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American Rockstar
Glam squad: "There's no rules, no regulations, no limits on anything we do," says American Rockstar manager Anthony Graves (center).

Glam squad: "There's no rules, no regulations, no limits on anything we do," says American Rockstar manager Anthony Graves (center). (Photo by Jeff Fusco)

White Riot

PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY (JUNE 6, 2007)
BY KATE KILPATRICK

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For many Philly high schoolers, the days before a Rockstar party are a rush to find the most colorful retro outfits—the freshest Nike Dunks or craziest Ice Cream sneakers, Members Only jackets, skinny-leg jeans, “dope ropes” (fat gold chains), neck bandannas and bright eyeglass frames with the lenses removed. And of course anything by local clothing label American Rockstar—Ts, hoodies, jeans, blazers, skullcaps, even underwear.

“Three days before a party, money comes like this,” says American Rockstar designer Kahzeem Wilmore, 18, snapping his fingers. “Once we put it on MySpace, it’s over.”

Wilmore, who graduated from Northeast High last year and plans to attend the Art Institute in the fall, started designing shirts as a painter at Miskeen Originals, a local clothing line well-received by the hip-hop industry. Last summer he and longtime friend Isaiah Mathis, a junior at Delaware Valley Charter high school, started their own line of custom-painted pop streetwear. They decided on the American Rockstar name in September, and with their dozen-plus crew of models, street-team promoters and childhood friends supporting them, started throwing fashion shows at local high schools including Bartram, Delaware Valley and Northeast.

“I don’t look to a lot of designers, I look more to artists—like Warhol,” says Wilmore, sitting with his American Rockstar family on the porch of an Olney home. “My stuff is more like pop art—a lot of collages and random stuff.”

Mathis’ pieces tend to have a heavier dose of old-school rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic. “I do the skull thing, cities, crazy letters, tie-dye art, rhinetones, chains,” he says. T-shirts go for about $35; $45 to $50 for any size bigger than XXL.

Though born and bred in Philly—and not yet of drinking age—the American Rockstar crew is part of a larger “rockstar” trend sweeping across the country, evidenced by hip-hop culture expanding into and borrowing from rock music, art and fashion. Harlem rapper Jim Jones of the Dipset crew brought a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic to hip-hop fashion about a year ago with his characteristic skull pendants and belt buckles, studded bracelets and metal wallet chains.

But the rock influence didn’t surface in rap music until “Party Like a Rockstar” by the Atlanta-based Shop Boyz hit radio in April. (By May the rockstar anthem was the No. 1 ringtone in the country, although the Shop Boyz’s debut album Rockstar Mentality doesn’t even hit stores until June 19.) Now bandanna-wearing skulls with crossbones are popping up all over hip-hop clothing, accessories, music videos and party fliers.

Like “snap” music—another recent hip-hop subgenre imported from Atlanta—”‘hood rock” (as the Shop Boyz call their creation) doesn’t glorify the street life or dope-dealing “trap” stars. Instead it’s about living life to the fullest and, yes, partying hard and having fun. Air guitars and mosh pits included. (Drugs and alcohol? Not so much.)

“That song’s not just a song. It’s a way of life we live,” says 19-year-old Anthony Graves, American Rockstar’s manager/producer. “It’s a culture or a movement. We’re expressing the other side of rock–it’s not just a Caucasian thing.”

Graves says the Rockstar movement captures the best of both worlds. Rockstars will listen to artists like Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Juelz Santana. But they’ll also listen to Guns N’ Roses, Gym Class Heroes and Ozzy Osbourne. And dip into skateboarding culture as well—Pharrell is their style icon.

“Pharrell’s somewhere up there on the same note we are. He’s already in the industry, and he doesn’t care about what people say,” Graves explains. “Skating’s not your average black thing. Before everyone was Rocawear-ed out, or wearing State Property or jerseys. Everybody wants to be unique now.”

Graves, who’s been skateboarding off and on for eight years, says he’s adding a skate team to the American Rockstar talent roster. “We’re young. We’re glamorous. There’s no rules, no regulations, no limits on anything we do,” he adds.

For now the American Rockstar clothing line is available by word of mouth alone, or by getting in touch with members over MySpace. Or going to the hyped-up Rockstar parties.

“It’s about to hit hard,” Graves promises. “Soon it’ll be ridiculous not to have any American Rockstar.”

Party Like a Rockstar
Fri., June 15, 9pm-2am. $12. Under 21. With Golden Girl + American Rockstar. Starlight Ballroom, Ninth and Spring Garden sts. 215.769.1530

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