Multifaceted mover is shaking up Van City

"Organization is not only a science, but it is an art that must be perfected," dead prez's M1 said in a recent interview with the Straight, stressing the importance of the unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work that it takes to build community. No one understands this better than Vancouver's own Sean Lalla, who has been busy expanding the hip-hop scene for the past decade.

From giving exposure to local acts to introducing heads to off-the-radar groups from around the world, organizing boycotts when the mainstream music industry has excluded rap, and hosting Western Canada's only annual urban-music festival, Lalla has hustled tirelessly to nurture Van City hip-hop. He's channelled his energy into every facet of the industry: concert promotion, major labels, radio, journalism, magazine publishing, music retail, and artist management. His efforts have remained one of the few constants in what has been a flagging scene of late. But this year's 604 Hip-Hop Expo-a celebration that highlights both homegrown talent and a whole slew of high-profile international artists-is set to breathe new life into the local scene.

In a rare moment of relaxation, the perpetually on-the-go Lalla kicks back over coffee at Benny's Bagels and breaks down his background, his motivation, and his vision for the city.

He arrived from Toronto in 1996 needing a change, he says. "I was at a point after high school where I was stuck," he recalls. "My life was stagnant. I was going to the same college as a bunch of my high-school friends and I often found myself skipping class to play dominoes, all the while paying tuition. It did not make sense, so I had to make a drastic move in order to move forward. I was accepted into Cap College and came to Vancouver."

When he got here, he was immediately struck by how sleepy the city's nightlife was. "I hated the slow pace of Vancouver and the lack of things to do and places to go if you were a hip-hop head," Lalla explains. "So rather than complaining about it, I tried to do something about it." He founded Spectrum Entertainment and began booking shows. Almost 10 years later, he is one of the city's top concert promoters, and his annual showcase is one of Canada's most dynamic festivals.

The 604 Hip-Hop Expo-which takes place in various locations around town through Sunday (September 18)-is an extravaganza that includes numerous concerts (including Lyrics Born, Zion I, K'naan, Killa Kela, the Beatnuts) with local groups serving as opening acts; MC, DJ, break dance, and beatbox battles (with $500 prizes each); and Learn On, a daylong conference covering everything from free funding to independent promotion to media awareness. (For details visit

"I want local talent to be exposed to bigger crowds and hopefully start to develop fan bases," he says. "I hope they all go to the panel discussions and workshops, and feed their brains, and see things they haven't seen before, and get inspired-on the artist side and the entrepreneurial side. And put in work to build our own self-sufficient economy here, like in Atlanta or Houston."

"We need to support our own," he continues, arguing that Vancouver audiences are slow to embrace local talent. "We have some sort of identity crisis in this city. It's self-hate. Toronto was stuck in this for a while-where just you didn't like it if it was from your city unless the U.S. co-signed that they liked it."

Lalla, on the other hand, is not sitting around waiting for stateside approval-he's too busy helping Van City shine. He's the rare breed in the music industry that avoids the spotlight and gets his satisfaction from helping those around him grow and find success. Which is what makes him a natural for his latest venture, artist management, which has found him working with such talent as Killa Kela.

"I've kind of taken the good from each working situation-retail, media, labels, concerts-and developed what I think is a science of success," he explains. "By being around the good and the bad in the music biz, I know what to do and what not to do, and I can apply all this to my artists. It's fulfilling, seeing my science work."