF THE SHOW WASN’T A SUCCESS? No. Because without failure there is no success, I’ve experienced failure many times.
WHAT WAS THE IDEA ABOUT EXPANDING TO A BRAND NEW MARKET? I want to be able to offer a larger platform to people here (Toronto). That’s it. I think it’s time to move on. I don’t want to move on from The Known Unknown, but I want to expand and offer more support so I was able to have two or three Torontonian acts perform at the New York show. I think New York is wonderful, I feel like they have a lot of talent, but we have some gems.
WHAT DO YOU SEE KNOWN UNKNOWN DOING IN THE FUTURE TO FURTHER EXPAND? I don’t know. I’m a very fly by the seat of my pants [type of person]. I’m still myself, a creative individual. As a person I’m all over the place, but I have a good team of people that keep me structured. Continuing to do more shows in New York and making that a staple. Trying to make the name more of a household name, getting more consistent with the blog and keep structure for the next little while is my goal. I like to keep my goals simple.
Interview By. Cameron Da Silva + Photo Courtesy Of. Ishmil Waterman