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When my recent guest on “Renaissance Man” was in prison, he got a major cred boost from Jay-Z.
In “Excuse Me Miss Again,” Jay rapped “Fake Manolo boots straight from Steve Madden,” and the line couldn’t have come at a better time. Madden was serving a 41-month sentence in prison (he served 2½ years) for stock manipulation, money laundering and securities fraud. He was released in 2005.
“So I told my kids about that, and they didn’t believe me,” Madden told me of his Jay-Z namecheck.
“So I was in prison when that happened. I was in federal prison. And it was fantastic.” (He meant the song, not the sentence.)
“You know, I would be with all the guys in the rec yard. and I’d be, ‘You know Jay-Z just rapped about me.’ They’d say, ‘No you’re full of s–t’. And sure enough, boom, and you know I became an honorary brother at that moment. So it was kind of cool.”
On the outside, people might take it as a diss, but when you’re in jail, and you’re the minority, it’s like getting a blessing from the hip-hop pope.
Sadly, his Jay-Z pixie dust did not help him with another rap star by the name of Nicki Minaj.
Madden — who said he had met Minaj once through his pal record producer Irv Gotti — was working with her sworn arch nemesis Cardi B. In 2018, after Minaj landed a contract with Diesel, Cardi B noted that she had turned it down and essentially said Minaj took her castoffs.
The “Super Bass” rapper threw it back in her face tweeting that Cardi B was working with Madden, whom she shot down after numerous offers from Gotti to sign on with the brand. Madden soon found himself out of his depth.
“Me the fool: I tweeted Nicki, stop lying, I never offered you the job. Something like that, and she called me every name in the book. It was terrible. They know how to go at it, but I don’t. They beat me up so bad, I was a under the covers for a week. I couldn’t look at the phone,” he said, adding that he likes Minaj. And he did want to work with her, but she had another contract at the time.
“I didn’t really get to tell my side of the story.”
He could survive prison but when he wandered into a fight between two feisty female rappers, he got his eyes scratched out.
But one thing I found funny about him is that Madden is extremely candid and real. He isn’t pretending that an L was a W. He owns it all, especially his time behind bars.
“Being incarcerated was terrible … I tried to make sense of it. It was a financial crime, and I was guilty, and I made no bones about it. I might have been the only guy in the prison that was admitted he was guilty. Everybody in prison is innocent, by the way, everybody.”
To cope, he started working out and walking. As a human being, he was able to adapt to his new reality and routine.
“But it’s the heartbreak knowing the world is going on outside,” he told me. His time inside made him realize we need prison reform and to change harsh drug laws.
Last year he published a memoir called “The Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell From Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever.” Writing a book is always a point of self-reflection, but he admitted that he wrote it while in a different mind space, and that the pandemic has changed so much.
The lesson he wanted people to take from it?
“I’m just a regular goofy guy … Like, just the regular guy, wasn’t brilliant. But I have a passion.” He also said ego drove him more than money.
“A lot of people give ego a bad name,” he said. That resonated with me because I always use the term “irrational confidence.” I would sit in the locker room and say, “Michael Jordan ain’t got nothing on me.”
Madden said he didn’t think he was the Jordan of soles. “I had a passion to make shoes that girls wanted. And I didn’t think I was the greatest of all time, but I thought that I was good, and I cared about it. And it was bigger than money. I wanted to win.”
He has lorded over an empire, and stayed relevant for decades. But because it’s his name, not a face on his label, so he’s able to anonymously see his work in action on the streets of New York City.
“Everyone grows up with our shoes, and I get a kick out of, you know, just walking around and seeing it,” he said, adding that he loved closing the Georgetown store in DC so the Obama daughters could shop there.
About 10 years ago, he met with Lady Gaga and they were mutually star-struck. “I said, ‘You’re Lady Gaga,’ and she said, ‘No, you’re Steve Madden.’ ” He noted that she went to Sacred Heart in Manhattan where his shoes were ubiquitous. “You weren’t cool unless you wore Steve Madden, I didn’t really get that perspective from the other side.”
Fun fact: Madden only owns four pairs of shoes, and he doesn’t wear sneakers. Instead, he wears steel-toed boots like he did in prison.
He’s an opinionated sports fan, and his favorite basketball player is Earl the Pearl Monroe (who was drafted in the same year as my biological dad, Providence College star, Jimmy Walker). As for present-day hoops, he and his son are rabid Nets fans.
He predicted that they’ll be in the NBA Finals this year. It’s a good assessment, but they need Kevin Durant to stay healthy for any of that to happen. But hey, Madden, if you’re right, I’ll be at the games. And Nathan’s hot dogs at Barclays Center are on me.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.
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