Black Ink is an African American-owned and operated tattoo parlor in Harlem, NY. The hour-long docu-series Black Ink Crew follows the lives of Black Ink workers, Ceaser, Dutchess, Alex, Sassy, Puma, and O’ Shit, who go by their street names, of course. (Unless you thought someone’s parents would really name them O’Shit.)
The VH1 program doesn’t stray too far from the typical reality TV fodder – parties, fights, and gossip – but the melodrama is balanced out with a glimpse at the entrepreneurial life of Black Ink owner Ceaser Emanuel. His shop is a little over a year old and already has a growing clientele, including hip hop stars, pro athletes, and celebrities like Cam’ron, Amar’e Stoudemire, Stephon Marbury, Tyson Beckford, and Keri Hilson. We also see Ceaser struggle with the not so glamorous side of work – where to draw the line between work and family, business and pleasure, being a boss and being a friend – and maybe learn a thing or two about what to avoid when starting a business of our own.
Only three of the workers actually do tattoos – Ceaser, O’ Shit, and Dutchess. The others find their way onto the payroll in ways that are not always fully captured by the camera.
A brief foray into fashion, with urban runway shows and photo shoots (above), provides a wider spectrum for the appreciation of tattoo artists and their human canvases.
Black Ink Crew debuted in January 2013, joining a long list of past and current tattoo shows: LA Ink (TLC), Miami Ink (TLC), New York Ink (TLC), Ink Master (Spike TV), Best Ink (Oxygen), Tattoo Highway (A&E), Tattoo Nightmares (Spike TV), Inked (A&E), Permanent Mark (Spike TV), Tattoo School (TLC).
But amid this barrage of tattoo-reality, a cross between black art and entrepreneurship is where it finds its niche.
Check out the preview clip: