Interview with Vincent Olutayo, Former Owner, Deal Real
We couldn’t do a celebration of 25 years in Carnaby without talking to Vincent Olutayo, Founder and Owner of former hip hop record store Deal Real. He says the Deal Real team were drawn to Carnaby because of its music and cultural heritage, as well as its vibrant community.
1. What inspired you to launch Deal Real?
The Deal Real team - myself, Olu, Sef, Tony and William - were all fans of hip hop culture and grew up with it since the early Eighties. Becoming part of the “scene” we grew friendships with an array of amazing British hip hop and rap artists that we felt were not getting the recognition or success they deserved. There were very few outlets that would stock UK rap records and the couple that did, had closed. We wanted to put hip hop on the map, creating a platform where the diverse community of talented, unsigned and independent artists would get a fair opportunity to sell their music, be heard and build viable careers.
2. Why did you choose Carnaby as a location?
We originally secured a site near Berwick St, close to the other record shops, but unbeknown to us the building was falling apart. Despite having paid deposits, we had to find new premises. We didn’t know at the time but it was definitely a blessing in disguise. We came across Carnaby and were immediately drawn by its great music and cultural heritage. Whilst it previously had somewhat of a commercial touristy profile, the team at Shaftesbury seemed very keen to revamp things and keep a strong presence of likeminded, young, dynamic and independent businesses in the area which was a key attraction for us.
3. What are your favourite memories of the Carnaby store?
There are way too many to choose from! However a moment that will always remain in the folklore is when Kanye West, John Legend and Mos Def performed an epic impromptu instore session, complete with John on keys and Kanye and Mos Def going rhyme-for-rhyme. It was a beautiful May bank holiday weekend and so much of the UK hip hop / rap community was there to witness it. There were also moments like the instore with Amy Winehouse which led to her becoming a friend to the shop and hanging out quite a lot, and Mark Ronson namechecking us as his favourite record shop in a GQ interview.
Aside from the profiled moments, some of the fondest memories are of the many opportunities and talent that emerged from the shop. Whether it was discovering Lowkey from a rap battle where he “won” his name from a contender; or Doc Brown battling Rhymefest and subsequently being invited to tour with him and Mark Ronson; or Lewis Parker getting to produce songs for legendary Wu Tang member Ghostface Killah; or helping Example promote his first EP, leading to his first recording contract; or even discovering the likes of Kate Tempest and Mr Hudson - Deal Real was instrumental in helping artists and the community to thrive!
4. What was your relationship like with the community? How would you describe the Carnaby community in three words?
Much of the music, art, streetwear and youth culture that is popular today was just starting out back then and quite a few of the hot-spots were based in and around Carnaby. There were key independent businesses like ours - Bond, Zoltar the Magnificent, Crooked Tongues, Hideout and later Slammin’ Kicks, who all served as hives of activity for creatives, DJ’s, collectors and fans alike. Each shop was run and staffed by enthusiasts and creatives who had a deep love and knowledge of the culture, and being in the middle of central London meant everyone had to hustle hard to maintain. This created a mutual and healthy respect between us. We wanted each other to win and with the mix of music, fashion and art, we’d often collaborate on events and launches. It was a thriving cultural community.
In three words: Vibrant, Organic, Cultured.
5. Could you see Deal Real coming back or was it a “moment in time”?
There’s so much to what Deal Real represented and the context of the early 2000s played a significant part. Distribution and exposure for UK hip hop / rap culture was minimal and Deal Real was a necessary platform for it. It was a time before the global access that HD phones, social media and streaming would provide artists who had previously struggled to be heard or fell victim to “gatekeepers”. Now, many of our friends and alumni occupy integral and influential roles within the UK music industry. Artists like Dave and Stormzy are commercial successes and sell-out arenas.
However in its intimacy, Deal Real also created genuine “were you there?” moments; it was a physical place for fans, industry and press to discover new artists; a nurturing ground for homegrown talent to hone skills, try new material and develop new fans; and a friendly, authentic centre for the music community to congregate, network and build.
It can be argued that artists and creatives still need this type of talent and community development hub which can support their craft, provide them with early opportunities and help them build sustainable careers. Recent reports on diversity issues within the creative industries also supports this argument.
Whilst Deal Real was certainly a beautiful moment in time, we still get calls to bring it back, so who knows what the future holds?