Brooklyn-born with a deep connection to Harlem, Shirt King Phade is a New York original. With some help from his older brother, he was captivated by early hip-hop, especially drawn towards the art that came with it.
After making a name for himself on the graffiti scene with sprawling, colorful pieces like the Fat Albert train featured in Style Wars, he made the jump to airbrush on t-shirts—a legal form of his favorite means of expression, and a greater opportunity to translate that rush of self expression to New Yorkers.
Phade started in the Bronx, and then made his way to Queens after a chance meeting with the late Jam Master Jay. A mutual friend brought him to Jay’s house, and Jay bought some pieces that he ended up wearing on tour. Having already set up a booth in Queens, it wasn’t long until local heavyweights like LL Cool J came searching.
Queens showed him love, but Harlem was special, both before and after his rise. The “birthplace of ideas” provided him a bigger, more influential audience. As Phade recalls, “Harlem was always something you aspired to, we wanted to dress like guys from Harlem, they had access to money, they were money-makin’ Manhattan.” It wasn’t long before he was influencing the way they dressed.
Phade connected with his audience, bringing their ideas to life with his own flare and eye for color, engaging them and what they loved. He had scramblers rocking shirts and sweatshirts with their favorite childhood characters wearing the same sneakers they sported. His work even influenced and inspired some of the early work of another hip- hop design legend, Darold “D-Ferg” Ferguson, father of A$AP Ferg.
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