Nicholas Heller aka Ricky Shabazz wants every New Yorker to stop playing Subway Surfers on the A train and get to know each other. Hopefully, with the help of his new documentary series, “No Your City,” New Yorkers will do just that. The debut series gives you an inside look into the lives of the local New York City celebrities we all know and, sometimes love. Not the kind you can find on TMZ, but the kind we all see on our way to work, dancing in drag in the middle of Union Square. Unique New York characters like Te’Devan, the 6 foot 7 freestyle rapping Jew. Mass Appeal sat down with Shabazz and asked him all about his weird experiences in the streets of NYC.
Mass Appeal: Your real name is Nick right? Where did Ricky Shabazz come from?
Ricky Shabazz: Ricky Shabazz and the Boom Bap Boys was my production company name. I started off doing low budget rap videos. I felt like “Nicholas Heller” productions wasn’t gonna fly, so I decided to make up an alter ego,which turned out to be Ricky Shabazz. That name actually came to be in a dream. I woke up from a nightmare and just blurted it out!
MA: So you woke up in a cold sweat and said..
RS: “Ricky Shabazz and the Boom Bap Boys!” Exactly. The Boom Bap Boys are just whomever I work with. They aren’t physical. You could be a Boom Bap Boy [Laughs].
MA: What triggered you to create No Your City?
RS: I grew up in NYC around the Union Square area. I went to school in Boston, but every weekend I was back in the city. About a year ago I felt like I just needed a change so I moved to LA. I was there for six months and I absolutely hated it. One thing I gained from it was a greater appreciation for the city. There’s just so much wrong with LA. It’s divided physically and culturally. It’s kinda like high school. There are cliques. People don’t really come together like you see in NYC. So, I was just sitting in Union Square one day and I saw this guy who I’ve noticed for the past 15 years. This 6 foot 7 white guy with locs who carries around a sign that says “6 ft 7 Jew will freestyle rap for you.” I always wanted to talk to him but I was too afraid. You see someone like that and think they’re crazy. So I decided to talk to this guy and figure out what his deal is, and we just started talking and that gave me the idea to do the same thing with other NYC characters.
MA: Have you seen the characters on the Hollywood strip? Batman and that Superman guy ?
RS: Yeah, so my beef with the Hollywood strip is they’re all hustling to make money and they’re dicks about it. In New York you don’t see that as much. You see these sort of “wackos” doing things because they’re passionate about it, and they can’t live without it.
MA: Do you follow HONY (Humans of New York)?
RA: I do, yeah. I actually didn’t know about Humans of New York before I started this. I think he’s great. I kinda consider this the video version of HONY.
MA: So who’s in the first season?
RS: My episodes so far have Te’Devan, the 6 foot 7 Jew, I have Shaun, who dressed up as Spiderman and rides people around in a rickshaw in the East Village. There’s Don Ward, the best shoe shiner in city. He has a very interesting sales pitch. He basically insults people’s shoes and that’s how he gets people to sit down. He makes a killing. I have two street performance artists. One guy who does puppet shows underground in the subway station with dead animals and trash, and then another guy who does this very avant garde show where he dresses in drag and tries to spread the word of love.
MA: Are you talking about the guy in Union Square with the heels?
RS: No not that guy. Maybe season two, but I know who you’re talking about. That guy’s very interesting. There’s all these NYC celebrities you’ll see and you’re too intimidated to talk to. That guy, he’s always in the zone. We’re talking about the same guy right?
RS: Yeah, he’s always in heels in the subway station. I saw him the other night [Laughs]. I also have an urban explorer who explores abandoned subway stations and tunnels, and abandoned theaters and stuff like that. I have a street artist named Hansky and a street videographer. So those are the episodes and that’s season one.
MA: How do you approach people as subjects?
RS: That’s a good question. Well, Don Ward for example, the shoe shiner, I was walking down 47th and Fifth Avenue and this guy insults my friend’s shoes. He’s like, “Your shoes look like shit, you need a shine!” and that immediately got my attention. I started talking to him, asking him questions. Everyone I’ve spoken to has always been eager to do it. The common thread between all these characters is that they are all very passionate about what they do and they wanna spread the word. Matthew Silver, the performance artist, his whole thing is he wants to spread love. Shooting a video for him will give him that exospore that he wants and hopefully get the word out. My end goal is that New Yorkers, stubborn, snooty New Yorkers, start talking to fellow New Yorkers. Have conversations with people that they ordinarily wouldn’t talk to. When you’re on the subway, no ones talking to each other. It’s silent. With this series I want people to start talking to each other, learn more about each other, and learn more about the people who make up their city. That’s my end goal…other than getting millions of views and becoming rich and famous [Laughs] No, but this is more important.
MA: Gothamist and Mishka are on board. How did that come about?
RS: Gothamist has been my favorite website for six of seven years now and I always wanted to do something with them and I felt this was a good opportunity, so I reached out to them, showed them all eight episodes and they wanted to attach their name to it. Same with Mishka. I interned for Mishka in high school. I did grunt work. I interned for all these old school streetwear brands like Reason, Peg Leg, Mishka, and Mighty Healthy. I’ve always been a fan of Mishka’s stuff. I felt like this was good for them so I reached out to them and they were down too. So we have a nice little partnership.
MA: NYC is a crazy city. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?
RS: Can I say it? It’s a little graphic. It’s so fucked up. I was having a meeting with girl for this video gig. We were meeting at this coffee shop in Union Square. We’re sitting down talking about the project and I notice there’s this dude with his dick out just masturbating.
MA: You’re kidding…
RS: Nope. Just looking off into space and stroking it. She noticed that I turned white. I looked like I had just saw a ghost. She said “What’s wrong?” and I made the mistake of telling her what was going on behind her so she turns around and she flips the fuck out. She told me that I had to go stop it. I was put in a very awkward situation because I was trying to get a job with this girl, but there was no way in hell I would stop that guy from masturbating. I still can’t have meetings in coffee shops. I’m afraid some dude is gonna just be stroking it next to me. He wasn’t even homeless either! He was just a regular dude.
MA: Who are your favorite filmmakers?
RS: I really love Scorsese and Wes Anderson. I don’t know if you would consider him a filmmaker, but my favorite person of all time is Larry David.
MA: I saw a photo on your Instagram. Do you really have a tattoo of Jason Alexander ?
RS: No way! I found it on Tumblr. I do have a pretty funny tattoo of my dad of my back. It’s like a caricature of him. It’s really goofy. It’s not serious at all. I wouldn’t get a George Costanza tattoo. [Laughs]
MA: I hear you like “The Wire.” If you could be any character who would you be ?
RS: Omar. He’s a bad ass, and he also has an awesome facial scar. That’s my reason. I want a facial scar.
MA: Nice. If you were a professional athlete like you say you are on your Instagram profile what would you play ?
RS: I would probably play badminton. That would be a cool sport to be a pro in. That would be so bad ass. Maybe I got the facial scar from playing badminton. Let’s go with that.