The 90s skate video that changed the face of counterculture


“When I shot Busta Rhymes (in ’91), he was completely unknown. It was a random event of kids just fucking around. But over the next few years, things became exponentially more serious. The rest of the world had not yet heard of Wu-Tang Clan but in NYC they were already notorious. When Stretch called me to say that Method Man and Ghostface were coming over, I dropped whatever I was doing to go film them.”

During the rise of the Trip parties and the emergence of the Stretch and Bobbito radio show, another series of key events lead to the birth of Zoo York in ’93. Eli explains, “Having a little reputation from doing NYC nightclubs, I got offered the chance to start Phat Farm, a new clothing company backed by Russell Simmons of Def Jam. Being an early adopter of Photoshop and Illustrator, Russell got me all the computer equipment I wanted (an extremely expensive undertaking in the early ’90s).”

“At the same time, due to crooked partners, SHUT Skates lost their warehouse and Bruno and Rodney abandoned ship. Rodney was caught off guard and got evicted from his home. I had an extra room at my place so I let him crash. I got to see firsthand that Rodney was 1000% into making another skate company out of NYC. Once again, I thought he was crazy. Soon enough it became clear to me that I owned zero stakes in Phat Farm, but with the unique advantage of having access to computer gear in ’93, Rodney, Adam Schatz, and I joined forces to start Zoo York.” The name Zoo York was passed on with blessings from the ’70s graffiti-writing/skateboarder crew “The Soul Artists of Zoo York” led by Mark ‘Al’ Edmonds.

After getting Zoo up and running after hours at Phat Farm, by ’94, the company set up their own offices in the meatpacking district. As a precursor to Mixtape, Zoo’s first audio visual offering came in the form of ’94’s 411 Industry Section. “I shot and conceived that whole part,” says Eli. “All our footage was dark, because in NYC back then, you could only really skate at night. And that was the opposite of sunny California. I doubled down, got a piece of clear plastic, spray painted black around the edge and set it up against a TV. I then re-shot the whole video off the TV. Double dark and dirty! Must have worked because 411 gave us ‘Best Industry Part’ that year.” With a team including Harold Hunter, Jeff Pang, Ryan Hickey, Mike Hernandez, Robbie Gangemi, Peter Bici, Vinny Ponte and more, Zoo was officially on the map.

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