Ferrari Sheppard. A man of many hats: writer, web designer, visual artist, philanthropist, ex-video bro, and social critic. Ferrari Sheppard, a man who self-effacingly inspires many to analyze everyone and everything from self to politics and religion through social media. Ferrari Sheppard, the man who runs Stop Being Famous, an online haven for individuals who possess an allure for the humanities.
After a three-year hiatus, Stop Being Famous is back like it never left and better than it was ever—an abundance of innovative music, interviews, visual art, world news and random “stuff.” To learn more about the mastermind, Mass Appeal’s Zanyra called him and discussed his passions, counter culture, hope for the future, ’90s babies and coolness. Ferrari Sheppard, a human being who does not cater to a set audience, but creates them. Here’s what was said:
You seem to be a man of many hats, from art to activism and philanthropy to social criticism. Could you choose a word or phrase to solidify what your passion is?
I don’t consider myself an activist at all, I know what the dictionary definition of the term means, and people classify me as that, but I tend to stay away from the title of activist or activism. For a specific reason, and the reason is that with activism in my experience I’ve witnessed a lot of elitists—there are elitists in activism. Sometimes, it feels like everyone has a good heart and they want to help, but then it turns out to be a situation where everyone is competing against each other, like who’s the most active. I think that’s bull, you know? Either do something because your heart is pulling you in that direction or you don’t do it at all; it’s not because someone’s watching or to put notches on your activism belt (Laughs). So, no I wouldn’t consider myself an activist, I’m a human being who responds to social injustices, sometimes I respond to it by saying, “Man, that’s messed up” and depending on how much I can help, I either act or don’t act. In terms of passion, my passions are definitely art based and social justice. Social justice is very important to me. It’s simple to the point of saying, “I live in this world, and I’m concerned about this world.” You know? Period. I don’t understand how a person cannot, artists especially, cannot look around and be concerned with the world we live in. You understand?
Yes, I agree. Your website, Stop Being Famous focuses on music, art, culture and world news. What inspired you to create Stop Being Famous, and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Stop Being Famous, it was a joke; it was a period in my life where I was staying in this house with these punk-like kids. I’m a Black man from Brooklyn; I really never lived with White kids. It was a great experience because it was so different from where I had come from. I’m like, I’m living with these kids and we’re starving, broke, you know, we’re basically feeding the dog off of Ramen noodles, and just living real bad (Laughs). So, at the time, I had a few friends that were in the industry, some singers and things like that. So, I would hang out with different people, who some would consider to be stars and I would see the light and dark in their life. Stop Being Famous was created—the name was kind of a killing joke; it was a joke, but it was dead serious. There’s a part of us as human beings that are all gravitated towards the illusion, the fantasy, the allure of fame, what we perceive fame to be and we run towards it.
On the internet, everybody wants to be famous. You know, you see it on their blogs, their Tumblrs, and posing on the red carpet in their apartment (Laughs); at the same time, I think that we’re all able to learn and be taught by fame, what fame can bring, what it means, and what it can turn people into. So, the best expression I could come up with to sum up that push and pull, the duality within myself, was Stop Being Famous. You know, Stop Being Famous, it’s depicted as stop being famous and look around at the world and understand that fame and reality TV is all a façade. It used to be, I’m guessing because I wasn’t alive, it used to be where someone was good at playing the drums in their village, and they came around and played the drums, and they were well known, but there was not a celebrity culture like we formed in the west, and all over the world. That’s how Stop Being Famous was brought up. And as far as what I wish to accomplish with it, it started out where I was basically interviewing some of my friends, but then some prolific companies started to contact me to book interviews for other artists. Then, the questions came, “Okay, you’re doing this thing, but how are you monetizing?” You know, you can’t do anything in this society, in a capitalist society, without the question of, “Are you making money?” So, of course I had to go back to the drawing board and I said well, I have to keep this thing afloat because it was pro bono, but I could no longer pro bono for free (Laughs) and I knew that couldn’t carry on. In terms of where I plan to pitch the brand, it is what it is already, it’s very counterculture, it’s everything we want so say in this generation, but we can’t articulate it. It’s on the tips of everybody’s tongue, and it’s the truth, the truth! The interviews on Stop Being Famous, you will never get the kind of stock questions like, “How was it working with Dr. Dre?” We don’t care how it was working with Dr. Dre. You know, “what was the most definitive moment of your life?” we want to know that. That’s what Stop Being Famous is about.
Prior to Stop Being Famous, what was your hustle?
Most people they want to say, “I’m a Renaissance man.” Not me, they call themselves a Renaissance man and woman, most of the times it’s true; but in my case it’s absolutely true. The reason is because I’m a painter, that’s what I was doing before I started Stop Being Famous, I was painting, trying to get my paintings in galleries. I was painting this hyper-realistic type of stuff, some of the stuff can be found online. I noticed that there was a problem, I was trying to get into these galleries, and everybody was just dissing me. It didn’t matter how my art looked, it was about what type of persona I had build up for myself. So, I started to figure it out, I said wait a minute, this is really bureaucracy. So, I went off and I said, I’m just going to go off and build my name doing something else that’s part of my passion, and then maybe someone will be interested in my art. If you really want to know the truth, I think it’s almost impossible for more two black artists to be famous at once.
Reason I say that no more than two black people can be famous at the same time in the art world—tokenization I think happens a lot. I think if Jean Michel Basquiat, he’s brilliant obviously, but he was also a token black person. If he looked like Ving Rhymes I don’t think he would have been invited to dinner parties. If he looked like the guy from The Green Mile (Michael Clarke Duncan), I don’t he’ll be on the cover of magazines or posing with Warhol. It’s like Black artists and artists of color are exoticized in the art world, to the point where what we produce has to be primal, or it has to come from some type of pain, or a window into urban life. No one wants to talk about race, but it’s very racially propelled— especially when it comes to Black artists. In many times, speaking to Jean Michel in interviews, people would say, “Your work is very primitive.” (Laughs) I went off on a tangent, but that’s why I decided to go off into another lane because fine art, I went to school at the Art Institute and I saw the bureaucracy in it, and the racial undertone of how easy it is to be tokenized. A lot of artists, they fall into that—they play the role. Artists like Kehinde Wiley, he’s painting what is tolerable to Europeans, here is a Black man who is painting in the style of Early Renaissance or this kind of romantic type of Realism and it’s tolerable to White people. He’s a great painter; it’s just a lot I can say about that (Laughs).
Do you still paint?
I paint for admission, specifically. At this point, you want your dog painted I’ll paint it. In terms of expressing myself, I feel that everything is a way whenever there’s a movement. That’s one challenge because when there’s a movement, you either get caught into the wave of the movement or you go to the left of the movement. When there’s no movement, which is kind of happening today in the art world, other than video and some multimedia web—there’s no real, strong movement like post-modernism. In essence, this is the best time to create art, any type of art because there’s not much out; there’s a lot out, but there’s nothing that is like, “Wow! This is the movement. This is the grunge movement, this is the so and so movement, Harlem Renaissance.” Nothing exists right now. This is terror alert, war time, group think time. (Laughs) You know, whoever is creating something, this is like the best time; you have the opportunity to shine, if that’s what you really want to do.
I know you’re a profound supporter of Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and 2-Pac; in your opinion, what do you feel art and culture of today is missing?
My first instinct is to say everything, and my second instinct is to say nothing. I understand that the ’90s babies of today are dealing with a lot; not to say that the generation that preceded them didn’t deal with a lot, it’s just that when you take it in account the ’90s babies’ whole life was flashed images of terror and fear and all of this fear mongering that goes on in the media, that’s what they grew up in and they grew up in the ruins of the crack era and gentrification. So, if they are a little lost, I think we should understand that. And I don’t want them to be anything else than what they are because whatever they are, they’re searching for that to tell their story.
I think that it is important for the audience that came before, to allow that room and space. There would never had been a Public Enemy if there had not been a 1960’s movement in the United States. So in essence, it took the Crack Era, and a whole lot for Chuck D to formulate his idea and logic—it grew out of something that was totally opposite of what it stood for, which was the Crack Era, it was the opposite of that. So, I think it’s important to let these kids just figure shit out, gotta let them figure it out. And it’s older ones too, because we always want to say, “Oh, yesterday was so great.” And it was great, but today is today. You know?
Any non-cliché advice for young enigmatic adults who are aspiring multifarious artists and “world changers”?
Yeah, I have some cliché and non-cliché advice. First of all, Malcolm Jamal Warren told me this, this is funny because he’s supposed to be like Mr. Cosby Show guy, but he’s not. This is what he told me, make sure the thing that you’re doing is what you want to do, that’s one of the biggest mistakes young artists make. Basically, they go in and they say, “I want to be a rapper.” And they haven’t experienced what it means to be a famous rapper, they haven’t seen it for themselves; they don’t know that sometimes these rappers are getting ten cents from their albums, they’re getting pimped by, you know, a fat sixty year old White man in an office, you know? That Benz that they’re driving is not even theirs and they owe their record company. (Laughs) you know what I’m saying, they don’t know the realities of it, and so their dream is based on a façade.
I think it’s important to throw yourself notes first hand. You know, if you’re in school and you want to be a fashion designer, don’t bullshit around, don’t wait for the career office to help you out. Write people, and say, “I will work for free for you. I will be your slave; I will come in and just lean on a wall, just to be in that environment.” You never know what will happen, you might be offered a job, but you get to see what it really means to be a fashion designer, the good and the bad. I think that’s the most important thing to understand because you get into something, you actually get the fame you’ve been wanting. Then, you realize you’re broke, because fame does not equate money; and you need money to feed your children, or yourself. So, that’s my advice to artists.
What is your definition of cool? On a scale of 1-10, how cool are you?
Cool to me is not being afraid to face the truth about your self. Okay, also cool to me, obviously having a little bit of fashion sense, but being able to make your clothes, everything that you do become an extension of who you are. So, if none of your clothes are matching, it’s part of who you are and you make that cool. Or, if it’s meticulously matching, you make that part of you. I think that’s what cool is, cool is doing what you want to do, not what you have to do all the time. So, how cool am I?
Yeah, on a scale of 1-10, how cool are you?
(Suspires) Wow, that’s like a trick question. On a scale of 1-10, I vary depending on who perceives me. To myself, I’m a 10 walking out the door; I have to be in this world, because I think that (going back to the first question you asked) cool is confidence; and I am confident.