“An Interview With Akeem Phipps” – Wednesday April 4, 2018
Akeem Phipps in Battery Park, New York. (35mm Photo by Luke Lauren)
The growth of culture and influence depends on how we make it happen – at least that’s the way of progression for 21-year-old Akeem Phipps. In a handful of years, he’s seen multiple individuals thrive on creativity and finesse with an expertise foreign only to those with a lack of confidence. As no stranger to NYC’s underground millennial scene, Akeem has seen the best and the worst throughout the spectrum – from peers propelled on a national scale to peers reduced to rubble. Undoubtedly, living in New York is not easy. Others would say it’s an entirely different way of life. Over time and observation Akeem has developed his own take on the city’s culture, and as someone with only a taste in a year’s time, I naturally wanted to learn more.
Akeem Phipps (via Instagram @akeem.phipps)
“To succeed in New York City’s underground you must realize “there are levels to this shit.’”
He was there in the early stages – loitering in Soho with the likes of a young Bloody Osiris across VFILES in 2013, partying in clubs with rising star Luka Sabbat before even entering college. Names aside, any recollection of one’s “youthful glory days” are not memories he would ever loosely share – to him, and many others in the city, that was all just a beginning. Five years later Akeem is fulfilling his own roles: curating events, managing artists, and supplying those willing (and lucky enough) with a slice of his own wisdom.
Akeem Phipps & Luka Sabbat, circa 2013 (Photo courtesy of Akeem Phipps)
I sat down for lunch with Akeem one busy day honestly out of pure coincidence. A “busy day” in New York, to us, is a day full of planning: meetings with creatives, spitballing ideas, chopping it all up. Essentially, some kids “hang out” with plans to take over the world out here – and that’s okay.
Granted that I had a small window of time in my day to eat, I received a call from a fellow colleague to meet for brunch at an Italian restaurant on the corner of 2nd St./Ave B. Considerably it was a nice break – Early morning I had left my home in Brooklyn to develop film from the previous day’s shoot, drop off a few supplies to a friend in Soho and link up in the city with another colleague to plan for an event. To anyone unfamiliar, this also included your standard effort of public transportation, walking miles around the city, and occasionally whipping the Uber if it held convenience.
Battery Park, New York. (35mm photo by Luke Lauren)
My initial impression of our meeting was to set deadlines and go about our day. Maybe share a few ideas and plans set from any prior meetings. I had thought it was a one or two-on-one set up. Two o’ clock I walked into Cornerstone Cafe. There were eight people at a table with Akeem at the end, arriving minutes before myself. We had plans to meet for an interview over dinner later that night. Given anyone’s schedule could change at any given moment in a day, we ordered our food and seized the opportunity to converse.
“OK, let’s start the interview. By the way, how are you doing?”
Akeem with Henry Crawford, AKA “Lil Snow,” Chinatown (35mm photo by Luke Lauren)
I quickly learned he was a first-generation immigrant like me. Naturally, we clicked. It wasn’t our first time meeting and mutually we considered each other as friends, but of course, we still had much to learn from one another. I noticed his slight British tinted accent mixed with a hint of influence from a place I couldn’t exactly pin, so I asked him how long he had been in New York.
Akeem is from Trinidad. He moved to the UK for three years as a youth before coming to America in 2010, having met most of his earlier influences and connections abroad. He experienced a different side of the world and was exposed to the underground at a young age, much like many others who come to and are from New York. This gave him an early drive and comfortability to network while continuing to build, thrusting him into a new world of culture and fashion he had much to learn about. Eight years later he provides his take on the changes he’s seen so far.
Akeem Phipps via Instagram (@akeem.phipps)
“For me, the culture has changed a lot. I feel like nothing right now is set to ‘one thing.’ Everyone has their own style and personal form of expression in a full way. You see people making a living off the nightlife: hosting parties, creating events, adding something to the lifestyle. You can say that people actually make money off these things – dressing different, entertaining people, enjoying the crowd. That’s some new shit. Some old shit, but some new shit, feel me? To succeed in New York City’s underground culture you must realize there “are levels to this shit.” You can’t just hit the ground running without a solid foundation and strong network of connections…but I guess you make them along the way. I hope that makes sense.”
We laughed and he apologized for the vague explanation.
“Don’t worry, this shit is new to me too.”
“I guess To me this is really fascinating. I wouldn’t say I’m fully “in this,” but I’m in it enough to know what’s going on. It’s just cool to see that something is happening and that I’m also a part of it.”
Akeem @ Stvsh718‘s Spring Bash, Silent Barn, March 2018 (35mm photo by Luke Lauren)
Over the years Akeem has met a handful of people he considers solid: people with a distinct work ethic and level of refreshment on par enough to add to his own mix. Lil Boost Mobil, an up and coming artist from Brooklyn, is one of these people. By building relationships and connecting with those on a similar wavelength Akeem and Boost put together a team of individuals possessing a similar mindset. (Boost Gang)
“Are you Lil Boost’s manager?”
“Yes. But the way that he operates is primarily by himself. He’s a solid person on his own and the way I see him move always brings results. He doesn’t really work with a lot of people much like myself, and I’m sure you (Luke) as well, because at the end of the day, who knows what’s best for you more than you? You may want to apply some personal touches without anyone interfering so, that’s probably why he works by himself and I understand and appreciate it.”
“What’s your relationship like with him then? As his manager are you more active as a friend, advisor, or…?”
“Our friendship is pretty tight. It goes way back since I first came to America. We had a pretty strong relationship growing up. That turned into me believing he could make it to the next level so, I invested in him – my connections, my time – in order to elevate and do better so, yeah you could call me his manager. I know that’s how people see it…I don’t really see it but I see it more as a friend helping a friend -“
“-and yeah, that’s where I come in as someone looking out for his better interests, or at least point him in that direction. I like to see myself as an advisor more than anything.”
“You’ve been working together on releasing an EP.”
“Debut, 8 tracks.”
“Damn, that’s pretty impressive.”
“The process started back in October, he had a few songs and a project already in mind. Like I said he primarily (records) alone so I set up promotion, album art, and press as well as the release show.”
Akeem & Queens’ up-and-coming rapper Lil Wave (35mm photo by Luke Lauren)
Lil Boost Mobil (Photo courtesy of Michael Huczek)
“Congrats! Now, don’t hold out on me because you know I have to bring this up…You’re doing a live talk at Columbia University soon. How the fuck did that happen??”
“Ah through working with Virgil’s assistant I got to meet with (Virgil) a couple times”
“Yes…we talked and we had convos – just like this. Off the record, off script, so we resonated on more of a deeper level, like a deeper deeper level. He kind of saw that I had a different way of thinking – we began exchanging emails back and forth, texting and meeting once a week. We would hang out for ten minutes, have a deep talk – it would be short and meaningful, but deep…Eventually, he asked me to join this live talk.”
“What can someone like Virgil Abloh ask you to talk about?”
Akeem paused and looked up with a glimmer in his eye.
“I mean the whole theme of the night is decision making, so. (Virgil) wants me to base my speech on that. I haven’t even- well, we aren’t even allowed to write on it. He just wants it to be as natural as possible. That’s all I can say about it (literally)”
We laughed again and asked our waiter for the bill. It was time to wrap up the conversation.
(35mm photo by Luke Lauren)
His role as a leader in the underground scene is easily distinguishable. He likes to consider himself more as a silent investor than a manager of any sort. He maintains a sense of privacy while keeping a foot in the nightlife. As someone who believes in the power of influence, I had to ask him,
“What advice would you give to anyone in our age group looking for a sense of direction?”
“As far as anyone our age doing what they want to do and also simultaneously maintaining a healthy lifestyle, in anything you do make sure to find balance. Make sure to be happy, but not too comfortable, because too much of a good thing isn’t really good at all. And don’t listen to what anyone else has to say if it isn’t directly improving your lifestyle. Go for happiness. Be sure to be you, and fully you. Be free.”
Do Not Attempt (35mm photo by Luke Lauren)
Akeem Phipps is known for being selective in whom he talks to and decides to work with. As an individual very keen on keeping his secrets, I was honored to have an unadulterated word and moment inside a young visionary‘s mind. Naturally one would correlate silence with intelligence. Akeem is a silent majority at the forefront of the youth.
We wrapped up that day on a high, leaving the restaurant after about ten candid minutes of nightlife stories and calculating everyone’s total on an eight-person check. I felt inspired that day talking with a young man whose lifestyle resonates with those on a similar plane and hope he continues to influence people in the same direction.
“Thanks for your time, Akeem.”
“Sure thing. Link at your crib to roll up?”
Akeem Phipps (35mm photo by Luke Lauren)
Follow Akeem Phipps on Instagram -> @akeem.phipps
Luke Lauren is a creative director, content creator, producer, artist and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Follow @lukeywhereyabeen for some more creative content.
Thanks for reading!