The Hiphop Shop, the clothing store and rap battleground that spawned the careers of Eminem, Proof and Slum Village, is being resurrected. But the reopening, by Detroit entrepreneur Kevin "Hustle Simmons" Brown, has triggered a battle itself, as Brown does not have the blessing of the Shop's original owners.
"I decided to open it because there was a void in the Detroit hip-hop market," Brown says of his vision of the 15736 W. Seven Mile Road venue, which celebrated its grand opening last week. "There was a need for a place for hip-hop heads and rappers and people who appreciate the culture to come and mold and network and have a medium in the city of Detroit."
Opened in 1993 by Maurice Malone to promote his hip-hop apparel line, Maurice Malone Designs, the Hip-hop Shop quickly evolved into a rap venue, with D12 member (and Eminem's right-hand rapper) Proof hosting popular open-mike nights every Saturday. The often heated rap battles at the Shop would go on to inspire scenes in the semi-biographical Eminem vehicle, 8 Mile.
By 1997, however, Malone and his partner Jerome Mongo decided to close the venue, relocating to New York City to focus on the clothing line. This is Brown's second attempt at resurrecting the spot: In 1998 he opened a new incarnation of the Hip-hop Shop further down Seven Mile Road, which lasted for a year. (The new Shop's timing, hot on the heels of its predecessor, was not quite right, says Brown.)
Malone is now concerned that the use of the name by Brown, who calls himself "one of the most recognized names in Detroit hip-hop and Detroit entertainment at large," is misleading. "[Brown] didn't have my approval to open it as the Hip-hop Shop that everyone knows I owned," says Malone. "It sounds [like we're] related to his store. Have you seen Coming to America? It's like the guy opening 'McDowell's' and saying it's 'McDonald's.'" Brown's logo, claims Malone, is similar to his, toeing the line of trademark infringement and inciting him to consider a lawsuit.
According to Brown, however, he didn't need Malone's approval, since the trademark had expired. Besides, says Brown, "This is not about him or me. This is about Detroit." He challenges Malone directly: "If you really, truly cared about that store, and you cared about the name of that shop, you would not have abandoned it for almost ten years. You abandoned your child, your baby. If you ever want to come back and get it, we can sit down like men." The new Shop's grand opening featured an open-mike night and an on-site video shoot with local rappers Dreco and Cadoe.
But Malone says he still has plans for the Hip-hop Shop as a franchise: An apparel line is due in October (at thehiphopshop.com), and he envisions a television show and movie series. Also at his Web site is a piece of history: footage of an early Eminem rap battle. Malone is, however, keeping other archival footage under wraps in the hopes of attracting interest from production companies.
Proof remembers those early days well and says he is torn about the resurrection of the Shop. "I checked it out," he says. "Opening a clothing store with urban retailers is a great thing to do, and something we wanted to be a part of. But when the people that basically made that store what it was are not involved, it makes no sense. It's going to bring about some mixed emotions."