I met up with Grindstone in NW, at Meridian Hill Park on Saturday to get an understanding of the origins of Grindstone, the business and the man. When planning the meet up on the phone, I asked what his name was to formally introduce myself. He responded, “People know me as Grindstone.” This to me deeply indicated his commitment to not only his brand, but to the people, art, lifestyle, and ideas all raveled within it. Grindstone Universal apparel reaches back to the 90s and has throughout the years established respect in the graffiti community, eventually making its way to the celebrity community and onto the big screen. His clothing speaks to diverse and innovative tastes, meshing the past, current and future, containing limitless forms of expression, and is built for all. The brand has been worn by the likes of P. Diddy, Fat Joe, Wyclef, Kid Capri, Jay Z, and many more. The brand has also expanded from apparel to a recording label, podcast, and some would say, a voice for the Black community and a positive projection of a way of life.
The Empowerment in Oakland & Its Black History
Grindstone Universal was established in 1998, but its roots seem to connect back further, to a time when Blacks began to get their first taste of freedom. When I asked Grindstone, or Darel Dawson, where he got his determination and perseverance, I questioned if it had anything to do with being originally from Oakland. I explained that I perceived a distinct kind of drive from a lot of the talent coming out of the area, including but not limited to talent such as rapper and entrepreneur Guapdad 4000, singer Kehlani, actor and singer Zendaya, singer Keyshia Cole, and more recently the late actor Angus Cloud. There is this sort of knowing or will to accomplish that people from Oakland seem to exhibit, that after doing my research, I sensed in him as well.
To explain where this sense of empowerment came from, he took me back to a time in Oakland, during the 1940s, when the great migration took place, where Blacks migrated from the south. Through the migration, Blacks were able to acquire blue-collar jobs, allowing them to gain access to a middle-class life. Simply put, Blacks were able to flourish because they did not face the same tough discrimination. Blacks obtained a new spirit of, Dawson explained, “I’m here to get my own,” allowing room for the old “southern mentality to morph into a positive work ethic.” This, Dawson, pointed out, created a new identity for Black people, one that could be passed down to the next generations to come. Time passed and new knowledge of self-developed was brought on by the Black Panthers. This new outlook brought on a different type of thought and level of resilience, but in years to come a new epidemic shattered that up-rise.
“Crack disjointed that unity” Dawson explained, further pointing out the media’s push to “make selling crack sound cool.” Thus, a new fight began for the Black community to overcome. I wondered how Dawson, growing up during all of this, fought against it. He explained, “I escaped because I was raised well, and with the truth that the Black panthers taught” and that things like “love and morals” were incorporated into how he was raised as well.
Staying True, Staying Focused
When asked about how he got into the art and fashion field Dawson explained that “I was never aiming for fashion but growing up in the 80’s each person had a style, so and so would wear their hair like that or had that hair cut like this.” He discussed the importance of individuality during the 80s, as well as the respect he had for it, and explained that he “didn’t approach [his] work as fashion, I looked at it as art, as in like everyone’s just going to be a walking billboard for my art.” His experimental designs display intricate expression of the world around us and of the thoughts and ideas woven in between. Further, the apparels radiant selection speaks the language of not only the here and now but of the historical yet relevant past. There is also an intrinsic feel to the apparel, which allows practically anyone to find something that catches their eye, which explains its universal appeal.
Dawson began to explain that he started to take his work more seriously, after reading “Vibe Magazine, when Fubu was making $350 million.” He realized that the simple doodles he enjoyed creating had the potential to allow him to make a living and share his creations with the world. He began to educate himself and points out learning game from Master P’s statement, “Before you can make a million dollars, you got to learn how to make $1000, consistently.” A bout with Prostatitis at age 25, he shared, thrust him further into his commitment to his work. On his journey, Dawson explained, he utilized everything he learned from his time in Oakland, his experience as a teacher, and from his time working as a distribution salesman.
He clarified that the name Grindstone came from his experience selling knives, including blades, swords, and cutlery. He pointed out that “the good ones had a stone attached to their sheath for sharpening. The stone would sharpen a good blade, and it would crumble and destroy a bullshit blade.” Explaining further, “It lets you know the truth. That stone was called the Grindstone.”
The Beauty of Inspiration
Dawson shared that after putting his all into his business, things began to take off pretty quickly. He began to be seen and respected by the graffiti community and the celebrity community began to take interest as well. Following this, a limitless amount of inspiration began to unravel. Over time, the brand developed into a music label. Grindstone Music, supporting talent like rapper Pinky Killacorn, recently dropped the single “Mardi Gras” featuring Grindstone himself and Sir E.U., another well-known DC experimental artist. The brand has also branched out into podcasting. The Black Smoke podcast can be found on YouTube. Grindstone (Dawson) also continues to fulfill his love for music, most notably dropping hits like “Maga Hat” featuring Willie D. More recently, Grindstone was a part of New York fashion week, showing his talents at The Runway 7 Fashion Show.
Currently, Grindstone continues to pave the way for generations to come, proving to us that our dreams are possible. Through his limitlessness and perseverance, he encourages all to take their ideas, bring them to greater heights, continue to evolve them, and create even more.
To keep up with Grindstone Universal, visit their store in Adams Morgan at 2118 18th St. NW, and the website https://grindstoneuniversal.com. Also check them out on Instagram @grind_stone.
Article images courtesy of Kevin Hulse, @headaboveheart in IG.