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DJ Ross One (née Ross Schwartzman) has become a well-known staple within the elite nightlife circuit. He’s played at VMA after parties, private celeb events and a swanky fashion bash for Louis Vuitton, to name a few. Last year, he was signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation Management.
What you might not know about Ross One is his massive range of vintage hip-hop T-shirts — one of the biggest collections in the world.
Cue Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999 (powerHouse Books, $35), a book compiling all of his tees, as well as those of fellow collectors, friends, and musicians into one place.
“The first time I heard hip-hop as a kid I was immediately drawn to it,” Ross One tells Billboard. After years of being a diehard fan and amassing numerous vintage hip-hop tees, Ross knew he had to channel his passion into some type of outlet. The book is a true haven for diehard hip-hop fans, showcasing over 500 of the rarest rap tees in existence. With commentary from hip-hop heavyweights such as LL Cool J, and Def Jam founders Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, it’s clear that the pages hold an innate history.
LL Cool J says of the book, “Looking at these shirts makes me feel like I’m in a museum looking at a hip-hop art exhibit. It really does represent the cultural phenomenon of the rap and hip-hop scene in the 80s that paved the way for today’s hip-hop music. It is truly a piece of history.”
Unlike the mass-produced merch of rock bands from the same time period, or the fully stocked merch sites of most musicians today, the T-shirts of hip-hop artists from 1980-1999 had an air of exclusivity due to the fact that they were produced in such small amounts.
“Fresh Fest and Grandmaster Flash… those shirts really don’t turn up anymore,” says Ross. “A super rare shirt means I’ve only seen it once,” he adds, noting just how hard it was to track down some of these pieces.
“It was almost mythological,” says Ross, referring to one particular Show Biz sweatshirt. He was only able to track it down after talking with the artist himself, who still had it after its appearance in his music video.
It’s evident that Ross One hasn’t lost an ounce of passion since he started collecting the tees as a kid.
“Public Enemy, and the early ones are the ones I remember most. It’s very innocent and remembering just being a kid and loving the music so much,” he says. He also mentions that while he doesn’t wear his hip-hop tees all that often, he will always be down to throw on a Public Enemy tee and reminisce.
Rap Tees is now available for purchase on Amazon.
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