On a recent afternoon at his shop, Dope Era, Mistah F.A.B. is dressed in a backwards snapback and purple hoodie, giving an impassioned speech to a group of businessmen in suits.
"We can create a seminar that strictly focuses on youth — tomorrow's Fortune 500 leaders — investing in the future of youth for financial literacy," he exclaims as I walk in.
His enraptured audience of three nods, eagerly absorbing the knowledge. Dope Era may have recently moved from its low-key North Oakland location to a swanky new retail space on 20th and Broadway, the heart of downtown's shopping district, but Mistah F.A.B. clearly hasn't forgotten his former neighborhood.
"The average child of poverty, child of immigrants, their parents are not telling them, 'Let's start these businesses,'" he continues sagely. "We have to create the perception of possibility."
Oration is an important part of Mistah F.A.B.'s art. As a rapper and pioneer of the hyphy movement, he's known as Oakland's freestyle king, one who spits clever bars for improbable lengths of time. His more formal speaking abilities — his persuasive gift of gab — have also attracted a loyal following that's enabled his business success.
The old location of Dope Era, on 45th and Market Streets, was like a clubhouse for local residents, especially young people and aspiring musicians. Since opening in 2015, Mistah F.A.B.'s large personality kept business booming: He was in the store whenever he wasn't traveling or in the studio, and he made himself available to nearly anyone who wanted his ear. Neighbors would stop in to hear his sermons about creating generational wealth for the black community; musicians came in to glean wisdom about the industry. Even kids would drop by to show off their report cards. And all of them regularly bought T-shirts and sweatsuits.
The store also became the headquarters of Mistah F.A.B.'s countless charitable endeavors — Thanksgiving Turkey giveaways, school supply drives, taking kids to see Black Panther — that have earned him a reputation as the man of the people over the past 15 years.
Though he's had considerable industry success, with Platinum songwriting credits on hits like Chris Brown's "Loyal," Mistah F.A.B. says that interacting with everyday people "keeps me going, it keeps my spirit floating, man. I get life, I get energy that the people give. They bless you with the opportunity to be vibrant and remain relevant."
And yet doing business on 45th and Market didn't come without stress. In April 2017, Mistah F.A.B. went on the record with KQED alleging ongoing harassment by the Oakland Police Department. Two weeks after the story ran, his store caught fire in an alleged case of arson. The business quickly recovered, reopening with a new, bright yellow awning. But weeks before Mistah F.A.B. was set to move to the new Broadway location, tragedy struck again when a shooting at the liquor store across the street took the life of Lash City Frost, a new rapper on Mistah F.A.B.'s label, Dope Era Music.
Dope Era's new downtown store may alleviate some of that stress. But though he's in a bigger, safer, more central location, Mistah F.A.B. isn't relaxing quite yet. "It's a new beginning, but there's still so much more work to do," he says. "You never get a chance to bask in the accomplishments. You celebrate them, appreciate them, but you have to move forward."
Admittedly, the new location might not feel as intimate as his old store, where Mistah F.A.B. was able to barbecue outside, shoot music videos, and receive visits from celebrities like E-40 and DJ Esco without causing a stir.
"Of course I'm gonna miss that spot," Mistah F.A.B. says. "That was a childhood dream of mine, to open up a business in my community. To have a store there — we used to help Ms. Harris clean up everyday, she owned a flower shop next to that store [when I was] growing up."
When we talk, Mistah F.A.B. had just taken 20 schoolchildren to the movies the day prior. He talks about plans for art shows and listening parties, as well as continuing Music Mondays, his weekly music show-and-tell where new artists play their new tracks and network. Discussing the historic black-owned business Hat Guys, whose space Dope Era now occupies, he talks about creating a Dope Era franchise to create more employment opportunities for Oaklanders.
"Five years ago we were selling shirts out of the trunk of the car. Now, to be able to say five years later, we have a store on Broadway," he says, "who knows where we'll be in five years and how many stores we'll open?"
And yet there's still the clubhouse vibe. As we talk outside the shop, Mistah F.A.B. makes an effort to say hello to anyone who walks by — office workers, homeless people, city employees in yellow vests. "You look like a cool grape soda, Mistah F.A.B.," one lady exclaims at his Barney-purple Dope Era sweatsuit as she rides by on her bike.
Mistah F.A.B. chats excitedly about his many other new projects. He just dropped Thug Tears, his most candid and emotional album to date; he's getting ready to release his first book of life advice, also called Dope Era; and he has a new recurring music showcase at the downtown Oakland nightclub Complex called Oakland Live.
"I've always had mentors and watched people do things, and now for me to be able to sit in the driver's seat and say, 'I'm driving this car now, this is how we're trying to get it,'" he says. "It's slow steps, but that's what I'm about, I'm about building the process."