Ed Washington is expanding the No Grease brand through his passion for music with ‘The Line Up’ series

By Cameron Lee

November 29, 2022

Photo: Michael Lopez-Bond

During the pandemic, Ed Washington, a franchise owner of No Grease barbershop, was thinking about ways to continue to expand the thriving brand originally founded by brothers Damian and Jermaine Johnson in 1997. As an avid hip-hop fan since his childhood growing up in Park Slope, Brooklyn (moving to Charlotte in 1995), he wanted to connect his passion for music into the marketing plans for the shop. 

“It was really trying to figure out, ‘Okay, what can we do cool from a marketing standpoint that would stand out?’ I love hip-hop, so it was an easy synergy,” said Washington. 

Ed Washington, franchise owner of No Grease barbershop at Northlake Mall and Charlotte Premium Outlets. 

Washington, a graduate of Gardner-Webb University who also works at Microsoft as a technical executive, didn’t have many direct connections to the music industry, although No Grease has seen the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Nas, and Allen Iverson in their barber chairs. 

A fan of freestyle rap shows like LA Leakers, Funk Flex, Bars On I-95, and Cosmic Kev, Washington came up with the aptly titled “The Line Up” YouTube show, a freestyle rap cypher series that kicked off in June of 2020.

“There’s a connection to the barber shop and music…they [artists] used to drop off CDs and tapes, now they are dropping off fliers with QR codes,” Washington said. “Music is a sub-culture of the barbershop, so I just felt like it made sense.”

Barbers Devin Harvey, Bori Castro, Keith Middleton, and Darnele Chisholm at No Grease (Charlotte Premium Outlets).

Starting the series with rapper Big Dreek from Shelby, 3DNa’Tee from New Orleans, Philadelphia’s RJ Payne, New York’s Beny Bermuda, and Charlotte-based rapper Logan, Washington and filmmaker Terrance Palmer (Digi Dreams Films) quickly got acclimated to producing the freestyle cypher show. 

Washington reached out next to fellow Brooklyn native and revered rapper Skyzoo– who has collaborated with North Carolina’s 9th Wonder and the hip-hop collective Justus League– to headline the next session. He also added Charlotte’s own Jamla/Roc Nation rapper Reuben Vincent, who has a special connection to No Grease having freestyled at the shop as a kid. The second episode of The Line Up which also features up-and-coming rapper Lady London, has amassed an impressive 70,000+ views on YouTube.

He then followed up with Buffalo natives Che Noir and Griselda’s Armani Caesar (who now lives in North Carolina), and the YouTube series gained even more momentum. After the second episode, Washington connected with Styles P of the famed New York rap group The Lox, who he has admired for years. He booked Styles for the next cypher with a concert in Charlotte after being introduced to his manager by his brother-in-law, Joe Greene, a promoter based in Asheville. 

“It was a perfect opportunity for me to do this show…trying to build a relationship that was more about business for me,” said Washington, referring to the Styles P show. 

Cultivating relationships and Black entrepreneurship is just as important for Washington as promoting his shops. Since starting the series, he has maintained friendships with Skyzoo, even visiting him for the opening of his new restaurant, The Burger Bistro, in Douglasville, Georgia. He also helps mentor Che Noir and her husband Tony Avery with their new barbershop ToneCutz716 in Buffalo. 

Washington prides himself on doing good business and giving artists a first-class experience while in Charlotte, providing top-notch hotels, transportation and, of course, payment for the appearances in The Line Up cyphers. He wants to continue to build relationships in the music industry to provide a digital platform for artists when they come through the Carolinas, and help spotlight talent in the region. 

Styles P gets a manicure before his cypher and show in Charlotte at No Grease (Charlotte Premium Outlets). Photo: Michael Lopez-Bond

“Relationships and social capital sometimes are worth more than currency and money,” he said. “As we continue to build this platform, when rappers are in town, I want them to look at us as an option, you know, to shoot content to help promote whatever they’re promoting.” 

As Washington continues to grow his two No Grease barbershop locations (Northlake Mall and Charlotte Premium Outlets), and eyes his third in the near future, music will continue to be a part of the brand. Connecting his passion for hip-hop with his new endeavor as a barbershop franchise owner, his team will continue to line up customers with fresh haircuts as he continues to find ways to line up music experiences to keep evolving the brand. 

Watch The Line Up freestyle cypher series presented by No Grease barbershop (Northlake Mall and Charlotte Premium Outlets). 

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