The magic of being a popular nobody - interview with celebrity barber john mosely

River Bennett (Photographer River Bennett)

After walking into Room 246 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney, I immediately knew I was going to walk out a different person.

We had come ready to interview a popular celebrity barber from Los Angeles, John Mosely, a man who had worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and the whole TDE family, the Eminem camp for their “Monster Tour” and numerous professional athletes and celebrities.

John Mosely is a man whose work has been crippling the industry of conformity. He did things different. He stood for things that actually mattered. His belief was in others, and he worked hard travelling the globe educating men on grooming and looking and being their best.  He was known for staying “humble and hungry” after his craft. He didn’t give in to ‘stardom’, thus his name Popular Nobody. 

We walked into the room to be greeted by a big African-American man, slightly intimidating at first glance, fitted with the latest Nike shoes and custom-made hat. Yet his countenance was kind, his voice deep as he welcomed us with a warm smile, handshake and bear hug. 

I was eager to know more about him.

R: Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

PN: I grew up in Lakewood, California - Cherry Cove. Where I grew up our house was like a hotel for all family members and friends. And it was pretty fun because we didn’t have to leave outside of our neighborhood to have fun. We did it right there, outside in our driveways. We played basketball - like the neighbor across the street had a basketball court and I had a basketball court, so we didn’t go to the park to play full court, we would just run from driveway to driveway across the street to play full court basketball. So those kinds of memories are fun for me as a child and still having those group of friends is something that I take away from my childhood.

And then, as I got older my Mom did hair, so she was on the road a lot. So, you know, with her being on the road, I was with my Dad a lot but because he worked on the railroad he had different shifts so I had to learn how to cook for myself, and fend for myself.

R: Is sport a big thing for you?

PN: Sport’s always been big for me. Still to this day. I like basketball and football. I coached football because I still wanted to stay connected to the sport. I really love the sport and I loved being around the kids that I coached. And now I’m watching those kids graduate from High School. So that’s pretty fun.

R: So I’m personally a huge believer in investing into the next generation. Is that something that you loved about coaching? Is that something that you would think about doing even in the hair industry?

PN: Yeah, it’s really giving back to the community that you are in.

If you want to change the community, and be a part of the change in the community, you have to be invested in that community. And in the US there are a lot of kids growing up who are the ones doing a lot of the killings, and a lot of the drugs and all of that, so I feel like being IN the community I can help bring change to some of those kids’ lives.  I put my arms around them and I embrace them. I think, yeah, you have to give back.

And even going into hair, if you don’t like the way the industry is going, the only way to be a part of the change is continuing to be who you are, and do what you love to do. Inspire others to keep moving forward in that way.

R. When you were a kid what did you dream about the most? Who and what did you want to become?

PN: Damn that’s a good list. Growing up as a kid I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to play football, basketball, and be a fireman.

R: I can see the influence of architecture in your craft.

PN: Yeah, you definitely can. It’s like building blocks. I think that’s why I am so fascinated with photography because looking at it from behind the lens you capture what your eyes see. I like to shoot what other people would walk past every day, and I like to figure out how to turn it into art. So yeah, definitely architecture is in my blood.

R: What did your mother always tell you? What did she want you to know?

PN: Uh oh. What did she tell me? Because my Momma told me some crazy stuff. Haha.

I think my Mum is my biggest fan. She supports me 120%.  She has seen all of the things I have gone through in life, mostly self-inflicted stuff, and I’m grateful that she always told me she loves and believes in me.  I put a lot of pressure on myself so it means a lot that my Mom is in my corner no matter what happens.

R: Good Momma.

PN: Yeah, if I call her right now she would tell me that she loves me.

R: awwww, love that.

R: Hip-hop, Rock or Soul?

PN: Well I’ve got to say all three - all three for different reasons. It would depend on how you feel that day. If you feel a little edgy, then you might go with rock n roll. If your heart hurt a little bit, you might need a little RnB, a little soul music, some Anthony Hamilton or something. And then Hip-hop, I got to give it to my boy Kendrick because he speaks the truth, and he’s just a good dude, and I love his vibe. He took jazz music and mixed it with rap, and brought the two worlds together, more than what anybody else has even tried to do, and I like that.

R: Being a barber is….

PN: Being a barber is being a leader. Being a barber is community-based. Being a barber is humble. Being a barber is respected. Being a barber is artistic. Being a barber is creative. The barbershop is the man’s library. That’s our place to come hang out and chill. Barbershops are more unisex now, but that’s still, just the guys love to come network, and hang out, and enjoy each other’s time in that space. So, I think that’s a mix of what being a barber and a barbershop is.

R: Where is the future of men’s hair going?

PN: The way it’s going right now, you see, more guys getting into more editorial fashionable looks. Where before it was like, you know, guys just come get a hair-cut and leave. But now you are seeing more product being used, you’re seeing more tools being used, you are seeing the evolution of a man stepping more outside of the box when it comes to his look. So I think that whole evolution of hair has now become art on top of art.

R: So as a barber you want to create what? What do you stand for in this industry? What do you want to bring to the table?

PN: As a barber coming to the table I believe you need to be humble. A lot of people get into certain levels, and they forget that at the end of the day we are just barbers. We’re nobody. We are no different to anybody else. We’re not role models, we’re not superstars. We’re barbers.

Being able to help men and help their families by watching the father come in, and then the father brings his son in, and then that son now brings his son in, and then that father that started the whole train is now the grandfather.

So I think keeping that old tradition still of, you know, just being there for your community and the people in it. And just being that barber that little kids can look at and say, “My barber made it in different ways, so I can do it too”.

I think now the way the world is now, is that you look at TV, and everybody wants to be Kobe. Everybody wants to be LeBron. Everybody wants to be in front of the camera, but what about the guys behind the camera that still live a great life and still do great things, without the flash, without having to do all that glorified stuff? And I think that’s what the world has become. More glorified. How much can you floss? And how much can you show on social media? And how much can you make your life look bigger than what it is? And at the end of the day it’s like, we do hair. We’re just barbers. You’re not no bigger than that.

R: What’s been one of the best reactions from a client that you’ve had when you’ve transformed their look.

PN: I think it’s more so when I cut little kids’ hair, and you watch them go from this sweet little innocent kid, and then after you get his haircut he’s this complete badass. Cause like, my son, I only cut his hair so often because he becomes a whole nother kid, because with a Mohawk he’s a badass - and then you let his hair grow for three weeks and he’s just a nice, sweet little boy!

So I think that might be it, just watching how little kids’ demeanor can change. They understand now, ‘Oh I look good, I look fresh’.

I love being around kids because I think kids tell you the truth. And I think kids speak their mind because they don’t know anything else, and they don’t really hold their tongue. So to just watch their demeanor change, and to just see them come to life after feeling fresh and them understanding that, ‘I was just at the barbershop’ - I think that’s probably the best feeling.

R: Haha yes! I love that! What’s the main thing that your job has taught you?

PN: Umm, the main thing my job has taught me is probably that everybody goes through stuff. And sometimes you have to just listen and realize that somebody might need you more than you need yourself right now. So, I think that’s the biggest thing, you know, staying humble.

R: I never knew…

PN: I never knew, never dreamed that I would be where I’m at today. I never knew I would have accomplished what I’ve accomplished in this industry. Goals that I set, I actually see them right in front of me.  I never knew I could be where I’m at all through a pair of clippers, and a pair of shears. Never.

R: Home is…

PN: Home is vacation (he chuckles). What is home?

Home is the barbershop, when I come off the road and I’m back with my friends. I’m back with my guys, and I can just have fun with them, and be with them.

And also being with my kids because I know it’s short, because I have to get back on a flight and go somewhere else. So to me, home is vacation and I like to just be present in that moment.

R: The best advice you were ever given…

PN: Always remain true to who I am. Always remain humble. And always remain hungry. That’s something that I live by is staying humble and hungry.

A lot of people come into your life and try to change you, and make you somebody you’re not.

The way the world is set up today, you know, they put great images of people in front of you to make you want to be those people. It’s like ‘No!’ when you look in the mirror every morning that’s who you’re supposed to be, you know? Why are you trying to fit in when you’re custom-made? Why are you trying to fit in when you’re born to stand out? Like just be you. Be tailored for you, and not for anybody else.

R: What would you say to somebody who is starting out in the industry that you’re in? And what would your advice be to them?

PN: Never think you’re bigger than the talent that you possess - because all of this could be taken away from you. You break your wrist your career is over.

R: Do you think about that a lot?

PN: Yes. I literally have stopped doing a lot of things as far as basketball, and having recreational fun, because, if I break my wrist, or I break my leg, I’m sitting out for six weeks. And it’s like; you don’t get paid for sitting out. It’s not like the NBA, or the NFL. You don’t get paid for sitting on the bench. And you lose your clients because of stuff like that.

You know, stay patient, and realize that in the sports world you have cross-country running, and you have sprinting. Most people look at this industry as a hustle, and as a sprint. To me, it’s a cross-country run. It’s about the longevity. How much endurance do you have? How much can you physically put your body up against to make it to the next leg of this race and to keep going and keep pushing? I think that’s the biggest thing for me to tell someone is to be patient, that this is not going to come easy, its not going to be quick.

Don’t go to YouTube University to learn how to cut hair, but really pay for your craft. Put money back into yourself. Invest in who you are. Set goals and have a GPA. For me, GPA means: Goal, Plan, Action - where most people think a GPA is a number that comes on a report card with A’s and B’s. If you have a system, and a GPA, then you have something to go by, and you can set those goals, and pin point, and target where you’re at with those goals, and not really worry about are you going to make it, or are you not going to make it. So that would be it for me, to tell someone to stay patient, stay humble, don’t worry about what’s going on around you - tunnel vision. And just have that goal, and set those actions, and play on them, and run forward and don’t look back.

R: Wow. Well, thank you. It’s been a huge honour to talk with you.

PN: Thank you!


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