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Shirt King Phade talks Graffiti, Streetwear and Owning your Intellectual Property



Shirt King Phade


What’s up good people welcome to the New York Said podcast.

Today’s episode is very, very special to me. Today’s guest on the show is Phade of the Mighty Shirt Kings.

If you’ve a been a long time listener of the show then you’ve heard me speak about Phade and the Mighty Shirt Kings about a dozen or so times in previous episodes.

Shirt King Phade

Before I even knew I was a creative or before I was into art like that, I was into the the work of Phade. I remember really taking to the Shirt Kings when I was in High School. I wasn’t a collector because I really didn’t have it like that but whenever I saw their work, I stopped and really took it in.

Other than seeing Phade’s work on celebrities like Audio Two, Biz Markie and Bell Biv DeVoe, they used to have a booth down in the Jamaica Colosseum Mall. The Jamaica Colosseum Mall was the name of the building but me or anybody I knew never called it that. We just called it The Colosseum for short. To me, it was the heart of the Ave. It’s still there but to be honest, it ain’t what it used to be. The vibe, the mystique and the tension of that place is long gone.

Shirt King Phade

The energy I remember about The Colosseum is that it could go down at any moment. I’ve seen quite a few fights in there, I was there for the small Rodney King riot and heard all of the tales about what could happen to you if you went to the bathrooms or the parking lot rooftop.

What really set the tone for your visit to The Colosseum was the two or three security guards that stood inside once you got past the super heavy brass and glass doors. If you had a hat or a hood on they would yell at you with the utmost authority to take it off. They sounded like that corrections officer on Biggie’s first album that yelled “C74, Smalls!” But they would look directly at you and yell, “Hats off!” or “Yo take that hood off !” After while you just knew to do it. The security at The Colosseum was notorious but that’s different story all together.

Yeah, it was kinda nuts in there for a few years, I’m talking 1992-1999. I don’t remember anything after that because I was out of town.

In it’s heyday, The Colosseum was the best place to get sneakers (honestly it still is), it used to be the place to get the best mixtapes (honestly there is still a mixtape spot, I hit it up every time I’m in town), and of course if you had it like that, you’d go to the Mighty Shirt Kings booth to get a customized airbrushed t-shirt, denim jacket/jeans or one of them all black snapback hats with your name or crew on it. Those black hats were clean with just white airbrushed paint and usually accented with rhinestones.

Shirt King Phade

I couldn’t afford all that. I was a super broke kid from the hood but what I could afford was a picture in front of a Shirt Kings airbrushed backdrop. If I’m not mistaken they charged like five bucks for a Polaroid picture.

Redman - Shirt King Phade

These backdrops were the precursor to all of the street art murals you’re now seeing around the world. I’m not saying there weren’t street art murals back then but SEEN or Keith Haring wasn’t coming to South Jamaica Queens to paint big walls and they weren’t doing characters the way Phade was doing characters. The backdrops were pretty big. They were alway super colorful, full of characters from the cartoons I loved like Bugs Bunny and Bart Simpson but the characters where decked out in truck jewelry that resembled something I’d see on a Rakim or Slick Rick album cover. This resonated with me deeply.

I always wanted Shirt Kings denim jacket but I never got one. I’ve never told anyone this but I remember asking a creative kid from my block to make me a denim jacket like the Shirt Kings. He said he’d do it for $25 and I was like, “Bet!” Well, he made it and it took months but when I finally got it, it sucked. It didn’t have that “je ne sais quoi” that came with the hand painted work of the Shirt Kings. Plus he did the jacket in acrylic paint and not airbrush so the back of the jacket was heavy like an actual painted canvas. It was quite disappointing to say the least. I’m sure that kid is somewhere killing it right now, I wish I could remember his name.

Shirt King Phade

If I really think about it, my love for street art and art in general probably came from visiting the Shirt Kings down in the Colosseum. They may or may not have known it but it was like an art gallery down there. You know what, forget that, it was an art gallery. It was the first and only art gallery at the The Colosseum to my knowledge. The Shirt Kings gallery just so happened to be blasting the latest hip-hop, with a few arcade games and had a wall of pictures of all the MCs and actors who had stopped by in the past.

So yeah, to tell you that I was happy to kick it with Phade for a few hours in an understatement. It was like talking to a big brother from the block or an OG that didn’t mind pulling my coat to the key to longevity.

In this episode we talk about how Phade got his name, not selling out, his hundred year plan, Larry Love, the impact of Jam Master Jay and legacy.

This conversation was recorded in the Marcus Garvey Park out in Harlem.


Show Notes

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This episode is sponsored by Timothy Roquemore.

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