The untold truth of Black Ink Crew
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Black Ink Crew is a reality show centered around Black Ink Tattoo Studio, a Harlem tattoo parlor run by charismatic boss David “Ceaser” Emanuel. The series premiered on VH1 in January of 2013 and started its eighth season in 2019. In addition to the original, there are Black Ink Crew: Chicago with five seasons as of this writing, and Black Ink Crew: Compton, which debuted in 2019.
The series is a fantastic platform for African-American owned businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit of their owners. And don’t forget, this is reality TV, so there are funny moments, crazy stories, and drama throughout the show. Even when the cameras stop rolling these reality stars offer plenty of stories — from run ins with the law to shocking childhood stories.
Would you get a tattoo from one of these studios? If so you would be supporting the massive tattoo industry that generated $1.6 billion in 2017 according to the market research firm IBISWorld (via The Wall Street Journal). For the pain averse, just enjoy learning more about these entertaining tattoo artists.
Here is the untold truth of Black Ink Crew.
The cast of Black Ink Crew was discovered by being themselves
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Sometimes it pays to just act natural. Dan Cesareo, the executive producer of Black Ink Crew, told TV Over Mind that this is exactly how the show got started. An employee of Cesareo’s production company clued him in on the tattoo shop in Harlem full of naturally interesting characters. As Cesareo explained, within ten minutes of first visiting the studio, he instantly recognized that the crew could lead to a great TV show. He also noted that the employees he observed at Black Ink Tattoo Studio were “tastemakers and influencers before those words even existed.”
Ceaser Emanuel, the founder and boss of Black Ink Tattoo Studio, told Parlé magazine his take on how he was discovered for the TV show. Emanuel and his cousin made their first TV appearance on the pilot episode of MTV’s Son Of A Gun series. He explained that producers loved the two relatives, and wanted to somehow get them on more TV. This led to a pilot episode and ultimately, the series we know and love.
Dutchess Lattimore struggled after leaving Black Ink Crew
One of the most popular characters in the Black Ink Studio crew was Dutchess Lattimore, a tattoo artist from North Carolina. Outside of her tattoo skills, audiences knew her well as the romantic partner to boss and Black Ink Tattoo Studio owner Ceaser Emanuel. But after Lattimore and Emanuel broke up, which she attributed, in part, to external pressure on the relationship that came from viewers of the show, she left New York City to focus on Pretty-N-Ink, her own North Carolina-based tattoo studio, as she told Parlé magazine.
During a sit down on Sister Circle Live, Lattimore shared some truly terrible experiences she faced after leaving the show. Lattimore said she left Black Ink Crew because it didn’t align with who she was “supposed to be.” For example, she was the only one who graduated college, and also the lone employee not originally from New York. After walking away from the show, Lattimore confesses that she faced very serious depression and thought of killing herself. She went on to say that cast members sent her “death threats,” and some called her NC tattoo shop to tell Lattimore’s shop operator — her mother — the “the most heinous things” that would happen to Lattimore if she returned to New York.
Did Black Ink Crew pull a shady move with Dutchess Lattimore’s storyline?
In her interview on Sister Circle Live, Dutchess Lattimore said she felt that even leaving the show wasn’t enough for her to separate from the series. She confessed that while dealing with all the harassment she received from coworkers, she “didn’t think that [she] would ever escape” her decision to separate from Black Ink Crew.
Though she was no longer a part of the TV series, Lattimore mentions that the show lacked story lines because most episodes centered around the other cast members still talking about her. Later, fans thought Lattimore was coming back to the show after a preview clip hinted at her return. This was not the case, as Lattimore pointed out in an Instagram post (via The Jasmine Brand).
When user @9magtv commented that it looked like the star returned to Black Ink Crew, Lattimore replied to set the record straight, telling the fan that the short clip was a fake, made using an old voice over of hers to make it seem like a possible reunion with Ceaser Emanuel was in the works. She also claims that the woman shown in the clip — to which the audience is led to believe is Lattimore — is an actress. Hmm, sounds like some shady business. What do you think happened?
Ceaser Emanuel got sued by another Black Ink Crew cast member
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In one of the most alarming moments on Black Ink Crew, employee Alex Robinson got into an on-screen altercation with his boss, Ceaser Emanuel. As Robinson explained on the show, while he was attending tattoo artist and fellow employee Young Bae’s wedding, Robinson was attacked by Emanuel and his cousin Teddy Ruks. The three all crashed through a table and Robinson hit a beam leaving him severely injured. Robinson claims his doctor said the fall caused spinal tissue damage, leaving Robinson unable to sit down long enough to tattoo. On the show, Robinson appears to have sought legal action against Emanuel when he says, “I’m not gonna rest until he’s put out of business.”
Ceaser did end up apologizing to Robinson for the incident, which Robinson accepted by saying, “All I wanted was a sincere apology from somebody that I looked at as my mentor. It’s not all about money.” However, TMZ reported legal docs uncovered in August 2019 that show Robinson seeking $1 million from Emmanuel and Ruks over the October 2018 incident. The tab claims that in the lawsuit, Robinson says he suffered “permanent pain and disability” from “significant tendon and ligament damage to his back.”
Ceaser Emanuel’s beef with Alex Robinson wasn’t his only legal trouble
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Back in 2015, Ceaser Emanuel — the main star and Black Ink Tattoo Studio owner — was arrested for failure to pay child support. As if it wasn’t bad enough facing a legal charge, he had to learn this the hard way in front of his cast mates and crew. As TMZ reported, Emanuel was filming an episode of Black Ink Crew when police showed up to arrest him. In a video clip, a frustrated Emanuel is seen being escorted out of his shop by policemen. The tab claimed that witnesses in the shop said Emanuel was in the middle of tattooing a client’s butt when the men in blue showed up to take him away.
Then in 2019, TMZ reported Emanuel got arrested again. Sources said that he was driving and got pulled over for running a red light and other traffic violations. When asked for a driving license, Emanuel presented one with the name “Emanuel Thomas” — but his real name is David Emanuel. Apparently, his age was also misrepresented since the date on the license added eight years to his actual date of birth. According to the tab, Emmanuel ended up getting charged with “misdemeanor false impersonation and other traffic violations.”
The Black Ink empire grows
In a 2016 interview with Parlé magazine, Dutchess Lattimore and Ceaser Emanuel, who were still a couple at the time, talked about their growing tattoo brand. Lattimore left the original shop to open up her own place in Charlotte, North Carolina, called Pretty-N-Ink. She said the move went well and that her business was constantly busy. Lattimore was also proud to share that the shop hosted events once-a-month to support local charities. Emanuel said of the move that the Lattimore’s shop would be another platform for young black tattoo artists to share their talents. He also mentioned his future plans to franchise Black Ink.
Emanuel seems to have stuck to his goals of expanding the Black Ink name. As of 2019, the Black Ink Tattoo Studios brand has five shops: two in Harlem and one each in Orlando, Atlanta, and New Orleans. In an interview on The Breakfast Club, Emanuel hinted that a Philadelphia shop was in the works, but he ran run into some local government issues. On top of that, in season eight, Emanuel talked about taking a team trip to Memphis, in part to scout out the city as a potential location for another shop. Time will tell just how big the Black Ink name will become.
This Black Ink Crew star started out as a musician
The 2019 spinoff series Black Ink Crew: Compton features the first tattoo shop to open in Compton, California. At the helm of the iAmCompton tattoo parlor is owner Danny “KP” Kirkpatrick. In a radio interview with Power 106’s Nick Cannon Mornings, Kirkpatrick said that he worked towards opening up a tattoo shop for ten years, although it was more of a means to an end. He also talked about his love of writing music, describing the songwriting process as a sort of “therapy.” But due to some unspecified legal issues, Kirkpatrick said he couldn’t just pursue his purely artistic endeavors. He needed “proof of income ” to show his “PO (either probation or parole officer — it’s unclear),” so he turned to tattooing to make some cash. He did well for himself even before opening his shop in Compton — he has tattooed celebrities like Diddy, Nas, and Travis Scott, according to Distractify.
Kirkpatrick combined his loves and ultimately opened the shop, with the letters “iAm” standing for ink, art, and music. Another one of his loves is longtime girlfriend Kyla Pratt, who makes cameos on Black Ink Crew: Compton. In a connection you probably didn’t see coming — between Disney and a Compton tattoo shop — Pratt is an actress most famous for her role in The Disney Channel’s animated series The Proud Family.
A family tragedy turned into a positive for this Black Ink Crew star
In a heartwarming story, Ryan Henry — the owner of 9Mag and star of Black Ink Crew: Chicago — told Chicago Sun Times how he got started with tattooing. Henry, a natural artist, was laid off from a good job with Union Pacific railroad, and after observing a friend’s success with tattooing, he decided to take a stab at going pro — but he needed $2,000 for a tattoo apprenticeship. His younger sister, Nova Henry, agreed to loan him the money, sensing how serious Henry was in pursuing his passion.
Sadly, Nova and her daughter were killed in a domestic violence situation right before she could give her brother the funds. Ryan’s parents honored her wishes and funded the apprenticeship. In the aftermath, Ryan says he stayed strong and “put that strength into tattooing.” People quickly began requesting tattoos and his home was filled with clients “almost 24 hours each day.” Four years after losing his sister, Ryan opened up his own tattoo shop in Chicago.
Ryan also founded the 9MAG Foundation. As he told Chicago Defender, the goal for the foundation is to help those in need, especially women and children in shelters. Part of that mission is to allow these families into different parks and parts of Chicago that less fortunate kids and parents may not normally have access to.
Did a Black Ink Crew: Chicago star botch a tattoo?
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The crew of Black Ink Crew: Chicago — who all work at tattoo shop 9MAG — has seen plenty of excitement throughout the series, both on and off the screen. In 2019, TMZ reported that four stars of the series — boss Ryan Henry, Don Brumfield, Junior Diaz, and Van Johnson — were named in a lawsuit. The plaintiff, Ronnie Spates, claimed that all four men assaulted him up at a party, and that VH1 producers were partly to blame. Spates claimed the show created an environment conducive to a fight breaking out by providing alcohol, and encouraging “verbal spats and physical altercations,”
This wasn’t the first time that Johnson and the 9MAG crew ran into trouble with the law. On the show, Henry discovered that one of his shop employee’s, Johnson, and the shop were being sued due to a tattoo that Johnson allegedly created on the job. The plaintiff claimed that a coverup tattoo on her thigh left her injured and disfigured.The original looks like a tiger and the coverup a gigantic black blob. Johnson shared his side of the story on Instagram, posting what he claimed was an image of the tattoo. In the caption, he claimed the tattoo was unfinished, and that he would never “tattoo a black image over anything and call it a cover up.”
As of this writing, it’s unclear if there’s been any resolution in the suit.
This Black Ink Crew vet had an uplifting side job
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Sky Days is one of the longtime Black Ink Crew members, appearing in all eight of the seasons. Outside of posting photos with Rhianna and tattooing, she owns a retail fashion shop in Miami called Her Little Secret Boutique. Perhaps a little more surprising is her experience as a motivational speaker. In an Instagram post, Days shows a clip of herself speaking at an event, giving advice to celebrate the good things your life.
In an interview with Hip Hop Weekly Days talked more about her motivational speaking, which she refers to as “Sky Code.” Days said she simply told people her “way of thinking,” and that her words were neither right nor wrong. The TV star goes on to say how it “means the world to [her,” that people listen to and trust her advice. The speeches also gave Days the realization that “people from different countries [and] different nationalities” have many of “the same issues” she has encountered.
Fader also interviewed Days, and asked about her motivational speech in Atlanta, in which she talked to the crowd “about the power of being alone.” Days said that she learned how to reflect while incarcerated. She wanted to never end up back behind bars, and learned out of necessity to “love” and “embrace” herself — so her message is “the power of prayer” and self-love.
Black Ink Crew is full of multi-talented cast members
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Similar to Sky Days from the original Black Ink Crew, Charmaine Johnise has been a part of all five seasons of Black Ink Crew: Chicago as the shop manager. When she’s not in the tattoo shop, Johnise dedicates much of her time as a DJ for one of iHeartRadio’s premier radio stations — WGCI-FM out of Chicago — according to Forbes. When asked in a 2016 interview with True Star where she saw herself in ten years, Johnise hoped that her focus would be just on radio and TV. At the time of the interview though, she was juggling the radio station, blogging on YouTube, and generally working to grow her personal brand.
Johnise told Forbes that two of her passions are audiology and speech pathology, both of which she studied at Howard University before she ever appearing on TV. After the first season of Black Ink Crew: Chicago, she started her work as a DJ but said she still had goals in the audiology field. Johnise also talked about an apron linen that she started due to constantly spilling sauces on her nice clothes while cooking. This Louisiana native has published her own cookbook on Cajun cuisine as well, so she is quite the multi-talented business woman.
This Black Ink Crew had a tragic past
Although she’s a star of Black Ink Crew: Compton, Vudu Dahl hails from outside of Seattle. This gifted tattoo artist is open about her sexuality and uses the TV show to add to the LGBTQ conversation. As she shared with The Hype Magazine, Dahl is a pansexual woman. In addition, she is happy to be representing people of color in the LGBTQ community. Dahl told the outlet that she is “happy to be one of the first woman to say, ‘You can be a woman of color, you can be queer, you can be trans and still have a platform and be respected for it.'”
Part of what makes her unique is her upbringing, which she says was “super sheltered.” What she likely means is her frightening past, which she divulged in the second episode ever of the spin-off series by revealing that she grew up in a cult. She explained that her stepfather was a cult leader who forced his own religion on all the children — she was the oldest of 13. Even worse, Dahl says that she was too scared to speak up, because her stepfather would physically abuse her, which kept her in a constant state of fear.
Luckily, Dahl was able to escape and work her way up to working at the famous Compton tattoo shop.