“I used to take pictures of drug money on the table,” says Moon, designer and co-owner of Apt. 4B, a streetwear boutique on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. “I had all access. This is from memory, things I grew up around.”
He’s not gloating, just explaining how his life experiences authenticate the decor in his and partner Monique Carmen’s shop, fashioned after a mid-'90s hip-hop lover’s New York City studio apartment. Tunes from Cam’ron, Puff Daddy and DMX ring from the speakers.
Seated at the center of 4B on a chilly L.A. evening, he’s wearing a forest green skully and a denim bubble vest over a sweatshirt, while she’s a bit more chic in an open black sweater with a Public Enemy tee poking out just beneath. Technically we’re in the kitchen, next to a graffiti’d refrigerator holding T-shirts in the freezer. This is just feet away from the twin bed that’s surrounded by classic movie posters like New Jack City and Juice and images of Malcolm X shaking hands with Dr. Martin Luther King and Michael “Air” Jordan soaring to the rim. And that’s steps removed from a dusty white box television (sitting atop a VHS machine!) playing a Fat Joe music video so old that the now-bald rapper has a full head of hair in it.It’s these types of details that Moon takes pride in. “New York created hip-hop,” Corona, Queens, native Moon says, sitting up in his seat, which proudly flashes torn upholstery. “I’m just fortunate to have been born there. I’m from where Run-D.M.C.and LL Cool J are from. I’ve been able to see the street life, and also live some of it. And I traveled.”
Before 4B, he worked retail in a Queens clothing store, eventually becoming a buyer. He was also an aspiring rapper and buddies with Beatnuts rapper JuJu, who would invite him on tours. “I’d be in London for a month, then it’d be back to Corona, back on the block.”
Monique, however, grew up in Los Angeles. “I was miserable working in corporate America,” she recalls. “I worked in private banking.” Being the only woman working with men in their 60s and the only minority (she’s half Mexican, a quarter Navajo and European) was no fun.
After the two became a couple years ago, a failed business venture with another clothing line led Moon to invite Monique to become a twosome in the business world.
In early 2013, Moon had an idea to start a new '90s rap-inspired store and create a pop-up shop in L.A. Monique’s finance background made her the decision maker for money moves, but Moon will be the first to tell you her creative presence was felt early on.
“We bounce a lot of stuff off of each other,” he says. “Her seeing things from almost an outsider’s point of view helps me see things. She’ll see things that I don’t and vice versa.” Originally, their pop-up was supposed to have more of a gallery feel. Each corner would feature '90s novelties -- a boombox with cassettes here, a Grand Puba album there. Moon showed Monique pictures of a Queens apartment he lived in with a friend.
“So when we were thinking about this idea,” he remembers, “she was like, ‘That’s not dope enough. Let’s do something crazy. Let’s do an apartment.’” While trying to come up with a name for the shop, Jay Z’s “A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More” played in the background. On the 1997 track, he raps, “Freaked it to the rap game/ Jigga the O.G/ On MTV, telling 'em how I sold D/ And used to bag work up out of apartment 4-B.” There lies the pair’s a-ha moment.
The result is a store so apartment-like that potential consumers often walk in and feel like they’re intruding on someone’s private space. Once reassured that 4B is a store and that the cockroach on the floor is, in fact, a fake plastic one, patrons buy tees ($30-40) with phrases like “One Love” or “Triple Beam Dream” written on them, a throwback to how dealers used to measure and weigh their drugs.
“In dealing with street culture,” Moon explains, “this is what it is. We have this scale with this fake cocaine on it and gangster movies playing. These are the realities of what we grew up around. [People] lived vicariously through Mobb Deep and Nas.”
“We’re not glorifying drugs or drug selling,” Monique adds. The store functions more as an example of what can be achieved when you take the will of a street guy and redirect it to a legitimate hustle.
The 30-something owners' originality has carried them to early success. After a couple of pop-ups, they opened their flagship 4B store and have collaborated with brands like the iconic Shirt Kings, which styled and designed for rap’s premiere talent in the '80s and '90s. Rapper Noreaga used the venue to host legendary trio A Tribe Called Quest and record his recent Drink Champs podcast. Invisible Bully NYC enlisted 4B’s services to celebrate powerhouse record label Bad Boy Entertainment’s 20th anniversary.
But the greatest memory of their first year comes courtesy of the man who essentially named their business. This summer, Apt. 4B held a weekend-long celebration of Jay Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt’s 20th birthday. On that June Friday, a private friends and family party was scheduled but quickly became a not-so-secret soiree.
“DJ Khaled was on his Snapchat telling people where he was,” says Monique. “It was too crazy.”
With his whereabouts revealed, whoever followed the social media king knew that they could find him partying with Meek Mill and other rap stars on Fairfax Ave. “It was jam-packed and the sidewalk was flooded,” Moon says. Khaled DJ’ed in the storefront window as outsiders whipped out their cell phones.
The next day, Moon and Monique expected a more chill afternoon. Top-tier rhymer Pusha T made a low-key appearance, but it was relatively quiet, with Doubt fans entering five at a time to buy album-related tees and caps. Then Jay Z surprised them, walking in from the back entrance. Assuming Jay wouldn’t stay for long, they offered him a water bottle when he asked for a drink. He passed and requested liquor -- a drink. A few lucky shoppers spotted him, but his visit effectively ended the day’s work.
“We’re going to shut this down,” Moon thought. “Jay’s going to have elbow room.” He walked out and told a block’s worth of potential shoppers that 4B was closing for the day, handed out some free product to hopefully smooth things over and got back to the rap titan.
Store assistants sprinted down the street to grab some D’Usse cognac (Jay Z is a partial owner) from rapper YG’s event down the street. Soon after, chilled bottles of Jay’s Armand de Brignac champagne were popped.
“Jay’s in awe,” Moon says, thinking back to watching their visitor enjoy the shop. “We had Scarface playing on this little TV and he asked someone to move so that he could watch it.” Just years prior, they’d named their business after his rap line. Suddenly, the man was watching a grainy classic Pacino flick on VHS with them “vibing.” He was there for three hours.
Jeweler to the stars Ben Baller would later tell Moon about a chat he had with Jay Z a few weeks after that Saturday. “He told Ben that he’d never been in a store and felt like he was in the projects.” Mission accomplished. Moon and Mo don’t use the memory to fuel arrogance, though. Monique was quick to tell her partner in life, “Jay made it to Apt. 4B, Apt. 4B hasn’t made it yet.”
“It keeps us humble,” she says now through a smile. “We’re still doing the the work.”
When people outside of their close creative circle of friends first heard of 4B’s concept, they weren’t very confident. On the surface, a '90s nostalgia play based on a city roughly 2,500 miles away seems like a bit of a flimsy basket to place your eggs in. That’s why "we don’t tell anybody anything before we do it,” Monique says. “When you do talk about it, people will always try to talk you out of it. They thought we were crazy. They didn’t believe in us as much as we wanted them to.”
Now their store’s impact is so strong that they’re starting to influence others. Monique has several cards and notes from kids who they’ve inspired to think farther than athlete or entertainer dreams. Conversely, they're spotting thieves trying to jack their style.
“We’re starting to see people come up with similar installations,” Monique says without naming names. “But no one can do what we do.”
As relatively new kids on the block, that underdog feeling is strong with them. “We don’t get our credit,” she adds. Fittingly, Monique says Jay Z’s “Lost One” lyrics come to mind when asked about the competition.
“I heard motherf---ers saying they made Hov/ Made Hov say, ‘OK, so, make another Hov.’”
In the coming years, expect more noteworthy collaborations and expansion flagships in the U.K. and Asia. For the raps that best capture his current feelings, Moon stands and reaches for a black 4B tee with serious bars from Queens duo Mobb Deep “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)” printed on it.
“I'm tryna tell these young n---as crime don't pay,” Prodigy spits. “They looked at me and said, 'Queens n---as don't play.'”
“That embodies who we are,” Moon says with pride. “We don’t play. We’re not here to mess around.”