Tag Archives: 1993

ALWAYS ON THE GO

It goes without saying that a book compilation of the best of/every issue of On The Go is very needed. We’ll just have to keep wishing in the meantime though. Steven “ESPO” Powers and Ari Saal Forman’s graffiti/hip-hop/lifestyle magazine went from ‘zine to glossy between 1989 and 1997 — a Tower Records necessity alongside Ego Trip and Stress in its heyday — before vanishing from shelves and is always in need of a good retrospective. Like any good graffiti publication, they put out some videos too — 1993’s Eyeshocker Express is on YouTube via helio215 and — at time of writing — the follow-up, Repeat Offender has vanished from the internet again after a copy surfaced eight years ago. Some good music, excellent Philly footage and history from local legends like Cornbread makes Eyeshocker a great accompaniment to the magazine. Once upon a time, it would set you back $16.50, plus postage fees and an eight week wait, so it’s good to have it for free.

NOTTINGHAM 1993/94

Having spent many happy hours circa 1996 browsing the shelves of Rollersnakes as part of a regular retail wander that I could stretch over an entire day, I have some happy memories of that place. Back when the store was situated in Nottingham on the excellently-named Maid Marian Way, it had a solid mail order set up and, in a none-more-1993 move, they released a few VHS “catalogues” that included local footage from sponsored skaters, some sessions at local spots like Market Square, clips from the newest videos on sale and four minutes of staff posing in the latest clothing (plenty of Droors, Raggy and X-Large) and some shots of covetable decks, with a Zoo York Ryan Hickey or Girl Sean Sheffey running you 54 quid (decks might run you little more than a quid or so more 23 years later). Anyone in the market for Bitch slick? Rollersnakes upped the whole 1994 tape on their YouTube channel, but there’s some retail highlights in the video above and the entire 1993 volume one below. Rap with horns and big jeans aplenty.

UNDERWORLD CHAMPION

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Image taken by Cory Slifka for the DECKAID Tumblr

Chris Hall is many things — a director, the skater’s skater, antique dealer and the sports footwear connoisseur to end them all for starters, and his defiantly D.C. aesthetic and East Coast mentality helped drive the look of the region’s skateboard scene. Believe it or not, there was once a time when a tag, some drips and a graffiti character on a deck or tee seemed different and progressive (it’s worth noting that “underground” was genuinely applicable to the scene 24 years ago), and while that look is very much of its era, Chris’s 1993 Underworld Element Champion parody deck was remarkably ahead of its time. Right now, we’re almost at breaking point with homages to the legendary C branding, but this design manages to embody now and then. On that East Coast skate note, without Supreme, I doubt Champion would be enjoying its current renaissance. I noted almost unanimous derision and laughing Emojis by the ton when size? posted some Champion Reverse Weaves on their IG a few years back, but since those doing the mocking shed their Hollister and elasticated chinos for streetwear, a shot of that label is guaranteed likes. Chris has been on that look since day one and images of this board were elusive or particularly pixellated until he was photographed by Cory Slifka with it as a loan to the excellent DECKAID show that benefits youth-based charities. Very rare. Very good. Always early.

SCHOOLED

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There’s a lot of people whose worlds peaked when Bizarre Love Triangle released. They’ll talk of nothing but defunct Manchester nightclubs and daydream about Hooky’s low slung bass. They’ll sail of a wave of revisionist history that crashes in their heroes fake DJing at a student union, and get angry at any whippersnapper who dares to comment on their teen idols, positively or negatively. Dancefloor veterans telling you, “You weren’t there maaaaan!” But beyond the angry old men, most of the music is still fantastic, and the art direction on those Factory releases is magnificent. Peter Saville is name checked repeatedly with good reason — not only is his work memorable from a graphic standpoint, but there’s a thought process at word that makes him an interesting interview subject. Saville spoke with Lou Stoppard at SHOWStudio recently, and they’ve upped a 99 minute uncut version of the conversation. Every second of Power, Corruption & Lies or Closer is still essential, and much of what Saville has got to say has something to give to a new generation — his pro-research sentiment about the epiphany of realising the amount he never knew (mentioned around the 45 minute mark), and the subsequent bliss of stumbling upon the vastness of context is a call to learn, rather than the actions of a time-frozen curmudgeon. Everyone with a new brand making homages of homages who wants to be around in 24 months might benefit from listening — even if it’s just for 12 minutes.



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This Canadian documentary from 1993 has just appeared on YouTube via Barnaby Marshall. 10-20: Berlin provides some rare footage of the first Cycle Messenger World Championships that took place in Germany. William Gibson makes an appearance, on the back of his novel Virtual Light being based around a courier in a post-earthquake SF, and there’s also a brief chat with Futura 2000 (who was once a messenger himself). Despite the early 1990s Real World style presentation, there’s some superb soundbites in it.

POST-PUB TV



Despite lasting for over 104 episodes before it was canned, The Word was treated like televisual Super Noodles by critics and establishment figures alike for half a decade. We, the target audience, appreciated it though, and 19 years after its final episode screened in March 1995 (watching Strike’s performance of You Sure Do from that broadcast this evening had me emotional), there seems to be a worthy amount of nostalgia for those 808 State soundtracked opening credits and the lawlessness that followed. As those reviews preempted online coverage, their toxicity has deteriorated, so we’ve forgotten the disorganised outside broadcasts and hopefuls munching on plates of dead skin, emptied colostomy bags and filtered the best bits into those memory banks. What was good was great — like live performances by artists who, in a concerted bid to show no respect to the live format, made classic TV, or George, Zippy and Shaun Ryder getting acquainted — but there was a lot of rubbish in the mix. It was sometimes like the contents of an issue of The Face being bellowed from the stage during a nightclub PA, but that was part of its appeal — sincerity shuffled self-consciously alongside humiliation and irony. We watched that thing religiously as its excesses elbowed it from a tea time slot to the post-pub position. It was there that a generation planning to go harder the following night would exit the pubs, get home, skin up with terrible hash, crack open more beers and watch it alone or in a heavily populated front room. The Word was great group TV every Friday around 11pm.

The two segments that stayed with me weren’t the usual suspects either. One was a late 1993 segment where Mark Lamarr investigated Desert Eagles and chatted to the Franklin Avenue Posse and Steele from Smif-n-Wessun about it, before a return to the studio where Terry quizzed forgotten rapper K7 (of Come Baby Come fame) on the subject of firearms. The second was a February 1994 piece from the same episode where Rod Hull attacked Snoop Dogg (mentioned here a few years back) on Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight’s son Travis back when he rapped as Chilly Tee (he now heads up LAIKA). Where else were you going to see stuff like this? Beyond these clips, it’s worth noting that The Word Appreciation account on Dailymotion has at least 17 full episodes uploaded — there’s all kinds of misses in there, but the gems remain and it’s best streamed late in the day and under the influence. Just like it always was.

CLOTHING WITHOUT PREJUDICE

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Seeing verification of the Beats deal and hearing about the Cross Colours comeback made the image above doubly relevant. Few brands were putting an artist as uncompromising as Dr. Dre in their ad campaigns back in 1993, but Cross Colours — a brand that deserves to be recognised as a game changer — connects to pretty much every key player in rap and the shirts on their back during the golden era of African-American owned brands. Created in 1989 by South Central LA-based Carl Jones and Thomas “TJ” Walker Cross Colours wasn’t their first brand. Jones had put in work designing graphics for Ocean Pacific and Guess, before becoming a partner on the popular Surf Fetish surf brand in 1986, with Walker as part of the team. After spotting the potential in rap’s wardrobe, Fetish Blues was launched in 1989 — drop crotch trousers being a key seller and musical notes being part of the branding.

That same year, Jones and Walker would leave to launch Cross Colours to build on that success — Afrocentric colours, patterns and imagery played a significant part of the brand’s signature aesthetic.

From 1990, it was on. Labels read “Ya dig” and delivered “Academic Hard wear” for the “Post hip hop nation.” Spike Lee’s Spike’s Joint store would open in July that year with some labels designed by Walker. Cross Colours would take some inspiration from Lee’s pioneering endeavour, with a holding company called Solo Joint. Lee’s people would take umbrage with those parallels leading to a legal outcome that would prove problematic for the newer brand and the formation of Threads 4 Life, which would also carry another brand — Brooklyn-born Carl Williams’ Karl Kani line, which connected with Cross Colours after Williams and Jones met in 1990 and would be sold as the more upmarket part of the portfolio — a rap-related response to the Ralph Lauren business model. In a short period of time, Cross Colours would unite Stevie Wonder, TLC, Snoop Dogg and Mark Wahlberg, with some superior celebrity-led ads in magazines like The Source. Their decision to give clothes to the crew of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color paid off.

By 1992, Cross Colours (and a Spike’s Joint concession) would make it to Macy’s. With sales growing from 15 million in 1991 to 160 million by 1993, Threads 4 Life was huge and in response to a change in hip-hop’ sound, the look became less playful. It opened up a number of warehouse stores, plus a flagship store. Check out this footage of a group of dancers plugging the brand in Japan. Another upstart line, April Walker’s Walker Wear, almost became part of the family and Karl Kani had started to become the leading brand in profits, even expanding into footwear with Kani and Cross Colours’ shoes made under license by the Skechers company. At one point, Magic Johnson — who appeared in ads for the brand — was rumoured to be investing heavily, but the deal never manifested. This kind of thing might not have helped in the long run either.

By 1994, Threads 4 Life found itself in trouble — demand outweighed production, the ramifications from the Spike Lee lawsuit (as detailed in Lewis McAdam’s lengthy Loose Threads article from June 26, 1994’s LA Times magazine) had caused some critical damage, bootlegging was epidemic and a retail chain that spent big (as in accounting for 60% of sales) with the company had gone into bankruptcy. Seemingly as quickly as it blew up, Cross Colours was gone — it never ceased to be relevant entirely, but Kani’s name held much more prestige. Williams’ would take his company from the ailing Threads 4 Life and launch Karl Kani Infinity to thrive in subsequent years. Several Threads 4 Life staffers would make an impact in the industry where Cross Colours’ ultimately floundered by heading up Mecca, Enyce and Sean Jean.

Carl Jones had consulted for the brilliantly named Cy-Borg Millennium Clothing around 1992 and in 1997, he and TJ Walker would work on the brand again (according to the Daily News Record at the time, “The new, innovative streetwear line, launched this spring, is based on a futuristic concept that integrates technology — the information superhighway — with fashion…”). Jones would go on to found a self-titled brand, plus Juke Joint and a line called California Vintage, before working on creative direction for clients including Forever 21 and currently heads up the Bleulab reversible denim brand. Walker would run the Nation Design Studio that worked with AND1 and Converse, co-found Modisch, head up Jaded Apparel Corp and currently consults as a brand technician, designer and product developer. Both are still Los Angeles based.

Cross Colours was relaunched in 2000 as a mid-priced brand without Jones or Walker, with the trademark bought by a group that included Skechers’ CEO Robert Greenberg. That never seemed to make much noise, and there seemed to be more dud re-ups with that license in subsequent years, but it’s good to see the brand relaunch in 2014 with the original duo involved again and holding the license. While I’m unlikely to start lusting after an Ethnic Rhythms jacket (though I was all over that piece decades ago), this brand deserves its recognition. I know some of you W)Taps and visvim disciples first took interest in clothing by the vast denims and unnecessary adornments on garments created by the some of the sons of Cross Colours. The new site is here, with a brief history that’s accompanied by some great images. To this day, I still don’t know why they used the non-American spelling of colour. Was Cross Colors already taken?

WOOD, URETHANE, FABRIC

Is it finally time to officially mourn Zoo York’s demise? Being taken over by a brand called Iconix who dismantle an established skate program to put loyal ZY riders like Zered Bassett and Eli Reed out in the cold is a low blow that indicates that the brand’s finally teetered over the edge its been wobbling on for just under a decade. Having been in business for over 19 years, it’s a real shame too. If you’re wondering why a situation involving a brand that frequently makes TK Maxx appearances irks me so much, is because of the history. I can still remember spending an afternoon on a J.R. Hartley style phone-around to every skate shop that advertised in ‘Sidewalk Surfer’ in the hunt for the black Zoo York hoody with the white letters — for those old enough to remember, there was once a point when that seemed as hardbody as a Supreme shirt. Post-Millennium, it all seemed to take a gradual slide.

The Zoo York story actually pre-dates 1993 by a couple of decades. While there’s no official tie between the two entities, the Zoo York Soul Artists, led by ALI, who founded the collective did give permission for Zoo York to use the name. It’s frequently forgotten that Zoo York Soul Artists (RIP Andy Kessler) helped spawn the Zoo York Recordz label, that released several records between 1981 and 1983, with ALI performing on ‘Shoot the Pump’ under the J Walter Negro name. You can read more about that label in this 2005 blog entry. I know a few graff nerds out there too — so can anybody confirm that the top picture (taken from Norman Mailer and Jon Naar’s ‘The Faith of Graffiti’ is the fabled Zoo York wall? (Edit: Mr Sofarok forwarded me this link.)

This Karmaloop video on the 1993 Zoo York mastermind Eli Gessner, explains how he was affiliated with the original squad, but after SHUT’s closure, Rodney Smith spoke to ALI, leading to Eli and Rodney setting up Zoo York 2.0. Having built it on the back of Eli’s work with an early Phat Farm, those shirts appearing in 1995’s ‘Kids’ during the park scene (lettering and a subway design), with Justin Pierce (RIP), Javier Núñez, Jeff Pang and other Zoo Yorkers making up the film’s cast. It was a decent piece of global marketing — especially on the back of the movie’s controversial nature.

The above ads were borrowed from the excellent Skately library

1997’s ‘Mixtape’ video (salutes to scottieb1 for upping it on YouTube) reinforced the power of the team and the brand — that authentically NYC mix of street skate (with shades of classic 411) and gutter hip-hop, with Harold Hunter (RIP), Roc Raida (RIP), Anthony Correa and Peter Bici making memorable appearances. 1999’s ‘Peep This’ and ‘Heads’, 2001’s E.S.T. 2.0 and 2002’s ‘Unbreakable: Mixtape 2’ (Akira Mowatt is currently doing his thing with the After Midnight brand now) were all a strong visual reinforcement of the Zoo York sensibility.



The whole post 9/11 ‘Unbreakable’ campaign was one of Zoo York’s finest moments and when eckō acquired the brand in 2001,externally, Zoo York seemed to operate as it always did (though Mr Dave Ortiz did once mention to me, that the tiny inner bird print during the early days with eckō was a joke about how a little bird might rest on a big rhino) — the Nike Dunk SB from 2002 was part of that carefully curated approach to entering the skate arena with credible partners. Greg Lucci and Sal Barbier were a smart addition to the brand to maintain some energy and creativity. In 2003, Zoo York were tapped up to make some non-SB Nike Blazer colourways too. Pharrell wearing the brand before every rapper dressed like an explosion in the Karmaloop warehouse was no bad thing and Bad Brains in some magazine ads was a good look, but the 2004 use of Ashton Kutcher as Zoo York’s frontman was a truly strange moment. 2006’s team up with Lady Sovereign was just as baffling. But having the homie Grotesk as art director ensured their visual direction was on point.

But then having Skechers producing Zoo York footwear? Uh-oh. Zoo York’s tumble into a sub Route One world of big store basements and slashed prices was conferred when it was singled out in the equally mediocre HBO show ‘How to Make it in America’ as an example of a brand losing its edge (some kind of revenge by Zoo York OG Eli Gessner who was a creative consultant on the show?). Which leads us to Zoo York 2012 — I like Kate Upton as much as the next man, but it felt like an M&Ms commercial with bonus boobs.

I’m no stranger to the difficulties of losing your edge when the cold, hard truths regarding cashflow come in and I’m fully aware that explaining cultural cache, credibility and limited editions to a suit is like trying to discuss Sartre with a rampaging bear, but to lose all your ties to the early 2000s in such a calculated way is a kiss of death in the long run. Still, there’s plenty more companies to pick up the team riders you’ve discarded like a McDonald’s bag. Salutes to the real New Yorkers like SHUT, UXA, 5Boro and Supreme.

I can’t work out Jay Electronica at all. The track with Mobb Deep was heralded on Twitter as the second coming of pretty much everything and turned out utterly unremarkable and I have a feeling that many will die of old age waiting for that album to release, but Jay seems to have made some of the most bizarre career choices of any rapper ever — that suited role in the near decade old Benzino video that leaked earlier this year, where he babbled about Satan and Eminem, despite working with Denaun Porter later on in his career pales next to his Daily Mail appearance — the culmination of his friendship with Zac Goldsmith is that he’d been boning his brother Ben’s wife, Kate Rothschild. Illuminati theorists everywhere must have damn near erupted. Was Jay on some strange mission to break up powerful unions from the inside, or did he just want to sow his oats? I’m thinking it’s the latter, but I want to believe the former. What next? Currensy becomes part of the Mittal family?