WHEN Sam Ratumaitavuki steps onto the stage at Ice Bar in Nadi two Fridays from now, he will feel the absence of his late father.
Iliesa Vulawalu Ratumaitavuki will, however, have an audible presence, willing him on in spirit.
According to the young man better known as Fortafy, bringing his unique brand of hip-hop to Fiji was supposed to signal a triumphant debut as a successful rising star, an island boy making it big on the music scene Down Under.
Amid this setting, the 25-year-old Moturiki, Lomaiviti, native said he would have loved to have a proud Ratumaitavuki senior in the audience.
"Dad passed away last year but he was very supportive of my choice to pursue music. He said it was really good when he would hear my songs being broadcast and he would email me saying his mates heard my song on radio so I'm sure he would be so proud to see me performing in Fiji."
Four long years cultivating words to music and ideas to beats is beginning to pay off for Fortafy. He has drawn more than 3 million views on You Tube and achieved a top 10 single with New Zealand rhythm and blues artist Donell Lewis. Add to this a growing tribe of fans and you have the Fijian rapper already thrust into the limelight.
But instead of falling victim to the trappings of fame and fortune, Fortafy has kept his feet on the ground, developed a keen business sense and managed to eke out a living in the cut-throat music business.
Perhaps most indicative of the rapper's firm grasp of what really matters is the way he uses his earnings. While Fortafy's music is breaking new ground and making waves on the Down Under hip-hop scene, his lifestyle is a far cry from the gangster rap style that many in the genre have adopted from their US counterparts and idols.
Case in point, instead of using his earnings to purchase a flash car, the lyrical twister has instead bought a house and is managing a mortgage.
"It's taught me a lot about priorities and saving. Instead of buying a $30,000 car and living at my parents' house I decided buying a house would mature me a lot more and help me to focus."
The charismatic performer who has rubbed shoulders with Down Under hip-hop greats like Scribe and 360, knows what it takes to make it in the music business and wants to share this knowledge with local rappers and hip-hop artists hoping to break their music to the wider Pacific audience.
"I really hope to hook up with local artists when I get to Fiji and see what the local hip-hop scene is like. My message to emerging local artists is don't go into music if your only driver is money. It really has to be your passion because it's a long and tough road. If it's your passion then by all means chase it. Go for it if you have something meaningful to say and a creative way to express it."
Fortafy also revealed that up-and-coming artists should make full use of the internet as a marketing tool. Marketing agencies of the past which charged thousands of hard-earned dollars to push artists music and imagery, can now be bypassed through the innovative use of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and You Tube.
"You don't need a label now, it's all about online marketing. I got noticed doing songs from my cheap home studio and learnt how to make my own videos and then pushed them out - this resulted in over 3 million views. It's what works for me, so anybody can do it, but it takes a lot of commitment and a bit of hard work."
"You also don't need a manager these days as long as you have focus, commitment and discipline. I manage myself, I get my own interviews, my own gigs, sort out my own photo shoots and work out my own video blogs. Everything is all self managed. For some people this would seem like hard work but because this is my passion I can spend 20 hours a day doing it and it feels like I haven't worked one hour."
For the uninitiated, check out Fortafy's biggest hit in terms of commercial success - Missing My Love with New Zealand rhythm and blues artist Donell Lewis - on You Tube. For more examples of what Fortafy is all about click onto Soundcloud and listen to songs like Free which features the smooth vocals of Will Singe of The Collective, a track that speaks about making the best of any bad situation and getting up every-time you're knocked down. Or tune in to For The Islands which features Papua New Guinea urban reggae artist Jaggarizzar to hear about how the Fijian rapper likes to chill out in Fiji.
Fortafy debuts at the Ice Bar in Nadi on Friday February 22 and at the Down Under Pub in Suva on Saturday February 23.