Enterview: Fah Da Barber
Today we're speaking with a barbershop legend, Philly's very own, Faheem Alexander. He was gracious enough to take a moment and drop some jewels for us over here at Park + Jungle so we hope you enjoy.
I had met Fah briefly on another occasion, but never had the chance to actually chop it up with him. I was aware of his resume, he cut for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, Jay Pharaoh, Tracy Morgan... but his disposition didn't hold the slightest sense of arrogance, he was rather welcoming - speaking as though I was an old friend.
Questions in mind and camera in hand, we began our conversation in a hotel lobby the night prior to his flight out of the city.
Park + Jungle: How long have you been a barber and what sparked that passion?
Faheem: I’ve been cutting hair for 26 years, since 1992. What sparked barbering for me was not wanting to be the average young man – falling into the ills of the inner city whether it was selling drugs or something else. The streets were calling and I wanted to avoid that.
PJ: Definitely. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Fah: The best advice I could give somebody as far as barbering is concerned is go to work EVERY SINGLE DAY like its your first day on the job.
As far as life, just travel on the right side of the street…
PJ: You’ve been in the industry for a long time and have definitely brushed shoulders with a lot of people. Who’s one of your favorite people you’ve had the opportunity to cut?
You know, Tracy Morgan was pretty cool…super down to earth, real funny. He’s a real dude – I was around him in his home, his wife, his children (so I got to see who he really was).
PJ: Are you working on any projects or products currently?
Fah: No products, but I actually just purchased my property – my barbershop and some other space. We’re going into our 18th year, so that’s been my focus, just developing the shop as well as the apartments inside the building.
What I didn't state earlier is the fact that we're at an annual Barber Show, so industry vets and students alike pace the halls. Every so often, someone approaches and asks him a question about clippers, if he has anything for sale, or just to say hello. He answers them all, and even gives a guy asking for help his personal number.
PJ: So your brand has this phrase "Think Big". What's the philosophy behind that? Where did it come from?
Fah: Ah man! The Think Big philosophy! There’s a gentleman in Philly named John Cummins, he lost his life to murder and senseless violence…he had a car wash called Big Time and everything about the guy had a larger than life aspect. Everything was big. I just took that and used that mindset on my own brand. So if you ‘Think Big’ you’ll grow, if you think rich, it’ll grow.
PJ: You’ve done work for The Tonight Show, how is that different from the shop?
Fah: Yeah, doing work for Jimmy Fallon, Questlove…it’s pretty cool. It’s like an assembly line – you get in, get out. You just have to do your job and there is longevity in those spaces. Nothing more, nothing less.
PJ: What would you say is the best thing you’re seeing in the industry right now?
Fah: The best thing is entrepreneurship. Black excellence. Actually coming up with your own product and not having to use the Targets, Walmarts…doing direct to consumer sales and cutting out the middle man.
The U.S. beauty industry is set to reach 90 Billion by 2020 according to GCI Magazine, and for anyone paying attention, men's grooming is skyrocketing in popularity. It seems as though everyone has a brand - the flood of this market akin to the current state of streetwear. D2C relationships are both advantageous and unfortunate in this current economy because while it helps those with large social followings/platforms, it hurts larger corporations and leaves new brands in a sea of similar offerings.
PJ: What’s the game missing?
Fah: The game is missing togetherness and camaraderie. For the leaders, being someone who gives knowledge, and for the younger guys just being open to listen. We don't need guys being shady and back-door situations.
No one likes being asked a million and one questions, so in my mind I’m thinking let me wrap up – he’s probably tired and two guys sit on either side of him, relaxing...
I begin, “Well hey, thanks for your time…”
Fah interrupts me, sensing the sentiment that I wasn’t trying to take up his time,
“Nah we good! These are my brothers! These are my Muslim brothers! This my Cleveland squad, chop it up with us, ask my brothers questions!”
I begin again, this time asking the guys around him questions as well. They both had solid perspectives on everything we spoke about. We skip around for a while talking about a myriad of subjects; LeBron going to Los Angeles, defining Black Excellence, community issues... It begins to sound like we're all back at the shop ha!
PJ: What music are you listening to currently?
Fah: Man, I was sad…the Nas album wasn’t how I wanted it to be. It wasn’t good man. A lot of the young guys rapping now is what I don’t want to hear. Like, I hear all these power moves that Nas is making in Silicon Valley – that’s what I wanted to listen to. He’s rubbing elbows with Google, investing money in companies selling for billions - I want to hear that! The godbody rap he’s giving us, I don’t want to hear that. I want you to straighten these young men out. The percs (percoset), syrup, and drugs are tearing these kids up man. And the record companies are so fast to sign an artist like that – we don’t need it. The 69 with the rainbow hair? I don’t want to listen to that!
Fah was speaking in reference to Nas's Nasir album, released on June 15th. Most of the blog sites lauded the lyricism and Kanye West production - perhaps not seeking to rock the boat or damage relationships. Fah's perspective was a grounding reminder that sometimes even the legends might lose touch with what might be the most beneficial for the community at large. If we subscribe to Nina Simone's notion that the artist's duty is to "reflect the times", perhaps we don't need "Escobar Season" to return.
Hip hop has always had the ability to be transformative in its message and can shift the entire culture with a good hook. To Fah's point, maybe it's time that the drug-oriented (user or seller) storyline that is relied upon to sell the image of "cool" is redefined.
PJ: How do you define yourself?
Fah: I'll always be the same (because of my foundation). I can't be uppity because you never know when its time for you to decline. You're going to need that foundation when you do. No matter how much money God blesses me to have I'll always be charitable, giving back. It is being a Muslim, first and foremost that has me like that. If one day I have to hop on public transportation, I want to be okay. I can still touch the people.
(speaking towards success bringing enemies) One truth is that once people put you on a pedestal, people will hate you for no reason. It's like, what? Do you want what I have? Here! Take it. I'm from the inner city. Only thing I did was take what my grandparents and mentors gave me and turned it into this.
There were so many gems in this interview I had a tough time narrowing it down to this story. It makes me think I should change the format into perhaps something more audio/video based in the future. Hmmm....
Anyway, huuugeeeee thanks to Faheem, the brothers with him who were cool enough to join in on the conversation, and YOU for taking time out of your day to read this. There's a lot of hustle going on behind the scenes, but I'm aiming for it to amount to something worthwhile.
Drop a comment if ya enjoyed the interview. (You don't have to put your email in if you don't want to, just a name.)