Suga J is a legend in his own right, and he continues to do legendary things. Coming up as a proud founding member of Ma$e’s supergroup Harlem World, the Harlem, New York native has since shifted into the fashion industry, dressing all the elites from Diddy to Ma$e to Nelly.
In describing himself, Suga J simply states he’s “an innovator from Harlem, born and raised, that’s into music, fashion and a lifestyle specialist. He’s been on the scene for over two decades, elevating the culture.”
Following in the footsteps of legends such as Dapper Dan and Guy Wood of 5001 Flavors, Suga J launched his own brand titled Members Club Clothing back in 2012, paving the way for the Respeckfully Brand which came into fruition during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new apparel line has been seen on everyone from Fat Joe to Jadakiss to Cam’Ron to most recently Busta Rhymes. Additionally, Suga J just released his new single aptly titled “RESPECKFULLY,” which embodies themes of originality, authenticity, and of course, respect.
Now, Suga J is excited to be dressing Nelly for the upcoming BET Hip Hop Awards, as he receives his I Am Hip Hop award. Their long-lasting friendship goes much deeper than meets the eye, and AllHipHop had the chance to catch up with Suga J to discuss what it was like during the peak of Nelly’s career.
AllHipHop: What does Harlem mean to you?
Suga J: Harlem is such a beautiful place. Harlem is the mecca of fashion, music and entertainment. Growing up in Harlem with inspirations like Dougie Fresh, Kool Moe Dee, , nights at Rucker Park and Ma$e put us on the map. Just showing us that it’s possible. You can be fresh, you can be fly, you can be culture..That’s Harlem. You could be in anywhere in the country and they’re going to know he’s from New York City. He’s from some part of New York that’s different. That’s Harlem. No matter where we’re at, we put our stamp down.
AllHipHop: What was a young Suga coming out of Harlem like?
Suga J: In ‘99, I was a young kid from Harlem just happy to be on. Ma$e gave us a chance and it was an honor. It was a blessing because Ma$e had got a member from each block of Harlem. When he put the Harlem World group together, we all came from different parts of Harlem. It was a collective that he handpicked. He believed in a young kid from Harlem and in that moment, Suga J was born.
AllHipHop: When did you fall in love with fashion?
Suga J: Fashion’s always been in my DNA. I was raised by a beautiful queen that’s always been fashionable, which is my mom. She used to always dress me in Benetton and the Gap when I was young, so it’s been installed and embedded in me. I was always doing custom clothing for a lot of artists and entertainers. I didn’t know the recognition I was getting until other brands started mimicking the designs. In 2012, I decided to officially create my business and started a custom clothing line called Members Club. We took off from there, dressing the likes of Diddy, Ma$e, Nelly, Busta Rhymes, Floyd Mayweather, Jermaine Dupri, Fabolous, the list goes on and on. It was an honor to see I could transition and officially build a brand.
AllHipHop: How was it transitioning from music to styling these big names?
Suga J: It was natural. Coming from the music industry, I used my relationships. Everyone else were producers, artists, songwriters, etc. I chose the path less traveled. I used my creativity to start dressing these artists. Music and fashion always go hand in hand so I made the logical transition, tapping into that fashion and my creativity.
AllHipHop: How has fashion shifted from back then to now? We’re in 2021, it’s a new generation.
Suga J: It’s different, it’s the new generation. I’m here to restore the feeling, restore that era back to where it’s cool to get cleaned up and stylish. Wear clothes that break tradition, wearing leather outfits. I came from the era where they’re wearing shiny suits, they were laughing at it in Puff and Ma$e videos back then. Now, it’s coming back..colors, mixed patterns, originality is the definition of fashion in 2021. History repeats itself. All the glitter stuff, all the flashy wear, making rhinestone and sequin blazers and motorcycle jackets — “Billboard wear”. “Red carpet ready” is what I call it.
I tell people, own your look…Be responsible for your own. You don’t have to look like a mannequin. You don’t have to look like others. In Harlem, we put it together. We mix and match. We don’t have to have a whole singular designer outfit. We can put a major designer on with a white tee, some Air Force 1s and be alright. It’s a blessing I can see the curve and I stay true to who I am. Stay true to the fashion I was raised upon.
AllHipHop: What’re you most excited for dressing Nelly for the BET Hip Hop Awards?
Suga J: Yes, that’s big. Another big moment I’m happy to be a part of. I was proud to dress Busta Rhymes for the DMX tribute as well at the BET Awards, that was an honor. Rest in peace to the Great DMX, he was an inspiration in my life as well. This is another shot: BET Hip Hop Awards. This is big for Nelly and everything he’s accomplished in his career. Many may not know, but I started with Nelly, in 2001. After Harlem World, I went behind the scenes.
The same person managing Ma$e, Cudda Luv, started a production company called Fo’Reel Entertainment. We came across a CD that was the St. Lunatics. That was my introduction to Nelly. Nelly earned his solo deal and after his success, all the members earned solo deals. To revisit it 20 years later and being able to dress him and watch him receive the I Am Hip Hop award, that’s a blessing.
AllHipHop: Fondest memories from the St. Lunatics days?
Suga J: Man I tell people til this day, he doesn’t get a lot of credit he deserves. There’s very few that sold more hip-hop records than Nelly. That’s a big accomplishment and people don’t know that. He went Diamond on his first album, not many in hip hop have that accomplishment, especially for a young man coming from the Midwest. That was an honor, I’ll never forget that.
The videos from “Hot in Herre” to “Dilemma” to “Ride With Me,” I was there for it all. The video suits, the sets, it was totally different coming from the Harlem World days. He broke out the gate, went from St. Louis to worldwide.
AllHipHop: What does it mean to dress him now, as he receives the I Am Hip Hop award?
Suga J: Aw man, I know it’s huge for him. It’s huge even for me to be able to witness it. Hip-hop started on Sedgwick Avenue, a block that I was raised on: 1520. Seeing how far it’s risen, it’s amazing. I come from Sedgwick Ave. I come from hip-hop. To see that an artist I worked with and was a part of his journey, being recognized as “I Am Hip Hop” is huge. I’m definitely glad to be a part of it, I am sure it is a bucket list moment for him and it’s definitely a bucket list moment for me. That’s something that can’t be taken away. He’s one of the reasons this melodic flow really broke through. The singing and rap style, the mainstream successes which he hasn’t been getting credit for. Hopefully, he’ll be on that pedestal.
AllHipHop: What do you have him wearing on such a big night?
Suga J: Oh man, I can’t disclose that. [laughs] He’ll definitely be fresh, he’ll be dripped in Members Club. I worked with some of his stylists as well, but I really work directly with Nelly. It’ll be custom and. He’ll be owning his look.
AllHipHop: Talk about having your own brand, RESPECKFULLY. It’s your newest single too.
Suga J: If you don’t know, I have a song out now. It’s streaming on all DSPs. It’s not just a song, it’s a lifestyle, It’s a way of living. I’ve been raised respectfully. I have close friends that’s been living respectfully. I watched the first Black President become a president in my lifetime, and he did it respectfully. RESPECKFULLY, is a movement. Everyone’s screaming respeckfully. It’s a calm way of saying, “I’m cool”, disrespectfully. Or “thank you”, respectfully. We’re branding the lifestyle. It’s an honor to be a part of setting a trend, setting a wave for the future to adapt.
AllHipHop: Why’s the name spelled that way?
Suga J: I spelled it with a “k” most importantly, for us. For trademark purposes, and to separate it from the word. Respect with a “t,” is a word you can’t trademark. I trademarked it with a “k” to separate it. Anytime you Google it, you’ll know Suga J is a part of it. RESPECKFULLY with a “k,” that’s for us.
AllHipHop: What’re you most excited for next?
Suga J: Right now, I’m focusing on blowing this “RESPECKFULLY” record up. I have a big remix that’s on the way. A major remix that’s on the way with a lot of close friends in the industry.
AllHipHop: You gotta tell us who!
Suga J: A few of them were on VERZUZ. [laughs] It’s New York. I might just call it “AllHipHop.” We might have a “AllHipHop” remix coming your way. I’ll definitely debut it with you guys, y’all be the first ones to press play on it. I’m working on an EP. I have a few deals on the table, so we’re working on that. For Members Club, we’re still supplying the demand of the streets.
I come from a cloth that was responsible for a lot of hip-hop, which came from 5001 Flavors and Dapper Dan. Both are responsible for iconic looks for LL Cool J, EPMD, Puff Daddy and Missy Elliott, respectively. To be able to carry that torch and do my part with Members Club, is an honor. I respect the guys that came before me and paved the way.. You speak of Dapper Dan, you speak of Suga J’s Members Club. You speak of 5001 Flavors, you speak of Suga J’s Members Club.