Don Diva: First things first, who are you Wally? Where do u come from and how was your life growing up? What about your family?
Wally: I am the Creator and Executive Producer of Urban Grind TV, Co-Executive Producer of The Booth Radio, and Creative Director for Urban Grind Lifestyle Magazine. I am a veteran, a husband, a father, and a law student. Really I am just a kid from Chicago that loves Hip-Hop. I was born in Chicago and spent my childhood in the Pilsen neighborhood and on the Southside of Chicago. I had a fairly normal life growing up in the hood with the exception of working in my family’s auto repair shop at a very young age. I was sweeping floors, washing cars, and answering phones by the time I was 9 years old. I worked under the supervision of my grandfather Smokey who started the family business from nothing after hitchhiking to Chicago at the age 16 from the South. He had no family here, no money, and very little formal education. He was a self made man, a veteran, and a hustler. Watching him is how I learned the Grind and developed my passion for business. Working at “The Shop” was a safer alternative than the neighborhood streets and I enjoyed making a few bucks to spend at the corner store with my friends.
DD: As a youth were you involved in any gangs while growing up in Chicago? If so which one?
WL: I am a 80s baby that survived the 90s, I lost a lot of good friends to the senseless violence that plagues Chicago even today. People would get killed over street beefs all the time, so I tried not to get involved in anything that was not about business or my family. I learned as a young man that the most important thing you need to have in order to survive in the streets is Respect. People will kill you to for it and they are willing to die to get it. You need to carry yourself with respect and treat others accordingly. It is important to be mindful of not only what you say, but also how you say it. A simple misunderstanding could cost someone his or her life.
DD: Can you describe your experience while serving in the Army during that time in 2002? Were you deployed overseas?
WL: I am proud of my service to my country; it was a powerful experience that has left a positive impression on my life. Most people I knew my age were out clubbing and having a good time after high school while I was out training and spending months in the field. I was not deployed overseas while I was on active duty, but my unit was eventually deployed to the Middle East after I was honorably discharged and had moved back to Chicago.
DD: What was your inspiration for building Smokey Studios?
WL: I wanted to do something for my family; I built my recording studio with my life savings when I returned home to Chicago after my time in the Army. I didn’t have much but I invested every dollar that I had at the time in music equipment to start my studio. My wife is an incredible singer who has been performing with her father in a band since she was a young girl. I wanted to help her record an EP, around the same time a friend from high school contacted me and wanted me to help him put a project together. This was the perfect opportunity for me to combine my love of music with my passion for business. I didn’t choose the game, the game chose me. I formed a production company and eventually a record label. We did all of the recording and music production in house, artist development, and our own booking. We had a nice selection of talent on the label from Hip Hop, Rap, R&B, Latin Rock, and Reggaetone artists. We had 5-6 solo artists, 2-3 groups, and even back up dancers. This time was a lot of fun and cost me a good deal of money. I grew up in this music business and I would not trade my experiences for anything. DD: While you were running your record label what happened when you suddenly shifted into a different market. What was that moment when u realized, “I’m going into media”?
WL: My record label was working hard putting on shows, producing music videos, TV commercials, and short films for our artists. It seemed like a constant fight to get the directors to deliver the product the way that I wanted it, even when we did finish the project the next battle was, what do I do with it now. How do I get it to them? At this time YouTube was in its infancy and music blogs were not very common. MySpace was the place where most people were putting their music. I saw a demand that was not being met locally; I saw a market full of indie artists with incredible talent and no organized support. There were plugs out there but everything was who do you know? What can you do for them? I created the studio and record label for my family, but the TV Show was for the completely for the City. It was for the Chicago industry, our contribution to give something back. Urban Grind TV was something that I created as a completely selfless gesture, this is probably the reason that things worked out the way they did.
DD: What was the biggest learning experience transitioning from the music business to television and radio?
WL: There have been many opportunities to learn from my experiences along the way. I am firm believer in not making other people’s mistakes, drawing knowledge by listening to other people’s stories. I always found the true lessons learned in life are not from success stories but from people’s failed attempts at something. It’s important to draw from their experience and save yourself the trouble. Each market, each platform television, radio, or a print magazine is unique and requires its own nurturing and support to succeed. I have a complete vision for each entity and they each have a team dedicated to ensure their success.
DD: In 2009 you launched your own cable television show Urban Grind TV. How has the show grown in the past 7 years? Syndication? Awards?
WL: We launched the show to provide a viable platform for entertainers, I never imagined that it would take off the way it did. It has completely changed my life for the better. We have been on television for over 7 years producing 15 seasons of programming. That is a brand new 1-hour TV show every week featuring music, entertainment, industry events, sports, and new music videos. We can be seen on Comcast Cable 25 in Chicago every Wednesday night 11pm and online at UrbanGrindTV.com. We recently picked up syndication in 66 western suburbs of Chicago on Comcast Channel 19 Friday nights at midnight. All of the cities and times are available on our website. Our TV show has amassed 10 awards over the last 15 seasons, winning Chicago’s Best TV Show, Best Music TV Show, and Best Media Supporter. We are honored and humbled with each accolade that we receive.
DD: Do you enjoy producing television more than running your own record label?
WL: I truly enjoy the music business, helping artists and label owners break new music in different markets. I enjoy the creative process from concept to completion; it doesn’t matter if it is for NBC, Fuse TV, or the History Channel. They each come with their own set of challenges. It has been a lot of fun working on The Booth Radio our weekly radio show hosted by DJ MH2DA. The Booth Radio Show gives us more time with guests and we get to mix it up with the other hosts on the show. We have secured radio syndication in different markets across the country and distribution for the magazine.
DD: Currently you are in your second year of law school, TV producer, husband, father, and businessman. How do you balance work life and home life?
WL: That is truly the secret to life and I am in the process of still refining my methods. Its all about balance and teamwork, you are only as good as your supporting cast in any relationship. I have learned to empower and support others to become leaders in their industry. This allows me more time to do what needs to be done.
DD: If you were forced to choose between an important business meeting and an important family gathering, which would you, choose? Why? You can only pick one.
WL: Every single situation is unique and takes some thought and consideration. I can tell you that over the last 15 years I missed out on a lot of family events and gatherings. I was either on the road traveling or producing a big project, my family already knows that I am working and I will make it there if I can. Fortunately, I have an extremely dedicated and talented team that can handle business if I have to leave early or be somewhere else. Most of the time I can do both. The day my son was born, I had a big event that I had organized. He came early so we were not expecting him to be born before the show. My wife and baby boy were both healthy and stable, so I went to my show and took care of business. Soon as the event was over I was right back at the hospital. Life is what you make it and if it is important to you then you make time for it.
DD: If you were to give an aspiring rapper/producer/dj advice on making it what would your advice be?
WL: Everyone has their own definition of success, I would first find out what they aspire to be. Then I would make sure that person knows who they are and what they really want out of this business. It can be a struggle with some artists to identify their sound and what they want their music to say. Once that person knows where they’re going we can help them get there, sometimes Chicago is not the best market to break them. That can be a hard pill for people to swallow but it’s true, you might have to pop somewhere else before you do here. No matter where you are trying the work the most important thing is to get your business in order. I mean take care of that paperwork, set yourself up for success. You have to monetize your brand if you want to reap a financial benefit from it. Most people don’t cut their own hair or fix their own car, so why would you want to manage your career by yourself? There are knowledgeable people out there willing help like Urban Grind TV.
DD: What do you have coming up in 2017 for Urban Grind TV?
WL: We have a lot of great things in the mix, probably our biggest moves ever. All you have to do is follow us @UrbanGrindTV on all social media and share the experience with us. I am talking networks, DVDS, tours, and apparel.
DD: Where can we go to get content from Urban Grind TV??
WL: You can go to UrbanGrindTV.com for episodes of the TV and Radio shows and UrbanGrindLifestyle.com for your free copy of the magazine. The magazine features exclusive interviews and behind the scenes content. You can Google us or watch the show on YouTube whichever platform you prefer.
DD: Do you have any shout outs before I let you go?
WL: I would like to thank you and Don Diva Magazine for allowing me to share my personal story in hopes that it can and will inspire others to overcome their obstacles, pursue their passions, and chase their dreams. My family for the incredible support and the whole Urban Grind TV Team that makes everything possible. Follow our journey @UrbanGrindTV on all social media and our website UrbanGrindTV.com. Download our new interactive magazine Urban Grind Lifestyle Mag at UrbanGrindLifestyle.com. If you trying to work with us call 1-888-380-1913 Hit the Line Up & Get Your Grind Up.
Shout outs to Don Diva Magazine for giving people a voice and a dope platform. #UGTV #UrbanGrindTV #TheBoothRadio