Interview By: Nasa Lamode
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Milwaukee is a city that has undergone a lot of changes in a short period of time. For decades it was known solely for its production and distribution of beer, cold winters and endless pubs and bars. It was also known for being an industrial city, far from the arts. This has changed drastically over the past years with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the Bucks to a championship and several MVPs. This resulted in a total renovation of the Cream City’s downtown enhancing the art culture within its condensed city limits. In the heart of the city’s renaissance is artist, clothing designer and entrepreneur, Rob “Ba$e” Burdette also known by his moniker “Geak”. Rob is shifting the art industry in Milwaukee and other cities as well. This is a long time friend of mine, but there were still new things uncovered in this exclusive interview. I got the chance to go back home and we chopped it up. Here’s what he had to say:
Nasa: Waddup Rob? Thank you for pullin up. Well, actually I pulled up on you this time. How you feeling bro?
Rob Ba$e: Man, can’t lie to you. I’ve had a lot of things happen in my life recently, in a short span of time – but I always feel as long as I’m alive, I woke up this morning, I’m able to breathe, I’m blessed.
Nasa: Word. Alright, so normally my guests come to me, back in my Houston studio. But today we actually here at yours in downtown Milwaukee. There’s paintings everywhere. There’s shelves everywhere with your clothes. What do you all do?
Rob Ba$e: Man I do whatever to keep my creative juices flowing, haha. But I’m a self-taught fine artist and I also run a clothing line…which can get hectic, but I’m learning to manage myself and be more on top of things. Learning all this stuff on my own. I didn’t have anyone to teach or mentor me, so everything is trial and error.
Nasa: So we go all the way back. Since then, I’ve seen mad progress in your art. I remember when we was around 15 you had a few self portrait drawings in your room. The one I remember the most is the one with your “Diplomats” shirt on. You remember that joint?
Rob Ba$e: Surprisingly, I don’t remember it bro and I usually remember most of my past drawings and paintings. But I was and still am a big “DIPSET” fan, so I already know I drew myself wearing one of the tee’s. I used to have them in every color. Ha.
Nasa: Man, it’s crazy looking back now, because that era is now considered “retro” and almost novelty. I see the younger folks dressing in what was our everyday fits but almost in a “costume”, type shit. From the Iverson sweat bands to the throwback jerseys. There was a heavy Roc-a-fella, Dipset and Neptunes influence. But this was always our signature back then, you feel me?
Rob Ba$e: Naw man, I definitely feel that. You just gotta look at it like this man; this the same thing our parents were doing. I remember mine going to “80’s themed” parties and dressing up like that. It’s just our turn now man. It’s just weird cuz it don’t seem that way. It’s baffling to feel we’re that old. Life is cyclical man, things always come back around. We just gotta come to terms that. This is the stage of the cycle we’re at.
Yo again with your costume comment, I be saying that shit too. I mean all this shit isn’t like real anymore to me. Like, I had some girl tell me she was trying to find a pair of “Doc Marten’s” and that’s not weird but in my head, it’s like women just choose what type of look they’re going for instead of actually being that way. Like in the 90’s only a certain type of chick wore “Doc Martens”, it was just a look for the day, you feel me? Not mad at it, but it’s weird how this generation doesn’t have strong subcultures everything is just kinda meshed together into one.
Nasa: Yeah, I never thought about it like that. It def a gumbo pot of all the previous eras. So coming to the end of the “MySpace” era and veering into the “Facebook”timeframe, we was entering our early adulthood. Around this time I noticed a shift in your art. You started with graffiti art and the “tagging” lifestyle. Tell me about that.
Rob Ba$e: So Ima tell you something, graffiti is the first art form I fell in love with, or I should say I was enamored with. And it started with my dad. When I was younger my dad used to do graffiti, I mean- he used to just draw period, but I remember him showing me a piece he did. I was amazed. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, I thought my dad was the coolest dude ever.
So I guess one of my grandmas neighbors [because my dad was staying with my mom and grandma] asked my dad to do a graffiti piece on the side of their garage. I remember watching my dad start it and I dont know, I went back home. But I remember the next day, my dad grabbed me and was like “Follow me Robert.” So I followed him down the alley and he showed me the finished piece. I thought it was the most amazing thing I ever saw, and I just remember going, “Dad you did that?!” And now I know even he was proud of it. So I grew up always being fascinated with graffiti.
I always practiced drawing it and tryin to draw other graffiti artists pieces. “The Source Magazine” used to have some graffiti pieces in the back and I always checked those out. But I still saw it as something that was far out of reach for me. I didn’t have any other friends that were interested in it, till [I wanna say] my last years in high school, where some friends of mine actually were a part of a crew. And that grew my love for it even more, I just fell in love with the lifestyle.
I feel like life, a lot of the time, is based on appearances. People choose how they respect you based on how you look. Graffiti isn’t like that. You get respect based on your work and how good it is, and how much you do it. You don’t even know what most of these people look like because they don’t use their real names. That was an aspect of it that I really loved. I felt the world should be run that way, but you know, wishful thinking. Haha. I mean even the way they go about beef. If you don’t like someone’s shit- you either put a line thru it and tag your name or you just go over their piece. And if it continues you guys settle the beef by doing a battle where y’all meet up at the same spot and both do a piece and people choose which one they think is better. Or y’all just meet up and fight, haha. The crews kinda run themselves like gangs, they go tagging together, they do pieces together. Your crew gets known and you gain more respect by how good your work is and how much work you do. Your crew gains more respect by how good all your members are. To tell you the truth, I met a lot of my friends today from graffiti, I thought I was a nobody and certain dudes were giving me respect that I didn’t even know.
Nasa: Damn bro. I had no idea about that end of the lifestyle. That’s a gem no doubt. Do you still tag?
Rob Ba$e: I don’t want to incriminate myself, but I’ve gotten in trouble with the law in the past. But as of going out in the street and doing it? No. I do go out maybe 3-4 times a year and do a full piece. But I don’t go around tagging in the street anymore. Too much I have at risk to get in trouble for that. When you end up in booking next to a bunch of dumb mfers you really think about if it’s worth it, just because you wanted to tag.
Nasa: What’s your artist name? How did you get that name?
Rob Ba$e: I named myself “GEAK” and I somewhat got that from my dad. He told me he had a bunch of names but one of his first was “SEEK” and he based that off a very famous 80’s graffiti artist named “SEEN” who is actually considered “The Godfather of Graffiti”. I got older saw “Seen” on one of the first graffiti documentaries, called “Style Wars” and I had no idea how good he was, especially back then, when they had the crappy spray paint. Nothing like how we have now. So I was gonna copy my dad’s name and write “SEAK”, but then I found out “SEAK” was crazy good German graffiti artist. So I just changed the S to G, which now that I’m thinking about it, is a lot more fitting. Especially if you know me personally.
Nasa: That’s a dope backstory to your name bro. Around this time – The “PBG” clothing line was formed. It was already the name that you and your team used for the music, but now it was becoming something bigger. What does “PBG” stand for and what’s the background on that.
Rob Ba$e: “PBG” stands for Platinum Boy Gang. And that started when I was 11 years old. I remember me, my little brother Ryan, and my cousin Eli, we all had a moment we all wanted to rap. I thought that we needed a name for ourselves and back then, every group was called *Blank* Boyz. So I was like what “Boyz” are we gonna be. Haha. We thought of a bunch of different names and none of them stuck. Then I remember listening to Jay-Z on our computer. We were always big Jay-Z fans because my dad was a big Jay-Z dude and we would always listen to his albums with our dad. I remember our dad telling me all of Jay-Z albums went platinum. Then it just made me think. Back then a lot of artists were going platinum, and I was like, “If you go platinum, you had to be one of the top, or among the elites.” So I wrote it down on this piece of paper we had by the computer and I drew a design around it and just walked away.
My brother saw it the next day and was like, “That’s it! That’s our name!” He told me just the way I drew it, I made it look cool. Which goes full circle into how our group has its roots in art. Since then, we’ve made our own definition of what “Platinum” means. To me, it means being at your best. At your highest level, and even if you aren’t at that, you’re working on it everyday to be better than you were yesterday.
Obviously I didn’t keep up with the rapping, but my brother did. He met his friend LJay, not long after. They taught each other how to make beats. Then Ryan added the “Gang” to the end of it, which I felt was more fitting too. I felt our group of friends were like a brotherhood, but growing up on the South Side, some of the only forms you see that are in gangs. Then we met Eric and he started rapping with them and honestly the clothes came because I wanted them to have their own look when they were on stage. I started just making them personal pieces and we would post our stuff on social media and get some feedback that people wanted to buy our shit. So I was like fuck it, let me put in an order and try to sell the shit, and that’s how it started.
Nasa: So I’m looking at this crazy art piece you pretty much just finished for Sergio Pettis. It’s amazing by the way. How did that come to be?
Rob Ba$e: Honestly, I didn’t know Sergio growing up that well. He was Eric’s childhood friend and throughout the years he seen how cool we were with Eric, and I don’t know, we had our own interactions with him and he was always mad cool. He had just come from a victory in Bellator and they had a dope shot of him in his victory stance and he asked me to paint it for him.
Nasa: Ya, shout out to Sergio and his brother Anthony. It’s crazy how big they got from when we were younger. I remember kicking it with Serg in between the LITTLE time he had since he was ALWAYS training. His dedication from a young age is wild. It’s crazy to see where discipline can take you. I’ve seen you discipline improve a lot too. What do you do to stay disciplined?
Rob Ba$e: Yeah man, they legends here in Milwaukee for being one of the firsts to put us on the map. I remember seeing Anthony on World of Jenna back on MTV back in the day and how impactful that episode was. I didn’t even know their story. It’s beautiful to see where they’re at now. Honestly man, I was very undisciplined growing up and almost still today. I’m learning how to control it now. What keeps me focused is keeping my thoughts on my goal. It’s a little harder getting distracted when you have the goal on your mind. So once you start doing things that don’t align with your goal, you see it and like naw I’m not doing that. It serves no benefit for what I want to do. That- and I’ve read a lot of books about successful people and seen what happens when they stay dedicated.
Nasa: Looking around there are definitely a lot of unfinished paintings too. Haha. Seems like you weren’t always disciplined. What do you think changed?
Rob Ba$e: Time and age brother. Haha. I got older and started realizing I wasn’t getting closer to my goals, but I was also just an adventurous 20 year-old trying to live my life. Have fun with friends, chase girls. But I don’t regret anything man. I had to learn the lessons I learned, the way I did. Go through certain hardships. I used to ask myself why God put me through certain situations, and I always answered myself. Because if I was just given it, I wouldn’t learn anything. Which is how I wanted it. That, and I stopped needing instant validation.
Nasa: Let’s talk about your latest collection with the “PBG” line.
Rob Ba$e: Right now, I got a couple of small collections happening. My next drop, I got inspired from going to a recent concert. I was checking out the tour merch they were selling and it made me think. These tour tees be worth a lot of money nowadays and it’s like that because those shirts are only available at the concerts. So I got inspired to make my own “concert tour” t-shirt so that’s what I got coming out next. It should be coming out by the time this interview drops, so be on the lookout for that. I got some more lifestyle and sport teams related shit I’m preparing to drop too but I don’t wanna say too much.
Nasa: Do you have plans to grow the company? What’s next?
Rob Ba$e: I do but I’m working on that right now, honestly man I’m not sure. There’s not really a handout on how to do this shit.
Nasa: Man, I’m really glad I came back home to Milwaukee to come chop it up with you. I’m real proud of your progress. Any other knowledge you wanna drop on us before I fade out?
Rob Ba$e: Fortune favors the brave.
Nasa: Well thank you for having me pull up. Next time I need to come to Houston. We can probably host a pop-up thing together. Take care homie.
Rob Ba$e: Until next time bro.