Jeff Ng – b/k/a Jeff Staple – is truly never not working. The founder/owner/creative director of the Staple Design empire – which includes Staple Clothing and Lower East Side NYC lifestyle boutique/gallery storefront, The Reed Space (outside which sneaker connoisseurs may be regularly found encamped in anticipation of limited edition Staple-designed “Pigeon” releases) – he’s a walking, talking, tweeting testament to what can be achieved with an undying passion and commitment to communication through design. Starting out in the ’90s pushing silk-screened t-shirts as a one-man operation, he’s seen Staple go on to become a street-wear standard-bearer, with its design arm working world with the likes of Burton Snowboards, Converse, The Gap, HBO, Levi’s, New Balance, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Nike, Puma, Timberland, and many others. Music, of course, being central to his aesthetic, Jeff here shares some thoughts on the recordings that changed his life.
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1. Michael Jackson - "Billie Jean" (Epic, 1982)
Jeff Staple: It’s nearly impossible to pick a single Michael Jackson that can encapsulate what he means to me. But fuck it, “Billie Jean” it is. Why? Mainly because it meant so much to me as a youth, but later on, when I was spinning regularly in NYC clubs, I could still play this song and rock the crowd. I remember when I was a kid and I bought this 45 in Pathmark (a SUPERMARKET!) for $.99. Shit blew my mind.
2. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - "New York City" (Arista, 1976)
Jeff Staple: Gil taught me how to fight. Fight everything: Parents. Teachers. The Man. The Norm. The What I Was Supposed To Be. Gil helped me forge what I would become. Now which song? It was a close fight between this one and “Home Is Where The Hatred Is.” When I was starting Staple and was constantly on the road trying to jump start the business (and the culture), this song was heavy on repeat in my headphones. But then as I settled in, I was reminded by him again of where that “home” was — New York City… “I don’t know why I love you/ Maybe it’s cuz you remind me of myself.”
3. Stevie Wonder - "Living For The City" (Tamla, 1973)
Jeff Staple: There’s a theme here right? When I grew up in New Jersey in the ’80’s, this was not the Stevie I was introduced to. The Stevie I knew then was “I Just Called To Say I Love You”-Stevie. Then I got learned about the early Wonder years and it blew my mind. Kinda indirectly also taught me that people can change. Maybe a message is best told when it spreads to the masses. I often look at Stevie and Gil Scott as parallel people that took different paths in life.
4. Reflection Eternal - "2000 Seasons" (Rawkus, 1997)
Jeff Staple: To me, Rawkus represents the last golden era of hip-hop. I was blessed to serve a tiny part in it. You cannot fathom how these Kweli lyrics impacted me. I was a late ’90s newly transplanted NYC kid trying to hand print tees and hustle them in downtown boutiques. What a time. What a time… I was so impressionable then. In retrospect, I feel like if I was listening to some other type of music, it could have changed my whole being. Instead, I was trying to get into Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and see live Roots shows at Wetlands. “Intellectuals embarrassed ‘cuz we discuss in ebonics.”
5. Led Zeppelin - "Stairway to Heaven" (Atlantic, 1972)
Jeff Staple: Ahh…high school. The “experimental” days. This song takes me back to laser light shows, keg parties and lickin’ stamps. Where I grew up in New Jersey, it was 99% white people. So that aspect is all part of the stew that makes me up. This is actually a beautiful song. Like, the construction of the song is amazing. The highs, lows, ebbs and flows. It’s a mental journey. Maybe that’s why they call it “trippin.”