It is crazy how sports in Pittsburgh drive so much of the city's culture. The athletics move the people's actions and thoughts daily. Football remains a fanatical heritage, but basketball is popular too especially among the city's high school ranks. Leagues like the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League and City League offer competitions against communities, which often turn into friendly and working relationships off the playing fields.
Such is the case with the founders of Levels Agency, an event, management, and marketing agency stationed in Pittsburgh. Twins Elijah and Elisha Hill, residents of Wilkinsburg, and Wayne Davis, a native of Penn Hills, all met off the court at a leadership seminar, then later strengthened their bond playing basketball against each other at Wilkinsburg and Propel.
At our initial meeting in Monroeville Mall, the friends explain to me how they started Levels Agency and began hosting events. It is easy to understand how athletics forged their relationship and influence the confidence with which they carry themselves. Elijah, Elisha and Wayne all wear Jordan Brand sneakers while sitting on two benches conversing.
When the trio studied together at Slippery Rock University, a school 51 miles from the 'Burgh, they grew tired of the weak parties there. 2 1/2 years ago they threw their first party called Project 412. "We expected 100 people if that, and we promoted so crazy it turned out to be 3,000 people," Elijah says.
Levels' success is in large majority due to the network of people they know in Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas. "In some type of way we know the whole city," Wayne says. "If there is somebody we don't know, Wayne knows them. If there is somebody Wayne doesn't know, we know them," Elijah adds. In high school and in college they were cool with everybody, and their basketball careers made them popular.
The groups' contacts allow them to offer opportunities to their friends in Pittsburgh that want to go to a concert, hold a fashion show, model, party, or perform a show. "We get presented with opportunities so we want to give somebody else an opportunity as well," Elijah says.
Going on 15-events as Levels Agency LLC, Davis and the Hill Brothers, along with partners Keith James, Malcolm Moore and Sierra Nunley, prepare to host Atlanta artist Young Thug for Summer Jam at The Southside Event Center just off of East Carson Street. Davis and Hills' friends Asco, Hardo, Joel Kellem, and Pk Delay, all rappers opening up for Young Thug on July 31, are "people we grew up with," and they wanted to reach out to them with an opportunity to showcase their talent.
Locally, Levels keeps an ear out for talent while they are at bars and nightclubs on the South Side and at the soon-to-close Altar Bar venue in the Strip District. When they are out of town, the group is just as observant. On a recent trip to Florida, they saw how people in the club react to artist Kodak Black. "A song came on and we were like 'oh yeah, we have to bring that back to Pittsburgh.'" Up and coming singer PnB Rock, who just released a mixtape with star Fetty Wap, will also warm up the stage for Thug.
The company consistently brings authentic hip-hop sounds to The 'Burgh. In the past, they put on shows for rap contemporary and rap legend Shy Glizzy and Lil Boosie, respectively. On October 1 Atlanta's Godfather Gucci Mane is coming to The Steel City.
Responsibly, Levels sees their role in the city's popular culture as "something to do," Elisha says. "We are young, we are all 21, and trying to build a culture geared towards young people. We could do this anywhere outside of the city, but we like bringing it to the city because we are from Pixburgh," Elisha says.
Although the agency currently shows love to the town that raised them, they plan to go national and offer events in cities such as Atlanta, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C. They desire to throw parties during NBA All-Star weekend and connect with the athletes or even sponsor boxing matches in Las Vegas. "Once we reach one level we are ready to go to the next one. We will keep out doing ourselves, and that is why we call ourselves Levels Agency," Elijah says.
With the ability to draw crowds upwards of 6,000 people, Levels pushes their operations in the right way. They read over contracts with artists three and four times to make sure the business aspect is tight. They lean on their studies in Business Management to make sure things are legal, and they always invest their earnings back into the company. Rarely does Levels run into road blocks. One time, rapper K Camp canceled on them a month before the show. Rather than cancel their entire event, Levels quickly booked Lil Boosie as a replacement and had better success.
"We don't even get to enjoy our shows because we are running around working. We throw the show, we sell our own tickets, and we deliver the tickets to people. In order to touch the community you have to be in it," Elijah says. Along with catering to customers, Davis and the Hill brothers pay close attention to the needs of their performing artists. The "rider" lists the performers request are demanding. Young Thug requires Hanes socks and chicken wings. Shy Glizzy demanded 300 glow-in-the-dark Dom Perignon bottles, which most clubs in Pittsburgh do not even stock, so he did not get them.
Additionally, the Levels brand is advertised thoroughly on social media, and they have billboards throughout Pittsburgh promoting the Young Thug show, and also commercials that run on channels such as VH1 and BET. But the best way they promote for events is with their faces. Tickets are always on hand when Davis and the Hill brothers commute through The 'Burgh. During our meeting at the mall, Wayne stepped away from the conversation to sell tickets to a mall patron that approached him in the food court. Earlier that day Elisha was in Erie, Pa. selling tickets too.
"Wayne is always on the go selling tickets. I swear it seems like he sells 100 tickets a day," Elijah praises.
I rode in the back of a Kia SUV with the twins on their way to see their Summer Jam billboard for the first time. On the way, I saw Elijah deliver a handful of tickets to one of his partners living in the Hill District. He needed to re-up as many people contacted him to purchase tickets. The Hill brothers also discussed how long they wanted Wilkinsburg rapper Hardo to perform. "30 to 45 minutes," they debated back and forth.
"I'm nervous for everything to play out well at Summer Jam," Elisha says. But, "what's beautiful about what we do is we bring everybody together under one roof for one night to see something good."
This type of positivity is important for Pittsburgh's nightlife community, especially for the black people who frequent clubs and bars and often get stereotyped for their attire or forced to adhere to a dress code or get denied from throwing events at certain establishments.
"It's crazy because sometimes the color of your skin does play a factor in some things, but at the end of the day you have to support us because we keep getting bigger," Elisha says.
"We represent blacks well," Wayne says, and "the people that come to our shows respect us," Elisha continues. There is no funny business at a Levels Agency event because the people that attend their functions appreciate what the group is delivering to the city. Police presence also keeps everyone safe. And, after originally discriminating and turning down the event company for shows on the South Side and other areas of the city, club owners now realize the business value Levels brings to the table. Their celebratory atmospheres, popularity, and success make Levels Agency a desirable entity to do business with.
The trio carries a chip on their shoulders because people took a while to recognize their full potential, but "we are always positive and use that as motivation," the Hill brothers say.
When Davis and the Hills got their first taste of success at their first party, Project 412 in New Castle, Pa., that was when "we saw how many people we could bring together," says Wayne.
Ever since then as Levels Agency, the group strives to entertain the city of Pittsburgh. Their show on July 31 with Young Thug, presented in part by iGrind Global, is another example of bringing major talent to the city people will appreciate.
As Levels goes forward, they will continue to take "logical risks" to achieve broad success from a platform that can entertain people across the world.
Southside Event Center
415 Bingham Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203