Who could see the Black Ink brand becoming this large? Ceasar Emanuel could. Shops across the country, one of the most popular franchises on reality TV, and now, a tattoo battle pitting the Black elite from across the country in a competitive arena are just a few of the achievements that have come from the grind of his hard work.
The aforementioned tattoo competition is a part of the current seasons of Black Ink Crew and Black Ink Crew Compton. Both casts, and the Chicago crew, convened in Atlanta for the battle. Iron sharpening iron.
During his visit to Atlanta for the battle, Ceasar spoke with The Source on just how massive this battle is, reflecting on the success of Black Ink, and more.
What led to the creation of this battle?
Ceasar: Short version is as a Black man coming up in this industry. Y’all seen me on TV basically for 10 seasons. But a lot of people don’t know the backstory and what we have to deal with outside of just being on TV in this tattoo industry. A lot of people don’t understand as a Black tattoo artist, how difficult it is to be industry. A lot of times you see these competition shows and it doesn’t represent us. They’ll put us on there with crazy talent, but we won’t even be able to get out the second round. So this right here is to set a certain tone. People know us for what goes on in the shop. Our ratchetness, but nobody knows that we really artists. We really feed our family off what we do before we got on TV. We are artists. This competition is not just a competition to do it, but this is a competition to really show the world that we’re very skillful people.
You mentioned 10 seasons. A lot of people don’t get that, especially Black people. Being the focal point of this series, how do you manage to keep it a must-watch?
I can’t say necessarily humble, but me not getting a big head. And that’s because of people around me. Ted is around to keep me humble. When I start on too much, people are there to bring me down. But then when I start being on my low, there are people to tell me to pick up your chin. A lot of people need that. Ted’s been around 10 years on TV, been sitting on the couch where he’s been the most important person to me.
Even 10 seasons going, people can sit here and be like, “I could really relate with Caesar.” I was in a shop across the street from the projects and that’s where we made it from. So I think a lot of people mess with the show because they seen the struggle. They been day ones. They seen how we couldn’t even afford to have lights on. And then we got to hit. It’s almost like, one of those American dream stories.
Before this, I was barely able to afford Chinese food, so it is a whole different thing. It’s also a responsibility. I remember going to LA Fitness and a lady asked me, “does anyone ever tell you that you look like Ceasar from Black Ink?” and I respond all the time. She then just started talking about me and I really don’t really look at myself like how this lady who blending my juices does. She’s calling me an inspiration and stuff like that. So I really just try to stay humble and out of trouble to set an example in this situation.
In this competition, it’s you, Ryan, iamCompton, and all of your shops. It’s a bond but you can tell everybody feels they are the best. When it comes to getting ready for this competition, how did you prep your team? What strategy did you have? What words did you give them? Because you Ceasar, you can’t come in here and host the joint and lose
Can’t lose. But at the end of the day, everybody gonna understand this is family, right? So I don’t want anybody to sit there and get into a fistfight over this. But like I told my people, “yo, y’all better turn up.” This is your time to shine. We got this big stage, this big platform we want to show out for, not just us, but for the culture. This ain’t about your individual glory. This is about glory as a community. We all understand the bigger picture in this. But a lot of us want to battle anyway.
How often would you want to replicate this? You got a handful of artists here but around the nation, it’s so many more.
That’s when, we just started something that basically can keep going, almost like a battle rap thing. I could go to every city and I could put people up against each other. And that’s what the showcase is to show other people’s skill. I feel like this next level is really a showcase in talent. Not just people who work in Black Ink, but minority tattoo artists everywhere.
You’re a busy man. You run shops everywhere. How do you keep your actual tattoo skills sharp?
I’ll be honest with you, bro. I’m completely honest with you. I tattoo on the low. When people would sit there and be posting they tattoos, you probably won’t see me posting a lot of my tattoos because I’m sitting there working on my craft. Plus tattooing is almost therapeutic to me. So most of the time I’ll be tattooing in the middle of the night and nobody knows it. I don’t take a lot of clients because I like doing big jobs. So I only take up like probably 15 clients for the year but those are like big pieces. Like bodysuits and whatnot. That’s how I hone my skills. I’m not really showing the picture until I finish the whole bodysuit.
The one thing I’ve learned from an OG, if you the biggest earner in your shop, you doing it wrong. The problem I always used to have, especially in my first three shops, is I was the main earner and I kept putting myself first instead of putting my employees first and I had to learn that. So a lot of times I pull myself back from tattooing and being booked out. Cause at the end of the day, bro, I’m 42 years old. I probably got like probably seven more years of tattoo left than me. Yeah. I got, I’m gonna have to leave it for these young bucks sooner or later you feel me? I’m gonna be in there, but you know, I’m gonna go from a player to a coach.
The different shops. You had to move to Brooklyn and it was kind of like a homecoming store, but people often talk about Brooklyn’s change. It’s gentrifying. Everything is switching up. So you have this Black tattoo shop in the middle of a gentrifying Brooklyn and you are about to be a staple. How does that feel?
It feels different. A lot of people don’t know. I started in Brooklyn. A lot of people don’t know I started in that same neighborhood. For me to basically leave Brooklyn and come back when basically Bedstuy is being stripped of everything that made it Bedstuy. It feels good to come back and show them like, yo, we ain’t gotta leave our hoods to other people. We ain’t gotta leave. We could take over our own neighborhood. We could own these stores. A lot of people just get so they get so uncomfortable on sitting and being an entrepreneur. They rather work a nine to five, knowing that they’re gonna give their money at the end of the week. They don’t really gotta hustle as much as an entrepreneur. Well, they don’t know, they hustle more than entrepreneurs.
When I came back, it was to yo, you don’t necessarily have to leave your hood to be comfortable. You could buy your hood back and stay there. I always felt our biggest problem was always yo, as soon as I get some money, I’m outta here. We never once sat there and say, once I get some money, I’m buying back my block. Most of the time people leave they hood cause they’re not comfortable. I’m more comfortable in my hood. So I always came with that idea one day, there’s going to be a franchise to be a symbol for those who have watched me for 10 years and grew with me and who can walk up on me like I’m their cousin. Cause a lot of these people went through the struggle with me and I didn’t even know it. Even with the kids, some been watching me since second grade. They in high school now and they’ll tell me scenes from like season two. Like wow. It is almost like a cult feeling. We really got into the culture and I’m just blessed because when we came on, it was just so many great reality shows on and we ain’t have the fancy cars. We didn’t have the big names. We got Harlem.
How much do you miss the old shop?
A lot. A lot. A lot. I ain’t gonna lie. When we lost 113, I cried because I always felt like it was my responsibility to keep that shop. We all grew up in it. Our memories is just embedded in that shop. Like we had the most fun, broke in that shop. And we went from broke, basically project kids to who we are now in that shop. But it was nothing I could do. It hurt me the worst cause it was a greedy landlord that wouldn’t let up. You go from rent being $5,000. So you wanna charge us $25,000 a month. Who is doing that for something that’s less than a thousand square feet? And that burnt my soul because even if I just left it just, not even as a working tattoo shot, but basically got a museum for Black Ink to see where we started. I wanted that and it was just taken away from me. If you go past it now it’s not even open. Nobody’s taking it because everybody know what it is. The community won’t let anybody take it. Somebody try to move in that right now. They gonna shut it down. The community misses me. And I did so much for that community. I miss it.
When you first saw this battle arena set up, how did you feel?
I’m be truthful with you. I’m be a man with you. I had to hold back my tears because a lot of people don’t know the struggle to get here. It took us 10 years to get here. For us to go from where we was and how people looked at us like we was the black sheep from day one. People saying we don’t represent our culture, the struggles of trying to open up shops. And they sit here talking about, “oh they’re on TV. All they do is fighting.” And this, that and the third. Now we finally got something for us. Now it’s fair game.
I know it’s in your head. What’s the next step for the takeover?
The tour. Yeah, the tour. I’m going straight to conventions. After that, it’s going to be like a music festival. I’m going to make it almost like a Black Woodstock. It’s so much more to the Black Ink culture than just tattooing.