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The Windy City's chilly air seeps into the building as the main door cracks wide open. Busy crew members scurry between rooms, ensuring every fixture and branded display is arranged perfectly before the clock strikes 3 o'clock. A group of focused workers huddles nearby to go over loose ends and delegated tasks. Throwback hip-hop jams float throughout the warehouse, teasing the chill vibes to come. Time is of the essence and it's almost showtime; Confirmed guests will soon start trickling into Moonlight Studios in the next hour or so. It's the calm before the storm at The Royal Pop-Up, a two-day event curated by Crown Royal Regal Apple and its creative director, streetwear designer extraordinaire Joe "Freshgoods" Robinson.
In the first room to the right, a crew of black, swagged-out mannequins stands tall in the middle of the room, rocking yellow hoodies, black and white tees, pants and bandanas etched in J-F-G, Crown Royal, and red apples. With the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend serving as the backdrop, fashion and basketball enthusiasts alike are set to get an exclusive glimpse of the limited-edition capsule collection, Royal APPLE GOODS, designed by Chicago native Freshgoods in collaboration with the Canadian whiskey brand.
Not too far away stands the DJ of the night, fellow creative and entrepreneur, Vic Lloyd, setting up his station as he prepares to set the musical energy for part of the day. To the left of him, a pair of workers in all-black prep the tote bags they'll be pressing with APPLE GOODS' design and logos. In another room to the far left, nail artists Tacarra "Spifster" Sutton and Slay Lewis are settling into their stations where they'll be taking manicure appointments to deck out the nails of anyone looking to add an extra flair to their fit. Two barber chairs are about 20 feet away for attendees down for a fresh cut or a quick line-up by the South Side's own Roger “Rodge” Williams of Raw Cutting Room.
Staying true to his hometown has always been Freshgoods' wave. While getting his feet wet as an intern at Leaders 1354 and working at Fashion Geek, he started his own apparel brand Don't Be Mad, eventually co-founded Fat Tiger Workshop with Lloyd and others, and caught the eye of major brands like adidas, McDonald's, New Era, and more. So it's no surprise that Freshgoods hand-selected some of his home city's top creators and makers to help make the pop-up experience that much more authentic and true to Chicago.
In the last room, friendly bartenders are preparing the Regal Apple Bar where specialty cocktails will be served in golden cups. On the opposite side, a sneaker cleaning station is ready to keep guests' kicks crispy, while two framed, Crown Royal Regal Apple-themed backdrops are perched in front of a brick wall, perfect for those looking to capture the moment in the form of a picture.
In an unused room in the back of the studio space sits Joe Freshgoods, relaxing on a black, plush couch, rocking the hoodie from the Royal APPLE GOODS collection, a pair of loose-fitted, tie-dye pants and his latest, sold-out New Balance 992 collaborative shoe. Despite the craziness that is All-Star Weekend and a jam-packed schedule of appearances and connecting with friends, Freshgoods is chill, present, and ready to chat about working with Crown Royal, Chicago’s underestimated fashion scene, his favorite '90s fashion trend and more.
Tell us about the Royal Apple Goods capsule collection. What inspired the designs?
Royal Apple Goods was pretty much inspired by basketball, my love of lettering and a bit of my colorway. I wanted to make cool basketball merch. Just stuff that you can go to the gym in and rock. I just wanted to make it a dope basketball-themed collection.
We noticed that you decided to work with some fellow Chicagoans for different parts of this pop-up. Why was that important to you?
Oftentimes, when these big activations pop up in different cities, they never really tap into the community. It was pretty dope to be able to have my people around town who I collaborate with —a lot of the barbers, DJs, artists, nail techs, people that are moving and shaking in Chicago. Everybody that's working in each booth [at this event] is someone that people respect. I think if we're doing a project in a city as big as Chicago, you want guests and people to recognize, "Oh, that's [Spifster] the nail tech." Because a lot of these people are really booked. You don't often get to see these artists in one room at one time. Like Rodge, you’ve got to book him two weeks in advance. I know with Spif, she's booked six months in advance. It's rare to be in an area where you can just go from station to station, get merch from me, get your nails done by the hottest nail person, get your hair done, and listen to good tunes. It was just important to just tap in with the local community. It just made sense.
With your style mantra being "Clothes is art defined by the times," how do you define today's time in fashion?
I think for me, you hear that streetwear is dying and that it's always like a thing where I still thrive on the art of, "Oh, wow." I love merch related to a time, you know? Everybody that gets my merch today and tomorrow, it's going to be dope to say, "Yo, I went to this event that Joe helped put on, and he had merch."
I love making clothing like concert merch. That's my whole vibe. If I was a rapper that did a show in Chicago, this would be my merch for that show, you know? That's how I approach a lot of my products with different brands. This is what I wanted to do with Crown that made sense for the community. Right now, I've got the hottest shoes dropping today, but I'm doing something different with Crown Royal. I like to give some stuff away, so this feels good.
If you were to create say a retro '90s fit, what would that look like? What's Joe wearing from that decade?
I was always a fan of the Naughty By Nature overall. I don't know. I like that rugged Timberland...I just like that real rugged, man-man, streetwear look, you know? Obviously, I love to dress colorfully, but I've always been a fan of that construction worker wave of the early '90s. That was with all the sweatsuits and all. That's always been my wave. Yeah, real Treach, Naughty By Nature vibes.
In a recent interview, you mentioned how Chicago kind of plays the little sister to other cities and is often overlooked or left out in different ways. What do you think this week means for your home city when it comes to fashion, the culture, and everything?
I think this week is very important. When Chicago first got the news that there was going to be a very big basketball week, it was pretty dope. This is one of the first times since being a kid to have all these people from out of town here. Since I've been an adult, there hasn't been a Super Bowl here or anything. I don't know, and we had this big thing about Chicago where it's like, "Am I safe here?" But it's a beautiful city.
The Royal Pop Up was a vibe during #NBAAllStar weekend. Here's what you missed: https://t.co/etxoU0pPnp pic.twitter.com/gVS4nmmUHt
— Vibe Magazine (@VibeMagazine) February 20, 2020
I think it's one of the top food cities to me, in my opinion. Yes, it's a cold city, but it's pretty awesome to see all these events going on. All this positivity. Complex Con was here. That was big, but this is bigger. It's so cool to see all my peers doing their projects, and everybody supporting each other. There's no beef. Everybody's about community. It feels good. With this big basketball weekend, I'm glad so many people are getting to experience Chicago for the first time like this.
It's insane and to imagine the last time All-Star Weekend was here a little over 30 years ago? It's a sigh of relief for Chicago to be a city of attraction where people are comfortably out and about versus being in Cali or Los Angeles.
With the NBA All-Star game set to honor the late Kobe Bryant, what’s one of your favorite memories of Kobe?
Kobe was so serious on the court. He performed to the highest level. Every time he stepped off the court, and you saw Kobe in commercials, it was like whoa. I was always a big fan of his commercials, especially the one with Kanye. When he was dancing with Tony Hawk...it was always dope to see that, "Oh, he’s human," even though he was a shark on the court.
Every time Kobe would just make people laugh. In certain in-game moments, he would dance a little bit. He was so stern on the court, but every time Kobe showed personality, every time he was a comedian, it was just funny because it was coming from Kobe.
As a man of many talents, can we expect you to indulge in any other endeavors? What's next? Joe Freshgoods: The Movie?
Not yet (laughs). I'm really just trying to expand the brand. Right now, I'm building a really great team. I think teamwork is so key to movement. For so long, I was so used to doing things myself, but within the last three, four years of just having a team, it's felt like there are endless possibilities. I'm just kind of expanding. I'm really big on pop-up shops. It's something that I've honed in on as my thing, being able to connect with different communities across the world. I kind of want to get bigger at that. That's the goal for the next few years is to just kind of expand on these pop-up moments, and make them live a little longer in different cities.
What inspired you to take the pop-up shop route with your brand?
It's pretty simple. It's like the Master P formula when it comes to going from state to state selling your mixtape as opposed to having your mixtape in Target, or Best Buy, or in Sam Goody. For example, I could make more money going to New Orleans. No brand ever goes to New Orleans to show love. But with me, I pull up with my team, we do a pop-up in NOLA and actually get to touch the community.
Traditional retail is kind of dying in the sense of going to New York and opening up a big store. That whole model is changing to the point where now I can go to a certain area and pop-up for five days, and do well, go to L.A. and then go to Houston, you know? With that formula, a lot of brands can't do that, but I can and I'm going to keep doing it.
Lastly, if the Royal APPLE GOODS collection had an accompanying playlist, what three songs would be on it?
Ooh, that's a really good one. Aw, man. The Bulls theme song (“Sirius” by the Alan Parson's Project). That's one, that's just a vibe right there. Man, I need a toxic Future song (laughs) Okay, "March Madness" and Hall & Oates' "Sara Smile." Yeah, I like that.
Additional reporting by Obehi Imarenezor
Chuck D, Dave East, Jadakiss & God Shammgod Talk Sneaker Culture And Public Enemy’s Legacy At PUMA Pop-Up
In celebration of Def Jam and PUMA Hoop's latest sneaker release, the legendary Chuck D of Public Enemy sat down with writer Russ Bengtson, rappers Jadakiss, Dave East, and basketball street legend God Shammgod for a live panel discussion during the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend (Feb. 15).
Held inside the League Fits Lounge powered by the PUMA Hoops pop-up, the four panelists chatted about the new PUMA Sky LX and PUMA Clyde kicks, Public Enemy's legacy and the rise of hip-hop and sneaker culture. Jadakiss, East, Chuck D, and Shammgod all pledged their allegiance to the rapidly growing culture.
"I'm a sneaker addict. Until I die, I think I'm always going to be excited with new sneakers," said East. "I like knowing I'm going home and there are sneakers that I ordered that are waiting for me. These [PUMA] sneakers are dope and I'm happy to be here with Chuck D sharing this moment."
"It’s a form of accomplishment like I made it," said Jadakiss when asked about his thoughts on the collaboration and speaking on the panel with the hip-hop legend. "How many years I spent listening to Public Enemy and for Chuck D to be a fan and acknowledge me as a constituent, a colleague, and contemporary in some form is a feeling that no money or accolade can compare to."
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The Chi today debuting the new PE - PUMA Collab. Talking Hip Hop + B-Ball w @jadakiss @daveeast @leaguefits @pumahoops at 4:30 Get em at puma.com 💥💥💥 ..... ...... ...... #nbaallstar #chuckd #pumahoops #sneakers #kicks #collection #fightthepower #fearofablackplanet #publicenemy #publicenemyradio #hiphop #daveeast #jadakiss
Chuck D also shared some gems and stories from his time when Public Enemy's popularity skyrocketed in the early '90s. Public Enemy became one of the most popular groups in hip-hop history for their socio-political rhymes and in-your-face attitude. Many rappers strive to be the most popular artist in the game but for Chuck D and his band of brothers, their perspective was different.
"My goal wasn't to be like the popular group that everybody loved. We wanted to see groups and artists around us do well," Chuck D recalls. "We wanted to see young people do well. We were already older and we weren't trying to impress anybody."
When Public Enemy made their debut there was nothing like the militaristic rap crew from Long Island. Their music criticized the media and spoke heavily on the plights that blacks faced in the United States.
"We represented a fu**ed up situation. It was a wilder time in hip-hop before records in 1978 and 1979, and we saw sh*t for three to four years," said Chuck D about the inspiration behind the group’s formation. "Hip-hop came out of those ashes to speak out against a lot of that bullsh*t and didn't get an answer to years later."
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NEW YORK STATE OF MIND. 🗽
As most people thought Public Enemy were too aggressive and hated the white community, Chuck D reminded the audience that wasn't the case. "We didn’t come against society like f**k white people. No, this is our story [that] you need to hear instead of that bullsh*t story," Chuck D said.
At the end of the discussion, Chuck D gave props to his three guests for their contributions to the culture; He shared how he enjoys playing East's music all the time, praised Jadakiss' raspy voice for its sound on a record, and saluted Shammgod for his global impact on the game of basketball. "I'm proud to be on this panel man because I've studied each and every one of these creatives in their life."
PUMA Hoops and Def Jam's sophomore release celebrates Public Enemy's game-changing third album Fear of a Black Planet with two different iterations of the PUMA Sky LX and PUMA Clyde, two sneakers that Public Enemy and several other Def Jam artists wore back in the day.
The PUMA x Public Enemy Sky LX features a white and red colorway with a leather upper and Def Jam's logo plastered on the tongue and Chuck D's iconic "Fight the Power" verse stamped on the side. The PUMA x Public Enemy Clyde, on the other hand, features an all-red upper with black accents. The lowcut sneaker also features a white outsole with "FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET" written across it.
NBA All-Star weekend returned to Chicago for the first time in more than 30 years. In celebration of the exciting festivities making its way back to the Windy City (Feb. 14-16), American Express teamed up with Chicago designer, Don C, to launch a limited-edition sneaker.
The Nike Air Force 1 Hi Just Don pays homage to his Midwestern city's roots with the “Amex Blue” custom sneaker resembling the blue and red found on the city’s flag. The blue appears on the smooth leather on the uppers while tumbled blue leather is on the strap. Hints of red can be found on different areas of the shoe, including the Just Don heel branding.
To commemorate the sneaker’s release and the unique collaboration, Don C sat down for an intimate chat with former SportsCenter host Cari Champion. During the American Express Experience complete with an exclusive menu and cocktails, Don C expressed his excitement around sneaker life reaching the point of doing collaborations with a major brand such as American Express and big businesses respecting and recognizing the work of small businesses. A small group of about 150 guests also learned more about his streetwear background and how his upbringing in Chicago played a major part in his work, especially his latest sneaker.
Don C first began his streetwear brand and store, RSVP Gallery, with fellow Chicago designer Virgil Abloh (Louis Vuitton’s Men’s Artistic Director) 10 years ago. The brand’s apparel was based on the designers’ experiences while traveling the world alongside Kanye West. They wanted to give back to their city and offer Chicagoans a taste of what they were exposed to in other parts of the world. Through the power of social media and “community members” as he considers his customers, the brand has grown tremendously through the years and is a staple in the Chicago area.
Then, in 2017, Don C was tapped by Nike to design a luxury limited-edition sneaker for the brand’s Air Force 1 35th anniversary. He gave a nod to the Buck 50 hats, a popular accessory in Chicago, with the Just Don x Nike Air Force 1’s touches of gold hardware and snakeskin. Since that time, Don C has collaborated with Nike on other designs including the Air Jordan 1, but he has returned to the iconic Air Force design with the latest offering, once again taking inspiration from Air Force 2 and 3, since in his words “the 1 gets enough shine.”
The Nike Air Force 1 Hi Just Don sneakers (retailed at $200) were available exclusively online to American Express Card Members on Thursday (Feb. 13), and sold out in just three minutes.
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To celebrate @nbaallstar weekend, I’ve collaborated with @americanexpress to present this limited edition Nike Air Force 1 Hi 🥶 - Growing up in Chicago, basketball has always been a huge part of my life so I’m excited the sports biggest weekend is back in my City! #nbaallstar #amexambassador
With the success of his sneaker partnerships, he continues to focus on building up the Just Don brand and dropping more exclusive apparel and sneakers for “community members” to love and enjoy. Sports, style, heritage, and good principles are his current focus areas as he works to bring exclusivity to the community and make the community feel special. When asked what’s on the horizon, he said, “Using the growth that I’ve learned from entities bigger than my own to apply to my own organization and growing my organization to an entity as big as American Express.”