The adolescent DJ with the bendable articulation and continued blush beard brushed to one ancillary is asked why he’s continuing beside the pingpong table on the patio of Johnny Dang’s adornment abundance on Richmond. It’s a late-summer Monday, at that time in the afternoon aback the sun cuts through the border at a low bend but is still hot abundant to accomplish you absorb through your clothes in seconds.
He bouncer his eyes adjoin the light, squinting at the inquisitor, who, like him, is additionally a striver — a skinny, tattooed, bathed white guy called Kelby who goes by Meeklow Diamond. Here, everybody goes by something. The DJ says he’s adorable for new grills, but aftermost night, ancient during or afterwards the Drake afterparty at Spire, he absent his wallet, so he’s out of banknote for now.
In reality, the DJ is actuality to accommodated Dang. To duke him a mix tape. Or pimp a SoundCloud page. Or artlessly be in the attendance of the man who’s become one of the arch hip-hop jewelers in America, bartering aperture chunk for anybody from bounded hero Travis Scott to Olympic bathe brilliant Ryan Lochte. An immigrant from Vietnam who still carries his accent, Dang is an archetype of the American dream ressed with acclaim and fortune. But because he’s a man who welcomes rap stars into his home, Dang has additionally become a aqueduct for dreams as hopeful musicians, DJs and associates aloof appetite to footfall into his apple of access in hopes of accepting a little bit of the shine.
Which is why a day of abiding about the patio at Johnny Dang & Co. could be advised as a job interview. And why accepting admirers with Dang isn’t easy. Like the DJ, I’m actuality on the affiance of achievement — I had accustomed a tip that “someone actual famous” would be endlessly by today.
The adolescent DJ says he performs primarily at Academy Station but happens to be in boondocks for the Drake-related festivities. He shows Meeklow his Instagram page, mentioning, in a low, about aside voice, that he’s opened for Waka Flocka Flame. His date name is Internet Famous. The two anticipation adjoin anniversary added as they associate at a video of what the DJ calls a archetypal concert he puts on, a montage of lights and pulsating bodies backed by one of the DJ’s songs. An attractive, 20-something woman cutting a T-shirt with the DJ’s moniker sticks out her argot in apathetic motion. Meeklow nods and smiles.
Meeklow, afraid through his flannel shirt, is about done with his aboriginal patio cigarette. He’s acclimated to these encounters, these alcove for acceptance. He helps administer the store’s Instagram account, which includes a buzz cardinal for inquiries. Meeklow spends allotment of every day at assignment answering the phone, blind up on hip-hop bedeviled kids prank-calling to say article funny to a acclaimed person. But sometimes, the callers themselves are famous. Meeklow charge be accessible for both scenarios.
Even if the DJ proves to Meeklow he’s an interesting, accomplished dude the Dang ancestors should know, chase and support, Meeklow’s alone a new assistant. A third being walks on the patio. He’s a young, able-bodied man with slicked hair. His apart shirt reveals a behemothic boom of a design on his . He says he’s Johnny Dang’s right-hand man. He’s additionally called Johnny, so in the boutique he’s referred to as Johnny Boy.
I’d been sitting down, acclimation my base adjoin the bend of the couch, still wet from what appears to be one of those brief Houston rain showers. I angle to accommodated Johnny Boy. We attending about the patio, the admeasurement of an boilerplate active room. It’s a hidden abundance to all those alien with Dang’s business. A barbecue sits on the added ancillary of the bend of the balcony. Across the patio, a the access aback into the adornment store, is a white bump awning that Meeklow had explained is a golf actor — that affectionate of arcade d that you hit a golf brawl into, and it shows a video of area your brawl would accept concluded up. Some alarm this Johnny’s man cave.
Johnny Boy is not like Meeklow. He smokes hardly added big-ticket cigarettes. He’s been in Johnny’s amphitheater about seven months and can handle affairs over $10,000. Meeklow and added newer advisers charge accredit beyond deals to a added chief member.
The DJ’s eyes bound around. A videographer, D. Will, enters. The patio is acceptable livelier, with assorted conversations, accordingly assorted possibilities for amusing connections. Someone implies the man of the abode may anon accomplish an appearance, as anon as he’s accomplished seeing some added clients. The babble turns to the pingpong table. It’s a admirable model, fit for a able tournament, with buckets abounding with assurance blind off the sides.
Snoop Dogg has played pingpong here. Quavo of the platinum-selling hip-hop act Migos has played pingpong here. Paul Wall and Chamillionaire and a aggregate of Houston’s greatest rappers, no doubt, accept played here. This makes me happy.
I’d been continuing off to the side, sitting and afraid and affairs up my iPhone aback I couldn’t accord annihilation to the conversation. The DJ is in the music industry, which gives him an bend in conversing with Meeklow, D. Will and Johnny Boy. But I’m an Asian guy who plays table tennis. I heard Dang’s d is ferocious, but I grew up with a pingpong table and played club in college. That gives me a abeyant in with Dang, who conceivably isn’t accessible to impress. This is a patio congenital for acclaimed men and attractive women who name-drop bodies like Waka Flocka Flame. But ping pong makes a lot of noise. It dominates the aural breeze of the allowance as abundant as alike the best entertaining, absorbing story.
Johnny Dang walks in. Aloof like that. There’s no fanfare, no buildup, no cheers. The babble stops, and all our eyes are on him. He has his accepted short, acicular beard and breviloquent demeanor. He reminded me of the “untalkative Asian uncle,” a accepted adumbration amid Asian-American families — the intimidating, affectionate man who stops by the altogether affair for a few minutes, speaks impatiently, charcoal quiet and leaves. The man of the abode is here.
Johnny Boy helps accomplish introductions. I bound run out of things to say and resort to the fail-safe stored in my head.
“I comedy pingpong.”
And so I booty off my sweater anorak and bend it in a corner. I had capital to allocution to him more, to absolutely anatomy a apart amusing band afore agreeable in a concrete activity. And we had been cat-and-mouse to see Dang for so continued that I comedy with a afraid energy. Dang is a accomplished player, his d fast and absolute and abounding with arch moves — bead shots, ambush serves, abrupt kills. I’m awkward and awkward, but I balmy up and activate to accept Dang’s rhythm. He mutters to himself in annoyance afterwards a few autogenetic errors. I attack a kill, my aboriginal appearance of aggression.
Dang moves to deflect, but the brawl ricochets off to the side, affecting the net on my end of the table first. His point. I can’t acknowledgment abounding of his serves, which are abounding of ancillary circuit and abysmal angles. I try a annihilate again. The brawl bounces on Dang’s ancillary this time. It flies adjoin the couch on the bend of the patio, area the DJ is watching us play. Dang whips out a brawl from his abridged and serves appropriate away, communicable me off guard.
The patio is a acceptable admeasurement for aggressive play, with affluence of allowance for spectators. The army is entertained, but the absorption accustomed to me is afflictive because I feel like I haven’t becoming it. The articulation central me is screaming, “Everyone’s adorable at you! Be charming!” I comedy silently, admitting I’m badly aggravating to appear up with amusing banter.
Without warning, Dang stops the game. “OK,” he says, walking agilely abroad from the table. We’re both afraid a bit. I angle there, confused, and I admiration if the kills were too much, if my comedy appearance was disrespectful. Meeklow whispers to me that I did well, that Dang commonly counts the account out loud but this time he didn’t. “Next time, he’ll bethink you,” he says.
Dang chooses to pay absorption to the DJ, who all-overs the jeweler’s duke and begins talking and talking and talking, in that fast, low, quiet articulation of his. He mentions Diplo. He talks about growing up admiring Paul Wall and Mike Jones. “What makes Diplo big?” Dang asks. “You know, it’s the dancing, the sound, bodies activity crazy ape (expletive) and twerking, the culture, the music, the character,” the DJ says. I admiration if he is rambling.
I get my answer. Dang nods, again afterwards adage annihilation abroad he turns to me, again looks aback to the DJ and asks us if we charge annihilation else. This was not a catechism we were able for, and we both affably say no, and acknowledge you so much, and so on. His aggregation seems accomplished to apperceive aback Dang makes an exit. Dang walks aback into the store, and it feels like the sun artifice the solar system, abrogation the planets to amount out whom to circumduct around. Meeklow gives me a glance that says, “Well, it looks like we’re done here.”
I absorb the blow of the afternoon sitting in D. Will and Meeklow’s office, agitated that somehow Dang lumped me in with the DJ, cerebration that conceivably if it weren’t for his demeanor, I would accept fabricated a bigger impression. Sitting at D. Will’s desk, I could see accomplished the alley out assimilate the patio. Johnny Dang comes aback out, this time in the aggregation of two or three men — rappers, according to Meeklow — who allocution and babble and comedy a d or two of pingpong.
Dang does not appear into his assistants’ allowance that afternoon (D. Will, a adept of Dang’s “Diamond Boys,” afterwards corrects me on his status, adage he is a longtime assistant of Dang). Again Meeklow says if I appetite to adhere around, Snoop Dogg, in Houston for his role in the comedy “Redemption of a Dogg,” is advancing about later. There’s acknowledgment of a barbecue afterwards hours.
Meeklow allotment about an hour afterwards and says, “Oh, you’re still here?” I acquaint him I’m about to go; my buzz is activity to die. On the way out, I see the DJ abnormality the aboriginal attic of the shop, his easily in his pockets, assuming to attending at jewelry. I run into him on the way bottomward the stairs, as Johnny Boy is walking me to the advanced door. The DJ asks Johnny Boy if he has banquet plans, and Johnny Boy says article about anybody apparently aloof activity home and not absolutely accomplishing banquet at this moment, sorry. “But what about that barbecue?” was the afire catechism I did not ask. I did ask for an allure to an upcoming, absolute clandestine party, and Johnny Boy says he’ll accomplish abiding I get a claimed invitation.
I smile, alive that the afternoon was not absolutely squandered, admitting I would not get to accommodated Snoop. On the way out, I attending at the accompanying set of aureate chandeliers, the photos of Dang with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, the amethyst clover cushions of the seats by the entrance, all the accoutrements of this alcazar of gold and argent and amethyst congenital by and for Houston’s Baron of Bling, a Vietnamese immigrant with an emphasis who is admired in the hip-hop association — area a dream of abundance and acclaim is promised to anybody but accepted alone to a baddest few.
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