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LA THROUGH AND TRUE :: The Ben Baller Interview

LA THROUGH AND TRUE :: The Ben Baller Interview

When you think of Ben Baller, you may automatically think of jewelry and the vast list of hip-hop stars he has iced out, perhaps best immortalized by A$AP Ferg’s “Ben Baller did the chain” line on his 2017 Still Striving smash “Plain Jane.”

But if Ben had his way, you’d think: Los Angeles. The City of Angels serves as much more than just a home for Baller — it’s his base. His headquarters. The epicenter. It’s where the money is, it’s where his family is. It’s home to exotic cars, pretty women, and Hollywood. While the good weather never gets old to a native, LA’s sunshine also attracts out-of-towners, infesting the city with their In-N-Out wrappers and Lime scooters. Some even like to talk shit and pretend they know it all, and Ben is not about it.

Born Ben Yang, the legendary jeweler comes from humble beginnings, having seen all sides of the streets while watching Hollywood evolve into what it is today. A CEO in his own right, he’s well aware that LA is the mecca of entertainment and where you go to bring your dreams to life, firmly stating, “you have to come to LA to get paid.”

Having spent five years in San Francisco, the city where he graduated from college (SF State), the IF & Co. founder recognizes that even though the cost of living up north is higher than Beverly Hills, you won’t find the same levels of clout up there. Littered with Ferraris, Rolls Royces, and Lamborghinis, 90210 is the destination for anybody who’s become famous by entertaining or by using “the apps” — Youtube, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, etc. — a phenomenon we see all too often.

What most people may not know is that Ben started out in the music industry, deejaying and even producing for Dr. Dre. However, those days were never as fulfilling as being able to work for himself and call his own shots. Now, he’s created custom jewelry pieces for artists spanning many music genres and generations, from Drake and Kanye West to John Mayer and Justin Bieber.

Ben Baller and streetwear influencer John Mayer

He even made diamond-studded belt buckles for Michael Jackson. In fact, 1995 is the only time Baller can remember being starstruck in LA when he had the pleasure of meeting the late Prince and MJ. Fast forward to 2019, and he’s gone from providing style to icons to being a style icon himself. Featured in K Swiss’ We Are The West campaign, he’s able to tell his inspiring story of creativity, perseverance, and drive, while also challenging audiences to channel their entrepreneurial spirit while striving for success.

The Hundreds caught up with Ben Baller before his panel at the K Swiss launch party at Foot Action in Downtown Los Angeles. The theme? CEOs wear sneakers.

SHIRLEY JU: What was the first piece of jewelry you made that let you know you’d arrived?
BEN BALLER: Shit, it was probably my first or second piece. The first piece was for The Clipse, the second piece was Mariah Carey. Immediately off top, I knew I had made it — literally. Probably around the time of the NBA All-Star game, I think 2007 in Las Vegas, I knew people knew who I was at that time. I had made a name for myself. I don’t really go out to events now. You won’t see me at the All-Star game, BET Awards, no awards shows. If I’m there for a reason, like if I’m winning an Academy Award, cool.

Even if you’re invited?
I’m invited to everything. But being at the All-Star game back then was such a legendary place to be. So much fuckery happened in Vegas. The city will never allow it again, it was the wildest shit ever. People were getting shot, people were throwing dice on the street. It was crazy in Vegas! I solidified a space there because I see Jay, I’m sitting next to Fabolous, whoever was really, really relevant. People were like “who the fuck is this dude?” That’s who he is, boom. From that point on, things just got bigger and bigger.

Ben y Hov

What’s it like seeing so many trends come and go in jewelry and fashion?
It’s a trip. I always love saying I was there from the beginning. All this shit is just a remix now. I was there from the jump. I’m endorsed by some major brands. I’m blessed so it’s tough for me to speak on that. For the most part, I wear a t-shirt from Target, I don’t really give a shit. As long as my watch and my ears are lit, it’s not really a big deal. I’ve always been involved or indirectly involved with fashion. More so than that, music trends trip me out more than fashion trends.

What kind of music trends?
I was in a music video for Coolio. I just thought about how far — some people don’t know about this person, that person, this person. I remember 13 years ago, I was at a party and these kids just got signed. They were rappers. A song came on, it was Boogie Down Productions “I’m Still #1.” This is a legendary hip-hop song. They were like, “yo, who’s this?” I looked at the dude and couldn’t fucking believe these three kids didn’t know who KRS-1 was, or who Boogie Down Productions was. I was just kind of saddened. Now, forget it!

Coolio had a lot of different reasons for being famous, not just for winning the Academy Award but also winning Grammys, etc. Dangerous Minds, that soundtrack was so big. I was in a Coolio video for a song called “Fantastic Voyage.” One of the biggest DJs ever in Power 106 history, Big Boy, was in the video with me. This was even before he was a DJ. I’ve known Big Boy forever.

Anybody 25 and under would have no idea. It’s sad to me. I studied everything that was before my time. When I was 18-years-old, that was 1991. I studied everything from 1965 forward, and hip-hop only really started in the late 70s, early 80s. There’s a lot to digest in music today but it’s sad that these trends come by and people don’t understand. They don’t get it.

I just saw this flyer today for The Roots Picnic. I’m like “holy shit!” You got The Roots, you got City Girls, 21 Savage, and you have Mos Def. That’s a very wide spectrum of hip-hop. To coexist in the space is crazy, it’s really super far apart. You’re talking about a Chrysler 300 C, then a rare $3M Pagani, then you go over to a Benz, E-Class not even S-Class with the AMG kit, then you go over and see a Lamborghini. It’s such a fucking spread. It’s a trip.

What are your thoughts on Rolling Loud?
I’ve been to Rolling Loud twice. I have friends or partners of mine, I own a company with A$AP Rocky so I’m part of AWGE. He headlined the first one, it was way the fuck out past Irvine. It’s funny, they had everyone who was super relevant in that world at that point: Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi, Rae Sremmurd, every single person! I met a lot of these people there and they all knew me. They all looked up to me and showed me a lot of respect.

A year later, Rolling Loud was at Anaheim Stadium. I remember Uzi was one of the headliners at that point, I went out there with him. To tell you the truth, I really have no interest in doing that, but me and Cudi became so close he’s like “why don’t do roll with me to Miami?” I might go out there just to go with him. We might not even stay, just to go to do the show and fly back that night at 2 AM.