Basement party grows and packs Barclays Centre

The D'usse Palooza hip-hop event has grown from an East Harlem house party attended by barely 50 people to an event that drew 9,000 to Barclays Centre (left) in New York last month, while expanding to more than a dozen US cities.
The D'usse Palooza hip-hop event has grown from an East Harlem house party attended by barely 50 people to an event that drew 9,000 to Barclays Centre (left) in New York last month, while expanding to more than a dozen US cities.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Mr Kameron McCullough and Mr Nile Ivey were having a rough year.

Mr Ivey, a DJ and music blogger, had been laid off from his job at BET Networks. Mr McCullough had been fired from his job at media company Conde Nast just a few months after being evicted from his apartment.

It was December 2012 and the two friends hatched a plan to simultaneously wash away their troubles and usher in a more buoyant 2013. They settled on hosting a small game night.

They planned to keep the invite list short, ensure that it included plenty of women and inform attendees that gaining entry required two things: a bottle of Hennessy cognac and a bucket of fried chicken.

"It's going to be a Henny Palooza," Mr McCullough recalls one friend joking.

Seven years later, the event - now known as D'usse Palooza - has grown from an East Harlem house party attended by barely 50 people to an event that drew 9,000 to Barclays Centre in Brooklyn last month, while expanding to more than a dozen American cities.

The party attracts thousands of fans every year, a group that includes professional athletes, music industry luminaries, sports journalists and hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper.

"It's the best party in America," the late Reginald Osse, a podcaster and one-time Source magazine editor known as Combat Jack, once declared.

The event's new name is the product of a multimillion-dollar deal with Jay-Z, the music star and entrepreneur. Mr McCullough, 34, and his team have entered into a rare partnership with Jay-Z's music label, Roc Nation. As a result, cognac brand D'usse, which the rapper is an investor in, now sponsors the event.

Although Hennessy figured in the party's origins and some people who attend still call it Henny Palooza, neither Mr McCullough nor any of his colleagues has ever had any affiliation with, or the consent of, the cognac's maker, Moet Hennessy USA corporation.

But the liquor brand that gave the party its original name was not the most important ingredient in its early success. It was the energy and spirit behind it.

Three months after the first game night, the organisers held a second event at an art gallery in the Lower East Side.

The location was kept secret until hours beforehand. An e-mail invitation from one of the hosts - plus chicken and liquor, of course - was required for entry. The goal was to keep the crowd at the 100-person estimate Mr McCullough had promised the gallery's owner.

"More than 250 people showed up," Mr McCullough said.

By the end of 2013, he and the other organisers had expanded, hosting their first out-of-town event in Washington during Howard University's homecoming. By 2014, attendance at the party had nearly tripled. More than 600 people packed a venue in the Lower East Side for one event and the first international version was held in Toronto.

When the party returned to Howard in October 2014, word of mouth was so strong that rap artists Wale and Pusha T showed up unannounced and performed. Pusha T called it the best party he had been to in years.

In 2015, thanks in part to chatter on Twitter, the event began touring the United States. Parties were held in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans, and New York fans were kept happy with several events in Brooklyn.

Mr Cory Townes, a DJ, writer and one-time D'usse Palooza host who lives in Brooklyn, began attending the parties in 2013.

"Here was an event where you might see people on TV or the blogs, go to a 'Palooza and then run into those exact people at the party," Mr Townes, 32, said.

In autumn 2015, the organisers started having talks with Roc Nation. Jay-Z had been hearing about the parties and was eager to learn more.

Mr McCullough and members of his team - including Mr Ivey, 37, and Mr Benner Hall, who had recently joined as chief operating officer - met Roc Nation's senior vice-president Lenny Santiago at the company's offices in the garment district.

A D'usse representative placed a pen and pad on a table and asked for a number, Mr McCullough said.

"We asked for too much money," he said with a laugh. "We weren't ready."

He and his colleagues announced in 2018 that they had entered a partnership with D'usse.

The D'usse Palooza team now has an annual budget for producing events. Roc Nation does much of the work that Mr McCullough and his colleagues previously handled, including booking venues, hiring staff and brokering deals with performers.

For the event at Barclays Centre last month, Mr McCullough had worked with an operating budget of "about US$500,000 (S$673,000)".

"From the basement to the Barclays," Mr Ivey said as he sat in the arena hours before the doors were scheduled to open.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2020, with the headline 'Basement party grows and packs Barclays Centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe