One of my favorite moments of the 1990s—and I mean this sincerely—was when LL Cool J did a commercial for GAP in 1999 where he not only showed up rocking a FUBU hat but also worked “for us, by us on the low” into the rap he did about GAP. In one 30-second spot, LL Cool J used all of his cultural cool to effectively sneak a whole-ass FUBU commercial into a GAP commercial. As it turns out, GAP didn’t know (or realize); but the Black community? We knew. From The Root:
“FUBU” also made it into the rapper’s rhyme; in fact, he winkingly throws in “for us, by us, on the low”—which proved true. Apparently, neither Gap’s creative team nor execs realized LL had slipped in some free advertising for the independently owned Black brand until the commercial had already been on the air for several weeks and fashion-heads were falling into the Gap looking for FUBU. Initially horrified by the cross-promotion, the numbers—a 300 percent increase in sales from the Black community—told a truth more labels should’ve heeded decades ago: Blackness makes everything better.
Blackness does, indeed, make everything better.
Back to that commercial: it’s interesting that the commercial is one of my favorite moments because it has less to do with FUBU and more to do with the ability to get one over on “the man,” which creates an ironic revisitation of history for me. While I enjoyed LL working FUBU into the commercial, I actually didn’t like FUBU at all. I used to think FUBU, at the time, was super corny. I don’t know if it was the logo or that it felt a little too present in department stores and on white people, but even though I knew it was Black-owned (you couldn’t be a hip-hop fan in the mid-’90s and not know; FUBU was founded in 1992 by Daymond John and Co.), I had little desire to support the brand. In fact, I don’t remember anybody in my high school doing so either, though that may be selective memory. I went to high school in Madison, Ala., a suburb of Huntsville, Ala., and FUBU really seems like it would have fit our aesthetic back then.
I did an informal poll/question on Facebook where I asked people if they ever bought FUBU and where folks were from. I was surprised at how many of the 250+ comments were from people who proudly rocked FUBU (or would have if it weren’t so expensive). Obviously, there were people who didn’t at all, and informally, Washington, D.C. was not rocking with FUBU at all, though that makes sense, considering how many homegrown apparel lines existed in the city during FUBU’s heyday.
Given who I am now, I’m slightly perplexed by my anti-FUBU stance. Granted, I thought it was corny, but 2021 Panama Jackson supports tons of things I will never wear (typically upon arrival since lots of things don’t look like the pictures) merely because they’re Black-owned. I cannot tell you how many T-shirts, wares, home good items, etc. I’ve purchased in the past decade PURELY because the company was Black-owned and I wanted to support. Hell, in 2021, I’ve purchased Cross Colours T-shirts like it was 1993 all over again. African American Collegiate Alliance hoodies? I’ve spent over $100 on single items like I was about to roll up on Hillman College for homecoming.
Yet, I still haven’t purchased anything from FUBU. And that’s not to say I won’t. But I am stuck on why I was so anti to begin with. Maybe it’s the super “on the nose” name of the company, which Solange managed to flip into a Blackness anthem on her A Seat at the Table album. But the company is iconic; literally, if you say “FUBU,” the name recognition alone is enough for me be proud of Daymond John, who I happily watch and root for to beat out everybody else on Shark Tank weekly (or when he’s on) for a good deal.
I think if FUBU were to drop today, I’d be all over it. It seems like many of us in the Black community are making more of an effort than ever to support and patronize companies owned and operated by Black people. I’d probably have 10 FUBU shirts in different colors if the company dropped in 2020. But I don’t—not yet. And maybe I assumed that most folks didn’t rock with FUBU because I didn’t see a ton of it in high school, though I remember seeing more being worn in college. I need to shake off whatever “corniness” I associated with the brand back then because they are literally “for us, by us” and that’s a life mantra in the Black community I support and believe in. In 2021, FUBU is literally a way of life.
It’s amazing how things you can associate with a different period of life manage to hold the same resonance even if you’re a different person. But my support for my community at this point (definitely) supersedes those younger ideas. Plus, that FB is kind of fly. So if you see me rocking a FUBU hoodie (I’ve been looking), know that 2021 me “gets it.” Should have years ago. To quote LL, “how easy is this?”
In 2021, too easy.