Kevin Leong’s Creative Complex

Kevin Leong | In episode 48 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits sits down with Creative Director of 300 Entertainment, Kevin Leong.

As Creative Director of 300 Entertainment, Kevin Leong does the visual branding for Young Thug, Megan Thee Stallion, Gunna, and many other stars on their roster. With a personal background in graffiti and streetwear, he came to 300 with experience from Phat Fashions, Lil Wayne’s Trukfit, and skate legend Stevie Williams. Plus, he’s an obsessive collector known for his specific and discerning fashion sense. He joins us on Light Culture Podcast today to tell us about how he went from folding laundry at his parents’ laundromat in Staten Island to creative director at a major record label.

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Q&A

Okay. Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to Light Culture. My guest today is Kevin Leong.

Kevin:

Yes.

David:

Kevin Leong, head of creative at 300 Entertainment. A company that has Megan Thee Stallion, and Young Thug, and Gunna. And its stable of acts across multiple genres that includes rock, pop, electronic, alternative, even country somehow. Founded by hip-hop legends, including Def Jam alumnae, Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles. Kevin has worked, in the past, at Phat Farm, Baby Phat, Marc Ecko. He’s worked for Lil Wayne. It’s a long list that gives us lots to talk about with the self-described, slanty Asian-eyed rebel.

Kevin:

Yes. That’s right.

David:

How you doing?

Kevin:

How you doing?

David: [00:01:11]

Where did that name come from? And why do you proclaim it so much to what you do?

Kevin: [00:01:18]

Well, it’s funny. I started writing graffiti as a kid, and I basically came up with the name, SAER, which is based on the letters. I used to travel from Staten Island to Brooklyn with my family to see my grandparents in Brooklyn every weekend. And I would stare out the window of my dad’s car, from the backseat and just was always mesmerized by the colors and the letters, the styles. I guess I was really interested in fonts before I even knew that that was a thing. So, uh, I just picked letters that I liked and I arrived at SAER. And then the acronym kind of came after. I was like, oh yeah, I’m the slanty Asian-eyed rebel. I set an example righteously. Things like that. And then it changed to, yellow kid slanty. So, the YKS is yellow kid slanty. Because I got caught too many times doing SAER. So, I had to change the name. You know, like, got arrested a couple times for graffiti and they see what you have written in your book, or they catch you in the act and they take pictures of it, and then they go all over through all the boroughs trying to find it. And they charge you restitution based on how many times they find your name. Some people would write their name backwards after getting caught. But I just switched it.

David: [00:02:33]

[laughs] Switched it up. So, being Asian is something that you felt, obviously, proud of and you wanted to proclaim that as part of your identity at an early age?

Kevin: [00:02:43]

Oh, yes. Definitely. At a very early age. It’s so funny, because I’m an ABC, which is an American born Chinese. Which means I don’t speak Chinese. Like fluently. Both of my parents were born in Brooklyn, so I was born in Brooklyn as well. So, it’s like a lot of generations of not speaking Chinese. But I was very into Chinese culture. I always liked 24-karat gold.

David: [00:03:10]

[laughs] Is that – That’s a Chinese cultural thing?

Kevin: [00:03:13]

And I always thought Asian women were the prettiest. So…

David: [00:03:17]

Well, that’s… You’re right in there, I’m sure. There’s lots of beautiful women all over the place. So –

Kevin: [00:03:24]

And the food is the best as well. Dim sum. I love dim sum too.

David: [00:03:27]

As part of your work now. So, that is not something that comes into play. You’re doing a bigger story here, right? Trying to tell big stories. One of the things I was curious about, because I know you’ve worked with Lil Wayne, for example, and now you’re working for a larger entity, a media company. What’s the difference between trying to create a brand identity for someone like Lil Wayne versus, working with… 300, let’s say, where there’s so many different aspects going on at once?

Kevin: [00:04:05]

Well, I mean, it’s still, um, working closely with the artist and, you know, understanding their aesthetic. Listening to the vision and adding to it, and helping them brainstorm ideas. I guess, with the Lil Wayne scenario, he had something up and running already. So, it was called Trukfit. His clothing brand. So, I was basically brought on to revamp the collection. So, it’s not like it was something from scratch. Working at 300, there’s artists that already have things built, but then there’s new artists that are just getting signed that are heavily involved in creating something from scratch. So, I guess that would be two of the major differences there.

David: [00:04:40]

So, what’s the process like? Some need more help, some need less help. Right? Do you have a process that you apply to each person?

Kevin: [00:05:01]

I don’t know if I have a set process. It’s all about communication. So, it’s about meeting them. Listening to their material and seeing the imprint that they’ve established prior to joining. And just taking all those elements and drafting a strategy off of that. I wouldn’t say I have a set strategy. Just really just meeting the artists and paying attention.

David: [00:05:26]

But your work at 300 Entertainment, which, you know, as I mentioned earlier, involves some of the founders of Def Jam. And also, you go back with Def Jam, at least with Russell Simmons, going back to Phat Farm and Baby Phat, which was, in its day, very early on, right?

Kevin: [00:05:54]

I worked with Russell back in the late nineties. It’s funny, because I was always in Lyor’s office as well. Because that was the time when Russell lived in LA, so he didn’t really have a spot in New York. So, we would meet in the Def Jam offices, in Lyor’s office, is when I would have my meetings with Russell, until he eventually opened up an office. So, the Def Jam was 160 Varick on the 12th floor, and Phat Farm became 180 Varick on the 10th floor. So, it was kind of, like, right next to each other. So, from the very beginning, the meetings were held at Def Jam.

David: [00:06:26]

You sort of had to invent a style at that point, right? So, what were your inspirations when you started working on those looks?

Kevin: [00:06:37]

Well, when I started working at those looks, I was heavily inspired by Ralph Lauren, Polo styles. I was a huge fan of Phat Farm already. When I met Russell [Simmons] in an elevator, at Def Jam, I had Phat Farm on head-to-toe that I had purchased myself. You know, I grew up in a laundromat in Brooklyn on Flatbush and Avenue J. And a lot of clothing would be left over there. So, I was inspired by a lot of the hand-me-downs that I would get. Like, the Karl Kani and the Cross Colours, cause people would, uh, you know, submit their clothes for laundry and, for whatever reason, not come back to get it. Whether they got locked up, or shot, or something. So, I ended up wearing all this clothing that was left there, and being heavily inspired by it. And just loving hip-hop too. I loved hip-hop at a very young age.

David: [00:07:22]

And was that just an extension of what you already do in hip-hop? Were you skating? You were doing graffiti –

Kevin: [00:07:29]

Oh, I was doing graffiti. My cousin wrote graffiti, back in the day, and I would go out with him and, um… You know, I loved hip-hop music and, like I said, between the fashion, I’ve worked in streetwear fashion for a long time, but I’ve always considered hip-hop as saving my life. The fashion became the medium that expressed my thoughts and my ideas.

David: [00:07:53]

So, what was your first gig in fashion?

Kevin: [00:07:55]

My first gig in fashion? Um. At The GAP.

David: [00:08:00]

The GAP?

Kevin: [00:08:01]

It’s so funny. Yeah. I used to work retail at The GAP, and I didn’t fit with the dress code. You had to wear the clothing fitted. And, I think at one point, they didn’t want to wear sneakers, you had to wear shoes. And I would come in with my shirt untucked, baggy pants with sneakers, and instead of sending me home, they would send me into the back, uh, [laughter] stock room to fold the clothes, unpack the boxed, take out the trash. Which I loved. Because taking out the trash gave me an excursion through the back of the mall, you know. Like, disappear. And that was fun. In doing that, I became an expert folder. And also, growing up in a laundromat, I knew how to fold clothes, like, very well, as well.

By doing that, some of the managers came into The GAP and saw –  my working that and doing the displays. Like, dressing the mannequins in the back. And they hired me to go to the corporate offices to help present the new collections to buyers. And it’s so funny, because they actually had like woven shirts, like button down shirts, where they’d have one shirt that was real and then rest of them were paper with the patterns of the plaids and the stripes on it, and I had to like fold the paper to make it look like a shirt, and put the real shirt on top. So, it looks like a stack of shirts. So, it was like, they called them chicklet  folds. Also, I had this technique that I would steam the mannequins so quickly. A lot of people, they would steam the clothes first and then you have to put it on the mannequin, and they’d get all wrinkled depending on, you know, if it was a pullover shirt, or a full button-down. Whether it was woven versus knit. So, I would take the clothes, all wrinkled, make the outfits, throw it on the mannequin all wrinkled. Then I would rip, like, the cardboard corner of a box, to make it kind of like a straight platform, and stick it under the shirt and start steaming the clothes on the mannequins. So, I was able to do them very quickly. People took note of that. That’s why they wanted me to help with the presentation.

David: [00:10:05]

And then when did you start, like, going into designing yourself?

Kevin: [00:10:08]

Then, from that, I went to the Phat Farm store and I showed all the pictures of the stuff I did for The GAP in the corporate offices, and I tried to get a job in the store. It happened simultaneously. Because I used to DJ at FIT. So, I went from fashion to technology. While I tried to get a job in the store, showing the stuff I did from The GAP, I had a DJ show called Black Bean Sauce at FIT. And people used to steal the records from there, so I went to get the records at Def Jam in person and I met Russell in the elevator. Dripped in head-to-toe Phat Farm. And that’s how I kind of got my gig at Phat Farm from that situation.

David: [00:10:51]

And what kind of music were playing as DJ there at Black Bean? Was that hip-hop, really?

Kevin: [00:10:55]

Oh yeah. Definitely. It was the urban radio of FIT. Yeah. All the hip-hop.

David: [00:11:00]

What is the difference between, like being a designer and being a creative director? You know, when you have to do so many other things.

Kevin: [00:11:18]

That’s a good question. Being a creative director, you’re the communicator working with many people. There’s stages and there’s strategies. A creative director would hire designers to help them build decks, uh, illustrations, graphics for a bigger plan. So, I guess, as a designer, you would work on something – and still contribute obviously – but a creative director, I guess, is the one that is communicating all the ideas and executing them in a timeline. Making sure that everything is happening in the right timeline.

David: [00:11:52]

And along the way I know, because we’ve hung out a little bit, that you have, your own obsessions of – as a collector. That you have… what? A thousand pairs of sneakers, let’s say. Just to start –

Kevin: [00:12:05]

Yes. I do have a thousand pairs of sneakers. Yes, I do.

David: [00:12:08]

[laughs] When did you start to understand that that was something that was worth collecting? Do you use them, as well? Right? You don’t just keep them in boxes.

Kevin: [00:12:18]

Yeah, I use them as well. But there’s hundreds that I have not worn. A lot of them don’t age well. So, it’s like, if you wore them, you could still wear them now, because you, kind of, you know, put pressure on the air bubble and stretch it out. But if you never wore them, and you put them on now, they’ll just like crack. So, it’s actually good that I wore a lot of them. Cause some of them, they’re probably going to turn to dust. [laughs]

David: [00:12:39]

Well, I imagine you were starting doing this when people weren’t really into it as much as they are now.

Kevin: [00:12:44]

So, when I was, um, trend forecasting for Phat Farm and Baby Phat back then, in like the late nineties, early millennium, I was getting paid to travel all over Europe and Asia. Sometimes on private jets. So, I was able to buy clothing as references. I had budgets. Like, twenty grand, forty grand. You know, buy samples of outerwear, jackets, sweater knits, denim, anything. Right? So, all the money that I was making, since I was buying all these references, because a lot of them, I put it on like a chopping block. Cut it up, send a sleeve to China, you know? Cut a pocket and staple it to another jacket. You know, just mix-and-matching things. But certain things, you know, we wouldn’t utilize. So, I get to keep it. So, basically I wasn’t spending any money on clothing. So, I spent all my money on sneakers. Every last penny. So, everywhere I went in Europe. Like, I’d be in Amsterdam, I’d buy ten pairs. I’d be in London – London would be last, because the pound was so strong, I’d want to go there last. This was before Euro. So, I’d be spending lira, spending gildans…

David: [00:13:45]

Why did you want to buy them?

Kevin: [00:13:49]

I think, since I was a kid, I was always obsessed with hooking up my outfits. I would go as far as, like, the plaid shirt I had, I’d find a hat that had the plaid underneath the bucket hat, or the same plaid on the inside of a sneaker. You wouldn’t even see it. But I’d just want to… So, whenever I saw Colorways. I loved Air Force 1s and Air Maxes. Like, I like Jordans, more so now than then, but I was really just Air Force 1s and Air Max. So, this was when you had brands that were releasing colors only in certain parts of Europe, or Japan, or Asia, you know. I just wanted to have this color. Then I’d come back to the US and be like, you don’t have this color. You don’t even know where this came from. You don’t got these. But, not only just have them, having like a full-on outfit where the whole thing is hooked up. I was really into that.

David: [00:14:42]

Well, what else you got? Tell me some about some of the other things you collect, because I understand it’s massive.

Kevin: [00:14:47]

I have like three or four storage units full of stuff. Like, magazines, comic books, collectible toys, cashmere sweaters, old polo sweaters, Japanese denim. Uh, hats. I have [laughs] so many hats. You know? I would buy hats too. If I wasn’t buying sneakers, I’d go into a store where the cheapest thing was like a thousand dollars and then buy the hat.

David: [00:15:17]

What kind of hats are these?

Kevin: [00:15:20]

Um. Brunello Cucinelli hats, Loro Piana hats, um… Zegna sport hats. Like, just expensive hats. Uh. La Coppola Storta. Like, all these brands. Sherlock Holmes hats, bucket hats. But it wasn’t even just expensive hats, like I love hats. I’ve been going to The Hamptons for a long time, and I would always go to all the tennis clubs just to buy the visors and the bucket hats. I’d go into the tennis shops everywhere, all through The Hamptons, and buy up all the white bucket hats, all the white visors. I had this one visor, it was my favorite, they don’t even make it anymore, it was called a sun visor. Where it’s an actual terry cloth headband with velcro, and then the visor just velcros on and off. [laughter] You could rip the whole – Oh, I loved it. I bought like a hundred of them.

[laughter]

David: [00:16:11]

You gotta break it out, man. Take it out for the Corona… [laughs]

Kevin: [00:16:16]

Then there was this one company in the tennis shops, it was just a gold embroidered pineapple.

David: [00:16:22]

Gotta have it.

Kevin: [00:16:23]

I think it was called, uh, Boomie Soroka? Boomie Sa – Satoka? Some brand. I don’t know. It was just, that was like my style. Between having the sneakers, and the hats, the accessories, like, the 24-karat gold. That was my thing when I was younger.

David: [00:16:38]

So, do you feel like hip-hop has been the biggest influence in fashion in, you know, the last two decades, let’s say? is there anything that comes close?

Kevin: [00:16:50]

I mean, yeah. I mean, youth culture always dictates that. And hip-hop, it was one of the biggest movements in that time frame for the youth, so.

David: [00:16:58]

But not only that, but the artists themselves were so much into it, that they became the style kings and they were willing to wear the clothes that nobody else would. They’re flamboyant, they’re celebrities, that’s kind of part of their game.

Kevin: [00:17:15]

That’s true. I just think it’s real. It’s like the street style that translated, you know. Hip-hop wasn’t always like that. You know, like when hip-hop first came out, they would dress in like rockstars with the shiny suits and shit. But then around that Run DMC era, they started dressing like the street kids. Like, with Adidas, you know what I mean? And the… the gold chains, the dookie links, all of that. You know what I mean? It took a turn into the streets and that’s when it became more like, oh, that’s me. They’re wearing what I wear, that’s my shit.

David: [00:17:48]

And you’ve been in the game, not just working for others, you’ve also launched your own line along the way.

Kevin: [00:17:55]

Oh, yes. I’ve worked on many projects, um, for a long time. Every time I’d go to China, working for somebody, I wouldn’t feel complete unless I worked on something myself at the same time. When you go on those China trips, it’s like twenty-four-seven you’re working. It’s not even just Saturday. It’s like, it’s nonstop. Because you’re still on the US time, but then you’re trying to get the most out of the day in China. The last thing you’d want to do is try to work on more stuff, but that’s just the way that I was. I would always have to try and create something myself, or go to the market and do some research and get some materials, and some fabrics, and just always out and about. You know, try to reach out to other contacts, or manufacturers, to meet them while you’re there.

David: [00:18:40]

So, of the current artists today that 300 has, who do you feel you work most closely, in terms of their image and branding?

Kevin: [00:18:52]

I don’t know if there’s one. There’s so many. We get so many projects for all artists every day. I think the challenge is like managing that process, and making sure that you identify what 9-1-1’s are and focusing on them and making sure that you get them out at the right time but not sacrificing quality.

David: [00:19:14]

But we just have like, you know, Megan Thee Stallion, for example, is that somebody that you worked with at all? Or is she more self-contained?

Kevin: [00:19:23]

We work with her. But she has her own management, and she has a stylist. But we do. We work on her artwork internally for her albums. You know, we just did her merch, rebuilding her website with, you know, with her management company and herself. So, yeah, we’re working closely with her.

David: [00:19:41]

You like that aspect of the gig more than others? Or which parts do you feel most  connected with?

Kevin: [00:19:51]

I don’t know if I’d say if I like that part or not. It’s a necessity. It’s almost like, as a designer, do you like the execution process? Like, what good is a design idea if it’s not executed properly? So, if that’s the procedure that needs to happen to get things executed properly, then – then I’m all for it. Because, I mean, we all want to have the best results at the end of the day.

David: [00:20:14]

Let’s look at Gunna, for example, which just was released recently and it’s, you know, anticipation was really high for that album. What was some of the work that you helped with ? What were the issues that you were trying to deal with?

Kevin: [00:20:29]

Well, basically, the album just came out just at midnight this morning, basically. So, there were a lot of 9-1-1s. Still dealing with some right now. You know, we got some vinyl made, some picture discs, last minute. You know, a lot of different people have their websites. Gunna has his own creative team, as well, who handle most of the majority of the merch. But we built a website. You know, his album’s called Wunna, and he’s a Gemini. So, it’s pretty dope. The concept is based on horoscopes. So, we had built this custom page on the website, where fans can, uh, type in their birthday and the year they were born and it gives you, an astrological chart and gives you a reading. So, that all had to be built in, like, within a week’s time.

And then apart from the merch, we were helping him with his vinyl and his music merch that was made by a different company. So, there’s the communication between all of that. To make sure that everything is getting up on the site in time and that the streams are getting reported properly. So, you know, digital streams are attached to the merch products and bundles. There’s a lot of things that go on. And when you deal with artists that have their own teams, and there’s always the problems of leaking. You know? In the industry. Like, music leaking and stuff. So, a lot of the time, there’s a lot of demands for things to get done, but then you don’t receive the assets, or the WAV files, ’til like the very last minute. To try and keep that tight protection. So, it’s like kind of working, not only under a tight timeframe, but you’re not – you’re not getting all the pieces to your puzzle until the very last minute and then they want to see the full picture.

David: [00:22:07]

Sounds intense.

Kevin: [00:22:09]

I basically work with people in Asia, on the West Coast, so I’m working all day and then, at night time, I’m working with the people in LA because they’re three hours back. So, I was getting calls at like eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock yesterday. Like, “Just to let you know, the other merch company didn’t put the VIN code on there to link the vinyl. So, uh, you know, we gotta get that up and running.” You know, things like that.

David: [00:22:35]

So your job is much broader –

Kevin: [00:22:39]

Oh, yeah. Or even, like I said, communication is so important. So, you have the other creative team sending assets over to their merch company, that’s not making the music, that’s making the merch. It would be a situation, like, there’s twelve shirts that each have a horoscope, but then they only received eleven, or something. Or they’re missing like an item. It’s like being on an email with twenty people and just finding the couple of things that you’re responsible for, but also keeping track of all the other things that are being passed off. It can be a lot sometimes.

David: [00:23:13]

I bet. What about the CoronaVirus? How has that impacted all of that? I mean, trying to launch a major record under these conditions?

Kevin: [00:23:25]

Can I tell you? I think it just allowed for people to try and find a new way of doing things that they were used to. If you’re not touring right now, or you’re not doing meet-and-greets with fans, and you can’t engage with fans like that. What platforms can you create to do that now? Through social media getting the artist to participate more on social media and platforms there, and setting things up that way. Creating new initiatives. 300 created this initiative called 300 Creates. We pair up artists and we create these design challenges and contests for fans. You know, to submit art and we give them prizes of like 5000 dollars, or we might reproduce their art on merch. There’s 300 Unplugged that’s part of our Youtube channel, and we have live performances from some of our artists, our acoustic artists. So, it gives us an opportunity for people to perform on a platform. There’s this thing called Club Stay The Fuck Home, which is like getting all the DJs that we used to service, to get DJs in the venues now because they’re all furloughed, and we’re creating this space online. On Insta-live and on Twitch where people can, uh, you know, come join in on Friday at 8:15. We’re doing one on the 24th, this Sunday, 24-hours of music. It’s the 24-hour Edition. And we have DJs from all over the world. That when you tune in to our 300 Insta, music will be playing 24-hours.

David: [00:24:55]

And what is the goal of this? Just to keep the artists in front of the people? Obviously to entertain –

Kevin: [00:25:02]

Yeah. Like I said, creating these new platforms. Yeah, like Kev did this thing with Ari Melber from MSNBC yesterday, it’s called The Light Up, and they were doing these like challenges for charity where Kev would spit lyrics of artists and Ari would have to try and guess who the artist was. I think he made Ari bark like DMX, and then they donated five grand to a charity.

David: [00:25:34]

One of the things that is happening, people are dying. Many from Covid but also from other things. So, it just seems like a lot of sadness in the air. Not only because we’re losing a lifestyle, but we’re actually losing lives. One of these, particularly, I know is very close to you, was also very big in the music industry, and also part of the original Def Jam posse, Andre Harrell.

Kevin: [00:26:09]

He just passed. I was very sad, actually, all last week. It was very recent. It just happened. I loved Andre Harrell. He was a good friend. He was like a mentor to me. But we connected on a friendship level, more so than just like in a work situation, even though we had worked together in the past. You know, we traveled a lot. I hung out with him every time we could see each other. There was a moment in time when we were working on something called Champagne and Bubbles, and we were together, like, every day. Day and night. I stayed at his apartment for like a month when he had that spot on Morton Square. When I had my place on 61st Street, like Dre would crash at my spot every now and then. I think when I started dating my wife, I think she told me, like one of the times she first came to my place, he was like on my couch chilling.

David: [00:27:00]

And – And just for our audience… He was a music executive. He had also had one of the early hip-hop bands, right?

Kevin: [00:27:12]

He had Uptown Records.

David: [00:27:13]

Uptown Records where he-

Kevin: [00:27:14]

He had Def Jam. He was the CEO of Motown Records. I mean, he created – He, uh, he helped the careers of Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Heavy D, uh, I mean, Puffy was his intern. He was the original guy to sign Biggie. Just so many things. Robin Thicke. He put Halle Berry in her first movie.

David: [00:27:36]

Well, I won’t hold Robin Thicke against him.

[laughter]

David: [00:27:41]

We’ll put that on the side for a minute.

[laughter]

Kevin: [00:27:46]

You know, yeah. He was a great guy. And everybody loved him. He was always the life of the party. I’m happy I got to spend time with him in Bali, in December, that was the last time I saw him. Actually, I went out to visit Russell for a month. And Dre was out there. We all hung out. It was great.

David: [00:28:05]

And weren’t you also, like, a fashion inspiration for him, or work with him on his look and he was very dapper and wearing suits?

Kevin: [00:28:12]

No, he was an inspiration to me. I helped him make these silk handkerchiefs with polka dots on it. It was called Champagne and Bubbles. My friend, Bradley Theodore, created the logo. It was a penguin with a bow tie with polka dots. We created the script. Victor Matthews painted a portrait of them. He made a CD that was – still one of the illest mix-tapes to this day, it’s called Champagne and Bubbles, you guys should listen to it. It was DJ Cassidy and O’Neal McKnight. And I remember like, on Christmas time, this was when he had a range and he did a sneaker. So, we printed up these CDs and he came over to my house, and we’re like putting the CDs in the sleeves, opening the sneaker boxes, putting a scarf in there, putting the CD, and then he would drive to every record label, to all his friends, and he’d have me deliver these to them. I’d go to see Jay-Z, like everybody, just dropping these sneakers, these care packages to everybody.

And I swear to you, I know Jay-Z was definitely influenced by Champagne and Bubbles, because he had that collection, Rocawear, at the time and he did a high-end collection of, um, items for Rocawear and they were the same items that we did for Champagne and Bubbles. But instead of polka dots, it was a skull and crossbones on the silk. We did like this cashmere, full-zip hoodie, and inside the lining of the hoodie was like this silk. You know, we had these jeans that had the holes ripped in it, weathered denim but behind the rips of the jeans were all these like colorful silk scarves in different colors. He was really into that. That was his aesthetic. And also, thin corduroys in bright colors, like Crayola. We loved that. You know… silk shirts, silk handkerchiefs, just the Champagne and Bubbles lifestyle, that was him. Grown and Sexy…

David: [00:30:05]

Yeah. It was a different look. I mean, it was a much more sophisticated look of an executive, certainly wasn’t street at this point.

Kevin: [00:30:14]

Yeah. I mean, he, you know, he was from the original group, uh, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

David: [00:30:18]

Yeah.

Kevin: [00:30:19]

They were like… You know, they were always in suits and dapper from back then. So… He was just – that was the evolution of his style. He created Grown and Sexy and Ghetto Fabulous. He created those two. Those two phrases.

David: [00:30:34]

Yeah. Ghetto Fabulous is – is pretty strong still today.

Kevin: [00:30:38]

Yeah.

David: [00:30:40]

I know you mentioned Russell and his name still comes up. And today, you know, there is like a lot of chatter, to say the least, about some of the – what he has been through and, um, you know, put other people through, if you believe the stories.

Kevin: [00:31:02]

I know, there was a lot of talk about this documentary that was coming out, and Oprah was behind it and everything. But she, ultimately, backed away from it because she realized that the evidence that was shown to her wasn’t complete. So, she backed away from it. Yeah, I’ve been with Russell for – I worked with him for fifteen years. I met him in the nineties. I’ve never once, uh, seen anything like that go down in front of me, and I’ve been everywhere with him. All over the world. I’ve never seen anything like that happen. So, that’s – that’s all I can really say about that.

David: [00:31:37]

In 2016,  you name checked brands like Fear of God, Antisocial Social Club, Off-White. What did you see in them before everyone else did that made you interested?

Kevin: [00:32:00]

Well, this was so funny. The Antisocial Social Club guy, I actually met him before he did that brand. He was doing a different brand. It was called Been Asian. And he gave me a shirt. I just liked it, supporting fellow Asian homies into streetwear. That was just like – I was a fan of that, you know. Off-White. I actually worked with Virgil, and I used to work with Big Sean [laughs], with Kevin Liles at KWL. So, I was the creative director at KWL Enterprises. And they had Big Sean, Trey Songz, Estelle, Selita Ebanks, Sanya Ross, a couple other people. But, Big Sean was the focus and Trey Songz. And through Big Sean, we worked on a line called Oro Gold. So, we had a line called Finally Famous, it was named off of one of his mixtapes. And, you know, once the mixtape goes over, you never want to name an artist’s brand off of a mixtape, he’s gonna have new material, and then what does that mean to the brand. So, we converted the name to Oro Gold. I did a whole rebranding. And, you know, Big Sean got signed by Kanye. So, Kanye had Virgil working on it. So, I had to get a lot of approvals and just creative discussions with Virgil on that project. So, I had met him in the past through that. You know, and now he’s huge right now. So, this was beforehand.

David: [00:33:18]

Another division, or element of the 300 Entertainment is the Young Stoner Life Records. Focusing on the word ‘stoner’ there for a minute… That’s part of the life as well, isn’t it? Of 300 Entertainment.

Kevin: [00:33:34]

Yes. YSL, Young Stoner Life.

David: [00:33:39]

What does that mean? Stoner life, to you?

Kevin: [00:33:40]

Young Stoner Life, it’s like another way of saying that they’re rockstars, you know… Young Stoner Life is like that rockstar shit. You know, you got Young Thug, you got Gunna, you got Lil Keed.

David: [00:33:53]

And what about like cannabis? Is that a part of it, as well?

Kevin: [00:33:56]

Definitely. For the merch they made for Young Stoner Life, they were like grinders and ash trays, rolling papers, lighters, all of those are… are everyday accessories to us.

David: [00:34:10]

cannabis, it’s so much a part of that world. But at the same time, it’s still stigmatized in the mainstream world. Even though it’s like such a big, obvious thing, and it’s still underground. Do you feel that there’s a crossover that’s gonna happen, that will start impacting design and – and the way people look at the world outside cannabis?

Kevin: [00:34:43]

I think it already has. I feel like that statement you just made it kind of a fading statement already. I feel like we’re already there.

David: [00:34:54]

But I feel like it hasn’t hit the mainstream fashion world. You know, with regard to the images that are put out there. We don’t see models for Prada, you know, smoking a joint or –

Kevin: [00:35:08]

Right. Well, you know why? I think it’s because when in the fifties or sixties, the ads were had cigarettes everywhere. So, smoking is still bad. There’s many ways to take THC or CBD. It’s not about smoking. But what are you going to show somebody taking a tincture or something? You know what I mean? But to answer your question on that. You know, marijuana, weed, that’s medicine. Music is medicine. They both help to heal you in different ways. I don’t live in that world where people look down on it. And if they do, you’re free to have your own opinion. I don’t share that opinion. You know, it helped me out tremendously. It’s medicine to me. Ever since I was a kid. And, it’s so funny, because I met you in Vancouver.

David: [00:36:01]

Yes.

Kevin: [00:36:01]

Taking a trip with Kevin Liles to go visit a cannabis company.

David: [00:36:06]

Right.

Kevin: [00:36:06]

So, that’s how we actually linked.

David: [00:36:09]

Yes, it is. And I think it’s a great thing that, you know, this cannabis company, Burb, you know, seized the importance of doing a show like this. So, it’s not just about cannabis. That they are part of the solution, as far as I’m concerned. You know, by taking the subject, the conversation, and bringing it into all of the areas of life. That it doesn’t only have to be stigmatized and put into a box, and we could only talk about it under certain circumstances.

Kevin: [00:36:45]

Definitely. I mean, shout out to the Burb guys. I mean, just this passed 420, we did an event with 300 together. Um. For 420. It was hosted by Method Man and Redman and Kevin Liles. Where we had a whole bunch of rappers show up, and we were all just smoking virtually and talking about the strains. Everyone has their own strain, and what their favorite weed is. Just, you know, stoner shit. Like, what your favorite snacks are. You know, where is the craziest place you ever smoked a joint or a blunt. I think it does more good than bad. Brings people together. You know, it’s medicine, like I said.

David: [00:37:23]

Yeah, and hip-hop has been very instrumental in making it more public and – and bringing it out of the closet or from the underground. It’s so much a part of the culture, and that culture has become pop culture. So, it’s no longer like an alternative culture. So, here we are. Deal with it.

Kevin: [00:37:43]

I mean, I was ahead of the curve on that. When were not quarantined, and out in the clubs, I was smoking everywhere and anywhere. Wherever I could. I didn’t care. I light it up in the club. Light it up wherever I’m in. A restaurant. Anywhere.

David: [00:37:58]

And what happened? [laughs]

Kevin: [00:37:59]

A rooftop bar.

David: [00:37:59]

[laughs] People didn’t come and tell you like, hey, put that out? Or you can’t do that here.

Kevin: [00:38:03]

Sometimes. I mean, sometimes. It depends on the situation, you know? But there’s times that they have and there’s times where it was all good.

David: [00:38:11]

Yeah. Well, you’re surely a visionary in my mind. [laughter] I mean, the time that we have spent together, I was totally impressed by all the different aspects of your worlds. Of design and music and fashion, and just all around cool shit. So, very happy we finally were able to get this conversation going after many, many attempts, I must say.

Kevin: [00:38:36]

Definitely.

David: [00:38:37]

But I’m very happy I’ve had a chance to talk with you. Thank you for being on my show.

Kevin: [00:38:42]

No. Thank you for having me.

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