Walking into the new 9Mag Tattoo Shop is quite the experience.
Located steps away from the shop that fans have grown to know as the hub of Black Ink in the Midwest, the new space is nothing short of impressive. Flanked by an army of TVs, elevated glass booths, comfortable couches and plenty of space for artists and patrons to feel comfortable, the new digs are evidence of what hard work and a brilliant mind for business can result to. That mind belongs to Ryan Henry, owner of 9Mag and star of VH1’s Black Ink Crew: Chicago.
Anyone who has watched Ryan over the course of the popular series’ Chicago edition knows above all he is about making sure his business is executed. So, it’s no surprise upon arrival for the interview that you can hear his voice echoing through the shop regarding work updates and what needs to be done to keep said business flourishing. Those conversations and the following interview would be done as he has a client in his chair. The balance of the concentration on his art, participating in a self-reflecting discussion and still handling business is impeccable; it’s literally witnessing a true mastermind at work.
In conversation, Henry knows how to convey his emotions and beliefs, raw as per usual, while also showcasing the wit and charm that makes him an intriguing personality. It’s most notable when questioned about the shop from the previous season that was being constructed but is not the new one we presently sit in. “I still got it,” he says followed by a smirk. “I still got the whole building on the other side too. I got something else too — come on, man.”
Just ahead of the grand opening of the new 9 Mag, Ryan Henry spoke with The Source on showing a different side to Chicago and establishing business endeavors while also growing on TV — that’s just the half of it, though:
The Source: Being from Chicago, how does it feel to be one of the hottest shows that VH1 has right now?
Ryan Henry: Being from Chicago it feels amazing. Like, nothing ever really popped [off] here, and then to be the start of something that’s about me from my city? Then to be number one for 16 weeks, every episode? I didn’t even know that it would do that, you know what I mean? It’s just about telling our story — showing the world how things are here when they already got a stigma of how Chicago is. They’ve never related to Chicago.
That’s a good thing because even though everybody sees the headlines you all are being professional. You have issues occasionally, but the overall mission happens.
When I first received the offer it was a “no” because I didn’t want to be all on TV. All they had at that time was drill music, you know what I mean? Chief Keef. But for us, I grew up over East, and you know how it is. We show you that we ain’t have to all stay in that situation. If you showing that at this level, then you trying to look like that. So it was just showing a different…well, a different light. My city like, man, we from that, but we were able to rise and do something different.
I had a friend from Brooklyn visit and didn’t know Chicago was as developed as it is — only seeing the murder headlines.
And that’s how people see it unless they just come straight Downtown. I mean, it’s like, we come from a planned city, man. We come from a gangbanging city — a drug dealer in the city. That’s the street part of it, and all of those characteristics are in how we move. My thing ain’t about acting the fool in public. I come from a structure; I’ve come from respect. I’m not always about acting the fool. I didn’t do TV to say, “Hey, let me be on TV!” I did it to show a different part of what you knew about my city, and to give a lot of stuff that’s relatable.
There are moments where it seems you don’t want to address certain topics on TV. How does that impact you and help you grow as a person?
If people watched closely, I’m probably one of the only people to show it all. I’m not proud of it, but in certain lights when things have gotten rough, I’ve walked off; I’ve left, have gone against what I’ve agreed to do and you know, tried to fight it. I still will not jeopardize my integrity for anything, but I have found ways to professionally express that. I’m doing this to show people something better, like, “You need to calm down and learn a different way of expressing yourself, young man,” as opposed to resulting back to the ways of being mad and stuff and swinging on people.
On the first episode of this season, a guest came in and you tatted a memorial to his son. What was that emotion of being able to help somebody with their pain, and how does it resonate in your own street?
I think the best part about tattooing is that we get to help people with closure, and you put people in a different spirit. A lot of people will come for memorial tattoos — they missing somebody, all these different types of things. That’s the best payment; somebody’s reaction to what you’ve created for them, especially when it comes to a loss. I was trying to relate to how he felt with losing his only son at seven years old. I have a six-year-old son and I couldn’t imagine it all, but I had to convey his feeling with the tattoo. [I thought about] what would it mean for him and, you know, make it be something that’s going to go with him for life. Whether it be, you know, a name, [there’s] no way to [put a price on] memorial pieces. I think I posted the tattoo at 1:00 in the morning when everybody was sleep. I wake up, it’s like 3000 comments of people saying, “Man, I teared up man!” I cried, man. I felt it and totally understand it. I was never okay with talking about my sister and my niece both passing. Then again, I also understood that anytime I talked about it before the television show, people will reach out to me and asked me how to get help. I’ve become an advocate for domestic violence after that because it was always somebody that will reach out and if I just help one person from all of that then it means something.
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Here’s the tattoo from tonight’s episode I did on my client, a memorial piece for his Son that passed, this was tough to convey but I love what sentimental pieces do for people that take them with them forever! His favorite things were his hats ? as he’s walking away from his father up to God to get his wings. Forever reaching out, I’d never wanna let go of mine either! Thanks for looking hope you like! Love! Told you brother @suaveblu97 … thank you!!! ✊? #9MAG #9MAGFOREVER
We recently talked to Van, and he alluded to seeing y’all make up this season. How hard is it to sit down now and know what everybody else is enjoying on TV isn’t where you currently are.
Yeah. I mean, it was one of the hardest things for me because, like I said, we come from where we are. As far as me and Van have gotten, you know, it might not have been shown or gotten to that point on TV, but we got to a point to where we couldn’t agree or even be around each other and it could have gotten really violent or down to street stuff. Being in this situation also allows me to think like, is this what I want to do with somebody that I used to care about? Right now I’m at the point where it’s like, “Hey man, just fuck you for life,” because that’s how I normally know how to do things. What people will see is the test of time, whether or not me and him can even have a conversation.
Do you ever find it hard to be this version of you — a businessman, father, and a friend — through the view of a TV screen? Basically being in the spotlight just by stepping outside.
It’s always difficult here [being part of the] one percentile of people. Most people don’t have to [deal with] trying to have dinner or lunch, or even grocery shopping, then having to stop and take pictures. It’s a blessing to have supporters, but I mean I’ve had to get used to it. I still can’t, though. It’s different if somebody run up on me out of nowhere and yell my name, as opposed to somebody probably running up on me from my past. It’s like, you got to take it in stride, but I’m always in the mind of protecting yourself and your family. Sometimes I don’t want to take pictures. Sometimes I’m eating with my family and people don’t care. You have to understand that people aren’t really being disrespectful; they actually support you. Sometimes it’s rough, but it comes along with the territory of putting out something that people can support.
How did you adjust yourself to being a TV figure?
It took time. People sometimes compare us to the New York crew. For one, us and New York are two different types of people. We’re just different type of dudes and [come from] way different cultures. I mean, people relate to us differently. You can’t compare us. We got people who love us and people who hate Chicago. Ceasar knows TV. He knows how to do it. I’ve figured it out, and now that I know it we take it to a different level. As an entertainer, you’re a public figure now and you have somebody that people can look up to. The challenge is, you’re not going to always work with the real. Some people, even my producers, are not always going to be the most real people. My castmates, too. But then again, am I going to kill my opportunity to put something out to the world because niggas ain’t real? Nah, I’m going to move through it.
Honestly, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. All I wanted to do was grow people. When I say that, I mean most of the artists now were not at this point. I offered them to come work there. They worked in the house and I said nothing was wrong with that, but I had figured it out already from my two previous studios that I can tattoo celebrities here at my crib, even though I’m not going to make top dollar and be respected unless I worked in a reputable shop. Whatever level we go to, I just want you all to grow and the first level of growth is they work in this shop and get paid their worth.
Besides that, production knows how things work and where the money is. They got focus groups. They know what will work. When they tell me things they did in New York, I know it won’t be true to Chicago, too — something like how we speak. Some New York shows would be like “Bitch! Get outta here,” but my mama is in my life; I’m not disrespecting a woman like that. Just because that worked for you and people did it before, I’m not doing it, too.
You speak on showing a different side of Chicago, also making it better for those following our age group. What other ways have you seen that you can make that impact?
[Laughs] This is about to be an hour-long conversation, and I ain’t going to go all the way into it because it becomes too political. The way we change the city is from within. It’s not from so many people from the outside; it only works from within. You can go Downtown on The Magnificent Mile and see in the summertime — six police officers on one corner. They got their hands in their pockets, so they chill. Each corner of a four-corner intersection for 10 blocks, and there’s no crime down here. The most they guarding for is a pickpocket or swiping a bad credit card. Then you can go outside, head out South and see for the next 10 blocks that ain’t one police car rolled down here all day long, let alone standing on this block. You say, “Why not have at least one officer on these blocks?” The response is we ain’t got the money to do it. We got the money to do it Downtown. What you are saying is, the lives aren’t worth the money. That’s done by design. The street dude is like, “Hey man, I know I can go and kill this nigga two blocks over and get back through over to my block and there is no police presence.”
Who’s going to change that? Nobody got an answer for you. Are you sending your Alderman money? Are you supporting the people? Are you voting in midterms? This is the first year when people really voted in midterms and learned about politics and what to vote for beyond the presidency. It takes all of these different things to happen so stuff gets done in your city. Now you know what it takes to get police riding down every block, every hour. From that, it’s like I would go over there and hit them, but man, sheriffs and police ride by there all the time. Next thing you know, we’ve gone the whole summer not killing, then it’s winter time and then when it’s time to get warm again they forgot about it. Sometimes that’s what it takes because you ain’t gonna stop me from wanting to kill him. You might have to intervene in that way. Look at how much you can do by intervening with the police presence as opposed to just not caring.