Stevio...LA LA Lovin' It?

I'm British-born Chinese from Bristol, UK. I’m LA-based. I’m a hip hop aficionado. After 15 years in London I moved to LA to pursue a new career and outlook on life.

Back in the 80s I was a DJ. In the 90s I contributed to the world's first street style exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. In 2011, I had my first interviews published. Today, I’m keeping busy with music, art, photos and writing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dapper Dan...why he didn't want my business

On the cover of Sneaker Freaker magazine last December was Dapper Dan. This was the man who unknowingly sparked a multi-million dollar industry! I say this because his custom designs using fake Gucci (and other high-end logos) were ahead of their time. And now every couture fashion house has a diffusion range targeting the urban trendsetter looking for a bit of swagger in their weekend gear.

For me, Dapper Dan is the store (not the man, as I never met him) who wouldn't take my business. I went to 125th Street in Harlem on a hot summer's day in 1988. The first time, I was told the store wasn't open. The second time wasn't much better. It seemed like Dapper Dan was busy enough without foreigners wanting some garms. Or may be, they thought I was a fashion lawyer looking to sue their butts!? ;)

After reading this Sneaker Freaker article penned by Woody, I guess I was suspected of being one of the Chinatown counterfeiters. Wait, isn't that amazing...A fake outfit from Harlem is then sent to China via Canal St. to be faked again and imported back by the boatload?! No wonder the Feds were onto Dapper Dan. The Chinese ruined his game! ;)

Here's the link to the Sneaker Freaker article - or you can scroll below. The video referenced by Woody has a great quote that captures the style of the era: "The stuff I did for Floyd (Mayweather) [holds up boxing shorts] is ostrich and mink, that's Royal black Africanism that hits the city..." Dapper Dan.

"From his eponymous store on E 125th in Harlem, Dapper Dan (real name Daniel Day) presided over a remarkable fashion emporium in the 80s and 90s. His uptown clientele was a heady mix of hustlers, street cats and hip hop royalty, all of whom shared a mutual love of what Dap himself called a ‘macho type of ethnic ghetto clothing’. That’s Harlem shorthand for streetified-luxury, a glorious melange of status symbols such as mink, ostrich, crocodile and python married with his own trademark ‘reappropriatons’ of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi yardage. 
LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Run DMC, Fat Boys and Public Enemy publicly repped Dapper Dan hard and his fame quickly spread beyond the local hood. Peep Eric B and Rakim’s Follow the Leader and Paid in Full for classic Dapper Dan outfits in full effect. Mike Tyson famously punched out opponent Mitch Green in front of the store whilst on his way to pick up the classic ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’ jacket. The place became notorious. 
Fast forward. A few years back I scored a pair of sneakers that were purportedly made by the hand of Dapper Dan. At the time I thought I’d struck solid gold, right up until I was overcome by a niggling lack of proof. Could they be counterfeit Dapper Dan? The thought made me laugh. The shoes were well made and looked right as far as the era went, but all I had was a few random Google crumbs to piece together the story. Without any solid evidence of Dapper Dan tricking-out New Balances, they were reluctantly retired to the Sneaker Freaker archive. I had a feeling I’d finally get to hear their story one day. The only problem was that Dapper Dan hadn’t done an interview for 20 years. The trail was cold. Until now. 
Earlier this year Jay-Z’s Life+Times YouTube channel popped up with a brilliant interview to kick-off the launch of Dap’s new site, 
Still a natty dresser, hip hop’s original gentleman was back in the limelight and loving it. Charismatic and ice cool as ever, Dap swapped stories with his good friend Pee Wee Kirkland as they reminisced about Harlem and the good old days.

It’s a contradiction, but Dapper Dan is one of street couture’s most influential and most mythical characters. 20 years of flying way below the radar might have dulled his stature amongst young folk who barely recall the previous day’s blog roll, but it has also bestowed an enigmatic, almost grandfatherly imprint upon his stage name. Judging by the recent hashtag trail, he is once again being name-checked and courted by the new school of New York street aristocracy. 
Dapper Dan changed fashion forever. In fact, his legacy runs deeper now than it did even at the height of his outré fame. Intimidated and threatened by the implications of hip hop’s glowing admiration in the 80s, the European fashion houses now actively court the affection of Pharrell and Jay-Z. The same brands that once tried to put him out of business now owe him a monumental debt. Kanye’s love affair with Louis Vuitton is just one example of how interconnected 
the two worlds have become. 
And those New Balances I bought years ago? Turns out they are Dapper Dan. Happy days. Enjoy the Dapper Dan interview. 
SF: How did you get started in the fashion industry?
DD: I’ve always liked dressing and fashion, but I’m a guy from the street who didn’t want to be in the street, so I decided since I knew all the hustlers in Harlem that I would open up a store. In the beginning I was buying brands then I discovered that some companies wouldn’t sell to me. So I decided to teach myself how to produce garments. After that I learned different techniques and how to do things that nobody else was doing and that’s what took me over the top. 
SF: How do you describe the Dapper Dan style?
DD: I would attribute my success to making sure I was never defined. I would do what you would call personal collaborations. I’d tell a person what’s possible and how we can just mix it up. I never wanted to do like Cross Colors did or Karl Kani; being boxed in and noted for just one thing. I wanted everything separate from everything else. Each customer had their own idea and that’s what kept me around and generated excitement for so long. 
SF: What’s your take on Harlem style right now?
DD: Right now it’s a bit challenged. We got our style from the older guys on the corner, but now, what’s happening is the younger set are influencing the older guys. They still want the things that Harlem always liked. Alligators and lizards and minks and things like that. That’s always a mainstay here, always popular, but the younger guys are experimenting, pretty much with that skateboard look, like Pharrell and Kanye. 
SF: Were you a hip hop fan or was it just fashion?
DD: Well, you know what? A funny thing about my generation is we consider ourselves the first hip hop guys. They say hip hop started in the Bronx, but we were already doing it in Harlem. We would have house parties and somebody would come along and start MCing to get the party all pumped up, making up rhymes to go with the music. I would consider myself a hip-hop fan right away, especially with the exciting things the Fat Boys was doing and Jam Master J. 
The Fat Boys wearing LV x Dapper Dan

SF: It must have been cool to have those personalities coming in your store all the time.
DD: Oh, yeah, it was great. My nephews and nieces who I had working around the store were very excited. 
SF: You mentioned mink and crocodile. Your reputation was founded on the way you adopted symbols from luxury brands and brought them into Harlem.
DD: Well, you know, it was actually all about the bags. When Louis Vuitton bags was out and the little clutches, it was a status symbol. To give them more status you got to give them more of the symbols. So I said, you know what, maybe I’ll just make jackets and vests and pants and boots. Eventually that led to me doing car interiors and tyre covers for their Jeeps. But it was all about status.
Gucci x Dapper Dan spare tire cover by Dapper Dan

SF: I was always curious whether you saw any political significance in the way you used those symbols?
DD: More importantly, I actually saw it as a challenge because I was shut out. I never thought that I would be accepted and I wanted to make a statement that I could do it. And on a street level, I wanted to make a statement that I could do the same thing that they’re doing, but even better, and it would be more attractive to my ethnic group and to the inner city people. It was also an opportunity to thumb my nose at those big houses that wouldn’t sell to me anyway, you know? 
SF: You got into a little legal tangle with those brands eventually though.
DD: Yeah. They sued me, so I had to start all over again. I was getting too much publicity with Mike Tyson and all the rappers naming me in all the songs, so that’s why I went underground. 
Iron Mike Tyson with Dapper Dan jacket
SF: Did you see Kanye’s shoes for Louis Vuitton?
DD: Yeah, I saw the red sneakers. I’ve been trying to follow him closely and I’m excited about what he’s been able to do. I hope I had something to do with him being able to be where he is today, as far as fashion’s concerned. 
SF: I’d say you definitely did. Now I wanted to ask you about sneakers. It’s probably the 
least well-known element of the Dapper Dan story. How did you get started in footwear? Was it a customer’s idea?
DD: In Harlem, we always wanted our shoes to match our jackets. So even in the very beginning, I got requests from guys to do sneakers. And if you look on the Fat Boys album cover for Crushin’ they got Gucci jackets on and the Nike sneakers with the Gucci on it. 
After that everybody wanted either their boots or their sneakers to match their jackets. Even the hustler who popularised it the most – Alberto Martinez, better known as Alpo, one of the main characters in the movie Paid In Full – had the espadrilles that matched his jacket. So, it’s a thing I always did because it increased the sale of the jackets. It had to be a top and bottom hit, you understand what I’m saying? 
SF: You gave those brands a different kind of fame, a street credibility. They obviously didn’t see any value in what you’d done for them.
DD: They didn’t. They really, truly didn’t. They didn’t wake up until the other brands started seeing the impact of urban wear and how hip hop took it around the world. I’m happy for that and I’m happy for what’s going on now with Kanye and Pharrell working with the big houses that would not take me on early on, you know? 
SF: I do! What did you think when brands started to appear like Troop.
DD: You know what? Troop did not have the status of Louis, Gucci, or Fendi, so it was never really popular in Harlem. It was popular outside of Harlem because of LL Cool J. Then the word went out that Troop was owned by a supposedly racist company (the KKK) and controversy erupted. When my shop was open, nobody was interested in Troop. It wasn’t rich enough and it didn’t send out the type of signal that my clientele wanted. 

Dapper Dan and L.L. Cool J
SF: I always saw Troop as a mutant imitation of that luxury look, and I know LL Cool J was a customer, so I had to ask. Now, I bought a pair of New Balance 572s two years ago, and they were sold to me as Dapper Dan customs. I have never shown anyone these shoes. Did you make them?
DD: Yeah, yeah, I did! New Balances was popular and I used to wear New Balances to jog in. New Balances was popular among a certain group of guys who wanted to break away from the norm. So yeah, we did a lot of New Balances for customers. 

SF: That’s funny, I’d have never associated NB with Dapper Dan til I bought them, but I’m glad they’re not a copy. How physically involved would you have been in making these?
DD: Oh, I made them! We would buy the shoes or the customer would bring them in and I figured out how to cover them in fabric. I got a special kind of glue and I would take that glue, cut a pattern out to fit that sneaker and then we would glue it on. Then, to ensure that it would never come apart, I used the sewing machine to tack the fabric on. That worked out great. 
SF: This pair is from 1991 but it still looks in remarkable condition and I’m sure I could still wear them now. Your technique held up.
DD: Yeah, we took our time. The special glue we used is the glue that was developed especially for the leather business. We were very successful at doing that.
SF: I also wanted to know where you got the fabric from. Is that something you actually had made? 
DD: Originally we were getting the fabric by taking bags and garments and cutting them up. But then I came up with a way to print onto leather. And that’s when the business just went through the roof because Louis doesn’t print on real leather, even today I don’t think. So I was printing Louis and Gucci and Fendi on real leather. That was unheard of. And nobody could copy me, because nobody could figure out how I was getting the ink to stick. Even when you look at the interview that I did for Jay-Z’s Life + Times blog, I have a jacket that’s 25 years old and the ink hasn’t faded yet. After that I started embossing leather, way before the major companies were doing it. Now you see Louis Vuitton embossed bags. It was cutting edge. I tried to stay on top of the technical things that could be done with fabrics and stuff like that. 
SF: There’s a massive counterfeit Nike industry in China. They did the same thing you did, using LV prints on Nike Air Force 1s. Did you ever see them?
DD: Yeah I did. Way back, there were these guys from a store in Chinatown in New York that would send people around to buy my jackets, send them to China to be duplicated and then bring them back. One of them even admitted it to me later on that he copied so many things that I did. I was familiar with what they was doing. I had a window, because the Chinese would copy what I was doing. I might make 700 pieces but they would make 70,000 pieces and flood the whole world. 
SF: What happened to all the jackets that you made, especially from that ‘80s period? They must be worth quite a bit now.
DD: Yeah, absolutely. They’re collector’s items. In fact, Bill Gates’ friend got in touch with me about buying some for a hip hop museum. 
SF: Bill Gates from Microsoft?
DD: Yeah, Bill Gates. The billionaire. He put up some money and had someone go around to try and find original pieces that I made. 
SF: Thanks so much for your time. From everyone who’s admired your handiwork but never got to hear your story first hand, it’s been great talking with you. I’m quite chuffed that I have a pair of Dapper Dan New Balances.
DD: Oh look, thank you for the interest you have in me and thank you for getting the story from me about what it was all about and where it came from. So I appreciate everything you guys are doing at Sneaker Freaker!

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The story behind J.Dilla's "Lost Scrolls Vol.1"

Who knew NPR had hip hop! Radio programs like "Snap Judgment" are why you need to support and listen to public radio!

Have you ever wondered the source of  J Dilla's "The Lost Scrolls?" Listen to this NPR story, to learn the amazing story about a record collector and his fight to find the rightful home for the hip hop treasures he stumbled upon in 2010!
"When record store owner Jeff Bubeck buys an old record collection out of an abandoned storage unit, he has no idea what he’s stumbled across. Jeff learns the collection once belonged to the late great J Dilla, one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time. Along with the thousands of LP’s from Dilla’s personal collection, there is something else that is uncovered, something huge... 
There was probably 6,000 records in there...tons of '70s jazz...I noticed a tub...and it was full of tapes, homemade tapes. There was junk mail...with the name Yancey on it...I have no idea why I did it, but I Googled the name James Yancey... 
On the 100s of cassettes...Dilla had left music and lots of it! The overwhelming...hours and hours and hours of unreleased Dilla music and along with some studio master reels there's enough material to be coming out for years." Snap Judgment, NPR radio show.

Some of the music from these recovered tapes is out now on Delicious Vinyl, entitled "The Lost Scrolls, Vol. 1 - EP." (After watching the Stones Throw documentary, "My Vinyl Weighs a Ton," I can't help wonder why it wasn't the label of choice.)


Check out the J Dilla Foundation at and help fund inner-city music programs and support students who are enrolled in musically progressive schools.

Jeff Bubeck's UHF Music can be found in Royal Oak, Michigan. The staff has been working with Ma Dukes to restore and release Dilla's the unheard material. Check out the store here. Here's an interesting side bar about who else is involved in bringing more Dilla music to his fans.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

#UNleashed Magazine: "Branded Street Art" #ArtInTheStreets

2011 brought a seminal museum art show to Los Angeles. "Art in the Streets" promised an encore in New York's Brooklyn Museum, but quickly lost support and was cancelled.

I was fortunate enough to be chosen as art curator for a style magazine, called "Unleashed." Over a period of a few weeks in 2011 I wrote four articles based on interviews with the street art movement's finest - Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Nick Walker and Patti Astor.

In the past, I've published two of the stories here on my blog: a history of street art and the business interests in street art. Now I've decided to publish the remaining two articles from my interview with Tats Cru's BG183. Let me know what you think in the comments.

"Branded Street Art" by Stephen Pang
(permission to republish kindly granted by UNleashed Magazine.)

Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Keith Haring. Each of these artists developed their own distinctive, identifable art style that turned every mural into an explicit branding exercise that the marketing textbooks describe as “the process of creating and disseminating the brand name.

”These brand messages, although not commercially motivated, are used to convey a thought or idea to anyone willing to stop and look. Unlike art in museums or galleries, these images have a direct impact because they surround us as we go about our daily lives – like ambient art. Street art appeals to an influential, but elusive, demographic. Brands want to co-opt and harness this energy and authenticity that street art brings with it. Each time a brand connects itself to street art, it ironically, dilutes its value as a channel of communication.

To learn more about branded street art, UNleashed spoke with two leading players from each side of the fence. For the artists, TATS Cru of New York, a prolifc “illegal” graffiti crew from the '80s that transformed itself into a pioneer of graffiti advertising murals. And, to represent the corporate brands, UNleashed reached out to Scion, Toyota Motors’ diffusion car marque.

UN: TATS Cru is recognized as the graffiti mural kings and paints every year at the Graffiti Hall of Fame in Spanish Harlem. When did TATS Cru formalize itself as a mural company, rather than a graffiti ‘bombing’ crew?
BG183 (TATS Cru member): When me, Bio and Nicer started the [mural] business, we landed a Cola-Cola contract. That was through Chico from the Lower East Side. He was also painting advertising a year or two before us. He had Camel cigarettes and Cola-Cola. But, he couldn’t paint in the Bronx because we [TATS Cru] had that territory. We were already doing memorial walls and mom and pop stores...

Coca-Cola by Tats Cru, 1997 (not the first Coke mural)

UN: How did working with brands affect TATS Cru’s approach to mural painting?
BG183: At the time, we didn’t know whether we were a sign company, an advertising company or artists-for hire. We took every [commission] that came in. During that time, a lot of companies were doing graffiti advertising, but real people who grew up with graffiti knew it was fake. So, why not hire a company like us [TATS] to create a win/win situation? We were basically in advertising - a sign company. But we didn’t know that…we thought we were bringing the graff’. When we got down with Coke it opened our eyes. We needed to think like them. People are still buying Coca-Cola to this day, so there has to be a reason. In 1996, a year or two after the Coca-Cola deal, we got [a contract from] ABC Carpet and Home, one of the biggest carpet stores on the east-side. Even though we were working for Coke we were still broke…we didn’t know how to price the work…we thought $1,000 was a good price.

UN: Why was graffiti popular with advertisers during the mid-90s?
BG183: Companies couldn’t put up billboards because they were getting defaced by vandalism and graffiti. So,the way for advertisers to come into our neighborhoods…we had a gimmick. If you used us to make them [adverts], they didn’t get defaced. In the early '80s, TATS Cru had 12 members who fought with other graffiti artists and stole their paint. We had the reputation that whoever messed around with us would get beaten up. So, no one would touch our work, including our advertising work…so we could guarantee our work. Although, I remember we painted eight adverts for Hummer. The two in Brooklyn, in the Williamsburg section were defaced by activists – they wrote ‘Bush, Gas, Oil.’ It wasn’t an anti-graffiti thing, it was because…a Hummer is a gas guzzler! They destroyed it, we fixed it, and they destroyed it!

Tats Cru x New York Mayor Bloomberg, 2010

UN: How did TATS Cru become the self-titled ‘mural kings?’
BG183: [The advertising murals] became a performance piece. As we painted, people would ask ‘Wow, how did you guys paint that logo?’ At the same time it gave us a lot of skills in the graffiti game…not many can imitate the work we do…there are only a few in the world.

UN: In the '80s there was the downtown graffiti art scene that Fab 5 Freddy, Dondi, Futura were part of. Where was TATS Cru in that mix?
BG183: Those guys started in the early '70s, but we started in the '80s. They were already in the graffiti game for seven or eight years and people like Crash and Phase were painting canvases. Our mission was writing our name for fame, painting subways, getting chased by the police. Our focus wasn’t painting in galleries, but we did go to some galleries back in the Bronx, like Fashion Moda. We were 16, 17 years old and had no fame, no props. These guys already had books published, [like Subway Art with Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper.]

Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. launched the Scion brand in 2003 as a more youthful, entry-level car - the median age of a Scion driver is 30 - the youngest in the auto industry, with a whopping 72 percent of those owners being Toyota virgins! Scion has consciously avoided expensive, mass-market advertising, preferring to build favor and credibility using grassroots marketing, including employing the appeal of street art. To understand how Scion integrates street art into its successful marketing strategy, UNleashed spoke with Jeri Yoshizu, Scion’s sales promotions manager in charge of lifestyle and social media marketing.

Scion by Tats Cru

UN: Scion refers to street art as urban art. Is there a difference, and if so, what? Do you distinguish between street artists' media (graffiti/aerosol, wheat paste, stencils etc?) Does it matter?”
Jeri Yoshizu: We call it street art to not limit it to graffiti. It encompasses the large category that includes stenciling, etc.

UN: How and when did Scion decide to build street art into its marketing strategy? How did the Scion Installation idea develop, and did the initiative change direction during planning and execution?
Jeri Yoshizu: We built it into the launch of the brand in 2003. It started as a simple exhibition at The Los Angeles Auto Show. We had more than 20 artists painting on the Scion XB. It included David Choe, Kenton Parker, Saber, Mister Cartoon, Revok, Krush, Dez Einswell and others. It was very successful and also initialized relationships with artists that we have continued to work with for years.

UN: What is the appeal of street art for Scion? How does Scion balance the possible illegality of street art with its own brand values?
Jeri Yoshizu: We focus on the positive aspects of art, and not only street art. We work in video, graphics, mixed media, etc. The appeal is based on the types of artists who are making a life through art. We are not working with highbrow artists, as that is not our target market's interest.

UN: How did Scion shortlist the artists chosen to participate out of the hundreds of notable artists?
Jeri Yoshizu: [Requiring artists to be] positive and open-minded tends to shorten the list. We work with people who want to make something happen.

UN: What do you think Scion brought to the street artists who participated in the initiative? What do you think Scion gained from the collaboration with street artists?
Jeri Yoshizu: We gave them a paycheck. They have to pay their rent. Eat. Have a life. Scion's job is to make sure that they feel good about working with a corporation, without feeling taken advantage of. This is key to our initiatives. We know we are a corporation selling cars. I want to dispel any negative outcomes that can typically result by supporting the artists and helping them to develop in the commercial area. Our gain is great relationships while watching their careers grow.

UN: What are the marketing objectives? How effective has street art been for Scion's marketing objectives? How does Scion track and measure effectiveness?
Jeri Yoshizu: Street art, and executing the Scion initiatives consistently, has brought brand recognition and apositive reputation for the brand. I measure success through feedback from the artists.

UN: What's next for Scion and street art?
Jeri Yoshizu: Video.

Copyright 2011 by Stephen Pang/UNleashed Magazine.

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