Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV’s “Drink Champs,” which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly “Drink Champs” episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
In the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” Daymond John joins DJ EFN and fellow Queens rep N.O.R.E. to get the backstory on his illustrious career. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Hollis, Queens; John conveyed an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age, jumpstarting various business ventures throughout his teenage years. However, he eventually found that his true calling was fashion, founding his own clothing line FUBU, which became one of the premier brands in urban fashion and helped define a pivotal era for streetwear.
Becoming a staple within the hip hop community, FUBU was heavily endorsed by a number of the top artists in rap — most notably LL Cool J — and even spawned a compilation album called The Good Life in 2001. Grossing more than $6 billion in retail sales during his run with the fashion label, John has since diversified his portfolio by diving into TV as a judge on “Shark Tank,” while investing his time and money into various start-ups and business endeavors. One of the most respected business minds to emerge out of the hip hop generation, John continues to expand his empire and drop game to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
To help give fans a recap of the conversation, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from the Daymond John episode of “Drink Champs.” Take a look at them below.
1. His First Business
During his time on “Drink Champs,” John revealed the first business endeavor, which doubled as a learning experience for the young hustler. “I had this idea about buying crashed cars,” he says. “‘Cause at that time, we’d buy a crashed car, your boys would find the parts for it, [and you’d] buy it at an auction. I don’t know how they found those parts. That wasn’t my problem, they just showed them to me. So, you’d buy it at $2,500, you’d put $2,500 into it; then you’d sell it at $15,000-$20,000. So, I had the plan. I was 16-17 years old and I’d like to say I did my numbers, and I looked at 16. If I just keep doubling down on that, I’d be a millionaire by 20. However, Mike Tyson, he has that saying everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Life punched me in the face in about six months and I ain’t have any money. Now, the reality of what I realized was I didn’t like to fix cars. I don’t know how to fix cars. I was so busy thinking about the money that I didn’t like what I was doing. So, I had no urge to get up or to want to do it again.”
2. What Inspired LL Cool J’s Infamous Gap Commercial
In 1997, FUBU’s profile got a big boost after LL Cool J appeared in a commercial for The Gap donning a FUBU hat and slyly dropping the brand’s slogan — “For Us By Us” — into a freestyle featured in the ad. According to John, LL’s decision was based on his displeasure with The Gap’s attitude toward him and rap culture as a whole. “We had already had a little bit of national recognition because a couple of people had wore it on their video sets,” the mogul recalls. “Miss Jones, Method Man and a couple of people had already worn it. Oh, Brand Nubian. They wore it in the ‘Ice Cream’ video and I think LL wore it in the ‘Hey Lover’ video. But, that’s when we already had our distribution deal and Gap called up LL, and he didn’t like the way they spoke to him. They spoke to him pretty much like, ‘Listen LL or whatever your name is. You’re one of those rappers, right? We need to get to the little hippity-hopper kids.’ And I remember the dude saying something like, ‘Yo, I’m white. My daughter’s 16 years old and white. She’s running around the house screaming “Fight the Power” and “F The Police.” So, I think we’re big enough now. Hip Hop’s big enough. So, can you come in and do this commercial?’ …LL lived FUBU.”
3. History With Hype Williams and Irv Gotti
Queens, New York has long been a breeding ground for some of the most influential figures in hip hop. During his appearance on the “Drink Champs,” the designer and business mogul reminisces on when he formed a lasting bond with two childhood friends who would become legends. “We all grew up in the same neighborhood,” he explains about Queens’ rich history. “We all grew up in Hollis and the funny story is that I used to be a roadie and we used to always skip out of school at 14 years old to go on tour. On ‘Raising Hell’ and all of ’em… And I had three other friends on the tour with me, too. But it’s funny, I was like, ‘Yo, I’ma be the biggest guy in fashion.’ My other dude was like, ‘I’ma be the biggest dude in movies.’ My other dude was like, ‘I’ma be the biggest dude in music.’ And my other dude said, ‘I’ma be the biggest drug dealer.’ So, it was me [who said fashion]. The other dude who said movies was Hype Williams. The other dude who said records is Irv Gotti. And the other dude ended up becoming the biggest drug dealer ’cause Hype wrote a movie about him called Belly and he’s still in jail. So, at 14 years old, we kinda all had this desire. We didn’t know what it was gonna be, but we all aspired to be [at] the top of our industry.”
4. FUBU’s Acquisition of Coogie
After dominating the sector of urban fashion, FUBU looked to bolster its assets by acquiring other companies, one of them being Coogie, the brand behind the colorful sweaters The Notorious B.I.G. helped popularize during the ’90s. When asked about any backlash from investing in an Italian-based company, John insists that the response to FUBU revitalizing the brand was overwhelmingly positive. “Nah, they gave us love…” John says, adding “It was in bankruptcy and they only had 800 sweaters. And then, we started making more affordable stuff. We still had those heavily-woven sweaters because there’s only two machines in the world that can knit that sweater. However, we started making other stuff and, actually, Coogie ended up becoming really good for us, so we never got slack.”
5. Styling The Kardashians
Prior to becoming the first family of reality TV, the Kardashian sisters aligned themselves with John, who played a pivotal part in outfitting Kim K and company during the first seasons of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” We were Coogie around 2003 and at first, nobody wanted to wear it,” he admits. “And I was doing all the product integration for these three girls named the Kardashians that nobody knew about. And I remember going around to all the brands, like, ‘Yo, they’ll wear your clothes for the whole season for $75,000.’ And cats were like, ‘Nah, they ain’t gonna be nothing.’ So, if you look at the first three seasons, they’re wearing all Coogie ’cause I was like, ‘Man, I’m sorry girls. I really can’t get my other people behind you, but I got you. Here you go ’cause I know you’re gonna be something.’”
6. FUBU’s Rivalries With Other Fashion Labels
The explosion of hip hop fashion created a competitive landscape for black designers of the time, as many of the leading brands battled it out for real estate in retail stores. The fashion trailblazer holds no punches about FUBU’s rivalry with its contemporaries, but insists that all parties remained respectful. “Cross Colours and Karl Kani broke ground for us,” he explains. “They inspired us, they opened the door. We came in and took it to another level and we came in right after they were slowing down a little bit, right before Puff and Russell really got to blast. So, we had a really good run at it. But, when we really got going and they going, of course, there’s limited space in any store for any brand. So, of course, there’d be the rivalry. But, it was a friendly rivalry. I introduced Puff to a guy named Jeff Tweedy, who runs his company, because I knew I couldn’t take Jeff Tweedy on and I wanted him to help Puff. I didn’t think Puff would be that hot. But again, you can’t stop people.”
7. Receiving Praise From Nelson Mandela
When asked to point to a singular moment in his career that marked him and FUBU’s arrival, John points to a near-encounter with one of the most celebrated political figures of all time. “We had just opened a couple FUBU stores in South Africa,” he recalls. “I didn’t go on that trip ’cause I always thought the first year popped, the second year popped, year three, ‘We’re done.’ And it lasted about eight years… I had to do something else and I remember [Nelson] Mandela calling my partners. One of my only regrets. Mandela calls my boys and they go, and meet Mandela, and I never got to meet him. But, I realized at that point that we’re making some noise.”
8. How He Became A Part of “Shark Tank”
FUBU may have become a household name during its historic run, but it wasn’t until his recurring appearances on “Shark Tank” that John would become a renowned celebrity. The decorated mogul shared the backstory behind his involvement in the “Shark Tank” franchise with N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. “Mark Burnett, the producer,” he reveals when asked who initially approached him with the idea. “He has ‘Survivor,’ ‘Apprentice,’ all that. And it was already a No. 1 show in Japan, London and Canada. It was called ‘Dragon’s Den’ and they brought it over here. Mark is a Brit, so he loved it already from London… So, absolutely, that’s how it started. They called me up, they saw me on ‘Donny Deutsch’ or MSNBC talking about business, and they were like, ‘Yo, this guy knows how to break down a pitch. He’s got a couple of bucks, he’s an investor, I want him on the show.’ Again, something else like FUBU, I thought it would never work. We go to shoot the pilot, but first they tell me I can’t be on any other show, and I had already promised the Kardashians I’d be on their show. So, I told them, ‘No, I wouldn’t do it.’ Then, all of a sudden the producer of ‘[Keeping Up with] the Kardashians’ said, ‘We don’t want you on the show no more. You don’t really appeal to the people that we’re trying to [reach].’ However, you know what I found out? Khloe found out that I was gonna turn ‘Shark Tank’ down ’cause of her and she said she’d never get in my way.”
9. His Role as The Former Global Ambassador of Entrepreneurship
During his tenure as president of the United States, Barack Obama ingratiated himself into the hip hop community by tapping various artists, executives and other creatives from the culture to participate in various initiatives. John was among them, as Obama handpicked the mogul to serve as an ambassador. “Obama appointed me Global Ambassador of Entrepreneurship,” he reveals to N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. “I wish I could play big time. [But,] it was his man’s man’s man’s man’s who called me and was like, ‘Yo, we want you down.’ But, I did get to go with him to Kenya, I went with him to Cuba. I went with him to another conference in California and my job as the presidential ambassador [was] to let people understand that they can pick up an iPhone, and make a million dollars or if you’re in Kenya, you only need $25 a month to keep the lights on… If you show people there are real ways to make money, then they don’t become liabilities. They become taxpayers. They become mentors in the community, we see it everyday. So, that was my job globally to do that for President Obama.”
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