For local artist Jeff Garcia, a simple tweet led to a 2am meet-up with the city’s biggest rap star, and a flood of orders for his suddenly red-hot t-shirt design.
For any emerging artist, getting a celebrity endorsement is roughly equivalent to striking gold. And in the age of Twitter, an unknown talent can explode with a simple click of the retweet button.
Local artist Jeff Garcia recently experienced what happens when a mega-star like Drake mobilizes his massive fanbase (3,000,000 Twitter followers and counting) in support of a new piece. For Garcia, it all started with an idea he had for a t-shirt design.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had this crazy love for Aaliyah,” he says of the late R&B starlet. “So I decided to do this tribute collage on her birthday. I was going to release it as a t-shirt around the 10th anniversary of her death, which was last week.”
A few weeks in advance, Garcia printed a limited run of the shirts. Knowing what a huge fan Drizzy is of Aaliyah’s work, Garcia mentioned Drake in a tweet that linked to the design. By some coincidence, the rapper was intrigued enough by the tweet’s wording to check it out. A few emails later, Garcia had a celeb customer.
“The next second, he calls me saying he needs these shirts, like, he needs them—because he shares that same love for Aaliyah, he loves her as much as I do.”
This all went down last July, days before Drake’s OVO Fest at the Molson Amphitheatre. Drake and producer Noah “40″ Shebib were hunkered down late at night in Shebib’s west-end studio, hard at work on Drake’s second album, Take Care.
“We were just two artists working late at night,” Garcia says. “He called me over to his studio around 2 a.m., so I literally just pulled them out of a bag and booted over there on my bike. He told me, ‘Some dudes will let you in,’ and two huge bodyguards let me in. I was just thinking, ‘I really want to get this guy these shirts!’”
Garcia recalls how Drake was so impressed with his signature psychedelic style, he even coined a new phrase to describe it.
“I’m pulling out these shirts and laying them all over their expensive music gear. And they were just buggin’; they wanted all of them. It was really funny, they kept saying these two words: psycho swag. ‘Yo, you’re psycho swag, man!!!’”
Up to that point, most of Garcia’s sales had been made to buyers in Japan and, since each shirt is unique, they retail for $75-$250 US. Obviously, the power of Drake’s Twitter account dramatically changed his business.
“He said, ‘I don’t retweet very often, but man, I saw your shit and I was just like, this is psycho. You’re psycho!’”
“He retweeted [the link], and shit went so viral. Sales were going crazy, from the UK to Oakland to New York. I knew there was going to be a good flow afterwards, because of how influential he is. He’s a tastemaker. I have a special-edition art print of the piece, and he was just like, ‘I want that for my loft, man.’ So I’m gonna deliver it to him.”
Thanks to Drake’s endorsement, the kaleidoscopic Aaliyah tribute is slowly catching on. RapCity host T-RexXx sported it last week on the air, and Garcia has struggled to keep up with demand for the shirts—especially since he was pretty busy to begin with. After spending five years teaching workshops around the city, he recently opened up a proper studio, Halo Halo Village.
Garcia says the Christie and Dupont (#CHP) space is where he now teaches the classes he always wanted to take in art school, but were never offered. And though it’s a home for his otherworldly vision, it also carries a lot of logistical demands, like insurance payments. Drizzy’s unlikely t-shirt purchase helped out on that front as well.
“This new studio is a fully commercial space, and I needed to pay for my insurance, like ASAP. It came as a surprise hit. So I used [the Drake cash] to pay for it. He helped pay for my insurance!”