Is that the first time you’ve really looked back on the brand in this way?
Yeah. There’s a purpose. It’s about doing these art objects and really doing them for my friends. The majority of this stuff is going to my friend network, colleagues, collaborators, and artists I admire that I’ve worked with. Being able to have that moment and have the folks at the Ecko brand give me that space to do it that way—each piece is hand signed—I wanted to treat them like an art object. It’s not about fashion anymore for me. I didn’t approach this like it was a fashion exercise.
I have a job. I’m doing philanthropy. I’m working in complicated systems on education reform, on climate -elated issues, on cultural and justice-related issues. So this was like a vocation. This had to be extracurricular, and it had to be something that was built with a lot of love. So hopefully when people see it, they feel it. They just feel this love letter. I just wanted to make a love letter to 1993.
The brand was so big for so long. There’s so much to look back on. Do you have a particular moment tied to the brand that sticks out to you when you look back on everything?
I think one of the most important moments of my career was not a singular moment. My career is made up of a lot of really catalytic events. I think what was interesting about Ecko compared to other brands is that we were kind of unrelenting. We were like that underdog punching above our weight class. I credit a lot of that confidence and affirmation and validation to Michael “MC Serch” Berrin. Serch was a very, very important part of the equation. I was a kid going to Rutgers University, still enrolled in the pharmacy school, airbrushing live at the Lyricist Lounge—shoutout to Danny Castro and Anthony Marshall. But MC Serch was like this superhero from my childhood that presented himself as a peer. He said, “I wanna help you. I believe in what you’re doing.” Suddenly, I was in his orbit. Serch was very connected in the music industry. He was like an MC’s MC. He deserves a lot of flowers. Serch helped me reframe how I look at marketing. He was an advocate for me. So I give him a lot of props.
I’m 28. A lot of my memories tied to Ecko are you being the quarterback of Team Ecko on Madden or the Getting Up video game. I’m watching the X Games on ESPN and Mike Metzger is wearing an Ecko jersey. You were penetrating so many areas of culture in the 2000s. Do you look back on those moments as big wins for the brand, or do you feel like you were spreading the brand a bit too thin by that point?
I think I spread myself too thin. I think brands are fairly durable. The humans behind the brand, what’s under the hood, is what matters. Brands are only as good as the actions of the stewards. I think those things helped the brand with differentiation. I also started Complex around that time, so it was a wild period in my life. I was in my 30s. They say do what you’re good at in your 30s. I took that really literally and I went for it. But from a management point of view, could I have done things differently? Sure. Did it affect my ability to shepherd the brand in a more effective way to operate as effective as I could? Sure. But so did the financial crash. These things happen. I don’t regret any of it. It’s my story. If it didn’t happen that way, then Complex might not happen the way that it did. If Complex doesn’t happen in the way it happened, I might not be working in the field I’m in now. No regrets.
If you go back to 2007, the market was incredibly frothy. The markets crash. Anyone who is operating on deep credit, like most of the big retail brands were at the time, mine included, suddenly their inventory became a real risk. You’re making money, but you’re burning money because the cost of the business is getting increasingly harder and the banks are putting more constraints on you. It was hard, man. It was like an Ivy League education, better than Ivy League education. I know a lot of Ivy League people. They don’t come close to having learned what I learned.
When you were dipping your toe into video games at that time, was your vision to really go all into that piece of the company? Did you envision sequels and growing that more?
Oh, absolutely. I’m very proud of that period because it’s incredibly difficult to launch original intellectual property in gaming. It’s one of the hardest mediums to break through. And Getting Up was sort of a testament to slow and steady, working my way through the ranks of EA all the way up to [EA Chief Creative Officer] Bing [Gordon]. I kept myself in front of all those executives at Ubisoft and then eventually Atari. I had to get a dozen no’s to get one yes. And that’s all I needed. I put my money where my mouth was. I prototyped the game. I paid for all the pre-visualization of the game. I was writing the script for Getting Up from 1998 to 2003.
A lot of people hit me all the time on social media about the game. I’m working on a film adaptation right now. Things that are good take time. They’re hard to do. I’m not approaching things in this phase of my life with commercial pressure. It’s got to be what’s in my head.
But long story short, I definitely had a vision for Mark Ecko Entertainment. Now I’m much more content working on a very focused format and going narrow and deep. That’s what I’ve learned over my creative career. I didn’t have that in my 30s. It was wide and shallow. I could show you I could do all these things. I’m a multi-hyphenate. And if you look at what was happening within hip-hop culture at the time, there was this mogul thing that was a part of the extreme sport of being at the top of your game. You can’t be boxed in. You have to be unlimited. Eventually, you realize that constraints are actually good. Constraints drive better creative execution. But I don’t regret trying all those different things. I learned a lot.