In 1997, Faheem Alexander met Tariq Trotter (better known as Black Thought of The Roots) through a mutual friend, hanging out near South Street in Philly. He gave him a business card and a trim shortly after. Now, more than 15 years later, Faheem is still cutting hair for the members of The Roots, has a sweet gig at The Tonight Show, a line of custom Faheem Alexander branded sheers, a men’s beard moisturizing oil called Bully Beard, and owns a barbershop named Faheem’s Hand’s of Precision in Philly. He’s also known as one of the pioneers of the Philly Beard, which in case you’re one of the very few not familiar with the aesthetic, is easily found on any social site when searching #phillybeard.
He’s been thanked in album liner notes, named in The Roots’ song “Sacrifice” and commutes twice a week to the Tonight Show studio in Manhattan to give band members, crew members and a few other celebs a trim before going live. If you’ve ever admired Black Thought’s crisply lined beard, you’re already a fan of his work. Bevel Code readers are probably also familiar with his input into the “Your Best Beard” grooming series.
On one of his recent stops in New York, we got the chance to talk to Faheem at I Salon on E. 10th Street, where he gave Questlove his weekly pre-Tonight Show beard trim. We caught up with both of them about their grooming attitudes, busy schedules and the #phillybeard phenomenon.
Bevel Code: Can you tell me what a standard week or pre-show routine looks like for both of you?
Faheem: My basic week starts Monday. Prayer. Breakfast. Take my daughter to school. Gym. Monday I go to NBC maybe around 2pm. Leave Philly around noon. I like the transit system in New York. Definitely like New York and I’m going on my sixth year of working there so I’ve seen all the a-listers. I’m the barber for the Jimmy Fallon show, so I cut some of the production staff as well. Jay Pharaoh comes down to get his haircut. I cut Tracy Morgan’s hair up until his accident.
It’s so quick because they tape at 5pm in the evening then I’m on the bus back to Philadelphia and a lot of the times I have clients waiting for me there for evening cuts. My day doesn’t end till 10:30 or 11pm at night. Then I’m back to New York on Thursdays.
Questlove: There are two different types of shows but I do the same thing for both. The pre-show routine for The Roots show, I like silence for at least a half hour before going on stage while the rest of The Roots like to turn up because they gotta get hype. A pre-game turn up. However, we are not allowed to turn up before The Tonight Show. We’d all get sent to HR. Usually it’s more hectic at The Tonight Show. Rehearsal usually runs overtime, so there’s a lot of rushing. Usually an hour before, I’ll say four pm, is when the hammer sort of strikes down. You’ve got to figure out which color you’re going to wear. Which bowtie you’re going to rock. Make sure it doesn’t overlap with another performer. See you’d think that the most hair obsessed person of The Roots would be probably the most obsessed with grooming. But I probably groom the least. I get shaped up once a week. Those guys would shape themselves up once every two hours if they could. (both Faheem and Questlove laugh)
But you know, shaping up your beard and getting shapes ups is next to having clean socks and drawers. That’s the best feeling in the world. Before I was on the The Tonight Show this would be a treat. I would let how many months go by, Faheem, before I’d see you?
Faheem: At least five months.
Questlove: I’d let decades go by! Before The Tonight Show I’d get shaped up maybe four times a year. Until I looked like Grizzly Adams.
The member that could hold out the least for getting his hair straight was Tariq. Tariq would fly you to Europe, right? Tariq would fly you to Europe just to get a shape up. That’s how obsessed with being clean Tariq was. I go on Tariq’s clock. ‘Oh Tariq is desperate for a cut, he’s going to fly him all the way here just to get a cut…’
Faheem: That was a career high. Like, I’m going all the way over there just to shape a customer up.
The first time I actually left Philadelphia was because The Roots. I went on a 50 city tour with them in the year 2000. Six weeks. It was the Ok Player tour. I met George Clooney. It was the first time I ever went to California. First time I saw the sunset on the Pacific Coast.
BC: Describe the Philly Beard and the rise in popularity of beards in general?
Faheem: The Philly Beard is like the Islamic Sunnah. That’s how it is in Philadelphia, guys want their beard to grow to the highest point possible. To get a nice sharp and crisp line on the shape up of your beard.
That’s the stigma. That’s the enigma. That’s the tell all in Philadelphia. You have to have a tight line. That’s how you can actually tell where a person is from. Like for a while people thought Rick Ross was from Philadelphia. His barber does a very good job of trimming him up.
Questlove: As a Philadelphian you have to know that full beards are, I can’t even say inner city Philadelphians because now the hipsters…
Faheem: Its rural. All parts of the city have beards.
Questlove: I can’t say its just black men anymore, because now hipster cats in Northern Liberties rep their beards just as hard and as full as inner city dudes. Tariq grew up with Faheem. So he’s like “I don’t trust my beard to nobody but him.” Faheem is the pioneer of some of the sharpest cuts and shape ups in South Philly. You have to find favor in his eyes to cut the line at his spot. Cats come in at 11 in the morning they’ll be lucky to leave at 2, because they have to wait. And I’m being nice by saying that. It’ll be more like 4pm. But it’s a fun environment to say the least.
Faheem: There’s no HR department there. Turn up.
Questlove: He’s come a long way. His spot is that neighborhood environment. Mothers take their son there for their first cut. Some cat come in that wants to sell you something. They always got jokes in there. They have debates.
Tariq and I, we have two different sets of standards. So when we record music, Tariq is always thinking, “what are they going to think about the end result at the barbershop.” I always think about certain groups of critics that I hang with. That’s covering two different kinds of spectrums, two different kinds of standards.
Faheem: We have listened to The Roots records in the barbershop to get the neighborhood’s take on the record first.
Questlove: Tariq’s bottom line is, “I’ve got to get this barbershop approved first.” Then I have to make sure its critic approved. A lot of scrutinizing and arguments have occurred trying to please both demographics. But it’s important.
So I’ve been a customer of his for about… I think I started going to you in ‘99?
Faheem: Yeah. ’99. 15 years.
Questlove: When we did Things Fall Apart, I think I got my first cut then.
Faheem: It was a shoot for the marketing for Def Jam. It was the first time I had my name in the credits of a record.
BC: How did the signature afro come about?
Questlove: My hair grows too fast to really maintain. It’s always growing. So at one point, I was always trying to get it braided and have it groomed at a respectable level because it wouldn’t stop growing. I would also trim it so that split ends wouldn’t cause my hair to fall out. I’ve always had this fro. Had this fro since I was 3. Hard to get rid of. I got lucky.
BC: What have you learned from Faheem about grooming:
Questlove: I didn’t realize how important it was. I used to have the disposition of scruffy musician. Faheem was the first one to tell me, you’ve got to maintain your hair because its all good now at 23 but when you turn 40, you’ll start balding if you don’t oil it and give it treatments and that sort of stuff. That’s when I started taking it more seriously. If it weren’t for him I’d be bald by now.
There are cats that brush [their beards] every twelve seconds. What was his name in Poetic Justice that used to always have the beard shaper? I leave it to the professionals.