Groovey Lew, who calls himself The Fashion King, has remained relevant throughout Hip Hop’s tenure. The stylist has worked with the culture’s royalty, including Biggie Smalls, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Nipsey Hussle, Lil Wayne, Lauryn Hill and Dave East.
Lew serves as a true visionary that isn’t confined to dressing your favorite artists either. As a fan of the music, he can see talent well before the world does. For instance, Lew grew close to Nipsey when the late artist was just starting to make a name for himself rapping in Los Angeles. The two connected beyond clothes as they both had a solid connection to their community and their spirituality.
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The Fashion King is well-respected within the industry, and although he is revered for his iconic looks, many in Hip Hop look to him as a spiritual guide too. One conversation with Lew and a person can immediately sense they’re talking to somebody connected to something deeper. He’s not caught up in trends like social media or the latest Telsa, but he’s into what lasts forever — which may be why his career has spanned over 25 years.
During a conversation with GroovyTracks, the Mount Vernon native covered it all. He talked about the need to bring back ownership in clothing lines, something he hoped Dapper Dan would achieve. He also discussed his favorite artists to style, fashion evolution, spirituality and Ital living.
GroovyTracks: I know you’re a Mount Vernon native, but you’ve been around the world. Where do you get your sense of fashion from?
Groovey Lew: I’d say just coming up under my pops, my uncles and my aunties. As far as music, I’m from the Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five [days]. I was born in ’69, so I came up in the 70s when Hip Hop really started. We was in Mount Vernon on the borderline of the Bronx so I’ve got eight aunties that … you know, they was all beautiful and they was bringing the d-boys and Hip Hop artists to the yards and the Rastas, so that’s how I learned Hip Hop. Knowing about the T-Connection and the clubs and just watching them cats from them days like your Funky 4 + 1.
Just looking at their swag and as I grew and started learning more, seeing like Boogie Down Productions and Rakim and all them cats in their Dapper Dan fits and LL Cool J, that’s where the fashion came from.
GroovyTracks: You’ve really seen Hip Hop grow like you said from its birth to now as this billion-dollar industry. From that time, with you also being a part of the Bad Boy legacy from the beginning, did you see it growing to what it is now?
Groovey Lew: I can’t say I did, but I knew there was something special there. I knew when we was starting it was more fun to us. A bunch of young brothers starting a record label, jumping in with Diddy to lend our hand and whatever we could. It wasn’t like we had titles or anything, it was just like, let’s just do whatever needs to be done. We was all learning and we was having fun with it. I can’t say that [I knew] it would be this big, but I knew it had potential though.
GroovyTracks: You’ve styled pretty much everybody that had a name in Hip Hop, from Biggie to Wayne, to Lauryn Hill to Nipsey to Dave East. How has your sense of style changed over the years?
Groovey Lew: My style changes every day. It’s like the weather, bro. I deal with different artists from different hoods/communities and different cities and different states so it’s like some cats are wearing this color, some cats are not wearing that color. Some brothers is wearing their pants like that, some brothers is wearing their hats to the side, to the back. A lot of different things they’re doing means different things where they’re from, they’re representing that.
The style changes depending on who it is I’m dealing with. They add their flavor and I add mine and we just bring it together. It’s like a pot of gumbo. I just really add my seasoning on a lot of stuff. They tell me what they love and what they don’t like and I just bring it to life for them from an idea.
So, it changes as we grow and through the years it changes as well. At first, everybody was not too heavy into like the brand names and we were doing more tailor-made clothing especially in our Bad Boy days, out of leathers and different stuff through our tailor. Then, when Big started rhyming about the Versace’s and the Coogi’s and different things, he advanced us a lot as well. I didn’t know about some of these labels until some of the rappers started speaking on them and then that made me start doing my homework and find out what was going on.
GroovyTracks: It’s interesting that you say that because I saw that change happening in the D.C area too. We would only wear are our clothing lines and then it changed to the mainstream labels.
Groovey Lew: We learned a lot from D.C. being around all them cats. They put us on to fly sweatsuits. They used to rock their sweatsuits and New Balance [shoes] and different shit. They were like young d-boys, they was dressed up fresh and clean. In ’87, I went to the Capital Center to my first Go-Go and that shit showed me a whole ‘nother life about music and fashion. I’m like, “Damn, what is this?” D.C was a big influence to our swag.
GroovyTracks: There’s a resurgence going on now with artists bringing back the clothing lines. Before it was Sean John and you had Groovy Styles as well. Is that something that you want to bring back the forefront? Having our own swag along with the the big name brands.
Groovey Lew: Yes, I think it’s always important for us to have our own clothing. You know, we’re dealing with Italians, we’re dealing with all types of different people from around the world. Why shouldn’t we have black clothing companies? Representing ourselves from the Sean Johns to the Phat Farms, Mecca, Enyce and Roc Nation. I think that’s important for artists to have their clothing lines.
I just want people to be into it. Not just because you’re an artist and you can sell a million records. If you’re not really into fashion and really want to be a part of it, I don’t feel you should just do it just do it.
If we’re going to do it, let’s do it and do it right and uplift ourselves and make it look clean and fresh. But we should definitely have them and keep them.
I was inspired the most by Pyer Moss when I went to his Brooklyn fashion show this year.
Not that he’s an artist but just as a black designer. He’s pushing the envelope and doing some great stuff. So, we need to do it and we need to represent them more. We’re spending all our money on these Louis Vuitton’s, Gucci’s and Velentino’s and Balenciagas’ and everything else.
I really wish Dapper Dan would’ve put out his own, like DD or something instead of going the Gucci route. That would have really represented us as a whole. You our Tom Ford, you the godfather to black people, so I just wish we would do us a little more because we’re putting a lot of money into these corporations, bro.
GroovyTracks: I just saw you did the Rolling Stone cover with Diddy and DJ Khaled, that’s major. Congrats. How was it working on that project?
Groovey Lew: It was good. I was a part of the fashion team with Derek Roche and Jun Choi. We have a team. We were in Atlanta at the Revolt Summit and Diddy always going to keep it going. We had the Revolt Summit, we’re doing panels, after parties, photoshoots, interviews … we just tie everything into one.
It’s always a big honor and respect to be around the big homie [Diddy]. Especially [with] Khaled’s energy. We’re telling him what we think is best for him and how he need to light it up and how he need to stay looking young and fresh. You are the culture. You are a main culture mover in our time.
So, it’s always good to be a part of that and just to be around and learn and meet people. We’re making history as we do these things.
GroovyTracks: What is something working with Diddy that people don’t know or misunderstand?
Groovey Lew: The big homie is really cool and he likes to have fun, but a lot of people look at him like … or I’ll say if you do business with him, he’s a monster. Doing business with him is a whole different thing, but when we’re working and we’re into our flow, he’s a comedian and he likes to have fun and he’s really a good person. He likes to help everybody out [that] he can.
People that’s looking at his reality shows or whatever it is, they won’t ever see that until they’re around him on different levels or different flows. Son is a really good cat to be around. His energy is right, you learn so much from him because he’s always working and he’s always giving information.
GroovyTracks: Artists look to you for wisdom and spiritual guidance. Is that more rewarding than your legacy as a stylist?
Groovey Lew: Yeah, that’s the main part. When people hire me, they know that I come with a different vibe and a different energy, so if I can give you some information that’s going to stick with you throughout your lifetime and implement something in your daily flow, I think that goes a long way, further than clothing. The clothes are going to come and go, the seasons are going to change. But if I can give you some knowledge of self, that’s going to be forever.
People always saying, “Yo, Groove, I need your energy bro, where you at? I need you to come through. I need you to just sit with me, I need you to vibe with me. I need to just kick it with you.” So many times my clients call me to their homes or studios just to be a part of the energy that’s going on and it’s not about fashion all the time.
So yeah, I think that it’s a balance though. But I think that will definitely last longer than anything about the garments and the fashion.
GroovyTracks: Who are some of your favorite artists to style?
Groovey Lew: Well I had the best time with B.I.G. He used to always tell me like, “I write the rhymes, you handle that [clothes].” Basically, “Let me do me and you do you.” Because I used to always check with him, “What you think about the light blue suede or what you think?” He’d say, “You just do that. Leave me alone, I write rhymes and music. You handle the fashion.” B.I.G made the world know me.
And then Nip was just an ill spirit. Nip used to just let me go. Like, whatever Groove, just do you. Whatever you bring to the table is a go. As far as Diddy, he showed me the world.
So that’s the plus of everything because big homie is an artist but then an executive, a leader and everything, so I learned so many things from being around him. I always say them three, but different artists bring different things to my flow.
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GroovyTracks: You led me right into my next question about Nip. It seems y’all both have a similar connection to the community. Did you feel he was a kindred spirit that you were talking to? You both have very similar auras.
Groovey Lew: Yeah. That’s my brother from another mother on some real shit. I used to always fuck with Nip. It ain’t no bandwagon shit. It ain’t no new shit. I was Bad Boy, up in the industry, moving and doing my thing and I would always go to L.A and run down on Nip’s store when he first opened that shit up. I used to go to Simply Wholesome. My flow was the swap meet, Nip’s store and then Simply Wholesome and that was before any artists knew about the store.
It was just the hood with the gang bangers in certain neighborhoods before he promoted it to the world, changed it and made it new. I used to go to his shows at the House of Blues, then the next day I would go down to the store and show him different things that I recorded from his show and he used to tell me, “Damn, I’ve never seen myself on stage” and stuff like that.
So, I was early with Nip. Just because I was Bad Boy, I used to always sprinkle some love on him and then go support what he was doing and then he started moving forward and getting his shit on being recognized and he was always saying, “Yo Groove, when I get right, we’ve got to do this and we’ve got to do that” as far as fashion and I was like, “Bro bro, I’m here. It’s too easy.”
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So yeah, he started getting his bag together and labels and everybody started fucking with him and shit like that he was like, “Yo, let’s go.” Then we just pressed go. I told him — in like 2017 or 2018 — I was like, “Next year, the whole world’s going to know you for fashion, bro.” I said, “That’s my goal for you.”
I told him like, “Yo, in a minute, you’re going to be walking on runways, you’re going to be sitting in the first row at fashion shows. You’re going to be that kid when it comes to fashion.” Because it was so easy, I was like, “You’re me, our body, our height and everything so I have so much to give you from all of my past looks. I’m just going to remix a lot of shit and pass it to you.”
He used to see my pictures and be like, “Bro, I could get that look right there, put it on Instagram, we’re going to go viral.” I said, “Nah bro, my looks on my phone is for me and my wife. I don’t do it for the world so I pushed that energy into him as far as the gear and just let him smash.
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GroovyTracks: Yeah. It was a sad day for the industry when he was killed.
Groovey Lew: Yeah but really beautiful still because you know, his spirit is here forever. That physical gotta return, but he’s really [Nipsey] Tha Great. People look at him and honor him and they see his life and people that didn’t ever know, they have a chance to learn and look at him. So, it continues like he said, bro.
GroovyTracks: You’re right. I think you’re one of the most unknown philanthropists just because like you said, you stay low and you don’t look for recognition.
Groovey Lew: Yeah, I just stay low and keep firing, bro. I don’t need the accolades and all that because I know. The Creator knows. You don’t have to be outside bragging, I did this and I did that. That shit don’t float my boat. I just put my work in and let my work speak for itself.
GroovyTracks: With your amount of success, you could easily just work with the top artists and really just be in your own world. But you always choose to stay connected to the hood and to everybody, really. What makes you stay connected?
Groovey Lew: Because I’m from that. I’m from the less fortunate ones. I’ve been blessed to be able to be in this industry and to move around, get money and give thanks. Fashion showed me so many things that I wouldn’t have seen or learned on my own as far as travel. That’s the biggest teaching and experience in that. Traveling to different countries in the presence of presidents and artists, meeting the likes of Stevie Wonder and just all that.
I stay grounded because at the end of the day, that’s where my family is still at. This is just something I go into for work. That’s why I tell everybody I’m not a IBM’er, I’m not a nine to five. I just have a different job and my work takes me to different places, but at the end of the day, I don’t live there. I don’t stay there, I’ve still got to come back home.
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One day I’m with homie on some yacht shit in Italy, the next day I’m in the hood with my homies trying to figure this shit out. How they’re going to pay their rent? How they’re going to fucking eat? How they’re going to pay for their kids school? Shit like that. That’s the balance, but there’s more of that going on than motherfuckers that got it. So, I’m in that world more than anything, but I’m blessed that I can get out and do a couple things.
They see me in any hood in Brooklyn, in Compton, in anywhere, coming out of corner stores like, “Yo, you that fashion kid. What you doing out here?” I’m like, “Yo, what you doing out here motherfucker?” [Laughs]. Why I can’t be out here? They say, “I just seen a video on Instagram or I just seen you with Rick Ross,” but I’m the same as you.
I give thanks if you look at me like something else or you respect me for my craft. I give thanks for that, but I just tell them, “I’m just one of God’s favorite sons.” That’s why I have that balance because you’re going to see me in the community and you’re going to be bugging out like, “What you doing in this party? Niggas in here have guns.” I’m like, “Bro, I’m just a regular person.” I just try to stay like that and keep that.
I’m from Mount Vernon, New York, bro. It’s dirty, it’s less fortunate, it’s the poorest city in Westchester. I’m from that so I can relate to any community across the world.
The shit that touched me the most, I was in South Africa in this little bar/club/hole in the wall shit and this kid came up to me. This was like in 2000 and he said, “You’re Groovey Lew. Groovy styles, the one on the back of Biggie Smalls double CD.” That shit touched my heart more than anything. I’m like, “You know me”?
That’s the shit that touched me more than a lot of shit. That’s the shit that I look for more than anything. Those are my rewards.
GroovyTracks: With fashion, you’re a true visionary. You can see what’s coming before it’s here. You were Ital before veganism was popular, now it’s a trend and it’s a part of the culture. But you made that decision way before that wave, so what led you to that?
Groovey Lew: Just getting knowledge of self and learning through the Rasta elders. Rastafari is my way of life and with that comes with natural eating and Ital living. 30 years ago I found out the truth, so I stopped putting animals into my body and I stopped using animal products. With that comes how you treat people, how you treat nature. It makes you talk different, it’s a respectful way of talking. It makes you live different. It’s just a whole energy because with that life you’re more in tune to God.
I figured out that food was the medicine and the medicine was the food. And I’ve never been on no bandwagon stuff, but the people that’s jumping on this, this is one of the best bandwagons to jump on so I give thanks to JAY-Z and Beyoncé. I saw them give the people a 21-day challenge and you can win free tickets to a concert or whatever.
Jermaine Dupri promotes some vegan stuff or whoever the artist is or the ball players or whatever. Even if it’s just Muslims that’s holding their Ramadan and just fasting, showing people different sides and there’s different things and there’s different ways to go about things.
If you really look at day one on Earth and the Bible, God said he’ll give you green for your meat. Vegetables and fruit, the plants is all around us. Everything is all around us. We’re jungle people and we’re from that so we’re great kings and queens and there was fruits and vegetables on them tables. You look at the strongest animals and most of the animals, they’re going green. They’re eating green.
I tell people cows don’t even drink milk. Like, why are you drinking a cow’s milk? So when you really just think of stuff and really just take your time, it really makes sense. But we’re so ignorant in different ways and things been passed down through our times and our grandparents and our great grandparents and we’re just keeping it going, but somewhere you have to break the trend and start doing what’s right.
If you know the truth, why wouldn’t you do what’s right? Once I found the truth out, I’ve got to live it. I can’t be knowing the truth and not living it.
GroovyTracks: Yeah, your diet affects your wellbeing, your energy and everything. You’re doing your part in spreading that message with opening your own restaurant in Mount Vernon. I think is great because you give the people an option. In Mount Vernon, they don’t have those food options. Was that your inspiration to behind it?
Groovey Lew: Yeah, man, I have to help my community and my neighborhood. They’re just promoting death every day. From the Popeyes to the Chicken Huts to the Chinese restaurants to whatever it is. No disrespect to nobody and their business because we all have to make money, but how can we not have a natural restaurant in the neighborhood? We’ve got to go outside of our neighborhoods and go to Queens, Harlem and the Bronx just to eat Ital food or a vegan plate.
Our elders have cancer and some of them are overweight and just for the Rasta community that’s there to get Ital stew or for the girls and the brothers that’s working out coming from the gym to have fresh juice and it’s something that’s needed and it’s one of my dreams to have that in the town, to promote the health and wealth.
We’re out here mixing the animals’ blood with our blood and it’s got people acting different and turning into monsters and killing each other. So if I can put this into the community and it can change one person, I did my job. But like I said, when we start eating different, we’ll start speaking to each other different, we’ll start speaking more love and we’ll act different and we’ll treat each other better and things like that.
GroovyTracks: What’s the name of the restaurant?
Groovey Lew: Groovey’s Vegan restaurant. It’s a team and it’s a family. Y’all see me in the front, but I have some great family members behind me and some great friends that’s rocking with me. Like I always say, it’s bigger than me.
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GroovyTracks: We talked about you being just connected and you being one of God’s favorite sons. What advice can you give to those who are just trying to find that purpose, trying to find their way?
Groovey Lew: I just say take your time with everything and look inside because the answers are inside yourself. When you go inside, that’s where the answer is. Then, you will master self first and you’ll be able to deal with everything else. When you seek God, all things should be added, so we are God, we are an image of God, we are God having a human experience.
GroovyTracks: What advice, personal or business-wise, can you give to up-and-coming stylists? I know a lot of them look at you and admire what you’ve done.
Groovey Lew: I just say to up-and-coming stylists, be nosey, learn everything. Assist people, stay in your own conventions, because I was that. I was running around with Jack The Rappers and the How Can I Be Down [music conference] just learning and asking questions and telling people, “My name is Groovey Lew and I’m a stylist.” They’re laughing at me but just keep pushing and put yourself around things that’s going on as far as fashion and style and whatever it is.
If there’s people doing fashion shows, videos, commercials or whatever, just keep yourself around what’s going on and learn as much as you can. From being around and people keep seeing you, you will get an opportunity.
Somebody’s not going to come to work that day and that might just be the next up. Like, “I need you to handle this.” That’s how it can go and some things happen faster than others but if you really love it, then just stay with it.
It’s a journey, I’m still learning right now. Shit, I’m about to be 50, but I’m learning from the youth as well. I keep re-inventing myself and changing my ways and just stay in tuned to this new culture because there’s a whole new world out there.