Photo Courtesy of Shirt King Phade
Photo Courtesy of Shirt King Phade


Shirt King Phade, Pioneering Graffiti and Airbrush Artist

Shirt King Phade was one of my first creative influences. When I was a kid growing up in South Jamaica Queens, I was fascinated by the Shirt Kings. I didn’t know King Kasheme, Mighty Nike, or Shirt King Phade back then. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to get an airbrushed commission of their art on my clothing, nor could I afford one of the black hats they used to make, which had beautifully airbrushed names in white and glistened with rhinestones.


Listen to Shirt King Phade tell his Story


Their spot was in the basement of the Jamaica Colosseum Mall, and I would visit whenever I had the chance. There were two reasons I would go there: to check out their latest backdrop mural, usually of a favorite cartoon character draped in truck jewelry, and to listen to the newest mixtape they were blasting from their booth. Now that I think about it, their spot was my first gallery experience. Instead of white walls and framed art, they had dark walls and huge airbrushed paintings on cloth. I remember they used to charge $5 and would take a Polaroid of you in front of their art. I still have one of those Polaroids floating around here from when they had a booth at the Black Expo in the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

So, to find myself, 30+ years later, recording a conversation in a park with Shirt King Phade on a beautiful sunny day in Harlem was surreal, to say the least.

One of the first things we discussed was Phade’s reverence for Dapper Dan. He wasn’t just acknowledging a mentor; he was crediting the man who instilled in him the importance of intellectual property ownership and a global perspective. Phade’s approach to business was equally insightful. He walks a fine line, balancing the need for success with a commitment to artistic integrity.

Phade’s artistic roots run deep, tracing his beginnings in graffiti in 1977. Hip Hop culture is at the core of his work. Hearing him speak about the influence of icons like LL Cool J and Biz Markie is further proof of this.

We also talk about the importance of artistic growth. Phade’s emphasis on learning from critiques and adapting to cultural shifts is a roadmap for navigating the ever-evolving landscape of creativity. He reminded me that stagnation is the enemy of innovation. Yeah, it rhymes, but it’s true.

Phade’s vision for the future is ambitious, and his focus on long-term planning is a blueprint for aspiring creatives like myself. His story is a testament to the power of community and collaboration, reminding us that even the most visionary artists thrive within a supportive network. And his journey is a guiding light for anyone daring to forge their creative path.

This short reflection on my conversation with Shirt King Phade offers a glimpse of his story. However, for the full spectrum experience, try scrolling back up and listening to the entire conversation to unlock the complete story.

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