Oh Nah. x VIBE Oh Nah. x VIBE
Markus Prime

Illustrator Markus Prime Talks 'Oh Nah.,' Sex Positivity, And Anime's Lack Of Melanin

One of Markus Prime’s latest works of art created controversy, conversation, and has quickly become one of the most talked about items on Instagram.

What do Estelle, Cree Summers, Megan Thee Stallion’s security guard, and the whole of Black Instagram have in common?

They all love illustrator Markus Prime.

The preacher’s kid from Warren, Ohio with the sex positive comic strip, Oh Nah. (Ed. Note: stylized with the period at the end), has been under the spotlight before. His innovative flair with a pen and pixel gave many folx pause when his book B.R.U.H. offered an alternative to the melanin-deprived works of Nate Kitch, Maldo, and Petra Eriksson. Also known as Black Renditions of Universal Heroes, Prime directly addressed the representation of Black women in pop culture by using his work to draw them as superheroes.

“I always drew out Peanuts characters like Charlie Brown, but I’d make them Black to look like me,” he told this very publication in a 2016 sit-down chat. “I wanted to see more women of color. I could complain about it or start contributing.” His art would go viral in ways even he couldn’t imagine. Outside of B.R.U.H., his depiction of Disney princesses Jasmine and Pochahontas smoking hookah went viral, eventually being repurposed into images used on iPhone cases, pins, and T-shirts. “I’m just trying to show that Blackness is infinite.”

Now based in Los Angeles, Prime’s conversation-driven illustrations have turned heads and turned Oh Nah. into a project full of sex-positive Black representation. His uplifting, artistic portrayal of couples extends from his personal life and from those of friends and muses that help to inspire the work that averages 8,000 to 10,000 likes on Instagram. From relishing in the pleasures of self-love to using Star Wars Jedi training as a metaphor for hitting the G-spot, Prime has tastefully brought Black sex into our timelines and garnered a healthy, loyal Instagram following.

 

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Before you get in the club there’s a cover at the door.

A post shared by Markus Prime (@markus.effin.prime) on

In the past year alone, he has seen his numbers jump from 180K to now, as of this writing, 227K followers, and we’re not the only ones who have noticed. “I’ve definitely had some conversations with some people this year,” Prime told this author during our phone call. “I can’t say too much, but there are bigger plans on the horizon. I am definitely planning on making [Oh Nah.] coffee table books and I would love for this to become something that’s longer and in animated form.” Uncompromising and unfiltered, Markus Prime spoke with VIBE once again to talk about the origins of Oh Nah. comic, how talking about anal play and same-sex relationships blew up his comments section, and why Black women will always be his creative muse.

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VIBE: First question I have for you Markus is about how the concept of Oh Nah. came about.

Markus Prime: It’s kind of funny [laughs]. [At the time] I kind of hit a wall creatively. I wasn’t inspired. Last year was kind of difficult [for me]. I felt like I was getting repetitive and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

So, I was going through my Instagram feed — I follow a lot of comics — and I decided to see if I could just do one of the ones that I really enjoy seeing. I thought that I’m kind of funny and so I just drew one of my own [in that style] right before I went to a convention. I did it and I didn’t think anything else about it.

I was enjoying the convention and then a few hours later, I looked on my phone and [my post] has about 8,000 likes [laughs]. I’m like, ‘Wow, what the hell?!’ I didn’t think it was going to go like that, so yeah, it really was just a spur of the moment thing.

And that inspired you to continue Oh Nah. off of the response you got online?

Yeah, man, yeah! I thought even then that it was a one time thing, but that one took off and I was surprised. ‘Wow, you all really think this is funny,’ I thought to myself. I just kept doing them. Even now, every single post I do is just me thinking, ‘Oh, they’re not going to like this one and it’ll be over,’ and no one taps out. They just keep demanding more. So, [this process] has just been really fun for me. There’s no pressure.

For myself and others who follow you, Oh Nah. hits that sweet spot of anime and Black illustration that appeals to us greatly. From Dragon Ball Z to other pop culture references you use, your comic is relatable and funny. What changes did you notice once you got into the rhythm of your postings that was different from B.R.U.H.?

Even when I did B.R.U.H., I have never had anything in my career that has been responded to consistently like Oh Nah. The way the people talk and engage in the comments section, it’s amazing! A friend of mine who is a dope artist that I’ve known for years made a good point to me, saying, ‘Bro, I don’t think you realize that your posts have been kind of educational. You’re opening people up to these dialogues through your comics that folx wouldn’t have been had in the Black community.’

I did one [post] about anal play with your girl, and it was really interesting. The thread in the comments section went on for a day and a half. There were people who were defensive and argued with each other, but there were a lot more people sharing educational things in the thread than just being negative. I didn’t realize that that had been happening in every post. When I do something about homosexuality, the comments would be just so interesting.

People would be having these discussions off of something that was supposed to be a joke and it’s the simplest thing I’ve ever drawn.

 

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Conversations need to be had in 2020...

A post shared by Markus Prime (@markus.effin.prime) on

Delving into the anal play topic, in your comics I polled a question from my social friends group, and Tatiana [King] from For All Nerds wanted to know what inspired the change in direction with your art style?

Shout-out to Tatiana, man. That’s the homie right there. I really wanted to do something new. When I started back on Tumblr, I was by myself, but now there are a lot of my previous styles everywhere [online]. So, I felt like I didn’t stand out anymore, that I was just a part of the regular timeline, which was to be expected. I had impacted the game in at least enough ways where I felt there was enough version of me out there now, and I needed to do something different to have fun again. I wasn’t having fun, so I really wanted to just be free and Oh Nah. is very freeing for me.

Speaking of being free, you said in a past interview that a “Black woman  can be the most powerful character in her story without her being portrayed as out of the ordinary,” which isn’t something you hear Black men say publicly these days. What has been some of the feedback that you’ve received from Black women while doing these Oh Nah. episodes?

You said that you don’t hear a straight man rarely say these things, I have to be really honest, I wasn’t thinking about those things when I make this stuff. It’s because I’m very fortunate that a lot of my friends are Black women, so a lot of my art is already informed by them and their really positive feedback.

Most of the things that I draw are from their experiences. Even the ones that have to do with me, with a male character, are still influenced by Black women, which is why I think the response is what it is because they see it. I usually ask questions of Black women 90 percent of the time because there’s a lot of stuff I’m drawing that I don’t know about 100 percent, so I hit up my Black women friends.

I wouldn’t be here without them. My whole career is because of their support, and it’s all organic. It’s not something I’m forcing, I am just drawing [these episodes] from what I feel, so I think that’s why [Oh Nah.] is working the way it is.

 

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Bish you guessed it! Hit her so hard my animation glitched lmao

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Black women have been your inspiration throughout your career, so how do you feel about others in the animation-illustration game over-sexualizing them? How do you maintain such good taste with your work?

That’s a good question. I’m not better than any of those people; I just go to Black women about the process. I’ve listened to their feedback over the years. Black women are 60 percent of my audience online. They’re the ones who are messaging me, emailing me, and telling me, ‘Hey, we see this thing that you might like,’ or ‘Hey, we love this,’ and I think consulting with the muse makes me relatable.

I’m listening when they’re telling me something. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much a believer of “let me do my art.” But when it comes to how Black women are being seen and represented, I am listening to them. If I am going to use them as the subject of my art, I should damn well be listening to them.

To go back to the anal play and same-sex situations you illustrate, you’ll also address those conversations in the comments directly. How do you balance the line between using art to entertain and using it to create these discussions about sex that are often overlooked?

If anyone knows about B.R.U.H., you’ve been at least aware of my work for a while. One thing I hope people realize is that when it comes to anything serious is that I only draw those things when I’m inspired, when I genuinely feel them. In drawing them when I am in the moment, I think that’s why [the comic] gets the responses they get. I don’t tackle a lot of same-sex issues in my comics because it is not my experience. Any of the ones that you’ve seen me do, I’ve asked one of my friends in the queer community like, ‘How do you feel about this?’ or ‘Would this make sense?’

Ignorance of any kind is infuriating and that particular issue had been bothering me, so that particular comic was more so to address the straight men who had issues with [same-sex or anal play]. There were also women who had an issue with it, but nine times out of 10, it’s men who still have to keep letting everybody know how insecure they are when nobody asks them anything. You could keep scrolling, man. It’s such a weird thing. If a straight man gets hit on in public, they get all, ‘Oh, man, I’m not gay. Don’t come at me!’ and I’m like why you gotta do all of that? If you’re secure with yourself, you don’t have to be tripping like that. You could just say thank you and move on, you know what I mean?

This issue is something I’m glad that I’m addressing and I hope that these conversations [via Oh Nah.] become more productive. It just makes them look a bit less confident in the long run.

 

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It’s ok guys. It’s really ok.

A post shared by Markus Prime (@markus.effin.prime) on

Right, right. In that same 2015 interview, you also said that Black representation in the visual arts was “lagging.” Would you say that that has evolved since then?

I do feel like visual representation has evolved, but not necessarily as much as I feel it can because we’ve been doing it. I think more so than evolved it is just getting a larger light shined upon it, you feel me?!

I agree.

Oh Nah., in my opinion, shouldn’t be this big of a deal. It still feels like a “first,” if that makes any sense. I’m not the first one to talk about sex or even do Black art in this style, but in terms of the response, I feel like we’re hitting a lot of milestones [as a creative collective] that should have been hit a long time ago. And when I say visual representation, it still feels like a lot of things that are being spotlighted are being done as a favor for us. Like ‘Oh, we’ll let you have this one’ or ‘We’ll let you have two Black people on this show this time.’

We wouldn’t care [as much] if we had as many options as our white counterparts. They have a million things to watch, read, and experience, so it doesn’t bother them when there’s a sad movie out because they’ve seen several other positive stories out at the same time. They can pick from the litter. We deal with Queen & Slim for the next few months and then here comes Just Mercy and then we might get another next quarter. We have to hold on to whatever we get. I think when we get to a point where we have multiple things at one time, it’s not going to be a big deal.

Oh Nah. is very sex positive and it is one of the few places that I know in the Black space that really promotes this conversation in a kind and imaginative way. With that said, I wanted to know what your thoughts are about sex positivity in your work and in the visual arts world?

It is a matter of my experiences versus the way the media has given us our own experience. I joke a lot that white people have finessed us so well because they’ve taken things from us and they re-gifted them back to us [laughs]. It’s like they took a plate of food from us, ate most of it, and then they gave that same plate back to us with a little leftover. That’s how I feel like sex has been portrayed to us from a Black experience. If you look at most of the ways in major films or TV shows, Black sex has always had this stigma to it. It is always shown as this rough and aggressive, one dimensional view of sex and that’s not true of us.

Even in other factors, if it is a gay couple, they have this very stereotypical approach to it. They’ve got to be super-flamboyant or they have to be overly-exaggerated, which means we’re only getting a handful of the same looks. I’ve been fortunate thanks to traveling around the country that I’ve never seen one version of anything.

Right.

Gay wasn’t one way to me [and] by the time I was old enough to understand what was happening, I had met so many different people that I had learned that this wasn’t how everyone acted. That’s just what the TV or movies tried to show me as a kid. I think that’s why it is easier for me to draw these comics the way I do and talk about it in that way because sexuality is one of the only places where we’re not willing to acknowledge diversity.

I feel like that’s where we’re really hypocrites. We’ll talk about everybody being different: different cultures and religions, but when sexuality comes up that’s when people are like, ‘Oh, that’s wrong. You should only be like this.’ And that’s so backwards to me!

As I mentioned earlier, you drop references such as Dragon Ball Z and Naruto into your work, but those shows rarely — if at all — feature any Black characters. Some of my personal favorites like One Punch Man and Baki don’t do a bang-up job with the Black characters that currently exist in these shows. What would it take for a major creative shift to happen given how much Black people love and support anime, in your opinion?

Shout-out to LeSean Thomas, the creator of Cannon Busters, as this has been a discussion I’ve been having with friends my whole life. His contribution to the culture with that show is inspiring because it’s Japanese and there are rules to how they do their stuff. Not everyone can do it and they just don’t let anybody in. We deal with that sort of segregation in our own country — even now — with our own media, but [with anime] it is an even higher mountain to climb because we’re not really represented there.

 

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This was an alternate ending to a previous comic I didn’t like lol

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I think it’s interesting that with both of these white and Japanese animations, we spend so much money on them and then their response to that is acting like it is such a hassle to let us in the industry. It really would have to be an issue of pride for both the white and Japanese sides of the industry to let its guard down. What’s really the problem, you know? If they are going to take our money, at least stop drawing us with those big pink, donut-shaped lips. That’s the least you could do to start out.

Secondly, hire us for voice acting instead of a white person or someone who isn’t Black. We need baby steps in our direction, to be frank. From drawing our hair a little different to working on the texture to just giving a damn — these things could start the change [in the anime industry]. There are some anime examples where they’ve done us justice, but it’s very rare. So, I think they have to care first, which seems like a huge, huge, huge feat.

For those who have yet to get familiar with Oh Nah. and your style, how would you describe it to them in five words or less?

Five words or less? [Laughs] “Adult Calvin and Hobbes style.”

Kevin L. Clark is a Brooklyn-based music journalist, screenwriter and recent kidney transplant recipient who is raising awareness about his Mighty Healthy crowdfunding project on Seed&Spark. Keep up with the latest by following him @KevitoClark on IG and Twitter and subscribing to his weekly #KevitoSays newsletter.

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Kamaiyah/GRND.WRK/EMPIRE

Kamaiyah Talks Long-Awaited Debut 'Got It Made' And Independent Status

On a cloudy afternoon in New York City, rapper Kamaiyah is dressed for comfort, wearing a purple sweatsuit, and the purple beads adorning her signature box braids match her fit. She’s made a stop at the VIBE office during a day of interviews, accompanied by a crew of three women, including her newly appointed A&R Justice Davis. Kamaiyah is observing more than speaking, preserving her voice since she is recovering from a nuisance cold. But the East Oakland native’s energy switches from laidback to zealous as we discuss her lead single “Still I Am” for Got It Made, her long-delayed forthcoming project dropping February 21.

 

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After almost 4 years I present to you my project “ Got It Made “ 2•21•20 the wait is over we going up and this mutha fucka slap 💁🏾‍♀️ flood my comments with 500 ☂️’s and I’ll drop a song tonight 👀 (Presave link in my bio)

A post shared by Kamaiyah🧿 (@kamaiyah) on Feb 3, 2020 at 11:00am PST

On the CT Beats track, the go-to producer for her hypnotic g-funk sound, she earnestly raps, “I done took plenty losses/ That's why I feel like I deserve to keep flossin'/ This shit is exhausting/ When you boss up and run your own office.” The verses point to her departure from Interscope Records and YG’s 4 Hunnid Records and the launch of her new label GRND.WRK (pronounced groundwork), in partnership with Empire last August. She decided to dip after the release date for her project Something To Ride To was pushed back multiple times. This makes Kamaiyah one of few women in hip-hop, and perhaps the first from the West Coast, to run her own shop.

“It's very important and vital because a lot of people feel you need a man to make you an artist,” Kamaiyah said. “You need a man to mold you into what you need to be.” But Kamaiyah — who has been rapping since she was 9, recording in the studio since she was 11, and dropped a critically acclaimed mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto (2016) before she was signed to a major deal — already knew what kind of artist she wanted to be before she signed on the dotted line.

In the months since she left the label, she began building her office in the upstairs area of her loft; finished recording, mixing and mastering Got It Made, a project she was planning before she parted from Interscope; and her manager Brandon Moore became her partner on her new venture. 2020 will be the first year Kamaiyah has full control of her career since breaking into the mainstream hip-hop world in 2016. This was always part of her master plan and why the previous arrangement did not fit her.

“I signed too fast, but I never wanted to sign,” she reflects. “I was always the artist that was like, 'I don't want no deal.' I wanted to hustle because I knew where I come from. Everybody does it independently. But at that time it was the best decision for everybody. I took that L for the team and we learned a lot. It was like four years of music business school.”

Kamaiyah wants to carry on in the spirit of Bay Area hip-hop legends like E-40, known for their independent spirit of hustling their CDs out of their car trunks. But she also wants the pop accolades of hip-hop superstars like Drake, Missy Elliot, and Oakland’s original hip-hop icon MC Hammer. Her biggest hit to date is YG’s "Why You Always Hatin?” also featuring Drake, which charted at no. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100. But she wants more. Success for Kamaiyah means Grammys, Billboard No. 1's, and gold and platinum plaques. Partnering with Empire, a digital-first independent distributor, and a label launched by San Francisco native Ghazi Shami in 2010, could be her winning ticket. In the past decade, Empire’s launched several successful hip-hop projects such as Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 album and Anderson .Paak’s album Malibu. This partnership can give Kamaiyah the independence and support toward the mass appeal she’s seeking. Having dealt with project release delays in the past, her strategy going forward is consistency.

“Great quality music at a rapid rate...People just want to see you [working]. And if they know you consistent, they gon’ consume the music.” Kamaiyah also wants to use her platform to sign new talent, especially in the Bay Area, where she said artists can benefit from music business education when their records go viral. “Once they get the traction and the record, it becomes this egotistical thing and it's like ‘I made it cause I'm cracking out here.’ But they don't realize it's a whole world to build towards.”

Her first project Got It Made will be the blueprint for GRND.WRK. The project is feel-good music her fans “can shake their asses to and vibe out to and ride out to,” she said. For instance, she teamed up with veteran Trina for the f**k boy revenge track “Set It Up.” They role-play as two women who have been cheated on by the same man. “We get together and we go against the ni**a instead of us going against each other,” Kamaiyah says. On “Get Ratchet,” which she calls a “modern bounce” record, she taps DJ Espinosa, a San Francisco native known for winning Red Bull Music’s 3Style DJ competition, to spin at the end of the track. For “Digits,” a song about getting someone’s number, she brings on fellow Oakland rapper Capolow, a newcomer she’s excited to give a bigger platform to. She describes the track as “magical gangsta sh*t.” On past projects, Kamaiyah sampled '80s and '90s R&B (i.e. “I’m On” and “Leave Em”) but says the only track on Got It Made that has a sample is “1-800-IM-HORNY.” She intentionally avoided the high cost of clearances, an obstacle contributing to past project delays. She won’t mention names but says she enlisted “legends who created those records that we’re sampling” to shape the project's sound. Fans can expect Kamaiyah to begin touring the project in April.

Although she’s finally releasing her project, her fans might be curious about the status of her other promised records such as Woke and Don’t Ever Get It Twisted. Will they see the light of day? “Anything I did at that part of my life I have PTSD from,” Kamaiyah said frankly. “It was done with good intentions, but then it became something negative and when you put that out, the world is going to feel that. And energy is transferable so I'm not putting out that shit.”

While Kamaiyah was facing career obstacles in recent years, she witnessed the impact of tragedies close to her community. The death of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old Black woman who was murdered at a train station in the Bay Area Rapid Transit in 2018, hit close to home as Kamaiyah has family close to Wilson’s family. (John Lee Cowell, who is accused of stabbing Wilson to death, is currently on trial.) “Do I feel like he should be convicted? Absolutely. To the furthest extent. You took this woman's life. She barely got to live.” Then there was Nipsey Hussle’s murder in 2019. Kamaiyah said she had a long talk with Nip a month before he was killed last March. He wanted to see her reach her full potential, especially as a woman representing the Bay Area. “He’s telling me, ‘What you mean to our culture we never had’,” Kamaiyah said. That last conversation put the battery in her back when she was on the fence about her music. “I'm frustrated career-wise and that's a person that was like, ‘Don't stop because we need you in this culture.’ So I gotta hustle 10 times harder ‘cause other people see the long end of the vision.”

Justice Davis, Kamaiyah’s A&R, is ready for Kamaiyah’s vision to come to life. Davis began working as Moore’s assistant and after giving input, moved up the ranks. As a Los Angeles native, Davis said she brings the knowledge of her city’s culture together with Kamaiyah’s Oakland hustle. She wants to see Kamaiyah grow as a businesswoman, artist, and for their team to prosper. “[I hope] for people to see her talent and know she really is the queen of the West coast."

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Jack Dempsey for Crown Royal Apple

Joe Freshgoods Put On For Chicago With Royal Apple Goods Collection & Pop-Up

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.

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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.

Exactly.

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

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Scotch Porter

Scotch Porter Founder Calvin Quallis Talks New Haircare Line, Self Care Beyond Products

Calvin Quallis worked multiple jobs that he hated before founding Scotch Porter, but between childhood memories at his mom’s beauty parlor and his own trips to the barbershop, one thing stuck out. “On some of those worst days, I’d go get a haircut and come out thinking I could take on the world,” Quallis said. “So I’ve always known that grooming and self care had the chance to make you feel better about yourself.” After founding a barbershop called Center Stage Cuts  in New Jersey and seeing so many customers with dry, damaged hair in their beards, he began to research ingredients and start making products in his home. In the first 12 months of Scotch Porter – named after his favorite drink (scotch) and his favorite musician (Gregory Porter) – he made more than a million dollars in sales. Since then, Scotch Porter has become one of the most known names for black men’s beard and skin care products.

This year, Scotch Porter is seeing changes. February has seen the launch of a new hair care line, and a new set of ingredients to the beard and skin care products that were already so popular. Plus, the signature brown tubes that hold their products has been changed to new, streamlined blue packaging. Quallis visited the VIBE office to talk about the foundation of the company, 2020’s new leaf, and Scotch Porter’s emphasis on community and lifestyle beyond what their customers put in their dopp kits.

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VIBE: Black men have always cared about how we look, but in recent years, we’ve been more comfortable using products for our faces and beards. Where do you think that comfort comes from?

Calvin Quallis: I think it’s a couple of things. One, access to social media. We’re always in front of a camera, always visible. When you’re always visible, you want to look your best. Two, folks are just much more comfortable that were in the past considered female-oriented. So, always being in front of a camera, with selfies and the gist, and wanting to look your best and becoming comfortable using products that were originally toward women.

VIBE: I’m not sure that you were the first black beard company that I heard of, but you were definitely one of the first that I had seen that didn’t just seem like a homemade thing. You were very professional. What kind of strategy went into how you presented the product?

I did work at a design firm. So just seeing designers put together beautiful buildings and different projects, and also in my own personal life, I like nice things. So in terms of the overall aesthetic for the brand, I think it comes somewhat naturally, and then also working at a design firm and seeing how they put together projects, and how they start from scratch, and how they think about design. I think that lended a hand as well.

VIBE: When you were selling this early on, was there any convincing you had to do for the customers?

At that time, I didn’t see many folks talking to black men about beard care or hair care. I didn’t see ads on Instagram or Facebook. So when we launched, it was easy to break through the noise. I noticed at the shop that guys were growing out their beards more, and there weren’t products on the market meant specifically for coily, curly, dry hair. So I seen that as an opportunity, and folks weren’t advertising products like that. It kind of made it slightly easier than it is now, because every other day there’s some new product that’s popped up that someone has created. At that time, it was easier to cut through the clutter because there wasn’t much available for guys with hair textures like us, and they weren’t advertising it if it did exist.

 

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All the hair care you need is right here. Try the Scotch Porter Superior Hair Collection, to clean, nourish, hydrate and style your hair from start to finish. ⁠With key ingredients Kale Protein and Biotin, achieving the healthy hair & scalp you need is waiting for you. 👀 no further... add this collection to your cart. #MensGrooming #ScotchPorter

A post shared by Scotch Porter (@scotchporter) on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:01am PST

VIBE: Tell me about the new hair products you’re launching. 

We’re launching new reformulated hair care products, along with reformulated beard and skincare products. Our new hair care line includes five products: our Hydrating Hair Wash, Nourish And Repair Hair Conditioner, Smoothing Hair Balm, Smooth & Shine Hair Serum, and our Leave-In Conditioner. All of these hair care products, including our beard and skincare products, are multifunctional, so they do more than just one thing. Our hair balm and hair wash don’t only cleanse and condition, but also include some flake reduction actives, and healthy hair and scalp botanicals that help with things like dandruff, and it also helps prevent hair thinning.

VIBE: I’ve been using Scotch Porter for so long that I always associate the image of the brown containers. What made you decide to change up the look?

I’ve noticed for a while, the space is just becoming increasingly competitive. I’ve known for about a year that we needed to reinvent ourselves, and to reup. Make better products, make them more affordable – we’ve been able to reduce the price point on all our products by about 25 percent. Also, pull out things from our products. There’s no BHTs, there’s no parabins, no formaldehyde donors. We’ve gotten rid of phenoxyethanol, and we’ve included really interesting ingredient stories. This, again, is all based on seeing how the landscape has gotten increasingly competitive.

VIBE: I wanted to dig into that a little bit. You were one of the first in the space. What do you think is the balance between sticking with what you know, vs. knowing when you need to change?

Part of it is insight. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on around you, with a focus on the consumer. Understand what’s going on in the marketplace, but also thinking how we can better serve the customer by delivering even better products. The products that we’ve reformulated are even better than we’ve had before. Thinking of price points and making products more accessible. Then, just giving folks more value and pulling out interesting ingredients that help with some of the issues that men have as it relates to grooming.

VIBE: One of my favorite parts of Scotch Porter is the emphasis on lifestyle and community. Last year, I went to the pop up shop you had, and I was impressed – not only did you have the products at a discount, but you also had the panel for black men to congregate. You also have the email newsletter, and the print manual; in the former, you recently told customers to go to the doctor. Also, each purchase comes with the NakedWines voucher. It just feels like there’s an intention to make black men enjoy each other and love themselves.

It stems from our mission. Our mission from day one has always been to help men feel their best and to live their most fulfilled lives. These touchpoints are just expressions of that. Even as I think about wellness – over the last 14 months or so, I’ve lost 60 pounds. I’ve been getting better at looking at what I’m putting in my body, and what’s important, and these are the things I need to do if I want to be around longer. I’m still on my journey; I ain’t there yet. But we’ve always been talking about how internal and external wellness are a big part of helping guys to feel their best. Some of the articles you see, or the pop-up shop where we have a discussion around mental health, and even the articles on going to the doctor. It’s a holistic approach to helping men feel their best. For us, it’s never been about just giving you the next goop to put in your beard, and that’s all that you need to look and feel your best. It’s internal and external.

VIBE: The manual and the newsletter have these important messages, but it doesn’t feel like they’re talking down to you. It just feels like one of my homies emailing me about it.

Because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to digest it. And again, I’m on my own journey. I’m not there yet. I’m not rocking a six-pack. And it’s not necessarily about that. Each and every day, what can you be doing to make your life better? For us, that’s what it’s about, and that’s the conversation that we have with guys. It’s not about us being on a soapbox pretending we have it all figured out.

 

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It’s official! We’re proud to share that #ScotchPorter is now available at select @Target retail locations across the nation. (CLICK LINK IN BIO FOR STORE LOCATOR) • • We’re pumped about our retail expansion as it provides us with the opportunity to bring our #MULTIPurpose better-for-you Beard and Face care products straight to your local #Target store. • • When it comes to accessing products that are non-toxic and healthier for you, you deserve options that won’t break the bank. With key ingredients in our Beard and Face collections including Biotin and Pomegranate Enzymes, our products have you covered. • • Thanks for riding with us, we’re just getting started!☄️ #MensGrooming #TellAFriend

A post shared by Scotch Porter (@scotchporter) on Feb 17, 2020 at 1:55pm PST

VIBE: Within the past couple of years, Bevel sold their products in Target and they were later acquired by Procter & Gamble. Do you have any plans to expand in terms of selling products outside of the website?

On February 9, we launch in about a third of the Target doors with our beard care and skin care products. We’re super excited about that. Target has launched a campaign, and I’m included in the launch for their black history month Black Beyond Measure campaign, where they’re highlighting black founders and their success stories. Excited to be a part of that and share my journey, both with potential entrepreneurs and regular customers.

VIBE: Anything else about Scotch Porter that people should know?

One of the things that’s always been important to me is providing access, opportunity and employment to people that look like us. It’s really intentional. I’d say about 95 to 98 percent of the folks that work with us look like me and you. We provide opportunity, and we provide what I consider great pay. I remember when I was working for somebody else, feeling like I had to fight to climb the career ladder, the limitations that were put on me had nothing to do with my skill set. When I was starting Scotch Porter, I made it very important to hire people who look like us and give them an opportunity to climb up.

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