Hip Hop and fashion go hand in hand. You can’t argue against it. Facts is facts. I’ve rocked some garments over the years that were fleeting fashion trends. Same can be said now for all this skinny jeans nonsense. It’s not for me. I’m in my grown man chamber. I want to rep the culture in a mature way with flourishes of the past I loved and still love. Classic Material does just that. It’s the real deal, the real New York style. Authentic and rugged with a strong eye for paying homage. I wanted to know more about the man behind this authenticity revolution and how he got started. Peep what he had to say in the interview below:
Who is Classic Material? Where were you born and raised?
Classic Material is me, Carlos Maldonado. I was born in Manhattan, moved to Brooklyn at the age of four, went to High School in Queens. Classic Material represents the Old New York from 1970-2000. That is a time when New York was still New York, not this new Disneyland that it is now. I felt, out of all the brands that are out now, they miss the mark on giving you that authentic New York experience. A lot of brands aren’t even from NY, or weren’t in New York when it was real.
Break down your family dynamic. Where were your parents from? Do you come from a small or large family?
My parents were born, and raised in Puerto Rico, moved to New York in the early 70’s for a better life. That’s when they had me. I’m the youngest. I have an older brother and older sister. Same parents. So being the youngest, I got my way a lot. Whenever something new came out my parents or my siblings got it for me. I stayed fresh lol. So it was five of us total. My parents, my brother, sister, and myself in East New York Brooklyn. The 80’s made me who I am. Those were the best years growing up in the East. You had to be fly to get respect and the ladies. You couldn’t be soft.
What was your childhood like? Tell me about the borough through your young eyes?
Growing up in East New York was a blessing. You saw everything from playing Skelly. That was a game we played on the street with milk tops filled with wax to hearing Hip Hop blasting from someone’s boom box. We’d be coming outside on Saturday’s after 5pm once the Karate movie was over to try the fight moves you just saw on 5 Deadly Venoms. Then a few years later, battling someone breakdancing outside on a cardboard box. To seeing the drug dealers selling crack or weed on the corner, and my parents telling me not to go to the corner because you never know what could happen — shoot outs, fights, or cops arresting everyone there.
When and how did you become aware of hip hop culture?
I always knew I had to do something with Hip Hop. I was always surrounded by it since a youth. The Fat Boys were from my neighbourhood. They went on to reach commercial fame with Krush Groove, Disorderlies, etc. Then in the 90’s Guru & Premier would come around the way to pick up some of my friends, Jeru The Damaja, Hannibal Stax, also Lil Dap from Group Home. Then Blahzay Blahzay came out with some other friends of mine MC Outloud, and DJ PF Cuttin. They had a hit with the song “Danger”. We used to terrorize the clubs back in the days because we were with the Rap Stars so we were like part of the entourage lol. I always tried to manage rappers, promote parties, and always loved watching DJ’s spin good music. I feel like New York fashion isn’t catering to people my age or younger. It’s like you have to wear what everyone else is wearing or you’re not cool. I’m from the era where we tried to look different from everyone else. If you had the black Adidas, I wanted the blue, or red. Now it seems like everyone is a sheep. I didn’t grow up like that. I wanted to be a wolf. So when I make a Classic Material piece it’s always based on something from New York or New York based. I just try to pay homage to some of my favourite New York memories wether it be a place, or a lyric from one of my favourite songs, but it’s all Classic Material.
Were you a good student back in the day? Was education important to you?
I was a good student in grade school, then got lazy in HS. Because in grade school I was younger and teachers, as well as my parents, were on top of me to do well. When I got to HS, it was a lot of freedom. You could walk out whenever you want. Some teachers didn’t care if you learned or not. I think they were scared to confront us because we were older now and more into the street life. I thought I was a man at thirteen or fourteen taking the train from Brooklyn to Queens. Education was very important due to my mother being a teacher, so good grades were a must. Plus going to school was like a fashion show from grade school all the way to college.
What jobs did you have in your younger days to help feed the love of fashion and keep your own style fresh?
First job was at a C-Town supermarket doing stocks. Didn’t like it. I would go work dressed fresh, come back dirty for a $100 a week. That was a pair of Nikes and also a Benetton t-shirt. While my friends were on the block selling drugs looking like rappers in videos everyday with Fila suits and Dapper Dan outfits. So I took my money, and bought an ounce of weed. I bagged it out and I was now in the game. Now I’m shopping everyday on Jamaica Ave in Queens or in Manhattan to look different from the other guys around the way. Every borough had different styles. You could find a different colour of Nikes in Manhattan that you wouldn’t see in Brooklyn. I would go so much in to Manhattan that dudes from Uptown thought I was from Manhattan. Since I went to High School in Queens I would know a lot of people out there. That’s when I met NORE aka Noreaga of Capone & Noreaga in 93. He thought I was from Queens. He couldn’t believe I was from Brooklyn. Back in the days the boroughs were divided. Brooklyn dudes would go anywhere, but other boroughs didn’t mingle like that.
Did you ever customize clothes to put a twist on them?
No back in the days we didn’t customize. We would just shop somewhere different to have a different flavour, unless you were going to Dapper Dan. I think the customizing came more in the 2000.
You mentioned New York being like Disneyland now, can you expand upon that for a UK dweller like myself?
I say NY isn’t NY anymore because we lost the hunger we had. We are losing our identity. You got NY guys sounding like down south dudes, using their slang, and doing what they do. We used to have our own slang, own style. Back in the days you couldn’t walk thru certain neighbourhoods unless you knew someone. Like Ft. Green in BK was crazy now they have outside cafes, and guys walking little dogs. Its cool. I’m all for improvement, but we are losing what made us.
In regard to the weed game, how long were you at it for before you changed direction? Was it a specific event or a series of circumstances?
Weed was always a side hustle, stopped in the late 90’s early 2000. I had a business to run, couldn’t afford to get knocked for weed.
Who were the rappers you tried to manage back in the day? Was it a tougher role than you expected? You still around them?
H Stax from Gang Starr Foundation, the rest were and are irrelevant. Stax is family we’ve been friends since grade school. Managing him was off the strength after Guru passed. I told him it was time to put out an album. So he eventually put one out with Marco Polo.
You mentioned NORE earlier. I feel he was one of the best artists to straddle the underground and commercial arenas in the late 90’s with his music and fashion, were you around him at that point?
I’ve been around NORE since he was 15 till now. He actually did my 30th birthday party for free with Capone. That was love.
When did you decide to branch out into the fashion game? What was the catalyst? Get advice from others in the industry?
I had my own store since 98 selling everyone else’s brands. I seen them come seen them go, about 7 years ago I decided it was time to put some ideas on shirts representing for NY. From there it took off. I’ve been fortunate to have good people around me all my life so that’s why I get a lot of love in the streets. Thank God that people like my ideas, and concepts, especially my brother DJ Clark Kent. He has shown love always!
What was the personal motivation to get the store opened? Did you have help with it or was it a solo mission?
The store idea came from some of my friends in Manhattan. They had a store called Industry Clothing on 158th and Amsterdam. We would sell Triple 5 Soul and other underground brands. I would sell Mix tapes out the store. That was how I got my feet wet with a store idea. I told them let’s open a store out-of-town so we can get all the money. Find a quit town, and tie it down. They didn’t see the vision so I went on my own and opened a store in Poughkeepsie NY, about an hour away from NYC.
The purchasing of brands must’ve been challenging at the start. Can you breakdown the process you undertook?
Well since I started at Industry Clothing I already saw the day-to-day operation. I asked one of the partners Chris for all the contacts to sales reps and brands so I can do it out-of-town. Luckily I had some knowledge of the retail business thanks to them.
You have a successful online presence. Was that something you got onboard with early on? How much of your business does it account for compared to the shop sales?
Online is a blessing. I took it serious about six years ago when I dropped the King Of NY T-shirt. Thanks to Instagram it helped my business prosper online because it helped me reach people overseas and all parts of the country so the brand becomes a household name. Online is better because you can purchase 24/7, and ship worldwide whereas the store you have to go to the location, and work around store hours.
DJ Clark Kent is a legend in the culture in many ways. How did you connect with him? What sort of kudos does it bring having an icon as a friend and champion of the brand?
First of all I knew of Clark from the Dana Dane days. One day a friend mine invited me to Clark’s and Marley Marls birthday party in 92-93. That had to be one of the best parties I’ve ever went to. It was packed full of celebrities mingling with the likes of Queen Latifah, LL Cool J with no VIP. Clark and Marley brought out acts they were working with. Marley brought out Lords Of The Underground and a few other acts performed as well. Clark brought out a group called Original Flavor. I think they were from the Bronx. In the middle of their set a young Jay-Z came out and did his verse from the joint they had together. I wasn’t a Jay Z fan yet. I would only see Clark once in a while. He would come by my friends job to buy sneakers in the village. The store was called Stadium Shop. A lot of celebs would come by to get their kicks so it was definitely a spot to be at. I wouldn’t meet Clark personally till 98 at Woodbury Commons a shopping outlet in NY. I saw him and introduced myself. After that I would see him at different events or would bump into him on the streets of NY. I had given him a few shirts prior to the King Of NY shirt. I had sent him a text with the picture of the shirt and within a few minutes I got the call from Clark praising the shirt. He showed me so much love that’s why he gets first dibs on all my stuff. He has stuff I don’t even have lol. Thank God he likes my stuff. That’s why he shows me love.
I’ve got to ask about the DJ mixes you’ve been involved with. What was the inspiration behind them? The BDP joint is crazy.
The mixes came about because I wanted to tie in the shirts with the artist I got inspired from to make the shirt. I also am a supporter of real DJ’s, and their skills.
What’s next for Classic Material?
I think accessories and coats. Keep pushing the brand for global domination lol.
Thank you for being down for this interview. It’s been a pleasure. Is there anything you’d like to add/shout out?
Just want to thank you for reaching out, and doing a great interview. Stay Classic!!