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Inside the Filthy Rich Barbershop, in the Woodside neighborhood of Queens, New York, the scream of blow dryers and a motley crew of stylists greet customers upon entering. "Walk in Filthy, Come out Rich" a sign inside reads.
“Ay, where’s Jigga? When’s he comin’ in?" Richard Mendoza asks. He's looking for Jason "J Nice Jigga" Bofill, one of the nine barbers that make up Filthy Rich. "When he gets here, we’re gonna take this picture and post it on the ‘gram, let people know we’re open."
A social media presence is key for the stylists at Filthy Rich because word of mouth is the best way to attract new clients. It's how Mendoza, also known as "Rich the Barber," picked up some of the celebrities he’s styled, including Big Sean, Flo Rida, and Los Angeles Clippers point guard Austin Rivers.
Mendoza opened Filthy Rich in 2006, but he tells NBC News he's been styling and cutting hair since he was a kid. His mother was a beautician, and he learned the craft by watching her give haircuts in their kitchen.
The artistry runs in the family: Mendoza and his sister Kassandra “Kazz” Mendoza, who also works at Filthy Rich, are fifth-generation hairstylists, and their great-great grandmother is said to have opened the first salon in the city of Batac, Philippines.
The employees at Filthy Rich have come on board in a multitude of ways: Victor Sotolongo was Kassandra Mendoza's client before he wanted in on the lifestyle of barbering and got his cosmetology license. Jonathan “Jive” Villota, who says even if he was dead broke he’d get haircuts or shape-ups every two weeks, was also one of Kassandra's clients until he asked the Mendozas if he could occupy a spot in the shop. Nate Imperio was discovered on Instagram and he brought 20-year-old Shaun Scripps, the newest recruit, with him.
And then there’s Rhyan “360” Woods, who went to the same barber school as Mendoza, and was put on site as part of his shop placement to finish his certification. He was the first one in the spot, apart from Mendoza. When they met, “we just hit it off immediately,” Woods told NBC News. “Both from Queens, pretty much born and raised. Met fans, hip-hop heads. It all meshed together.”
For Woods, being able to diversify his abilities in cutting hair is the most satisfying aspect of joining the team comprised mostly of Filipino and mixed-Asian stylists.
“You have a lot of shops that only cater to their own ethnicity,” Woods, who is black, said. “That’s something I wanted to get away from, because it’s just too typical. It’s the overall experience that I’m not gonna get just staying around the way."
There are a number of sayings that circulate the room as new customers make their way in and out of the chairs:
“You’re only as good as your last cut.”
“I don’t remember names, I just remember hair.”
“You can cheat on your girl, but you can never cheat on your barber.”
It's not unusual for customers to start streaming into Filthy Rich 30 minutes before the shop officially opens. One client, George, tells NBC News he's been coming to the shop since it opened, and even though he lives in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, he'll drive to Filthy Rich to cut his hair. He said he didn’t like how other barbershops in his area would take you in, cut your hair, then get you out quickly with no real relationship cultivated.
Instead, people at Filthy Rich take their time. Some of the barbers pause mid-cut to do their own hair or engage in gossip while their scissors rest at their sides. Sometimes, the line grows so much in the waiting area that Mendoza has to bring more chairs from the back, where his own barber chair is located, separated from the rest.
The one person Mendoza dreams of styling that hasn’t crossed the shop's threshold yet? Nas.
“I’m still waiting for that day I cut Nas,” Mendoza said. "He was my skin fade and number two all-around — favorite cut, on that Queens-era life. But I really want my staff to cut his hair when he comes. I just want to shake his hand.”