Stephen Malbon began The FRANK Book at art school in Atlanta. The pocket-sized quarterly chapters have consistently been at the forefront of underground culture since the first release, giving a unique platform for artists like Futura, RZA, Shepard Fairey, Lysa Cooper, and more to interview, be interviewed, and contribute work.
As FRANK grew, Stephen moved it to New York City and began throwing parties for the release of each chapter, while also starting his own agency, BON. Now in its 51st chapter, FRANK celebrates the theme of "Leaders," continuing to inspire the younger generation to push their limits and change the world. We caught up with him to discuss this important milestone in FRANK and get his leadership advice.
I think the really fun part of it is still seeing people party together that don’t normally party together.
Looking back, how do you feel that FRANK has grown in its creativity and curation?
One of the things that we’ve always done with FRANK is put different types of people together that wouldn’t normally hang out. If it wasn’t for FRANK putting everyone together, they wouldn’t normally hang out. It’s been the same since we started and did the first release party.
In Atlanta we had Rastas there, because I was friends with Rastas. We had skateboarders there, because I was friends with skateboarders, graffiti artists, underground rappers, and fashion people, who I knew through sister's work at a high end boutique. If you put all of these people together, that was the beginning of FRANK—at that party.
Some of the contributors from the first book, like DJ Drama, were people who just happened to be in Atlanta at the time. He was DJ Drama, but he was also Tyree Simmons, a writer for FRANK, and he DJed for an underground rap group way before Gangsta Grillz and T.I. and everything he’s done in his amazing career. Fast-forward to 15 years later, and we're still getting these people together again at the Bowery. It was more of a celebration this time, but I think the really fun part of it is still seeing people party together that don’t normally party together.
Were you behind the idea for making this the "Leaders" chapter?
Yeah. That was because most fans of FRANK and most young people that I know think that it's really easy to own your own business and be your own boss, or they think it's completely impossible. So I wanted to speak to a bunch of different people from gang leaders to CEOs to talk about leadership qualities. No one who is really successful would tell you that it was easy, but they wouldn’t tell you in was impossible either. We just wanted to talk about the middle.
I feel like the journey is a big part of it and spoke to how FRANK has evolved over the past 10 years. FRANK has really become a cultural leader and found a niche role in the media. Casey Neistat was in a trailer park, and now he’s one of the most successful film advertising guys out ever. People like that who are on the top of their fields but had a real journey...I think that really relates back to FRANK in that way.
When we started FRANK, people felt younger and more entitled, like, "If we go to college and do this, that, and the other, and work for a corporate company, we’ll get to retire." All of the sudden, your uncles lose their jobs, the economy gets crazy, and these kids start thinking probably the direct opposite, like, "If I go to college and get a corporate job, I’m going to be just like my uncle, so I’d rather start my own business." The book can be used as a hand tool, but it is not a bunch of corporate people telling you how to be a CEO. There are some, but there are also activists, spiritual leaders, and other people who did it differently.
Where do you plan to take FRANK now that it has hit the milestone of a 51st chapter?
We’ve been doing the book for 13 years. I didn’t know where I was going to be 13 years ago today. I want to keep publishing good stories and good content, and I want more people to be able to read FRANK, see it, and use it. Those articles we just did on leadership and leadership qualities would be great to give to my son when he is starting his own business in 20 years, so I’d like to keep doing this type of thing. Videos, the Internet, and everything digital is obviously a big part of it.
I imagine you will always strive to maintain a book aspect of it, since that is how it started.
Totally. It's not a magazine; I don’t think of it as a magazine, and there are certain things that magazines do that we don’t do. It's more about uncovering a rock of a really cool things and putting it into book format. There are obviously videos that come along with it, where we are actually interviewing people and stuff, but back when I started FRANK, you could barely get photos, because the technology was limited. Now you can make videos really easily, and that’s been really cool too. The stories have been recording part of history, and people will be able to hear these stories firsthand forever.
If you want to be a leader, you have to find the truth and fight everyday to keep going down that path to show the truth.
Are there any particular interviews in this chapter that define what you imagined for "Leaders"?
Stevie Williams said something about his good friend, Ivan Perez, a New York skateboarder who is probably more talented than any other New York skateboarder, but he went a different route. Stevie said that Ivan was fifteen when he had enough money to buy a skateboard and get to San Francisco. He told his one friend, before he left home, that he was going to become the biggest skateboarder in the world, and then he just did it. How many people say, "I’m going to move to San Francisco and become the biggest skateboarder in the world," and have that happen?
As a young black kid growing up in Philadelphia, he had enough insight to say that, and he just never gave up. We also asked him who he looks up to, and he said, "I don’t look up to anyone, because that means they look down at me...everyone is equal, so I look side by side."
If you want to be a leader, you have to find the truth and fight everyday to keep going down that path to show the truth. You don’t have to try to be a leader, but if you are righteous, you will become a leader and people will follow you. You have to harness your energy the right way. It’s about harnessing your energy and anger and fighting for that everyday, and that’s what makes you a leader.
What's your leadership advice?
Get people that are smarter than you to do everything you need to get done, delegate like crazy, and don’t listen to people who say you can’t do something; just do it.