Real Talks Interview – Drex Jancar

by Scott Hokkanen

Entrepreneur, manager, mentor, philanthropist, and musician are just a few of the words that describe Drex Jancar.

Drex was the first IGNITE Real Talks speaker of the year and he made quite an impression. He is the manager of the OVO clothing brand, OVO fest, and manager of Canadian musical duo Majid Jordan.

Drex took the time sit down with us and talk about his experiences growing up in Toronto, the current state of education in the GTA, and about his internationally acclaimed youth-led arts mentorship organization The Remix Project.

Drex Jancar talking into mic while sitting on stage

How did growing up in Toronto influence your career?

I think Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, it helped me grow up with an open mind and without having certain levels of judgement. It allows you to build relationships with people from all walks of life.

What is the biggest struggle that today’s youth face in the GTA?

I think young people generally are challenged because there is only one form of education, which is the formally structured governmental institutions of education. Not everyone learns the same way, but everyone is capable of being educated and talented and successful.

How did you get involved with managing as a profession?**

I started out as a business student at Humber, I even performed at North Campus! In 2001 I ended up leaving Humber intentionally because I had the opportunity to run a business. Sometimes you need to listen to your gut instinct. It was good to have the experience of being an artist, and having the pressure to perform before others and learn to handle the press and other things like that. That experience as an artist has helped me with the management work that I do.

Do you have any words of advice for students?**

You have to have balance in life, value yourself; whether that means meditating, working out, socializing. You have to invest in yourself, give yourself a chance while studying and networking. Hard work will lead to small successes that will eventually lead to big success. But first you have to invest in yourself before anyone else will.

Also it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded individuals. It’s good to have teammates with a positive attitude that can help you through any struggles and help convince you to take risks.

Taking a risk is always a bit scary, it’s never easy, but what separates people is the willingness to fail. Failure is a lesson that will help you succeed in the future.

What do you think the governmental school system can do to accommodate different kinds of learning?

I think that the current institution of learning is important and I don’t want to knock it, I just think that there should be other forms of education too. It’s not that school doesn’t work, there just need to be multiple types of schools. I think there’s a lot that can be done to improve the current situation. They could implement subsidiary programs that work better for other people.

Drex Jancar talks while interviewer Sarah Taylor listens

What prompted you to start The Remix Project?

Well that’s a long story, but to try to sum it up – the community I grew up in. Lakeshore Etobicoke South had a community centre where there was no reason for young people to actually come into the space and learn. During that time, 1999, a lot of the young people from our community were into hip-hop, not just the music but the culture, the lifestyle, and the business side of it.

So we decided to open a community-centre program that was based around hip-hop music. Long story short after a few years of success and some smaller wins, we had an opportunity to expand the program and become almost an alternative education program. We took advantage of that opportunity and it became what it is today.

Who are some examples of people who have come through the program and found success?

Karla Moy, aka. hustleGRL, she was very young when she joined the program, maybe 15 or 16, now she has a very popular blog and social media following. She’s a DJ, she’s doing her own things on an entrepreneurial level.

Another favourite of mine would be Ricky B, he’s actually one of our first participants at the project. He came in as a rapper and he came out going into George Brown college as a youth worker, he graduated, won an award there, and now he’s come back and he’s the director of programming for Remix.

Future the Prince who is Drake’s DJ and co-manager is an interesting one. When he was in the program, he excelled extremely fast and became a youth leader for his peers. He actually ended up getting a job before even graduating the program.

Who is the biggest role-model that has helped you in your life?

Jasmine Dooh, she works at the Lambton Community Health Centre. Jasmine really helped me develop all of these skills from grant writing, to reporting, to gaps in analysis, to logic models, to all the tools that you have to use to raise money for charity. She put up with a lot of B.S. on my part because I’m super stubborn and don’t like structure. She was able to overlook that and see the potential in me and other people. She’s still doing that to this day, and I owe a ton of my success to her.

What type of legacy would you like to leave in the GTA?

I think, the legacy that I would love to leave for Remix would be non-inclusive of myself or any other individual who helped start the program. Just for the individuals who came through and graduated from the program to continuously be running it. For it to be completely self-sustainable as it cycles through generations. It should be something from the youth of today, and something that the city of Toronto owns.

Drex Jancar talks while interviewer Sarah Taylor listens

How does the experience of working with today’s youth compare to when you first started?

I think that technology and social media has changed a lot of the landscape for young people and it’s embedded in their daily life now. When we started this [social media] didn’t exist, like there was MSN Messenger. So that’s completely restructured the approach of business. People can click a few buttons and see your entire life story through social media. We are working on letting kids know that social media can affect their future and how to handle those things and to use those tools correctly.

How does The Remix Project actually reach out to youth?

We’ve tried everything. We’ve gone to youth detention centres and penitentiaries and given talks to inmates and corrections officers. We’ve gone to high schools and put up posters, we’ve gone to radio stations and did interviews, as well as TV press and social media outreach.

The most valuable and important outreach tool is word of mouth. We have over 500 graduates in the city of Toronto and they do the outreach for us. People hear about Remix through a graduate, mentor, volunteer, or staff person. It just speaks to the effect that the program has had on people.

What does the word success mean to you?**

People often use money to define success. For me money has no value other than its ability to make your family happy and comfortable. Besides that I think that success is something that should be shared. Success is giving back to the community that has raised you. I don’t want to glorify any personal success I’ve had, I want to use my success to open more Remix Projects around the world.


Drex Jancar and Sarah Taylor on Ignite stage as students listen in seats in crowd

Special thanks to Drex for the interview and for appearing at the IGNITE Real Talks event!

What did you think about Drex’s words of wisdom? Let us know on Facebook, and make sure to check out IGNITE’s interview with Real Talks speaker Brryan Jackson!

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity

**Some content was inserted and edited from Drex Jancar’s IGNITE Real Talks appearance

*All photos courtesy of Drew Yorke