Words by Cassidy Blackwell
Photography by Elton Anderson
The name Kanye West has become synonymous with avant-garde fashion around the world, but what not many people realize is that one of his closest creative influences is also his personal barber. Meet: Ibn Jasper, the man who has not only been keeping Yeezy lined up from before Dropout through Graduation up to the Throne and beyond to Yeezus, but also is 1/4 of Ye’s creative inner circle.
Ibn grew up on the Southside of Chicago, but when he started getting a little closer to a crew with a seedy reputation, his parents moved out to the suburbs. It was out in the ‘burbs that Ibn picked up a hobby that has become perhaps the greatest influence of his life: skateboarding. “I always dreamed of being a big time skater,” Ibn says. “I used to take my board and skate all around downtown.” Outside of his skating, Ibn’s two other life passions began to flourish during this early 90’s period: fashion and barbering.
“Once I started making my own money in high school, I started to buy my own clothes. Girbaud, Nike Air Max. I got into fashion because I didn’t want to be noticed. In high school you get noticed for having bad clothes. I just wanted to blend in,” Ibn explains. During this time, one of his close friends Bilal also taught him how to cut hair. “The first time a barber holds clippers, the vibration, it’s the weirdest sensation. It’s almost unnatural,” Ibn says. However, once he learned how to cut, he never stopped.
Ibn began cutting Kanye’s in their hometown of Chicago in 1995. “We had just heard of this prodigy producer and one day, one of my other clients, John Monopoly, was up at Ye’s house and he asked who cut John’s hair. He told him it was me and eventually I started cutting Ye’s hair too,” Ibn says. When Kanye came through Ibn’s shop, he would always bring with him his latest track, getting a temperature read on the mix from the other clients in the shop. Ibn himself was also a skilled producer for Bump J.; for a while the two would trade discounts on cuts for advice on beats. Eventually Kanye’s career moved him to NYC, leaving his trusted barber back in Chicago. “That was the Orange Hat Period. Whenever he was wearing that orange hat, it means he had gotten a fucked up cut in NYC,” Ibn says with a confident smile. “He always asked me to move to NYC, and I told him ‘when you can pay me what I make in the shop, I’ll move.'”
The media wants to make him this monster. They never focus on his charity.
The final straw was Kanye’s first Fader cover, upon which he appeared with what Ibn calls yet another “fucked up cut”. Kanye used this magazine cover as leverage with his record label to fly Ibn to NYC for a video shoot. Before Kanye’s first tour, he hired Ibn on as his full time personal barber and stylist. With his move out to LA and leaving his clients in Chicago, Ibn received a decent dose of shade. “Motherf****s in Chicago were hatin on me like ‘you just gonna move out there and wind up carrying this N—a’s bag'”, Ibn recalled.
What has since happened couldn’t be further from that.
Ibn currently lives in Kanye’s pre-KK home in the West Hollywood, where he shares his space with other creatives coming through town. He maintains perpetually on hand to keep Kanye’s hair fresh, providing him with innovative designs and new looks. “Our crew is very tight knit and protective of each other,” Ibn explains. “I delete comments off of Kim’s Instagram before she even sees them sometimes,” Ibn says of the rampant social media trolling in their worlds. “I’m the Joe Pesci of our crew. I’ll stab someone in the neck.” In a capsule collection for Louis Vuitton, Kanye even named one of the pairs of shoes ‘Jaspers‘ after Ibn himself. It’s only fitting that the shoes have a wide, flat, skateboard-friendly sole.
Taste to me is like religion. You have your own and I shouldn’t impose my beliefs on you
Ibn describes their creative clique as a diamond, with Kanye sitting at the top and the other three owning their own respective and unique corners. “We are all advisors to each other. There’s endless collaboration between us.” Don C. is the master of the luxury sportswear, Virgil Abloh mans the luxury streetwear scene and Ibn, most naturally, dominates the luxury skate aesthetic. Ibn describes a free flow of ideas and exchange, as well as the giving of sufficient space to one and other to own their respective niches while supporting each other’s brands. “Taste to me is like religion. You have your own and I shouldn’t impose my beliefs on you,” Ibn says.
Ibn’s name made headlines earlier this year when he posted a picture to of the not-yet-released Yeezy Boosts to his own Instagram account. The backstory behind the why gives a glimpse into the true generosity of a man that is often times called one of the most self-obsessed and ego-driven in the world. “We were in the back of the car on the way to the Tidal release and Ye just casually told me to post a pic of the Boosts,” Ibn shares. “Those six photos got me an additional 30,000 followers in a couple of days.” Considering Kanye’s knack for strategic releases and careful planning, it’s likely that it was not pure coincidence that Ibn’s own New York Fashion Week debut of his Cordova Collection was just the week after his name became associated with the most talked about sneaker release of all time. “He had to have thought about the lift that posting the Boosts would give me,” Ibn insists. “He just encouraged me to post. The media wants to make him this monster. They never focus on his charity.”
What started off as a client/barber relationship during their teen years has clearly grown above and beyond what the two men likely anticipated. “Ye is a very, kind close friend”; Ibn states that witnessing Kanye after the death of his mother Dr. Donda West was one of the most difficult experiences of his life. “He was just sitting next to me going through the most raw emotions,” Ibn says. “It was really hard to watch someone, especially him, go through that.”
When it comes to giving advice to others about maintaining their status as a personal barber, Ibn says “Always go above the call of duty. Make yourself an asset to your boss. Ye always says ‘I don’t pay you to cut my hair. I pay you for what you know.'”
So what about the skateboarding? Well it’s still very much alive and thriving in Ibn’s life. Our Bevel Code photographer and Ibn took off on their skateboards to get the shots necessary for this piece, and we captured him truly in his element jumping, five-0 grinding, riding and ollie’ing along the walls and walkways of Venice beach. “Everything in life to me is a skateboard trick,” Ibn explains. “It’s an idea that starts in your head and then you teach your body how to do it. Courage isn’t about being fearless, it’s about facing your fears and doing it again. That’s what skating is to me.”