Sabrian “Boo” Sledge, 38, the co-owner of Flee Club, a high-end resell shoe store at 121 S. Western Ave., is perhaps best known for being one-half of the rap duo Boo & Gotti.
The duo peaked on the 2001 Billboard Hot 100 hit “Fiesta (Remix),” which featured Jay-Z and R. Kelly, who discovered the rappers not long before they became chart-topping.
On Nov. 24, which was Small Business Saturday, Sledge sat inside of the shop he owns with his best friend, Darris Kelly, and thought back on his personal evolution from rapper to sneaker connoisseur and businessman.
Sledge said that R-Kelly discovered him while he was outside of Rock and Roll McDonald’s downtown, celebrating his good friend, NBA star Corey Maggette, who had just gotten a scholarship to play at Duke.
R. Kelly noticed the young men looking awestruck at him and approached them. The singer singled out Sledge, telling him that he looked the part of a rapper.
“He said, ‘You sure you don’t rap?’ I was like, ‘No.’ Then he said, ‘I’m sure you know about rap,’ and he asked me to rap one of my favorite songs,” Sledge recalled. “I rapped a Mase verse and he took me to the studio that same night. Eight months later, I was on his double album, “R.,” and had a record deal that next year.”
The one thing common to both of his lives, Sledge said, is something that he learned from his old mentor.
“He gave me a pen and told me to write every day,” Sledge said. “That was the best advice he ever gave me.”
Sledge followed that advice when, five years ago, he decided to translate his passion for shoes into a second career. He took the last of the money from his rap career and poured it into his business. And like his rap career, he paid attention to developing his craft.
“We (he and Kelly), went to two sneaker conventions where you can buy, sell and trade shoes and from there, I got the gist of the business,” Sledge said. “From there, we started our own brand and tried to get accounts with Nike and Brand Jordan, but that was super hard.”
So, the friends researched stores like Flight Club and Stadium Goods that deal in rare and limited edition sneakers that regularly rival the price of MacBooks. Sledge said that the store’s brand even goes beyond shoes and into apparel, including custom t-shirts, hats and sweaters.
Currently, Flee Club has more than 12,000 Instagram followers and celebrity clients that include Scottie Pippen, Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks and Bulls power forward Bobby Portis, among many others.
“A lot of times, they’re looking for the newest, hottest thing on the street or a classic that’s hard for them to get, because they don’t have time to go get it,” Sledge said. “Some days, a lot of the Bulls players come through once they get out of practice just to chill out. We have some good vibes in here.”
Nowadays, Sledge is looking to the future. On the day of this interview, the store had hosted a press conference where state Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th) publicized a measure designed to increase the amount of loans and grants that the state gives expanding businesses like Flee Club.
“Right now, it’s so hard to manufacture your own stuff,” Sledge said, adding that he’d love to employ local residents in his own manufacturing warehouse that pumps out Flee Club’s brand merchandise.
“A lot of times, it’s easier for us to make our own rather than wait on China,” he said. “Some of us are so creative that we can do it.”
In the meantime, he’s focused on manufacturing the same kind of life-changing advice that R. Kelly (who Sledge said he still supports despite the singer’s current controversies) gave him all those years ago.
“I try to tell young rappers, ‘Sit down and write for a minute. Take two hours out of your day to write and rap. Sit down and sketch. You never know what that can come to,'” Sledge said. “‘Stop always thinking what you’re not getting. Think about what work you’re putting in. Take an hour devoted to your craft and it will come back to you.'”