Ben Baller Keeps It Real on Life in L.A., the Music Business & Dr. Dre | IMAN AMONGST MEN
- What's the worst story like of somebody like not being able to pay for something or like you gotta collect, but it's like, damn on. Like you just gave me the saddest story you could. - There's an A-list celebrity who has gotten chains here and there. And then I realized he's mastered the way of finessing eight other jewelers 'cause he is such a big name. And it's like six years now, right? And there's still like a $40,000 balance, which is like, all right, cool. It took like a year or two.
I was like, he ain't never gonna pay me. And so we put the chain on display and I think he heard it from so many people from the streets that finally he figured out a way to pay the chain, he's like fuck this. He came back, was like, April- - It's embarrassment. - He couldn't take the embarrassment 'cause he saw it in my new store, was sitting there.
He goes, "Hey, I don't want my chain sitting in the display case." And I was like, "all right, pay the bill." He's like, "Bet like within like three days he came back and paid the tab." - Smart man.
I ain't gonna lie, that's a smart little, you jewelers better get on the game. Welcome to Iman Amongst Men, powered by Shea Moisture Men. I'm Iman Shumpert, here with my big brother Ahrii. Ahrii go on say what up to the people. - What's going on people? I'm Ahrii and today we joined by an LA legend, executive entrepreneur and world famous jeweler. Give it up one time for Ben Baller.
Ben Baller welcome to the show. Woo. - What's up man? - We love, we love the celebratory. - Hey man, appreciate that Chi Town, love man. - I didn't know that. - I love it.
- Theme of today's episode being dropping jewels. I know right now you segue into other things we just thought it'd be cool to play off of. - You know, that's jewelry making. - And us seeing that you've done other podcasts lately.
You've, you've been talking a little bit and when you have, especially I saw the one with Cuttino Mobley, you connect timelines for people. - Yeah. - Being a part of doing so many different things, being a part of so many different places in history and saying, yo, I did a chain here. I was behind the scenes working with a record label here. I was playing basketball here. - Signing acts here.
- Yeah. - Playing football here. - Like, I mean, I've had like. - 50 (indistinct).
- 50 Lifetimes, you know, and I almost, I could take it back to like tattoos for instance. Sometimes tattoos, people regret. I'm not, I mean, you know, my wife and kids are tatted on me.
So like, not tripping on that, but like anything else I might think, oh man, why'd I do that? It ends up being like a ghetto timeline of my life and look back what I was doing at that point. And you know, to be honest, I've been doing jewelry for almost 18 years and I don't even think I really considered myself a jeweler 'cause I've done so many things in my life and I just felt like, maybe I'm a modern day renaissance man. It took until the ASAP Ferg song to go 10 times platinum and go Diamond and be like, I'm a jeweler. This is crazy. Right? And I won Jeweler of the year, which is like the most, that's like winning the NBA championship and it's like globally, right? And I won it back to back.
But I always looked at myself as like, just like a businessman, you know? I did, I played sports. I was, you know, a sneaker designer. I was a record executive.
I had been like so many different things. I always looked at myself as a DJ 'cause that's what I felt like. But I was like, man, as an adult, this is the longest lasting career. And it wasn't that I didn't, I just felt like I identified as so much more as a man.
So, you know, I always tell people, look, I'm a father and husband before any of the titles in life, right? Then we could talk about whatever from there. But the most important thing was being classified as a, if someone walked up to you all the time, I was like, oh, of course you're a basketball player. Whatever the, I mean, I don't know. It's like you got Jewelers who have that in their, in their name and now I get it.
If Instagram's there, boom and that that's, you know, your marketing thing like, oh Benny, the jeweler, whatever the fuck it is. Like I just felt right there. It's already boxed me into it. It's put me in one place and I can't really, you know, 'cause I'm involved in all kinds of things, right? - Yeah. - So I am making a slight pivot and I could do jewelry until I'm 70, 80 years old if I want to. - No doubt.
- I just, you know, like I just feel like it's a different point in my life now where I'm exploring different things. - It's like driving Uber, you're like, I'm make jewelry in my, you know, in between time when I, (laughs) you feel me like I got other plays going, but in the meantime I can get you a lift and get you a chain. See what I'm saying, like. (laughs) - No, the meantime he gonna deal with the quick success.
- Real talk, I gotta get you a chain. - You think that's what it is. Like success is just too quick.
Too abundant and you get tired of it. - So I don't think it was too quick because you know, my success took 30 years to get here. And I think everything I do now, there's some misses, there's some Ls.
The Ls are definitely the ones I think about more. Not because they're, they're losses, but because they were lessons. And I think one thing also, let me like clarify this.
Being an Asian American and growing up in the hood and being around people like, you know, like of course 'cause of my parents being immigrants coming here, there was nobody in the eighties or seventies that were listening to hip hop and break dancing and doing that I was doing or going to jail and getting in trouble. And like, you know, it's like, oh it's so stereotypical 'cause you run around Mexicans and Black people. I'm like, no, my interest was different than y'all.
You know what I mean? I don't know what the you guys listened to, whether it be Billy Joel or whatever the it was. It wasn't what I was listening to. And just the things that interest me were different. And throughout my life, you know, after I made my first million I realized okay, I have options. And kind of, you know, saying no is so powerful, right? Being able to say no to people.
And I learned that at a, you know, at the perfect time. I just think now, you know, I know how to enter any business. If I wanted to start selling mugs, you know, I'm gonna study the back room and I'll be like, all right, look, I got that part down business side I'm not worried about because everything can kind of apply to almost any business you do whatever it is, right? Marketing is kind of something I specialized in and I never went to school for it just, you know, I was who I was before social media existed. I've been Ben Baller since 1992, you know, and I think, you know, the success is one thing, but I think the privacy is everything. Just my lifestyle completely has gone through quite a bit of a change in the last couple years.
And I think my energy has been different. And I think those days of me wearing 10 chains and pulling up in a Rolls Royce everywhere here and there, not that I was asking for it, it was a part of my life. And, and that's cool. I just think that that lifestyle now ain't me. I've evolved from there. And I think that also would invite, you know, all the shit that's going on right now in the streets, I just feel like, and I'm already a lick to people, you know what I mean? And I'm like, man, I don't wanna go back to the old ways man.
But it, it's, it's a, it's a mixture of everything that's wanted me to change this way. - Growing up in K Town, who would you say your biggest? - Yeah, I'm gonna call it K Town. I want to fit in... - Clarify it first man.
- No, no, no, no. It's, it's a, it is a K town in Chicago. I got people.
- I learned the hard way (laughs). - I got people from there. He, he told me a story.
I thought it was funny. (laughs) he was in Chicago and he got given your look, can they see your K Town? - Yeah. - Tattoo.
He got the K Town tattoo on his arm and they, they tapped in with him like, you ain't from K Town shorty. You ain't, you ain't from over there. (laughs) - And I'm real proud about where I'm from so like... - Right, so he hit they ass with the yeah, right. He say the energy shift.
And his man had to get out the car like, hey dawg, leave him alone. - Yeah, yeah. No, I'm from K Town, Koreatown, Los Angeles. - I (laughs)clarification. - He like, yeah, Los Angeles. - But growing up in K Town, who was your biggest mentors? USA.
- Mentors is a tough thing. There weren't really many Asian people on television or in, in the spotlight. So you know, Bruce Lee definitely one of them. But I was real attracted to to the whole lifestyle of Mike Tyson. You know what I mean? But there's a dude in the streets who, I've known. - I've never heard somebody say that.
- It makes sense. - Right? He just didn't give a fuck and you know, I just felt like I was getting in a lot of trouble. And then when I got to meet Mike and do a show, I realized how well versed and how brilliant he was actually a very intelligent, there was a dude back in the day when I was growing up who was running all through LA and his name was Freeway Rick Ross, the real Rick Ross. And there was like a folklore, there was a legendary thing going around. He was, and the reason why he is on the freeway is because he was going through, you know, doing old car dealerships. I to see a Black man pull up and you know, there wasn't, you know, in anything you think of Benzes and everything, it was a different, you know, now there there's 70 different kind of car brands every year and different kinds of models.
Back then it was either you had a cool car or you had a regular car, you had some shit and you know, that was one thing right there. And then in 1982 I met Ice-T. He became like a second godfather to me, kind of guided me through things. And then later on in life too, probably some years later, a dear friend of mine, Mr. Cartoon, he became my mentor and he is only a little bit older than me, but he was doing things at such a young age.
I really admired what he was doing culture-wise, streetwise and everything. And those guys to this day, I have a great relationship with both of them. - What type of mentorship were they? They more like vocal, like I, he got like your levels. I always think of it like my examples, like my brother Ahrii, he, we get into it and it was like we'd fight but he kind of taught me how to draw a line with people, how to say some uncomfortable shit. It's like, why can't you tell me to my face that you hate that I don't take it bad no more.
You know what I'm saying? - Right. - That teach you how to learn. Then I got people that I got, I gotta get around this like, oh I'm gonna learn from this part. Like I learned from Melo, Melo's not gonna give you a vocal lesson. - Right.
- He's gonna go out here and he's gonna do it. - He gonna show you. - He's gonna show you he's gonna do it and then he's gonna give you a look. You know what I'm saying? Like that everybody has their way. I just wanted to like when you talk mentorship is this somebody are they like, yo, you need to do this. You need like always checking on your type of vibe.
It's like you gotta go sit down with 'em or. - So you gotta remember back in 1982, it wasn't like there was literally house phones and at that point there wasn't even touch tone. You had to, you know, dial. - You was spending a lot of time with people. - I was hanging out with Ice-T 'cause I was a break dancer and the first big LA. - Another life. - Yeah. One of the first big hip hop movies was Breaking.
And I remember being an extra, the movie, there was an all ages club called the Radio Trial right by MacArthur Park. And this is like an area where, you know, I remember, I'll never forget when they emptied out MacArthur Park, they found a lot of bodies. And this was a crazy area where Mara Salvatrucha was kind of like born there a lot. There was like seven different gang areas, things and stuff. And I remember he saw me and I just thought he was dope rapping and everything. And he kind of guided me to a point like, hey man, that dude you hanging out with man, his brother's a big dude in, you know, in a Crip gang.
And I was like, you hang out with Crips, what the fuck is wrong with you, you know what I'm saying? Like, what's wrong? He goes, man, I don't know man, you know, you just, I don't think that's, you should go that way. I'm like, well I appreciate you telling me that, you know, it's cool. And I didn't listen to him, you know, Like fuck him, you know. But he definitely told me as I would see him and you like randomly pop up somewhere, he would give me money and be like, "Yo man, there's this dance contest here." And it was like these places would be like, you know, in Orange County or something, how the fuck am I gonna get out there? So my big brother would drive me to places and I would do these break dance contests and things and he just kind of always came and checked in on me.
And what's crazy is, 14 years later I ended up being the A and R for his, his sixth album, Return of the Real album number six on Priority Records. I was head of A and R at Priority, ended up being his A and R. So now I'm giving direction for the thing. It was like, it was a full circle moment and me and Ice-T is still cool to this day. But yeah, it was like more like, you know, just him and his wife was his partner Charlene and kind of just always looked out for me like, "Yo, you good? You need a ride home?" I'm cool, I'm about to walk.
And back then it's like, I don't know, like walking 20 blocks or like, I don't know, you want like, man I grew up here, I'm good, don't worry about it. Ain't no one fuckin with me here, I'm good. And I'm like a little kid, you know? And I think there was a lot of just even like simple words he would say to me.
And I just aspired and I know it sounds stupid, but he had this slant nose Porsche and I'm like, man, one day I'm gonna pull down La Cienega in a slant nose Porsche. One day I'm gonna have three bad bitches, you know, in the car with me and blah blah. Then I'm gonna have this and I'm be wearing Gucci and draped and this, this and this. And it was like a goal for me to have like something, you know? And then did you get it man? And then some, right? Like later in life though, you know? Of course. - That what I'm saying. Did you end up getting that car? - No, I ended up getting a better car.
But I'm saying like, you know. - That's what I was. - I mean the first day I, you know, I made my million the second day I went to Beverly Hills for I got a Ferrari.
The first thing I did went K Town and drove it. And my boys driving around, I said, you gotta get one of these, like how we gonna get one right? And you know, I'm like, look man. - I might get one too.
- Yeah. I'm like, look, I worked at Burger King, you know, making 3.75 an hour, you know, and in the room you got people from South Central, you got people from Compton, you got people from all over the place. And it's like, we all here man.
And some of these guys might have $500 in the bank account. They might have, I had nothing. And I'm just working at the bottom washing tables, whatever, doing drive through, doing anything. And I'm like, look, somehow some way I started there and got to where I am. I felt like, I wonder where those people are now.
But my mentality was never, even though I was broke, like financially, I was never broke mentally. Like my dreams. And I had everything I said that's gonna go there. I don't care what nobody say that I'm focused. I'm locked in and nothing's gonna stop that. And that's one big thing that I came back to, even though I didn't grow up with a lot of Korean people, I wanted Korean kids to understand that you ain't gotta be goofy man.
You ain't gotta be on some like own a nail shop, liquor store, bodega, whatever the fuck it is that you know, or dry cleaners or whatever it is. Look, I play ball, you know, I broke a lot of stereotypes. I broke this, I did this, this and this. Why don't you do what the you wanna do? If you wanna be like Steph Curry, go out and do whatever you wanna do.
You wanna be like Elon Musk, go man, look, I never really put it on one, you know, one thing, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I was a kid. I thought I wanted to be an actor. Never really acted. I've been in movies and stuff but you know, I was like, look man, never, you know, put any limitations on yourself.
- Yeah. I was always thought that too. My mom always like you so much more than a basketball player. I never knew what the she was talking about. I used to be like, I used to be like, G, I do other stuff and it's fun and it's cool.
But I definitely am a basketball player and the older I got, I don't know, it just didn't mean much. When people like you play basketball, you used to be like, I actually do a lot of stuff like oh made me go to school. I'm actually pretty well rounded out this motherfucker. Like, and I used to start feeling way toward this, but as I've gotten outta playing, I've been doing a lot of different shit. So I definitely feel you going to putting me in a box.
It just don't work for like I feel like my life go the same way. I just pick up stuff and try it. - But imagine if your Instagram name was at Iman Shumpert NBA, do you know what I mean? Or Iman Shumpert baller. Like it. - Oh it ties you.
- It would like come on man. And again, I don't even know. - Like it kind of dampens the brand a little bit. People probably expect this man to go to sleep with all his chains on and. You sleep with all your chains. - Yeah, I was just about say I probably would expect. - I was really stupid back in the day bro.
There was a point in time where I was a wild boy. Like I would, I would have like, yeah chains, you name it. There was. - What's the most chains you've had on in one? - Oh no, 25 chains I went. - Get the outta here. - Yeah. I had couple of million.
- So he couldn't even stand up million. - I had a towel on my neck because the circulation of blood was cut from my neck. It was so heavy that had to wear a towel around my neck. And people for a while were like, "Why you just got a towel on your neck?" And my best friend at the time rest in peace, Jonas, he owned the brand called LRG that he started in his mom's backyard, ended up being a quarter billion dollar company.
So we would go all over the place together and do silly shit. The problem was I would be so faded, I would be so like slumped over, like I would be just having the jewelry on and whatever and I just felt like that was my identity. Like Superman wears his S on his chest. I had chains on. I felt like I had to and then I don't know, at a certain point I don't remember exactly when it was. I was like eh. I mean it's pretty obvious right?
I think people know and if they didn't, if they didn't know then who cares? - They're right, right. - And so. - 'Cause you got enough clientele within circulation. - No, for sure. You know, and I think that more people, you know, anything I've ever entered in, whether it be the music business, whether it be DJing, whether it be certain things, it's not that I tried to stand out, I just didn't wanna be, you know, the typical, so you know, when I won Jeweler of the year even, you know, I had my sister style me, she put me in a Dior suit, right? Boom came downstairs. The lady was like,
what are you wearing? And I'm like, man, I didn't say this to her. I was like I'm wearing a Dior home suit, you know what I mean? I look good. She's like, we wanted you in your street clothes, you got your Supreme stuff? I was like, yeah, I'll be right back in 15 minutes 'cause I felt more comfortable in that.
But you see a jeweler back in those days, like you know, they're at least wearing a collared shirt, they have a, they all look the same. And I was like man, fuck that man. My jeans are sagging. I got a white T 2x tall.
Like I just had a different approach with everything. - That's fire. Yeah. Speaking a little bit about that different approach, what are some other lessons you learned like back, you know, back in your younger career? You know, just about standing out. - You know, I think when I started out in jewelry, I really had no direction.
I knew that Jacob the jeweler was the man at the time. And I was like, all right, so I don't wanna be him. Do you know what I mean? Like I'm not trying to be the next Jacob the jeweler, I'm trying to be the first Ben Baller. So that right there already I was on the right direction part, but then it was like how am I gonna get clients? How am I gonna do this? How am I gonna do that? One thing is, and everyone does it, when you become a jeweler, right? You're trying to figure out how do I get co-signs? How do I get this? And one lesson that I learned was, rappers don't pay for jewelry. They're like if you could give 'em an inch, they're gonna take 17 miles.
You know, they're gonna like, you know, you do a payment plan, do this and you start chasing people for things. And a lot of people give away free jewelry for shout outs or they give a discount or they whatever and try to cut corners and it's just like, look man, cheap jewelry ain't good and good jewelry ain't cheap. You know, manifesting is a motherfucker, like you know I'm. - Is that's something you had to like learn or did somebody tell you, you know, this is the right way to go? - You know what, honestly, to tell you the truth.
- 'Cause you're trying so many different things. - Yeah, I just kind of was doing like, it's almost like golf. It's like touch and feel sometimes you could have as many lessons as you can, right? But you might be in a situation where you have a bad line, the balls sitting like between cement and like a rough, like how do to hit this one outta here? There ain't really no less. There's like,
oh you could do this and like you have to kind of take the L or try three times and maybe try 17. Maybe you ain't figured out, maybe you did. And I think with jewelry I really brought together a different thing like you know, like not just making it just about one like, you know, it was more hip hop, but I wasn't about to alienate the rock stars or the country singers or Michael Jackson or whoever it may be. I was trying to cater everyone, you know, everyone was going after whoever was in this pop chart or whatever these rap charts like fuck that.
I hit up Dr. Phil and people were like, Dr. Phil. I'm like bro, trust me man, y'all sleeping on this other shit. There's a lot of money out there, you gotta put your name on it. And I remember reaching out to Dr.Phil 'cause his son was a friend of mine and I'm making jewelry for his wife, making jewelry for these people. And I had to chase Dr. Phil for no money.
You know, it was. - Right, right. - It was a different thing. I think marketing wise some of the things that I did back then on Myspace and like that, you know, those are things that I had to learn, you know, how effective is this? Okay, well cool, great. Justin Bieber is a great person to wear your jewelry. His fan base is like 13, 14 year olds.
None got money to buy jewelry. Okay, you wanna do. We're gonna make some t-shirts. So make some t-shirts that are like 15, 25, $30.
Now it's affordable, boom. I've made my brand name affordable to people. They can't afford the jewelry, but they can't afford the jewelry, but they can afford the T-shirt. Right? I had to really like, you know, figure out every single angle of the game and understand how much merch was important, you know? - Does that, do you have a team that you go to, to lean on for that stuff like that? Or is that stuff that you're just birthing on your own? - Man, I have some people that I've leaned on in the past. This is one thing that I also learned is as cool as you are with someone where they, see with basketball, like when you're a teammate, you guys are traveling together, there's a different camaraderie.
There's certain things when you are on the street you have your people, but at the same time, like when you rely on somebody else who might be successful as well, I notice for the most part, unless they're dear friend and there's so many like, you know, not in acquaintance but a friend, it's like, right, well hey man, can you help me with this? And like, I need to, and I know that term bothers people and it kind of bothers me now pick your brain. Basically, someone wants some free advice, you know? And like when I had somebody at, you know, to help me out or introduce me to somebody, which I get it. If it becomes profitable you should help whenever or there's, unless the person ain't tripping. I always realized the favor and return was not worth it. - I know.
- Like, you know, they think, you know, okay, well yeah, okay we get 10 chains, the fuck 10 chains for a five minute conversation. Like how the fuck? So I kind of just really relied on being independent. I've always been that lone wolf, which is weird.
I have a little crew, you know, people, but like it got smaller and smaller and smaller as I got older and you know, it was really. - Sounds like him. - Yeah, it really, it really real, it's tough to be around people and it's sad because, you know, you be like, oh man, you know, you always think someone has an ulterior motive and even sometimes I figure out, like it may happen months later, like I just realize where that chess move happened.
This dude, you know, is playing chess and I'm not mad about this one because this is something that could benefit me too. But you start realizing that people come and look at you and have an angle. So yeah, a lot of it was kind of, let me just figure this out. - Real talk or let me sit back and let you tell on yourself.
- Basically. - Yeah. What's your, give me your favorite, your favorite moments and lessons in the music business. - Man. - 'Cause I know, we're touching on marketing and I love that because people don't understand, especially going into this digital world, marketing is like the number one thing you have to know how to do. Whether knowing how to do it through school, you still gonna need trial and error and you gonna need somebody that fell on they face before and put some real money behind it. - One of the craziest things that, and that might not necessarily go in exact, you know, periodical time, but one of my favorite moments probably was DJing at this restaurant that Denzel had owned.
It was a Jamaican restaurant called Creek Alley and was right on Melrose, right in the heart. It was not what Melrose is now, this was a little more cooler. Like it wasn't so poppy and social media related type things. But I remember that this is, you know, a half own Black place with some other big clients that owned the, like Jack Nicholson, some other people who were big in Hollywood but like, it was weird. Like one night it'd be like white people,
listening to rock. The other night it'd be like Queen Latifah, you know, Jada Pinkett, these type of people and it'd be like a cool mix but it's still Jamaican food, right? And I remember that they were going to a Oscar de la Hoya fight and at this point there'd been a couple fights there and they're like, look, we don't have, we don't have places with fights. This is an upscale place, blah blah. And I was like, it was going in one ear out the other. And I remember those nights that I was playing like music, I didn't even know anything about like rock music. I was like, people look up the DJ booth like man, what the fuck is going on bro? You gotta turn this off.
This shit driving me crazy, right? They said, Hey, we're going to a fight, they're taking a PJ like at four or 5:00 PM and I would get there early and then they're like, don't play no hip hop in here, don't play no drive-by music, don't play no gangster shit in here. Don't play none of that shit. And I was like, man, not didn't even trip.
I was like, fuck you talking about? I'm cool man. And they all left to go to the fight. I knew they weren't come back to at least midnight or one, at that point, you know, fuck it.
- Play that shit, right? - So I chilled out, I was playing like Earth, Wind and Fire, a lot of funk Roy Ayers and all the Jamaican, you know, chefs like yo throwing some reggae dance hall. I was throwing some reggae was kind of mixing it. And boom, Dr. Dre walks in and he'd been there many times before.
He's sitting right at the end of the bar, I'm raised up and I look at him, sit down, I know he likes Long Island Iced Teas. Like I'm really just, I'm know he's my, I idolized this man. I changed every single TV screen in there to all Black exploitation films put on the Mac I had on this and everything.
'Cause I knew Dre was all about that, right? So I started easing now into the seventies, we get to the eighties, I start getting slight gangster shit, not necessarily NWA stuff, but I'm playing like all the, you know, cool shit. We go into a timeline through the records and then I remember before I start getting into hardcore hip hop, I'm at like maybe Nas right now, first album Illmatic, and I remember I pulled up, went down to the bar just because I was like, you know, let me see. And I sat like, you know, he's over here, I'm right here and I'm not even paying attention to him. I just know he's gonna say something. And he goes, "Hey youngster, what you know about all that Black music man? What's going on? What's up with you man?" I was like, bro, I grew up on this man, you know, that's what I'm playing. He's like, "Man, keep going man.
You know I've never been here on a night like this." And I was like, yeah man, it's gonna get better. Pac comes in, Jadas in the whole plate. Jason Kidd is pulling through here.
I played against Jason in High School so it was like, it was a crazy vibe that was going on. I had this place fucking rocking, right? Like it was crazy in there. And people were like, yo, I'm talking like oohs aahs it was the first time I had all this shit going on.
And I remember looking down at everyone and Dre every saw Dre was like, keep going, keep going. Right? - That's moment man. - Man, it might have been like one 15 or something. And the owners come back and they come back and they said some racist expletive shit. And like, man, what the fuck kind of, what the hell is going on in here? And blah blah, whatever. And like I remember Denzel's partner is dude Brad Johnson, he was like a super famous Black socialite.
He also owned a restaurant across the street called Georgia. And Georgia was like the only five star soul food restaurant in all of LA, it was a great place. And I remember he was like, no, hold on, wait a minute though. Dude is talented man. We hired him not to do like, you know,
he's got it popping in here, boom. After I did that night, Jada ended up doing her birthday party there. I ended up doing the Black Oscar party. I ended up doing the Black Grammy party for Quincy Jones. And it ended up leading to things.
Dre took my phone number, called me up, I ended up getting a job at Death Row Records, you know, so that was like the intro right there. Like that started all that. There's a longer version of it. But I went on my gut and said, look, you gonna fire me? You ain't paying me much anyway fuck it.
You know. - I'm gonna go for it. - Yeah, it led to a job. - That's crazy how like shit that, like opportunities like that can. - And you know, another important thing was a lot of people who, and it's sad because hip hop ain't that old.
You get kids now, the deals have been structured totally differently. I'm completely outta the music game. But they still don't understand what the part of ownership. It's really standard to give up a lot of your publishing, right? You write a song, you do something with our boom, you give up that ownership, man, look, if shit don't go right for you, whatever, 20 years down the line, this might be able to be, you know, you gonna get your royalty checks, anything boom, you give that all away, you're fucked.
And a lot of people did that. I never understood that. I had a Black accountant named Carl Planter who did a lot of people's business and he said, read this book by Kashif everything you need to know about the music business and everything, right? I didn't read, I hated reading it. You know, I'm not Kanye but I'm saying like, I didn't like reading books, right? But I read the book and it opened my eyes and it was fucking crazy man. These white cats that own the labels never told me to read this and I'm a fucking vice president of you know.
And they're, I knew how undersold I was, how under and just certain things that I was doing. So now I looked at the business totally different and a moment of clarity had hit. I was renegotiating my contract, I was getting paid more than I've ever been paid. I finally getting six figures. I just signed a contract and I knew that my deal was cool, I was content, it was enough to keep me in, you know, Jordan's and whatever.
But I had no publishing, I had no points, I had nothing. And I was like, look man, this just, this is fucked up. We had just signed Jay-Z, Jay was unhappy about a few things and I'm thinking of a chess move here.
Do I go behind my boss's back and try to see if Jay is down to bring me to Rockefeller? And I was already part of the family. Like what am I gonna do? I get a call from Dre and Bruce his right hand man was like, Hey we starting this new record label up. I don't have time for this that for you to think about shit, I got two weeks. You got this, you in or you out.
I just signed a contract to, you know what I mean? So I'm talking to some business people and they're like, then I'll be honest with you man, it may look bad. This is the opportunity, their lifetime to work with with your idol and maybe create history and what's he gonna sue you for? This man's worth a hundred million dollars, you ain't got shit. Can't really sue you. So I was like, you ain't gotta say shit else, I'm done. - I'm doing.
- Yeah, I called Dre, I'm like Dre, I'm going, let's go. And then everyone in the office knew I was leaving, at the time, wasn't called Aftermath Entertainment, but I was leaving Aftermath. My boss had to find out like super late.
So by the time I'm telling him he goes, get the fuck outta here man. And the funny thing is, me and him just reconnected recently. I introduced him to his wife too.
So like how mad could he really get right? Like it was a weird thing but I made that move. - That was crazy. - Yeah. - That was that side the way he side noted. That was crazy. - Yeah. - I made that move. - Easy.
- And I remember now I'm working for a Black owned record label. Things were different. We ain't gotta be in the office at nine or 8:00 AM 'cause you know, New York starts three hours later, right? Got to the office at one o'clock. We had the studio, I ain't gotta be around, boom. It was a whole different thing. We smoking weed,
we chilling, you know what I mean? It was a different vibe. And I remember like Dre's like Hey man, we gonna Vegas for what? He goes, "Oh I'm about to do this new song. We just called this this thing Black Street called No Diggity." I was like, oh yeah, remember you playing the studio, song hadn't even been hit yet, you know what I mean? And I was like, oh, now I'm like, it was a different, we moved like a unit. - Our grandmother love that song.
- Fuck y'all man. - No for real talk. - Play that me tweaking. Like I still listen to it and get. - Yeah I'm being paid matched for what I was getting paid, right? I have way more lack shit.
I didn't mind working at 2:00 AM because it didn't feel like work. You know, we just chilling. Dre got everyone their car, all the girls got Explorers at the time that was a cool car. And then Expeditions was like, there was no Escalade back then. That was the hottest shit. And I'm like man, this is fucking unbelievable.
This is that man I made, you know, this is it. I remember I got my first big check from Dre and I remember everyone talking about like, yeah man, I'm about to put 15 speakers in my car. I'm about to do this, this and this.
My boy, oh I'm about to go here. I'm about to do this, this and whatever. And as everyone left, Dre pulled me to the side and he like, Hey Ben Yang, he wouldn't call me Ben Baller refused to, I don't know why. And I was like, what's up?
He's like, so what you gonna do with your money? And I was like, how the fuck you asked me man? Like, you know what I'm saying? You ain't asked glove, you ain't asked Stu. You ain't asked Bud. You ain't asked none of them. Why you asking me? And he goes, because you my Asian.
And I'm like, I don't know man, you know I'm gonna get some clothes and you know this and that. And he is like, don't lie to me bro. In my mind I already know I'm going to get a BMW and a Rolex. It's the first thing I'm doing right? And he is like.
- That's where a look man comes from. - And he said, don't do no N word shit. And I'm like, in my face I was like, okay, okay.
Dude, I had an appointment at Century West BMW. I already had like a thing. So the next day. - I got it, I got it. - The next day there's an M3 parked in a lot with Chrome wheels out of Rolex. Dre pulls up late,
does like 15 cars in the parking lot. He sees the car somehow he knew it was fucking mine, doesn't talk to me the whole time. And he was just like, he was just disgusted, right? I'm like, how the fuck you get mad at me? Everyone's doing this, this.
And he goes, man, I expect more outta you. He was like, look bro, they wake up every day, you know, having a certain skin color. They can't do certain things like, I like you, like I could use you. You know what I'm saying? You can get in the doors that they can't, there's different things. And I'm like, man, I'm tired of all this here and this and whatever boom.
And he was like, stop listen to me. And it's the first time I ever heard this in my entire life. This is like 1996 '97 says. Making a million dollars is easy.
You got a lot of talent. He said keeping a million dollars is not easy. And it fucked me up 'cause I remember the few times I went broke before I turned 30. That always hit me in the head and it stuck with me. And to this day it even sticks with me.
Like I mean in a way, like I act broke. You know? I act like, all right, cool, whatever. No, whatever. I'm content with stuff and I don't think like, you know, I get a big check, all right, cool, maybe 10% I could go fuck off and do something and the rest of it doesn't exist anymore.
So, you know, that was a big time in my life. And those times I cherish because you know, I got to meet so many amazing people through Dre and during the East Coast, west Coast beef, Pac died, Biggie had died. I was with Pac week, like a week before he had died almost a week before he died. I was with Biggie in the studio a week before he died. And like, these things are kind of weird.
So we're gonna New York now to work on this American Pimp soundtrack and I'm going to meet with Erick Sermon, gonna meet with a bunch of rappers out there. And the Grammys is in New York for the first time in a while. And California Love is up for a Grammy. And Dre goes, "Hey man, I can't make it out there." I don't think he was scared, but it was definitely like, there was beef, you know what I mean? People weren't going out there and there was also issues with Suge and everything going on. So he is like, "Hey man, I don't think we gonna win, but maybe they do win.
'Cause of Pac he's like, but if we win. I want you to go up on behalf of Aftermath Entertainment, go and accept the award." And I was like shit, this is incredible.
In the whole mind. I'm like, dawg, there's a chance, there's a chance, there's a chance. Cross Bone Thugs-N-Harmony won for Crossroads. And I was like, man, I hate that song.
You know, it was a good song. But, you know, I was trying to, but the responsibility that he gave me was like, you know, it was. - It was next to none, right? - Yeah. It was life changing. You know, like it was funny. At a certain point I didn't mind him calling my Asian, you know, I didn't feel like some like some toy or something.
It was, you know, he was right. He's like, there's some that we might not be able to do, but we can get you in there. - I mean that's what this shit take. I think a lot of this shit which is what I was asking you earlier, just the route on how people lead and how people mentor you. It sometimes just takes multiple brains or somebody that can see like, hey, you good at this, you good at this. How about we do this, you focus on this, you focus on, you know what I'm saying? Just to walk through a door.
Did you ever feel like in those times the reason you couldn't hear it was because it's the same thing we was talking about not wanting to be in the box. Like I literally can't do it 'cause you told me to do that. - You ready for this to this day now, and I don't think I even used it for 15 or 20 or 10 years after that. I mean I realized how much my Asian skin,
how much, like in any business I go into, I utilize that now. - Oh yeah. It's like. - To getting into a door a certain way, right? Now I get in that door, I go to Korea and I break in all this shit. So you stealing all this hip-hop, blah, blah. Let me show you how to do it at least right before you start appropriating and doing some shit and making us look stupid as fuck. And people are like, what? And it changed the landscape of what K-pop was or certain things. 'Cause there's a lot of, you know, things they do.
And even in business now, whether it be golf now golf is so big in Korea, it's probably bigger than anywhere else in the world. It is a very big deal. Like it is almost like near where you have to learn how to play golf when you, and so I can use that mixture, use the hood street shit. I could use all this, bring both worlds together.
And I take advantage of that when I'm in a boardroom or I'm on a golf course or something and I'd use that and I always thank 'em like for that. And I also think about too, like when I think about even a client who's coming to me for new chain, I'm like, all right cool. All right, so you got $150,000.
Okay, have you paid off any debt? I don't have any debt, I'm 19. I'm like, all right, cool. Have you taken care of your moms? Is your mom good? He goes, oh well. I was like, look bro, take care of everything else that's important. People take care of your peoples first. And after all that, if you still wanna get something cool, sometimes people came back to me.
Sometimes people were just like, fuck this dude, he crazy. I'm going to TV Johnny, Johnny Dang, whatever. And I'm like, right, go whatever. I don't need that. The bullshit business, I wanted the real business.
I want longevity. - Well, when my crib is done, I'm sitting down too. I swear for God they've been working on my crib forever. - Yeah man. - You ain't got, matter of fact, this is my last jewelry question.
You ain't gotta snitch on nobody. But what's the worst story like of somebody like not being able to pay for some or like you gotta collect, but it's like damn on. Like you just gave me the saddest story you could. Like I you ain't have, you don't.
If you gave them the chain or whatever, you could tell me that too. If you just gave it to him and took the L or like the worst that you ever had. Like no, I really gotta chase you down for this. - There's an A-list celebrity who has gotten chains here and there.
And then I realized he's mastered the way of finessing eight other jewelers. 'Cause he's such a big name. And every time I'm like, bro, connect me with your accountant.
I'm gonna send an invoice, boom. And in a way they even knew what was going on and they were like, he just knew how to finesse his way into not paying the bill and it would be chipped down and it's like six years now, right? And there's still like a $40,000 balance, which is like right, cool. It took like a year or two. I was like, he ain't never gonna pay me so what I'm gonna do in return is we, I'm gonna get everything outta this motherfucker as I can. And in a way it was a fair barter but he never had intention because when I talked to other people, people hit me up say, Hey man, how much did he pay for this? And a lot of people would lie 'cause they were embarrassed, whatever it may be.
But I got it the least worst because you know, like I had jewelers. I mean I had rappers who had a number one or had a really big song in the streets go buy a crazy chain that my cousin decided to take the job and then he had to bring it back. And like you were saying before we got on camera, you know how people have old chains sitting on display? - Yeah.
- Rappers don't want they old chains on display. It's embarrassing. They be like yo, like even if it was just there, 'cause there were a lot of dudes from the hood that would bring their chains there because they didn't wanna keep it at home. It was safer in a jewelry store 'cause the security, whatever and then they didn't wanna display then, right? We're just showcasing like yo, we made this boom but like the dude didn't wanna pay the bill and so we put the chain on display and I think he heard it from so many people from the streets that finally he figured out a way to pay the chain. He's like, fuck this. He came back, was like.
- Couldn't take the embarrassment. - He couldn't take the embarrassment 'cause he saw it in my new store was sitting there, he goes, Hey I don't want my chain sitting in the display case. And I was like, all right pay the bill. And he was like, bet like within like three days he came back and paid the tab. - Smart man, hey I ain't gonna lie.
That's a smart little, you truly better get on the game. Well I know y'all ain't. I know it. Yeah. - We talked a little bit before just about your overall journey in hip hop. It's basically multi multidimensional. - Yeah.
- Like you got multiple facets working. What's the key do you think, to having multiple facets working at one time and keeping them successful? - You know, a gardener, he might have one section that's like fruits. One might be like not holistic.
I'm trying to think of like, there might be one for like, like herbs and medicines and stuff. Then you got one dude who's like vegetables. That gardener might not be, now this is something I'm just completely coming off the top of the dome piece. It's never. - I ain't gonna lie, this is fire.
I ain't gonna lie to you depending on how you bring it in. - Yeah. You got a dude who literally might be great at doing these herbs. He might have paid less attention to the fruits and them fruits ain't flourished the way he wanted them to.
Herbs shit is going crazy. She gonna focus on the herbs, right? Vegetables is cool, it's enough to take care of, you know what I'm saying? Like maybe the garden, the upkeep and everything. Cool. Vice versa. I knew that with my marketing skills and me being around, there's only one me.
I can only, you know, delegate certain people to do certain things. At the end of the day, you gotta be there and be present to a certain extent. Unless you're just licensing your name out and trusting somebody to do something. Most of the time they probably fuck that up 'cause they have their own image of what they think you are. When I planted all these seeds for these companies, I did it in a timeline and in a way where I knew it was like seasons. I was able to see do these things in three, four seasons to where they kind of worked out and I had my time enough, some of them overlapped and I dealt with those, you know, those little conflicts there.
But I do realize that the more sunlight, the more water you put on these plants, the more thing, the more love you give them. You know, boom. Some of these don't really, you know, flourish the way you want to. I went into these businesses only if I knew I could be married to 'em. And I think because I put a lot of love in 'em, and I think somehow some way, even though all three brands were different worlds, I was able to intertwine them together.
And that made it even easier. So in a way it was like a colab amongst colab amongst colab. And that was the only way to successfully do it, right? There were some seeds that were planted and they didn't flourish, they didn't grow up and they didn't, I was, you know, they weren't profitable, whatever. And I still thought like, damn man, nobody wanna see a seed not not grow. And you feel bad and then you learn like, all right, look man, this is business.
You know, you gotta realize like, you know, this shit is, you know, costing us, you know, cut this out. I'm like, fuck. - 'Cause you really believed in it. - Yo, you did. I mean, why would you go into anything you don't believe, right? Some people are just like, Hey, I'm, you know, gonna be, you know, I'm gonna be a podcaster.
And it's a very big thing to do now. All right, cool. There's a lot of dedication, there's a lot of thing there. Sound is this. You gotta.
- Oh this shit take all day. - Ain't gotta tell me. And there's editing, there's post production, what people do behind the scenes. - No bullshit. - And then people think because you know, whatever, they, I'm on 316 episodes now.
I ain't ran outta to talk. I ain't even, and you know, like sometimes I'll go six months without a guest and I know guests having a guest on the show is a life, it's a hack. You know, you'll get more people, you attract audience of theirs, whatever. I'm like, nah, fuck that.
I'm going solo on that ass. - Yeah, no, we noticed that we were looking at a few episode. - If you can't with me period, then nah. Boom. And we'll talk about everything, you know,
and it's everything that I don't go because one of the biggest things about a podcast is one, I feel like I have an interesting life. There's only so much I can say on Instagram. There's only so much I can do. Even a caption can be taken outta context. You listen to my energy on my show.
Ain't nothing being taken outta context. You hear it in real time. You hear me saying certain things. So, you know, even when I went the podcasting, I was like, let's see.
I didn't have to water the plant that much. This motherfucker was LeBron. It was already like boom. It was ready. Now I'm just doing upkeep. I ain't gotta do too much,
you know what I'm saying? Prepping or whatever. My podcast is plug and play. Let me turn that mic on.
I got a couple notes is what I'm gonna talk about today. Boom. Turn the mic off. I'm good to go. That's when I knew, I was like shit, I should have been always doing this.
But you know, it's never too late. If you got something to say, you know what, can I say something that's just totally off track? - Yeah. - I spoke about this many times. It's a fucked up thing that I can maybe name two Black jewelers in the world and you realize how racist the game is.
And I'm not trying to get political at all whatsoever. I'm just telling you two plus two equals four. It's obvious. And I'm starting to see a little couple more pop up and I'm talking about like popping. There was a dude named Chris Aire who was the man, he was the iceman. This was like the biggest dude. He did all the NBA players. He was doing every celebrity.
I don't know where Chris Aire is now, probably doin stuff. But you know, they will blackball you. They'll do certain things.
Diamond dealers won't deal with somebody in certain ways or whatever. But there's a girl named Erica Diggs. She's starting to kind of pop off and everything. But I always thought it was a shame that, you know, there should be more people out there doing it. I just don't think that they understand that you can go to a community college and learn the basic 101 if I'm just assuming you have a great business sense.
The business side I'm not worried about with Iman, it's the other part, creative wise, once you get your hands and my hands will always have callouses and burning metals and stuff, once you get that going, you get a team of people you trust and you quarterback this entire thing. You coach it offensive defensive coordinator and quarterback, the whole situation. You'll realize why Andy Warhol didn't paint all his paintings. Other people did. He came in through his touch. Trey might not have played the piano and did this, this and did all this with the drums and the guitar and everything. Boom. Came in and did it. Once you've mastered your craft,
you have put everything together and you've orchestrated this. You don't have to put everything and do 95% of the work. You did all the work coming up to that point. 'Cause I still can set a diamond, I can still do a final polish. I come in at the last minute and throw my touch on it.
and make it right. So like it, it's a process. But once I started realizing like, yo man, I don't wanna sell jewelry no more. I wanna make it. And that was when my, it elevated my game to a different level.
That's all I'm saying was just, it was just something where like I think people, - No that's beautiful. - They lack the education to really, and like I said, you can go to a community college and learn the basic. So at least you get that going. - How would your attitude toward marriage and fatherhood evolved over your life? - You know what man, I think that people have this, and again, a lot of people have PTSD from their childhood. My dad woop my ass like on a regular basis. You know, it was like a normal Korean thing.
And I. - You talking about like ass whooping? - I'm talking about like getting socked in the mouth. Like my dad was involved in two sections of life. It was education. He was professor and then it was a church. And every time I talked to all my friends, be like, sound like a Black dad man.
- Oh right. - And you know, we had to go to church and shit and I remember like I hated church. No disrespect to anybody.
I just didn't wanna go all the time. Right. - We know. Yeah, we know. - So you know, unless you was sick as fuck you had to go to church and it just was like, I'm like man, this is just some bullshit. And then education was such a big deal and I understand that part. I get it for at least the structure and even my kids being in school. But I think that because my childhood was traumatized by ass whoopings, you know, overly putting this, this and this and the lack of them being present 'cause they're working so much and whatever, you would think that that person like, you know, will follow suit or whatever.
And I do notice a lot of my anger came from like the genetics of my dad being angry all the time, whatever. And I think that my wife came from such a loving house that, you know, she talks to her mom every single day and all these things and everything I was like damn. It was a totally different thing dating around, you know, I think I was a slut for most of my adult life. I was like, fuck this man, I'm not I'm Hugh Hefner and I'm gonna be this, this and this.
And you know, then I almost got married at one point like in 2003, 2004. And I got caught cheating. And then that fucked me up 'cause then I felt bad about it. I was like, man, I really fucked this one up.
And boom. And then you get that second chance and I realized, I said, look man, let me figure this all out. I'm really serious about certain things and I don't think I was even mature enough to get married at 31. And this ain't, this wasn't for me.
I still get a lot of growing up to do. I got a lot of self exploration and improvement to do. And when I was ready it was probably like around 36, I met my wife the next year and I went through a fucked up situation where I was dating a chick who was crazy as shit. In a matter of three months, it felt like seven years, this chick had called the police on me, said I hit her all this crazy stuff. Went to court, beat the case, everything. She was capping about everything and she had a whole, the whole motive her whole time was just to get some money out of me. - For sure.
- And I was like, wow. Throughout all that time the recession was going on, I met my wife and I never dealt with anybody who was so like, like even on the first date, like no kiss, no nothing. And I was like, yo man, you know this ain't gonna work out man. This is just, this is crazy man. You should trust me better than that and blah blah. But she was raised so rig