November 9, 2020/ / INTERVIEWS/ Comments: 11

photos: mike heikkila

When Love Park was demolished in 2016 and quickly repurposed as a flat, grassy, and ledgeless path, a lot of people wrote off Philadelphia skateboarding. Mark Suciu left to continue his studies in NYC, Ishod Wair relocated to the West Coast nearly full time, and Kyle Nicholson started spending a lot more time in Barcelona.

But in the four-plus years since the fences went up around Love for the last time, Philly’s skate scene simply set up shop at Muni, and spawned a new crop of plaza skaters ready to cement their own place in the industry.

Leading that pack is Philly local Jahmir Brown.

And more than just a neverending Rolodex of ambidextrous ledge tricks and absurd pop, Jahmir is wise beyond his years and has already had to make the kind of life and career decisions that have tripped up many a skater before him. Jahmir might be a fresh face in the industry, but he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Skateboarding has gone back and forth between baggy and skinny fashion about every 10 years. A decade from now could you see yourself going slim fit?

[laughs] Yeah, you.
Fuck no! Not again! [laughs] When I was 13 I wore skinny shit and I was ripping pants every day. To me, skinny shit is not cool and it’s never going to be cool again. You can bring it back, but I will wear big fucking sweatpants until the day I die. I know what I like. I might slim it down a little but it won’t ever be less than baggy.

There’s a common refrain amongst black skaters about getting clowned on for doing a “white boy sport” growing up, did you deal with that growing up in Philly?
Yeah, man. I originally grew up in Southwest Philly, before moving to West Philly, and out there it was fucked. People would jump me, or try to, people always wanted to disrupt my art. Numerous things, whether it was jumping me, threatening me, putting a gun to my head just for skating. Calling you a white boy, telling you to get off the block. “Why you acting like that? why you do that white boy shit?” You know, just, you name it. You guys have all heard it.

Has that changed for the younger kids growing up in the city now?
It’s definitely changed. I think just through people like myself and a lot of other like-minded skaters doing what they do and being persistent. Actually doing it every day downtown. People saw that, alongside just the trend of skateboarding being cool altogether, you know?

These people weren’t idiots, they knew that there was a scene, they knew that there were people thriving, they just didn’t want us doing it. But now it’s respected, at least to an extent. They see you can get some money from it. They’ve seen Lil Wayne do it and they were like, “that shit’s hot” and I’m like, “I’m better than that nigga,” but he’s cool people [laughs].

Did you ever get to meet Lil Wayne?
Yeah, I met Wayne, 3 am at Love Park. It was like 2013/2014 and we were skating there real late one night. The homie Tony Davis was skating and he was saying, “We just saw Wayne’s tour bus, he’s about to pull up and skate with us!” And we all looked at this nigga like he was crazy. We were like, “Man, get the fuck out of here, you fried.” And, like 5-10 minutes later, here comes Wayne walking over with two big ass security guards and his skateboard.

He skated with us and introduced himself and we chatted for a minute I watched him crook the fucking ledge on the top level. And I was like god damn like this shit is kind of tall and Wayne just crook tapped that jawn. But he did it. I was like, oh shit, Weezy F Baby out here doing crooked grinds at Love, that shit was fire. I was so hyped to meet him, man.

We kept it cool, but all the homeless people who lived there started fanning out, and then he got mad, saying, “I’m just trying to skate and be with my skater homies.” He got bummed and eventually left, but that shit was crazy.

What does it mean to you to be part of the last generation that got to skate at Love Park before it got destroyed?
It’s nice to be able to have called that place a home, even though it’s gone now. I met a lot of cool people and a lot of those people are my friends to this day, 10 years later. Like there’s a lot of kids that are gonna grow up now that don’t know what it’s like.

I remember the end, just preparing for the worst knowing that any day the fences would go up. It felt like we had time to just like, bullshit. And then it just happened one day, and we were just like, “Fuck, it’s over.” It was like watching your house get burned the fuck down. It was the saddest thing ever.

Being born and raised in Philly, how do you feel about the changes happening, both in skating and in the city in general?
I mean, gentrification sucks, but what can you do? The architecture in the city has changed a lot. Most of our spots are gone. There’s a bunch of new spots, but a lot of them are knobbed already. A lot of the cheap food places are gone and shit is getting expensive now. Rent is starting to get expensive. Philly is starting to feel like a baby Brooklyn, or maybe Manhattan in certain parts. It’s definitely getting weird, but I guess like, it’s slow enough that it’s hard to see the change.

Where I live if you go two blocks north the houses are one brick row house and then four modernized houses and it keeps on repeating like that. That classic Philly style is really changing. The people are changing too, but the more people come here, the more they adapt to how Philly is. No matter how many people come here, that really doesn’t change. People come here and we as the people of Philadelphia force them to adapt to the way we do shit, because we’re not going to change for some outsiders, you came to our city.

Other than that I’m happy to see all the new faces skating. People are moving to the city, and telling me and my friends, they moved here because they want to skate with us and skate Muni. That’s fucking sick. But at the same time, though, when you see us, motherfucker, just say, “Hi.” Don’t look at us from across the plaza and just stare. We’re regular people here. Just say, “Hi.”

“We’re not going to change for some outsiders, you came to our city”

You made a really quick transition to Palace after leaving DGK. How did you link up with them?
I wasn’t even trying to get on the [Palace] team officially. I knew I was gonna quit DGK and I just needed some boards. I didn’t want to buy boards again, but I knew I was gonna ride Palace boards regardless and I would have bought them if I had to. So I hit Chewy [Cannon] like, “Bro, what’s up with some boards?” and then after only like two weeks of talking and figuring it out, the homies Lev and Gareth [co-founders of Palace] both said that they didn’t want to just flow me boards, they wanted me on the team.

It was a big honor, man, that shit literally hit me like a bag of bricks. It was fucking crazy to hear those words and just to see it over text, you know? It really meant a lot. And because they’ve already spent time in Philly, and I skated with them beforehand, it felt right. It felt really natural. I’m just very appreciative to be where I’m at now because they’ve been taking really good care of me.

Do you find it crazy that you and Jamal [Smith] have spent the past decade skating together in Philly and now you’re on this British company together?
Jamal was someone I looked up to being a kid, not only because he was skating in the city, but because he was someone that my family looked up to. They allowed me to go to the skate shop because of who he was and that he worked there. They trusted him.

Not only that, when I was a kid growing up and watching cable, and Jamal was on cable! He was on On-Demand. Not on Fuel TV…what was it called? Havoc TV! If you were a young skateboarder you didn’t know about skate videos, all you knew about was the sports section of On-Demand, and you knew that there was some skateboard shit deep in there. To have Jamal be on there, you know, he probably didn’t know at the time but to us it meant a lot growing up, seeing someone that you know on TV.

“I don’t have to work a job. I made my dream come true. And it’s fucking amazing. You know?”

Has skateboarding made you financially comfortable yet?
Financially, I’m comfortable as fuck. It’s crazy. Bro, I get paid to ride my skateboard. I don’t have to work a job. I made my dream come true. And it’s fucking amazing. You know? Honestly, it feels so surreal. I pinch myself every day to make sure it’s not a dream.

Have you been able to move out on your own?
I plan on moving out next year. I pay rent at home, though, I’m not one of these suburban kids who gets to live at home for free, I pay rent [laughs]. Besides, I’d rather pay my mom than pay another landlord.

I moved out originally when I was like, 19 and I got my own house, but that wasn’t from skating money, it was just from working a day job. Then I started traveling a lot on my own. And then I started getting sponsored. When my mom saw what I was doing she thought that it was a good idea for me to move home and pay a little bit less rent than I was paying to save some money. And also to be a little more secure while I’m traveling a lot. When the trips picked up it was actually a benefit to be living at home. Why would I waste money on high rent when I’m only home probably four or five months out of the year?

Eventually, I want to make enough money to where I can buy three or four houses and start making money in real estate. Maybe skateboarding will allow me to buy one house, but that house will allow me to buy four down the line. Skateboarding has definitely allowed me to start thinking about other parts of my life, and whether it’s real estate or starting a business down the line, whatever those later career paths may be. DC and my other sponsors have definitely set me up financially to allow myself to plan and even think like that about the future.

You refer to your skateboarding as art and talk about your career in skating like a career in art. Are you able to find a balance between your art and what you want to express versus finding that ability to fit in and make a career out of it?
It’s hard. Even now, I see kids that are better than me, and I’m like, “They deserve it more than me,” but at the same time, I put my heart and soul into this and people like what I do, and they like my work ethic. They want to invest in my life because I’m able to bring other people to the table inside of skateboarding and outside of skateboarding and pretty much bring together my own community, just like in the art world.

So when you have those things, yeah, people want to throw money at you. But when you don’t, you have to figure out how to make yourself look special, or make yourself seem more special than maybe you feel inside. And the more I tried to figure out who I was, the more people got to see who I was, and the more people wanted to invest in my life.

So I think it’s just a balance of figuring out like how to be happy, finding your inner happiness, and being able to express your inner happiness to those around you. And once people in the industry can see you as an individual and you stand out in your own light, then maybe it’ll happen. But if not, you get to that point where no matter whether the money comes or not, you’re still happy.

“I know that I’m putting in the work.
I’m the second person from my city to make it into the industry.”

Do you think it’s easy for skate companies to take advantage of that?
Yeah, a lot of skate companies can take advantage of that. But that’s why I say you have to surround yourself around good people because good people won’t take advantage of you. They’ll see your work ethic and because skateboarding is an art, you don’t ever have to feel uncomfortable to be like, “Yo, what’s up with this bread?”

You have to say it at some point. It might even be like, “Yo, I need to get paid every month or, I just modeled your whole new campaign, and I know people get paid for modeling jobs.” And maybe I’m not gonna get paid $500, but can I get paid $60 for my time? That’s two hours that I can’t get back. You have to start somewhere and eventually, you have to figure out your worth, which is probably the hardest thing to do in life. It’s not easy, but if you want it, it’ll happen, and like I said, if you love it, you’ll do it regardless of whether the money comes or not. Just don’t let people take advantage of you. Get what you’ve earned. Know what you’ve earned.

There’s almost a catch-22 in skating where if you don’t speak up for yourself you won’t get paid what you’re worth but if you are vocal about your place in the industry you are labeled as cocky or a kook. Have you seen that?
Yeah, people can take it and misconstrue it as cockiness, but I think the difference between cockiness and someone being high to themselves, or being honest with themselves is when you know that you put in the work.

I know that I’m putting in the work. I’m the second person from my city to make it into the industry. People can take that as cocky if you want, but at the end of the day, I was some broke kid that didn’t see shit happening for me before skating. I saw people getting their head blown off in Southwest Philly. To make it to where I’m at now, hell yeah, bro, I have no reason not to smile.

If somebody wants to say I’m cocky, I don’t care because at the end of the day, I know what I’ve been through. I know that I’ve earned the right to be able to say, I’m a fucking King. Call yourself a king. I’m not saying I’m the king because I fucking rule people or some shit like that. I say I’m a fucking king because I know I earned this skateboard shit in my city. I’m out here putting in work. If I want call myself a king and make myself feel special I will, because that’s gonna make me fucking smile that day. And sometimes that’s all you need. If it makes you smile, say that shit.

What kind of non-skate jobs have you worked?
I hustled. I did random shit. I don’t want to talk about the details, but the streets are the streets. When I started getting skate product for free I sold boards and shoes. I went to thrift stores and bought clothes for $1 and sold them to other stores for $10 to eat every day when you don’t have money in your pocket and you’re starving your stomach growling. Postmates wasn’t around yet, so doing like the social media bike messenger food delivery stuff wasn’t really around for me.

I worked at Nocturnal Skateshop five days a week, sometimes seven days a week. I would work at Nocturnal from 12-8pm and sometimes 11-9pm. Right when I got off work at eight or nine, bro I’m skating Love and Muni until like one in the morning learning tricks. And, you know, I always just pushed myself and I knew what I wanted. I didn’t let anything get in the way of it.

During the early months of the pandemic and the national uprisings for social justice, you were heavily involved with collecting and distributing free meals for the community here in Philly. How did that come about?
I don’t even want to talk about the things that I do in the city.

Why not?
Because it’s not cool. Like if you’re gonna do something, you’re gonna do it, you don’t need to talk about it.

But you already did it, you still do it, and I think it’s cool. So tell me about it.
I mean, my family and I, we like to give back to the unfortunate as much as we can. I live in a city where it’s very rough out here. And not only have I been through really hard times, but I know a lot of people who have been put through hard times and we like to stick together. So now that I’m in a place where I’m even a little comfortable and I have a tiny bit of stability in my life, I’m able to give back a little more than I used to.

I didn’t have much skating to do this spring and summer because of COVID and I’ve been home a lot because no one was able to travel. So I just saw a lot more people that needed help and I was able to help them so I did what I could.

On skate trips recently have you guys run into any anti-mask people, Trump fanboys, or COVID denying weirdos at grocery stores or gas stations?
I was so scared on the Bronze trip. That was my first road trip actually for a company and not just with a group of homies. It was really weird because we went on an upstate trip to New York and then we went to State College, PA and linked with Jake Johnson. So everywhere we went was just Trump flag, Trump flag, Trump flag, Trump flag, no mask, Trump flag, no mask, Trump flag. And I’m just like, fuck, bro.

This kid Dougie and I were the only black people on the trip, and I’m older than he is, so I’m feeling like I’m looking out for him, but also I don’t really have anyone who’s black and older than me to look out for me. So I’m like, “Fuck, bro, this is sketch.” So everywhere we go, I’m just telling the homies, “Bro, don’t leave me. If I want to go to the store, I need you to come by my side. I don’t feel comfortable. There’s a lot of people getting lynched out here, bro. I’m in a place that I don’t know.”

I was a little nervous for my life. I just took the precautions to keep my mask on, always sanitize, and just keep a trusted friend that was Caucasian nearby. Everyone on that trip looked after me, and they made sure that I felt very comfortable. And even when I wasn’t comfortable at all, I felt safe because of them.

What can you tell me about the K2 scene at Muni?
[Laughs] People still smoke K2, but you don’t see it as much anymore as you used to. You don’t smell it either as much anymore. Unless you’re on the train, you got people hotboxing the fucking train. Sometimes you get on and get right the fuck back off or else you’re gonna get a second hand tookie high. That shit is strong as fuck. Yeah, K2 is still around.

Have you ever tried it?
I haven’t, but I’ve been with someone who has. I was dating this chick years ago and we bought some weed – or what we thought was weed. She rolled it, so, as the rules go, she hit it first. And she just immediately did not feel good. I was like, “What the fuck?” I was about to hit it but she’s just like, “Nah, it’s not cool” so thankfully I listened and didn’t hit it. I pretty much just nursed her back to health. It took a few hours and she was throwing up and everything. I felt so bad. We just threw it away.

And that’s why you should only buy weed or drugs from people who you trust, like no matter what you’re doing. I recommend just smoking weed, but even then, you just heard me bro, you can easily get caught up with something that isn’t bud. I’m just glad that I didn’t take that hit, but I’m glad I was there and that it didn’t get worse than that.

Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been saying, “The team is the dream, the dream is the team.” Where did that come from, and how close does the dream feel right now?
It started at Love [Park]. It was just like a joke. We were saying it to build ourselves up and make ourselves feel better about the nothingness that we had at the moment.

No one was looking at Philly. Nobody gave a fuck about our scene. No one cared. That was our way of making ourselves feel special. It gave us a sense of community and it made us feel way stronger than we were at the moment.

And now we’re way stronger than that. We’re way bigger than that. And in this industry we have a name for ourselves because of what we stood for together. The team has always been the dream and the dream has always been the team. We’ve always had that because without this team we weren’t gonna get where we’re at now. And if we stuck together we knew we would make our dreams come true, and that’s exactly what the fuck we did.

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  1. Tyler

    November 9, 2020 1:00 pm

    Buy houses. Smart kid

  2. Elijah Shorter

    November 9, 2020 1:14 pm

    This was a amazing conversation that had a lot of things I can relate to myself. Like he said the team is the dream, the dream is the team. Never give up bc no matter how hard it may be all things great can be accomplished.

  3. Brian

    November 9, 2020 1:17 pm

    That Trump shit is hella true. Did a roadtrip to Colorado through Texas not too long ago and the same ass bullshit around Amarillo, scared for my friends who weren’t white going through these towns. Glad this fucker is gonna be gone

  4. Kev

    November 9, 2020 1:31 pm

    One of my favorites to watch, glad to learn he has a good head on his shoulder too.

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