If you have an attention to detail, then you've long been privy to the hustle, ethic, and story of Emory Jones. JAY-Z's been name-dropping his longtime friend since his first album, and for a bulk of his career those references were of a somber nature, noting Emory's extended jail time—see Kingdom Come standout "Do You Wanna Ride?" and "Lost my homie for a decade/nigga down for like 12 years, ain't hug his son since the second grade" on "Clique." But Emory's been out since the top of the decade, with JAY writing a letter offering Emory a position with Roc Nation Apparel to facilitate an early release.
Since coming home, Emory has wasted no time making his mark as both a key member in JAY's entourage and, more importantly, a crucial visionary in Roc Nation's branding and fashion interests through his own attention to detail. He's turned those achievements there into a partnership with Puma, a union now in its eighth year and showing no signs of slowing down. Emory's latest collection with the German brand, named after his popular mantra, "Bet on Yourself," launches Sept. 22. In addition to a new sneaker colorway, it features apparel. Ahead of the collection's release, Complex caught up with Jones at the Roc Nation offices to discuss his unsung acumen as a trendcaster, his and JAY's relationship with Puma, and betting on yourself.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What’s the story you’re trying to tell with this collection?
It's about letting others build their confidence and who they are. That’s why the message is "Bet On Yourself"—it's bigger than the clothes. To me, clothes are about confidence. The more confidence you have, I think the better the clothes come out. I want to tell everybody that story of putting yourself first. Like you said, you've been at Complex how many years? Five years?
That means you have to put yourself in front of everything to take a chance and say, "I still want to be there in five years." Maybe you might make a step somewhere else, but you're betting on yourself now. I think the clothes speak that. I come from a situation where it hasn't always been easy, but I don't cry over spilled milk. I feel like everything happens for a reason—the good, bad, and ugly. Where I'm at now, and this relationship with Puma, it's put me, my family, and everybody around me in a better situation. Understand that I took a chance with Puma like Puma took a chance on me.
If you think about it, I started a relationship with Puma going on eight years now, consulting for them. Back then, people looked at me like, "Wait a minute, Puma?" Years ago, the only two sneaker brands you talked about were Nike and Jordan. But I bet on myself, on how confident I was in understanding what culture and fashion and all that meant to me. Puma has always been an aesthetic of who we are. It might not have always been No. 1 on that list, but it's been in our closet. So I look at it as, if I get one day out of your 30 days out the month, I won. One day will turn into two days. Thirty days in somebody's closet is a lot. If for one day he puts on a pair of Pumas, I won.
What;s your favorite piece in the collection?
Growing up, being around B-boys and D-boys, I felt really set the tone on what sweatsuits were. I remember you could be in a club in the '80s and the females didn't have to see what car you was driving, but if you had on a pair of Gucci sneakers then—we're talking about the original ones—and the sweatsuit on, they knew you were somebody. Nowadays you get into the club and they're like, "What car you driving?" Nah. A lot of people that know me in the business know I made this call a few years ago that sweatsuits were coming back.
For sure. I'm talking about when everybody was like, "OK, we gotta see if denim is going to come back, then make a run." I was like, "Nah, it's sweatsuits, guys." That's why, when you look at Puma's success, for me, the T7 tracksuit, their basic sweatsuit, was driving fashion. Think about it.
The athleisure wave.
Everybody's taking a line and doing it their way, but it's all based off this T7. So with the sweatsuit, I had a chance to dig in their archives, and their Speciale is a sweatsuit they're bringing back as part of their whole archives. When I had a chance to tap into that, it's like the sweatsuit to me is everyday. If you don't tell me I got to put a suit on, I put sweatpants and a sweat jacket on. Every single day. That's my comfort zone.
So when a trend comes back around after you called it, are you ever like, "Yeah, see? That was me." Or do you just play the back? "You know what? I saw it coming. It's cool."
No. I play the back because I'm just going off of what I was taught. What’s going on now is nothing new. Nobody is reinventing the wheel. Fashion is fashion. It’s been here before us. It’s going to be here after us. All we’re doing is tapping into what’s there. All I’m doing is seeing what was there that I felt that’s never left, but needed to hit the market even more. I mean, look at it: This last year, I think every fashion brand went back and redid their whole thing .I don’t look at it for the credit. I just look at it as I paid attention from what happened before, and I’m just going to keep moving it onto the next guy that keeps paying attention to what was before him.
And the real ones that know know you were integral.
Yes. I just love that. I love to feed information.
You mentioned you’ve been with Puma for eight years now. How has working with them fostered your creativity?
I think being able to find their history and dig in their archives. The thing about it is to go and understand some of the history that I didn’t know. I've been into the sneaker thing since the second grade. Me and my best friend to this day, we met over sneakers. We was trading sneakers; he came from a rich family. I came from the projects, but I always had the fly sneakers. We realized it wasn’t about trading sneakers for money. It was about, “If I got a few pairs of sneakers, he got a few pairs of sneakers that’s different, and if we trade them with each other, when we go to school, you’ll think we got more than what we got.” This little town I’m from is called Cambridge. The name of one of my sweatsuits is called “Groove City.” Everything touches back to home.
There was a little Puma store on our downtown owned by a guy named Mr. Jackson. Back then they had the catalogs. You could go into the store and physically see the Puma, or you order through the catalogs and then they send you the shoe. Then you come back to the store once it gets there and pick it up. That was my first experience on Puma. Back then, suede Pumas.
What other trends or notions do you see circling back that you want to pull from?
A prime example: Everybody into this whole ugly dad shoe, or whatever it’s called. The chunky big shoes. Think about it. They didn’t just make these now. Puma had the McQueen shoes back then, in that same space, and other brands probably had it, too. Think about it, with me being from DMV. That whole wave now is really a 990 with some more twist to it. I think the beauty in people who set trends [is] it's not about them inventing something; it's about them being smart enough and conscious enough to know what to tap into next. It's like the genius of being able to wake up and know, "This is going to come back"—that's the genius part. It's not the product itself; it's the genius part of being able to tap into that.
Talk to me about your Instagram and how you embed parts of your wisdom into your daily quotes.
The quotes are me having a conversation with myself, too. I wake up every day and need to hear certain things.
Of course. It's life. That's going to be till the day we die. We should be learning every day, and I say a lot of quotes to better myself. Going through what I been through, it's good for others to see that, because they just don't see me talking about it; they see my actions and the results. They see what we're doing, and that helps even more. I never had nobody to sit down and tell me certain things or give me certain game. So I was like, I shouldn't leave this earth with all that information, without passing it on.
Being with JAY, how much does he inspire you, and how much do you inspire him?
With JAY, what people don't understand is what makes me inspired by him every day is how confident he is. He's so confident in himself and he's been that way since before the stardom. To have that confidence and then still be a good human being, that's what keeps me inspired. To see him still be who he is and not sway from who he is or where he wanted to go and standing for who he wants to be, standing for who he is as a person. I wake up every day and feel blessed to have a brother who I can call, have a conversation with, walk in his house, and it ain't about talking about business. It's just to be around and soak up that confidence and good energy. As for me to him, I think I'm just a muse and reflection of who he is. I work hard, and I love what I do, and I love seeing others win. I give all of the credit to him with that. He's been that for me my whole life.
It's cool, though. When you look at a song like "Friends," it feels like he gets as much as that from you as you do for him.
That's the beauty of the person, because you can feel his honesty. It's not done to be like, "I just did this song and you got to hear it." That's what I love about not JAY-Z, but Shawn Carter the man. Just the honest, confident person he's been.
What's been your favorite shoutout he's given you on wax?
Back before people knew who I was, on Reasonable Doubt—"Can I Live" is my favorite JAY-Z song, but that's another source this collection is derived from. Because I got my nickname, "Vegas Jones," from there. You know the line: "Las Vegas, see ya later at the crap tables. Meet me by the one that starts a G up." That was me. That was us at the Mike Tyson fight, and I got my name then.
Do you follow AintNoJigga on IG? They actually posted that anecdote the other day.
Oh, yeah, I saw that. ["Can I Live"] is still my favorite. I think the beauty of JAY is that his music is so timeless, you can go back to that album now and pick up something that you didn't pick up over the years. Right now, I can have a conversation about the gems in that album and you'd be like, "Oh, shit."
It's funny you bring up the Vegas trip, because that kind of goes back to clothes and confidence. You went and used your earnings to cop Versace, embodying that Vegas glitz.
I got my name Vegas Jones for all of the wrong reasons, you know—running the streets and still trying to find myself in Vegas and partying and everything else. But now I feel like, when the time came with Puma, they kept saying, let's do the Emory in Vegas thing. I didn't want to do that, because I'm not one to boast about myself, but then it dawned on me to give the people what they see and understand. I became Vegas Jones for all the wrong reasons, but that's when I came up with the idea of bettering yourself. We betted on all the wrong things. Why not bet on yourself?
So was your relationship with Puma instrumental in JAY coming to Puma?
I did Puma eight years ago because I felt like JAY put me in the position I am in to understand culture even more, and what I wanted to do in fashion. He said, "Yo, don't just look at it from what you see. Always set a new tone." So his confidence of setting a new tone back then... Fast forward to now, it just happened to turn back around for him to step back on the scene with a brand that's organic. It seems real, and it doesn't seem forced, like when you see people out here doing stuff clearly just for money. He's never walked in the room and been like, "You should do this, you should do that," but he has said, "You should look at all options." That alone helps you get to a better place. You just fast forward and the time is right, and he felt the time was right.
I see you got the fresh Puma Basketball hat on. Big things coming?
It's coming. Basketball is a team sport. Fashion, sneaker culture, sneaker business—it's all a team sport. As basketball pertains, you always got your star who's your No. 1 player on the team, and then who's your No. 2 guy? And then, when you think about it, in basketball, the third person on the team is just as important as the fourth or fifth person on the starting team. It's the sixth man. The sixth man is the one who helps you become the dynasty. When the one and two man sit down, he's got to come and take the team on his back. Like I said, look at Puma as the sixth man. Be comfortable being the sixth man in that lane. It's okay not to be the main guy.
You lose yourself getting caught up in trying to be the main guy.
You lose yourself, but if you become the main guy, that happens, too. How many times have you seen the underdog become the dog? But I'm just saying, as a mindset, don't always think you have to be the main guy. Whatever lane you fit in, play that lane. Play the lane. That's how I analyze it.