DJ Ross One Offers a Refreshing Visual History of Hip-Hop With ‘Rap Tees’ Book
DJ Ross One is known for being an avid hip-hop collector and he's gearing to take hip-hop heads down memory lane with his upcoming book, Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip-Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999. The hardcover publication, releasing this Tuesday, Nov. 3, features over 500 of the rarest and most sought-after vintage hip-hop tees in the genre.
Ross One's book offers a unique and refreshing visual history of hip-hop throughout the years of 1980 all the way through 1999. With his collection of rap tees spanning close to two decades, Ross One's collection includes rap concert tees and promo shirts from Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, De La Soul The Notorious B.I.G., EPMD, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest and more.
XXL caught up with the man behind the innovative book, DJ Ross One, to get all the details behind the creation of the book and find out more about his extensive collection of rap tees, and the events circulating around the book.
What inspired the idea behind the Rap Tees book?
Well, I've been a collector my whole life and I've been a huge hip-hop fan and I started getting into DJing when I was around 15 or 16 and I started collecting records and collecting t-shirts as well, and that just started from being a fan of hip-hop and wanting to represent my favorite artists back when I was a kid and slowly after time the collection has grown and I've been searching for t-shirts for 20 years now basically and the collection has kind of gotten out of hand, so I wanted to put together in one place. I started reaching out to other collectors, vintage dealers and DJ's and shooting their collections as well and it turned into this beast.
What was the first short you ever purchased that started the collection?
My first shirt that I ever got was a Beastie Boys shirt. I grew up in Ohio, so my access to hip-hop t-shirts was super limited. This was maybe around 92-93, so there was no internet. I was 15 and I didn't have a car at the time, so basically if I wanted a hip-hop t-shirt, my favorite groups at the time were Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, all of Native Tongues, Public Enemy, if I wanted a t-shirt it was limited to what was within 15 miles from me, so the mall provided me with my first Beastie Boys t-shirt, which was from Check Your Head era because they were the only artists you could find at the mall because they were sort of like crossover artists. My second t-shirt was from Public Enemy, which was from the mail order catalogue which they used to include in their CDs. So in the Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black CD booklet there was an order form for Public Enemy merchandise and Chuck D was kind of the man from very early when it came to merchandising along with Russell Simmons, so he was smart putting the order forms in the CD, so I was able to get my shirt through mail.
What was the shirt that you'd say took you the longest to search for?
Well, none of the shirts on the book are easy to find but I'd say I 85% of the shirts in the book, if you want them, you can't get them, so that's what makes this so unique. You won't be able to find any of these shirts, so most of the shirts on this book were really hard to find. My favorite artists, who I like to wear the most include -ATCQ, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Biggie, Eric B. & Rakim, so those shirts I 'd say I searched for the hardest. The search for those always continues because they don't tend to pop up with frequency, so you just have to get them when you see them. People have great memories about those artists, so they want to get their hands on the shirts when they see them.
Are you still collecting shirts?
Yeah, I'm still collecting. It's hard ,you know? I'm a collector and I've been a collector my whole life of hip-hop and other things, so the book is at least a good one to bring it all into one place, so I'm hoping with this book I can kind of chill and actually down size the collection a bit. We're going to be doing some pop-up shops and things like that, but I'm still looking for specific things.
When does the book release?
It comes out on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
What's the roll out plan for the launch of the book and what does the pop-up shop consist of?
We're going to be doing a New York launch party Nov. 6, and then I'll be doing a pop-up shop later in the month, probably around Thanksgiving like Black Friday with my friend Brian Porcell, who is a contributor to the book and one of the best vintage dealers in New York City, so we'll be working together and I'm also going to be doing something in L.A. in mid-November at a vintage pop-up.
What's the feedback you want people to have once they finish looking through the book?
I mean, obviously I love showing it to hip-hop heads and I love showing it to people my age who have a direct connection to these shirts and through the designs and the response is pretty much immediate once they see some of these shirts. It really takes you back. I've been lucky enough to show it to Russell Simmons and guys like Eric Haze and Cey Adams who are some of the original designers of some of these t-shirts, and a lot of them haven't seen the shirts in over 30 years now, so it really takes it back to a simpler time in hip-hop. Kind of like a more basic era where you like didn't see it becoming like this huge thing. You were just selling t-shirts and paying your way and kind of making money as you went. Just for general people, I think once you get past looking at the design and I think a lot of people will recognize the design elements because they're constantly reused by new companies and inspired by the old tees. Beyond that, I think the book gives you a unique visual history of hip-hop. It moves sort of chronologically and by region, so if you flip through it, it'll take you from 1980 all the way up to 1999, you get the gist of how hip-hop moved through those years.
Will you be selling vintage tees at your pop-shop as well?
Yeah. We'll be selling the book and I have some new t-shirts I've made that are vintage-inspired for the Rap Tees book specifically and the main thing is we'll be trying to sell some vintage shirts, so I'll be working with some of the best vintage dealers in the United States and also in Japan. We'll be doing a few things in Japan right before Thanksgiving. We'll be doing a party and a pop-up shop in Tokyo, so it'll be like a rare opportunity for you to go to one of these spots and pick up a shirt that you just will never be able to find elsewhere.