In 1997, Gap was a preppy brand associated with a whitebread, iconic look: blank t-shirt and blue jeans. To lend themselves more relevance and bite, they tapped a series of artists, singers, and dancers to appear in a new set of commercials, including one featuring LL Cool J. In his ad, you see him rapping about GAP in a thirty-second one-take. But if you listen closely, you’ll catch him slipping in “Ready to go, For Us By Us on the low”—a covert reference to the then-emerging brand Fubu.
Gap didn’t notice. Somehow, this escaped their management, and the commercial aired. It made a media sensation: LL Cool J sneaking in, guerilla style, a shout out to a small, Black-owned label in an ad for one of America’s biggest brands. “It made them cool,” LL said to Oprah, recounting what went down. “And, they didn’t pull it. That I can give them credit for.”
Fubu in the ’90s (when LL was a partner) was the antithesis of Gap: loud, stylized, culturally specific. It spoke to a community, a subculture, during what’s now considered the golden age of hip hop. (Look that up on Wikipedia. LL Cool J is the first rapper listed.) Fubu began with four friends who got together to make hats out of founder Daymond John’s house in Queens, and expanded to a multi-million dollar sportswear line. From its conception, Fubu was built on hip hop culture, specifically Black culture, as the “For Us By Us” was as much a slogan as a modus operandi to keep business and cultural production within Black-owned institutions, instead of getting cool-hunted and watered down by white-owned brands looking to appropriate the counterculture.
Fubu has since broadened its appeal, with a reach all around the world, including Korea, where Fubu is positioned as a skater brand. In recent years, the brand has made something of a comeback during the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2016, Solange released a song titled “F.U.B.U.” in which she sings “This shit is for us/Don’t try to come for us.” In 2018, the brand also appeared in Donald Glover’s Atlanta series, with an episode titled “FUBU”.
Fubu also continues its commitment to the breakout artists of today. In Germany, they tapped rapper reezy for a Fubu campaign. After the success of his debut Teenager Forever in 2019, he released Weißwein & Heartbreaks, whose title refers to Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreaks. On the album, reezy has a sound distinct to today’s top-charting rappers: Its melodies weave effortlessly between R&B hooks and trap beats.
In his 30-second ad for Fubu shows him rapping around a mid-century modernist set (i.e. it’s Fubu all grown up!). Taking LL Cool J’s Fubu commercials from the ’90s as direct inspiration, Fubu ushers in a new generation of rap that the first made possible, from LL to reezy, a progression that Fubu has witnessed from the beginning. Watch the video below:
Check out Fubu’s latest collection at fubu.com