Harlem’s own Human Beat Box is a machine amongst men. A pioneering rapper, record producer, and beat boxer, Doug E. Fresh has done things with his mouth your mother can only dream about. Fresh is the name and fresh has always been the game for Doug E., trademarking dance moves and keeping his wardrobe as fly as they get—mock necks, Kangols, and Sergio Tacchini all day.

Now a successful entrepreneur, Doug E. sat down with Joseph I to conduct a history lesson in Harlem fashion. Cameos abound in his tellings of hip-hop’s early days across 110th Street.

When you grow up in Harlem, it’s about fashion and style from day one. Each borough has its own style and niche, but Harlem has always been about cutting-edge fashion, flavor, and excitement. It was the party capital. Whenever you’d go out somewhere, you’d go to Harlem because that’s where you knew the party was popping. Then later on it became like downtown, which is Manhattan, but still influenced by Harlem.

Harlem’s influence was serious, it had the celebrity clubs, Harlem World, the Apollo, the Roof Top—so many places. But one of the things that started the fashion thing in Harlem for me was Floor Shine. That was a place where you got all of your shoes and British Walkers and Playboys that were really hot in Brooklyn, then became hot in Harlem. The British Walker was the shoe that jumped off in Harlem; that was a very important shoe. You had mock necks, ice cubes, sheep skins, the quarter fields. There was a place called AJ Lester right on 125th Street that was a high-end fashion store where you got all the hottest street gear. You also had a store called British Walker right on 125th Street as well. Growing up around it taught you a particular way of putting things together.