Interviews

The Rise of 6ixBuzz TV From Wasteman Memes to Toronto's Hip-Hop Centre

The creators of the popular Instagram account explain their rise in Toronto's barren media landscape and becoming a voice for the city's youths.

by Jabbari Weekes
12 July 2018, 8:23am

Artwork By John Garrison

Toronto is a special place, a petty place. Aggressive passive-aggression is common currency and the contributions of many a people, neighbourhood or area are regularly challenged, put down, or erased all together so that one can claim superiority over another. All of which can lead to trivial yet eternal arguments such as this: is the suburb of Brampton really a part of Toronto? Twenty-something SB, who asked that his real name not be used, Founder and President of 6ixBuzz TV laughs. “I think anything past ‘Sauga don’t really count. Brampton is Peel Region, but Sauga, Scarborough, North York, York Region that’s pretty much Toronto. Etobicoke is the furthest even. Rexdale counts too.” 6ixBuzz TV Co-owner MB, a couple years his senior is far more diplomatic. “I don’t think it’s up to me [to decide] but Brampton is it’s own city and also a part of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).”

Despite ample physical evidence proving that Brampton is in fact a part of the GTA, it has nevertheless become a running joke on the Toronto-focused hip-hop and entertainment blog 6ixBuzz TV. Numerous “Brampton takes the L” posts populate the page garnering impassioned defenses from Brampton locals like filmmaker Director X that are usually buried by commenters who’d rather ignore the truth. This very Toronto brand of ‘ends’ shaming, that refuses to acknowledge Brampton or, say, Mississauga while asserting dominance of its small borders is something 6ixBuzz instinctively understands. It’s a purely regional, for-us-by-us look at the Greater Toronto Area that shows how the city sees itself in the purest way possible: memes. The account regularly documents different touchstones of Torontonian life, like the miserable daily goings on of our ‘Transit of the Year’-winning public transit service; local artists repetitively flexing in condos and parking lots; and the slow takeover of Canadian geese and their impending civil war with the racoons for the streets. But it’s not all nonsense all the time, the page also covers serious events like police violence and the recent provincial election.

Since its inception last summer, 6ixBuzz has grown from having a sizable youth base to becoming a phenomenon across the city and even country-wide. The 6ixBuzz name itself—not unlike WorldStarHipHop’s heyday—has become a verbal battle-cry of sorts signalling that something in one’s life, good or bad, will likely be shared for the rest of the city to see. And with over 360,000 followers and counting, many of whom include news outlets, politicians, waste yutes, over-active and ‘wutless’ sports IG accounts, and Drake, that’s a few too many witnessing someone at their lowest moments.

Screencap via 6ixBuzz TV

According to SB, a regular day at 6ixBuzz begins in the morning where he and three other bloggers comb through their email submissions and DMs, looking over feeds of artists and social media profiles, local and abroad. The four are in constant rotation, one always monitoring the feed if someone else is on road since they don't have a base of operations yet. Initially, he says the goal was five posts a day but eventually that grew to 15 to 20. “I try to be calculative of the amount of stuff we’re posting... but everyone just spams our DMs with tons of shit so it’s pretty easy to pick up fresh stuff right away,” he says. And the feedback is instant. For example, a random kid from Scarborough using Backwoods rolling paper as a band aid for his finger will garner hundreds of thousand of views in a matter of minutes.

When asked about the rabid fanbase and growth of the account, MB, now accustomed to regularly hearing passersby screaming “6IXBUZZ!” in public, says he didn’t completely understand it at first. “I thought it was just a page like Hood 2 Hood DVDs in Toronto or The Real Toronto. But as it got more exposure and I saw [SB’s] passion, my first thought was there’s a lack of voice to these communities—to the hip-hop culture and what surrounds it. And this is proving there’s nobody in that space and there’s a need for it.” He’s not wrong. Toronto’s media and entertainment industry has traditionally underserved its Black and POC, hip-hop and R&B communities.

Amidst a bevy of cancelled programs and services, however, there has existed independently created platforms and content with a focus on Black/hip-hop culture including the aforementioned guerilla rap doc The Real Toronto , social networking site TdotWire, which has now been gentrified, and the never-aired web reality series Only In The 6ix . God bless the dead. This is all to say: we don’t have much. MB feels they’re tapping into this unexplored lane. “I believe other platforms have attempted to [figure out] what the lens looks like as opposed to just having the lens. 6ixBuzz is just somebody from the community that has that experience and is giving a voice from their lens.”

Community is of paramount importance MB, who also works at MyStand, a non-profit youth mentorship program that focuses specifically on Black youth. When we first meet, he’s leading a class with several people of varying age—from teens to young adults—along with Jebril “Fresh” Jalloh, owner of streetwear clothing line Get Fresh Clothing, who is telling a story about a then-unknown The Weeknd blasting House of Balloons to unsuspecting fans waiting in line at one of his first clothing pop ups.

The centre also happens to be the place that helped foster the birth of 6ixBuzz. “[SB] was actually one of the youth that was involved in MyStand but was not a regular mentee. He had his own barriers where he couldn’t really commit the time,” says MB. His work is divided between curriculum building; sorting out talks, events and dealing with drop-ins who come in to have frank conversations about life and how they can reach their current goals. When he was a teen, MB started out as a rapper but his career would come to a halt, however, due to a “number of barriers.”

“I got in trouble with the law, [money issues] and it led me down a different path that I had to pull myself out of—and it was having my daughter, having a family, that kept me grounded,” MB says. “But I recognized many people didn’t have that so I decided to put music on hold and began my work in the social sector.” He’d start work through creative youth mentorship program The Remix Project, before joining as a youth outreach worker for resource centre Youth Action Network (YAN). Eventually he’d utilize his connections with producers Eestbound, Murda Beatz and his manager Cory Litwin, created MyStand in 2017. According to him, mentees apply to MyStand through an online application process that is distributed through fellow community and volunteer agencies. Through one of the mentees, SB applied so that by Fall of that year they’d be in regular contact with each other. “Our energies just connected and around that time he was already developing 6ixBuzz TV.”

SB says he was actually working on an earlier iteration of the account before then called Northbound Buzz, a page purely dedicated to random memes, but got bored and decided to quit the project. It would be “late June” of last year—though their earliest post dates back to April—that he and another friend would start 6ixBuzz as a way to get his foot in the door of the music industry and cover the underground artists he was following. “I remember telling my boys, ‘I’m gonna create a music platform.’ I only seen one at the time in Toronto called Canada Hip Hop TV, so I was like there’s an open lane for it and I’m just gonna see what I can create.” Initially, he says, 6ixBuzz pulled inspiration from popular US-based underground rap page Say Cheese TV. “I was like, ‘oh that’d be cool if we had one even just for Toronto, right?’ They post funny shit, post rapper news, a whole collage of stuff but as things developed [6ixBuzz] just ended up turning into more of a WorldStar than a music blog.”

SB would check in at MyStand intermittently to get guidance from MB about the account and his personal life. Meanwhile, the site would grow at a consistent pace before it ballooned from 50,000 to over 100,000 followers in January. By March, MB would be actively counseling SB on building a business infrastructure as it became clear this was going to be far bigger. “Everybody that I tried to talk to about it told me they were already on it, getting the same feeling I experienced… where it was strangely addictive,” says MB.

“People get cheesed like, ‘oh, why are you giving this girl or this [person] clout?’ At the end of the day, you guys are engaging with this so why are you going to get angry?”

Part of the success of 6ixBuzz, SB believes, is that it’s a private account. “If we were public I feel a lot of people would just pree the stuff and watch everything but wouldn’t hit the follow button. It makes people intrigued in what’s going on, and that’s what people want—they want to feel like they’re part of a private group.” That and a strong initial following of rising underground artists like rapper LB (“He brought a lot of the youth to the Toronto music scene and a lot of them were the ones to catch on to 6ixBuzz in the beginning,” says SB) And, well, of course, Drake because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

“People knew he followed because we put it on our [IG] story ‘shout out to Drake for following us’ a week prior,” says SB of the OVO leader’s follow in January. A week later, after they posted a tweet that said “a man proposed to his girlfriend in the stc food court while they were eating junior chickens... im tired of scarborough” Drake commented “East End Fairytale.” SB says that off the strength of his comment they gained nearly 10,000 followers that week and credits the rapper, who continues to comment on the page, for widening their already very respectable reach.

It wouldn’t stop there, though. 6ixBuzz grew their profile even more the next month after they posted a video of someone holding onto the back of what appeared to be a moving Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway train. (According to the person in the video, it didn’t take place on the TTC). The video was picked up by multiple Canadian news outlets and caused the TTC to launch an internal investigation into the joy rider. “I got nervous, I was like ‘oh, people are watching this shit like CP24, police and all that stuff. It was like, oh fuck, let’s chill for the day,” says SB. An unintended consequence of its large base and local focus are that minor events can quickly become major stories abroad, pulling to the surface a mix of diasporas, personalities and events intrinsic to the city. And perhaps, there’s no better example of this than the saga of one Sagittarius Shawty: a young woman from Kitchener, ON and not Toronto, who during the week of Valentine’s Day took to casually exposing men across the GTA who had cheated with her over Instagram Live and social media.

SB recalls his first time coming across her last December. “She’s just her own character, that girl. It started off with some video I remember getting [with her] in a fight at some hotel and she whipped a Henny bottle at some guy’s head. I never posted it because she had no shirt on—it was too inappropriate.”

He started paying more attention as thousands of people started to tune in to her live feed to see who’d be exposed next. “Then next thing you know this Kitchener girl starts having like 2,000 to 3,000 people [watching,] so I started checking in and she had everyone’s attention, so we just started posting her based off that because she was just causing crazy drama throughout the GTA. Like going on an exposing purge,” he says. “I wasn’t posting her exposings except the one, that [Daddy] Rambo guy, he was cool with the post. Every time someone gets embarrassed on 6ixBuzz, it’s not out of the blue, they’re aware they’re going to catch it.”

Sagittarius Shawty and her now iconic incredulous-sounding “Come on now” has since become a recurring staple on the page—but she’s not the only one. Others like Daddy Rambo, a du-rag adorning vessel of self-love and charismatic Eglinton West rapper Bizz “ERR GOD” Loc have become personalities within the 6ixBuzz canon. Each inadvertently takes on archetypal characters from the city viewers can instantly identify. Naturally, these figures also draw the ire of many in the comments section. “People get cheesed like, ‘oh, why are you giving this girl or this [person] clout?’ At the end of the day, you guys are engaging with this so why are you going to get angry?,” says SB.

Screencap via 6ixBuzz TV

As SB and I chat, the topic of an 11-second video of what appears to be a young man being assaulted by several cops on a balcony comes up. 6ixBuzz helped the video go viral, prompting Chief of the Toronto Police Service, Mark Saunders, to defend the actions of the officers in the video. The instant spotlight 6ixBuzz brings and how many parties, specifically police, monitor it still unnerves SB. “More times than not the police are the biggest fans of 6ixBuzz… so I mean, every once in a while we might throw in a crazy video but we try to keep things as wholesome as possible,” he says. “That’s why I also tell these rappers, don’t be up on the comments with all these fake accounts and going back and forth and all that because someone’s watching that shit for sure.” When asked if he feels some sense of responsibility over what he posts, he says, “I think of the consequences. We do have a social responsibility so I’m gonna remove a post before too much people see it or it gets out of hand. I’ve seen a lot of stuff I didn't post because it’s like crazy shit; like a homeless man jumping 20 flights of stairs, I can’t post that stuff. I don’t post if it’s something with a little kid or an immigrant or someone really mentally ill and all that stuff—I try not to do so.”

I bring up the account’s regular posting of ‘Bucktees,’ Toronto slang for homeless people, and how often the account displays their erratic behaviour for laughs. Where SB draws the line is not always clear. “I’ve seen a lot of homeless people so to me some of the videos they post aren’t really too much but I will see some comments saying you ‘shouldn’t really be posting it, it’s a homeless guy, leave him alone.’ So sometimes if I see a really bad video or my bloggers post something I’ll give them a page not to do it. But everything I’ve posted so far and everything that’s up right now to this day, I don’t think a line has been crossed… right now were doing good so we’re gonna keep at it.” To date, the account has only been briefly suspended for review last year which SB attributes to fake profiles and “hater shade.” But when they’ve previously posted things like the now deleted graphic aftermath of a car accident or puzzlingly, someone seconds away from being shot before a gun jams as a way to condemn Toronto’s rising gun violence, the criticism and outright disapproval they sometimes receive is warranted.

As supervisor, MB is frank about the growing pains that comes with the platform and the content they cover. He says that over the last couple months they have started utilizing in-house legal counsel through his private firm to navigate and flag issues. As well, he notes, through MyStand and 6ixBuzz they’ve taken an active role to partner up with Director X and others to talk to Toronto Mayor John Tory about how to combat the spike of violence in the city. I raise if he’s ever personally felt at odds between managing the not-always positive content on 6ixBuzz and his work in the volunteer sector. However, he’s resolute in his position that there can be a balance and believes wholeheartedly in building SB’s vision. “It’s like the news so I’m not here to say, ‘okay we shouldn’t have this’ and [6ixBuzz] isn’t here to just give media that’s selective for people to see but rather to transcribe the activities and the conversations happening in the city. And SB’s very savvy so when there’s serious things happening 6ixBuzz can talk about the subject and we’ve become that voice for the people,” says MB.

Though the proclamation is bold, if social interaction is anything to go by, 6ixBuzz has inadvertently become a de-facto resource for what’s happening locally and abroad. It also comes at a time when faith in traditional media is at an all time low, and decades-long suspicions in terms of how Blacks and POCs are covered, quoted, empathized with and treated in and out of newsrooms have become commonplace. That’s not to say 6ixBuzz has any interest in navigating a traditional media space—they’re not—but for SB and, specifically, MB it’s a much needed alternative for the things they saw in the culture being constantly underreported or ignored. “Growing up we struggled with a lack of media outlets, but now that I’m involved on the ground floor of this it’s exciting. It’s a reflection of how far the city has come and how far the culture has come for us Canadians.”

6ixBuzz has also inadvertently capitalized on the tail end of a still recent moment where Toronto is interested in itself. MB simmers on this concept when broached whether the outlet would have seen this success even five years ago. “I’m not gonna say it couldn’t have existed but realistically speaking we didn’t take as much pride in our culture,” he says. “I believe people [like Drake and The Weeknd] that definitely got that commercial success showed that there’s a culture that exists here, but the people on the come up that may not have had success also gave the look that there’s a culture bubbling under the culture. The wave that happened after is really what allowed for 6ixBuzz to come and instilled a lot of patriotism I’d say for a lack of a better word.” Even so, SB and MB are not content and have even bigger goals on the horizon.

“When I first started, of course I knew there was potential in the [hip-hop media] lane but I never really expected things to take off like they’ve been. So the future is for us is to help Canada’s music scene grow,” says SB. For MB it all comes down to servicing the people. “Obviously falling in line with my principles for MyStand but I want to really put the belief back in the creatives. We have a plethora of knowledge available to us now, so it’s a matter of how are we identifying it and how are we leveraging it for young Black creatives.” Right now though, they’re focusing on finalizing an official 6ixBuzz website which SB promises “will be no rules.” But in the meantime they have already expanded into merchandising with limited runs of T-shirts (unsurprisingly, one of the shirts reads ‘Brampton takes the L’) and are looking into creating original content and hosting concerts.

Nevertheless, the centering of Toronto’s rich culture of Somali, South Asian and Caribbean diasporas will likely continue to be to 6ixBuzz’s benefit as it continues to mine compelling, other times troubling, but always engaging content from these communities. It’s a page where you can reference birds who only eat jerk chicken and the uniformity of ‘Toronto hoodmanz’ without explanation.

As a human on the internet once said, “Did your parents immigrate here for you to sneak out of the house late at night and dagger wastemans at Luxys?” If this moral quandary doesn’t encapsulate the Toronto experience, I don't know what does. 6ixBuzz seems to get that.

Jabbari has never been to Luxys but would like to say R.I.P. TIME Nightclub Sundays. Don’t follow him on Twitter .

*Names and locations have been changed to protect the subjects' identities.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.