A little over a year ago, a couple of relatively unknowns in the Boston club/party scene held an event at Savvor Lounge on a Friday night. Although the event was free, it was a sell out affair; the venue quickly reached its capacity. Some of you may think selling out a free event is a given but trust me, it's not. I've been to my fair share of free events that never even got halfway full, but that's neither here or there. What is here or there, is that the success of that first event and the plethora of events that have followed transformed those unknowns into heavy hitting, movers and shakers of the Boston nightlife industry. Ballot Entertainment (actually pronounced 'bah-loo', yes you've all been saying it wrong, myself included) may have had a humble beginning, but the heights they've reached in such a short amount of time is anything but. With the hopes of sharing their story and future endeavors with the masses, I was lucky enough to be granted the opportunity to sit down and converse with the men behind B.ENT. Check out the insightful conversation below!
ItsLitBoston: Give me a brief summary of where you grew up, your living circumstances and what put you onto the path you're on now?
Chris: I grew up in Boston, Roxbury to be exact, right near Jackson Station. Was a Metco student, still am, you can't say was, always will be a Metco student! For those that don't know what Metco is, it's a program in Boston where you take inner city kids and just bring them to different schools. Mine was Brookline High, I had a good experience there and then went to Emmanuel College. But I've always been a people person, I always wanna do stuff for the people so I linked up with my boy Duke, who is the founder of Ballot Entertainment. We both turn up, so we figured we might as well do something different for the city and try to make it a little more professional and a little bit more classy.
Duke: I'm a project kid. Grew up in the Bronx, NY, Castle Hill Projects. A lot of people are familiar with that spot. Got people like Kemba Walker that came out of there, French Montana's always around the way, J.Lo etc.. But yea, I come from a very poor neighborhood, all there was to do was play ball so that's what I did. Hit a growth spurt and ended up being pretty good at it and ended up earning a scholarship to Emmanuel College. Did my thing there, had a few accolades, ended up on the wall. But yea, main reason I'm here is because I really pushed myself. They say it takes a village to raise a kid and I feel like my community did a really good job of keeping me out of bad things that were going on around me, keeping me focused on basketball and on school. My family definitely did a good job, I was raised by a single Mom, Grandparents and my Uncles. They were into some stuff and they would never let me get into any of it because they saw a lot of potential in me. They wanted me to do good and do good for the family, and do things that they didn't have the opportunity to do. So yea, that's what brings me here today. I'm just grinding, tryna make them proud you know.
How did you guys meet? And what made you decide to come together and begin the endeavor known as Ballot Entertainment?
Chris: We always used to turn up in college, like that's been my Bro since before any of this started you know what I mean? He was the one that actually introduced me to school. He was the one who made me actually go to Emmanuel, he kinda just showed me the game. But yeah, we got together and were just like yo, we should throw some events you know what I mean? We wanna basically make a platform for Boston, cuz Boston's got a lot of talent. So that's another thing, we wanna get into clothing, music, spoken word, basically just to shed light on different talent. With that mindset, we just started going.
Duke: Chris was a ball player, we came across each other just playing ball at the gym and stuff like that. He just seemed like a real, cool, down to earth dude you know what I mean? There's not too many Black people on campus and within the Black community there's beef with other people off of pettiness cuz it's college, he was just one of those people that just never really beefed with anybody. He's a couple years younger than me so I guess he looked at a lot of the positive things that I was doing. He was about getting his work done, he was raised in a good household, so we were doing a lot of the same things cuz we were just in college tryna get our education and really get shit done. I actually hit rock bottom when I graduated, I ain't have a place to live, I was homeless. Chris and our boy Theo, they opened up their dorm room to me, I would stay there sometimes. After that I ain't really see him as just a friend, it was like yo, you're like my brother. But after that, I started Ballot Entertainment in the basement of my girlfriend's house. We kinda just threw it together, and then her best friend's boyfriend, he had some money and he wanted to invest it somewhere so I brought the idea to him first. But it just didn't go anywhere; he just wasn't as adamant about it as I was, he wasn't as serious, it wasn't his passion. So yea after that, I just took a step back and started really thinking about who can I trust with this information and who would really help me get this off the ground. And I think one day I had stopped by his Chris' crib and was just like yo, I got this dope idea, what do you think? And he was like yo, I know a lot of people who would enjoy that. He gave me his input and actually added to my initial idea. We put our heads together and that's when we really came up with B.ENT, went downtown to the city council, got the paperwork done, and got registered as a partnership. And the next step is getting registered as an LLC, but there's a big plan for all that so we can go to the next question (lol).
What's the story behind choosing that name? Is there any particular meaning behind it?
Chris: It's actually a French word, it means sophisticated nerd. So there you go, fun fact.
Duke: Ballot means nerd in french. Nerd basically came from my fraternity, because we were known as like the nerds with swag, that was like our thing. So I'm like yo, we both graduated college, we're intelligent dudes but I didn't want to say Nerd Entertainment because that made me think of Pharrell. So I was like yo, let's mix in some kind of sophisticated name or whatever. So that's when I came up with Ballot. And then it was actually my girl who was like: "Ballot Entertainment.. BENT!" And I was like BENT, that's what it is! So then I brought it to Chris and he was like yo, that's dope, let's keep it.
On the surface, you guys look like typical party promoters. But I know y'all see yourselves as more than that. What do you think sets you apart or makes you different from the average party promoters?
Chris: How we carry ourselves and what we decide to put our name on. Those are two very important keys to how we move. We're not tryna hop on everybody's event. Also we don't want everybody hopping on our events. We respect what everybody is doing, we see what everybody is doing. We watch; we really analyze the game. I would say that's what sets us apart: picking and choosing our events, what we wanna be on and what we wanna do. We have complete control of that.
Duke: Um, I don't think we could ever be considered typical party promoters because first and foremost, we're official. We got the documents signed, we went Downtown, we really got shit done to make our name official and actually build on the business. People have the luxury in this day and age to just make an IG, get a ton of followers and just say this is popping, this is what I'm doing. But nobody is really taking the necessary steps to secure their business long term. We really wanted to get that done and now we're not having conversations with other promoters; we're having conversations with owners because they respect us as a business. Secondly, we don't hang with other promoters anymore (lol). We kinda had to separate ourselves because we saw A LOT of shady shit going on in the industry and been through a lot of shady situations. And that's just not our style. Thirdly, I would say the quality of our events. As soon as you walk through the door of a B.ENT event, you know it's something different. We will walk around the whole party to make sure everyone is good before we even take a seat or turn up.
What do you think is the secret to your success? Because y'all haven't been doing this too long, and promoters usually struggle to get people to come out, and Boston is a very finicky city, yet you're consistently selling out your events. How?
Chris: Word of mouth. Granted we're still building, but a lot of our parties, from the very first one, we just literally told our friends. It was genuine love, and people came out. And we've been able to capitalize of that because we've gotten contact information from the majority of people that have attended our events. So we've got an email list of over 1000 people, and that's just emails. That's not counting IG, Facebook or text messages. Also, for getting the word out we have like two different crowds. Like Duke is an Alpha, so he has a whole Alpha connection, he has the whole Greek crowd on lock. And that is everywhere we go, cuz there's Alphas everywhere you go (lol). And on top of that with me, I'm from Boston. I know a good amount of people and I'm kinda connected. So its different crowds that we're bringing together and it works.
Duke: I mean we've had a few hiccups in the past with events. I wanna say within the first year of doing this, out of like 20 events we've thrown, we had 3 that didn't go well, like what we envision as well. And what we learned from those Ls we took and one of the most important things to remember is timing. You wanna know what other events are going on; you're not gonna see us do a B.ENT Friday when DJ Khaled is in town. We pay very close attention to the calendar. Also we're very strategic in the way we market. If you go on a typical promoters' page you'll just see flyers and... just flyers (lol). We mix it up and entertain people; we're an entertainment company. We throw up funny stuff, stuff on Monday to motivate people, throwback posts to connect with people from our era. It's a lot of things we do to draw people in, and then we hit them like BOOM: this is what's going on, you know what I mean?
What do you think your guests appreciate most about your events? What makes them keep coming back?
Chris: I'm not gonna lie, our DJs are definitely a plus. Umm, in Boston I've.. nah I'm not gonna disrespect (lol) but I just think that our DJs do a really good job. And it's consistent. People know that when TGIF and Amero (Shoutout to DJ Amero!) are spinning, they already know it's gonna be a good night. We do a good job of getting the word out, sometimes it's a little slower than other times, but it always ends up selling out so we good. Also, all our events have been clean, no fights! So that's a plus because everyone is coming in with good vibes and they feel safe.
Duke: I would say the fact that they feel free. We're in a market where it's kinda like nobody wants to jump out their shell, nobody wants to come out and say: 'Hey this party is dope as shit, I'm having a good ass time!'. Because you look stupid, you say that in the club and they'll look at you like: who's mans is this, get him outta here (lol). But people appreciate that we show em an experience to where they can just come out their shell and you know, whine on a person or two. The fellas appreciate the good looking women we bring out. Dudes feel comfortable talking to girls because they know how to speak to women in a respectable manner. We recruit dudes that are just as educated as us, they are a spitting image of who we are, if not better. So the females appreciate that. It's kinda like we're lowkey playing Tinder in the party (lol). Also, we're very hands on with our work. If there's something a guest can't do financially, we'll put our neck out there. We'll get em a free table or we'll sponsor the table, or we'll even like let their whole party of 10 when they were only supposed to have like 4. Money isn't the biggest thing with us, we're all about customer service. We wanna serve the people and makes sure everyone is taken care of. And I think, I mean I would hope they appreciate that.
There have been B.ENT events is Boston and New York so far. Are there any plans to spread out further to other states, or even on a global scale?
Chris: Yea, of course. Always looking to expand. We're affiliates of Tablelist. So basically any place they're established, we can throw events at. They trust us because we've thrown solid events for them. We've all broken bread. So yea, the next spot is D.C. Miami. But that's future talk.
Duke: Long term, I won't speak on it specifically but long term definitely on a global scale. Like, definitely. Short term, I would say East coast and The Bay, West coast. So when I say that, I mean we're gonna have a Boston team, NY team, D.C. team, Miami team and Atlanta team. West Coast, we'll have a Vegas team, LA team, Hollywood team, we'll have teams throughout Cali. The ideal goal is to have at least 1 or 2 major events in every major city in the U.S.
What's your end game? Like, paint the big picture of what is the overall goal B.ENT wants to achieve.
Chris: If we could have a nightclub to ourselves, where we don't have to go through anybody to have an event. At our own club, we could throw every single type of event that we want to, from concerts to spoken word events. We have a following in Boston full of people who like to do different things. I have a bunch of friends that don't like to turn up but will go to a spoken word event. I have a bunch of friends who don't like to turn up or go to spoken word events, but will go to a music event. With our own spot, we could really give people options and give them the best possible experience. And that right there is a main goal, like everybody in there man, when you come to a party, I'm tryna see people dancing and having fun. I don't want you on Snapchat all day. I will literally, I have literally grabbed dudes and pushed them on girls cuz they've been staring for 5 minutes. Like, I'll be that guy.
Duke: I mean, there's a few things. I think the biggest picture I could paint, considering the talent Chris and I have together, is for us to own or dominate rather, every aspect of the entertainment industry. That would be through event planning/promotions/marketing, fashion and music. For example, in the music industry we would love to have a record label so we could pull a lot of these artists and give them a platform to showcase their talent. If not a record label then at least be the bridge to the record labels, kinda like an A&R. For fashion, we definitely want to have our own clothing line, that's without a doubt. We wanna start off with urban wear for men, women & children, and then we wanna go into luxury wear for a different type of audience. And then for events, I mean like I said we want a major event in every major city. Put it like this: think of Cochella. Everybody wants to go to Cochella; everybody knows about Cochella. On the East coast, everybody knows about 40oz Bounce and Hennypalooza. We wanna be those guys that are in charge of those types of events. Those types of events that just ring bells, that are just a must go. And of course we want some of the top artists in the industry showing face at these events to really be the icing on the cake to and provide people with that different experience. That's what I would say would be the end game, for right now. It may change along the way!
We're definitely looking forward to seeing what else Ballot Entertainment has in store for the city, as well as the rest of the world! Stay connected with them and lookout for all their upcoming moves by following them on Instagram and Facebook!