Music Festivals

Meet GZA's Twelve-Year-Old Riot Fest Hype Man

The sun was beating down on the Riot Fest stage, and GZA looked sweaty. Joined only by his DJ, the Wu-Tang rapper was just a couple of songs into his Saturday afternoon set. Between the dearth of on-stage bodies and the sweltering heat, he clearly needed some help keeping up the show's energy level.

“I don't have the rest of the Clan with me,” he explained to the crowd. “You'll have to help me out.”

Soon he spotted the exact assistance he needed, in the form of twelve-year-old Tristan Sykora.

“What does your shirt say?” GZA asked, pointing into the crowd. “'Wu-Tang is for the children?' That's an Ol' Dirty Bastard quote. Come on up here.”

The young man climbed up, his slight frame clad in the aforementioned Wu-wear, along with a pair of black sunglasses, a flat-bill hat that read “Respect” and a black bandana pulled up under his chin. He already completely looked the part of a hype man.

“Can I hang out with you for a little while?” GZA asked. Tristan agreed, his excitement palpable.
Tristan remained on stage for the duration of the set, dancing, throwing his “W” up and shouting out for the crowd while GZA laid down verses. He seemed perfectly comfortable up there — so much so that he was soon offered the opportunity to spit some rhymes of his own.

“Do you rap?” GZA asked the young man as the opening strains of “Guillotine (Swordz)” rose on the sound system. “Wanna handle this verse?” Tristan politely declined, shaking his head, but the very fact that he was offered such an honor speaks volumes. He took to the stage like a duck to water.

“It was insane,” Tristan told Westword when the set was over. “I wish that moment could last forever.”

A seventh-grader at Polaris Expeditionary Learning in Fort Collins, Tristan claimed that GZA and Method Man are his two favorite Wu-Tang rappers — though the former had just taken a commanding lead.

“Oh, yeah, like, by a lot,” he said. “He probably made it, like, the best show of the year. Probably the best show of my life.”
His parents, Mike and Natalie Sykora, were in attendance with him. They reminded him that this was, in fact, his first concert ever. Still, the young man said it was going to be hard to top.

“It's gonna probably have to be with all the Wu-Tang,” he said.

“This is what he said he wanted for Christmas,” Natalie explained of his Riot Fest attendance. “So we figured, why not?”

Natalie said that Tristan got his love for hip-hop from his dad. Mike agreed, but adds a caveat.

“Yeah, but he got his sense of music and rhythm and chaos from [Natalie],” he said, explaining that she used to go-go dance for trance artist DJ Micro.

“I'm white. I suffer from CRD: Caucasian Rhythm Disorder,” he continued. “It's bad. It's like arthritic, geriatric. Even the deadheads were like, 'Dude, just stop having a seizure.'”

“People might say my parents are a bad influence,” Tristan interjected, “but they're the best.”

According to his parents, Tristan has big hip-hop plans for his future, too.

“He's actually got a set of tables,” Mike said. “We collect vinyl, we promote — he's actually an aspiring DJ. He's learning drums right now just to get rhythm for deejaying.”

Tristan said he hasn't come up with a DJ name yet, but his mom quickly corrected him: “T-Money.”

“Yeah, I guess T-Money,” Tristan said.

“We've been calling him that his whole life,” Natalie added.

When asked to give advice to all the other young Wu-Tang fans out there, Tristan shrugged.

“Just live it,” he said. “Just live. Just go on with your dream, like everybody says.”

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Daniel Hill
Contact: Daniel Hill