I first met Brooklyn icon ‘Meatloaf’ more than three years ago at the then-recently opened (and now unfortunately defunct) Vax Taco in Boreum Hill, and was surprised by the soft-spoken entrepreneur behind the bravado that is Rock Boy Choppers. Complex, multi-talented, community-driven and a man that always has his eyes on his roots while looking for the next big thing … all ways you can describe Jeffrey Scales. Behind the cool and often larger-than-life presence lies a big heart and a whole lotta soul. All Hail the King of Baggers. Herein lies …
I just didn’t want to be like everyone else, be the norm, because everyone is the norm, everyone has black bikes … I just wanted to be myself and show it in my bikes.
Born in Birmingham, AL in 1968 to a single mother, Jeffrey Scales spent his first four years in the state foster care system before the first of many self-described “blessings” altered the course of his life.
Known for his head-turning bagger motorcycles and matching bespoke suit designs, his larger-than-life monikers – ‘Meatloaf Scalesa’ and ‘Rock Boy’ – and his ‘push forward, no matter what’ attitude, Scales’ life pivoted the day his birth mother returned to Jefferson County to reconnect with him.
Together again, they boarded a Greyhound bus and moved to the New York borough he has now called home for more than four and a half decades: Brooklyn.
Sitting in his current Bed-Stuy-based barber shop, El Domoliek's Upscale Grooming Salon, and channeling an almost Isaac Hayes presence – shaved head, salt and pepper beard, heavy-rimmed glasses and a deep yet gregarious voice – Scales looks on those early days growing up in East New York as the building bricks that formed the man he is today.
He even cracks a smile as he remembers living in an apartment next to a fire hall in one of the toughest areas in the city.
“There wasn't a playground, but you know, that was the closest thing to me,” Scales says, “helping the guys out, washing the firehouse. I remember the firehouse, Ladder 103, I still remember that. It was on Sheffield and Livonia, (and) still is to this day.”
Urban life in the '70s and '80s taught Scales not only the rules of the street, but the importance of community, family and having goals in life to better yourself and those around you.
El Domoliek's Upscale Grooming Salon in Bed-Stuy has always been a gathering place for the local community, a place for Scales to cut hair and stay in touch with his roots. — Rahoul Ghose
But I always wish (the Hayes brothers) were here to see the impact they had on me. You know, how I am doing today with what’s now my ninth barber shop.
COMMUNITY MAKES YOU THE PERSON YOU ARE
The eldest of four siblings, Scales grew up as the ‘man’ of the house from a very young age supporting his mother through the struggles of bringing up children as a single parent under trying socioeconomic circumstances. He was the first one to graduate high school, the first one to get a city job and the first one, as an adult, to own a home.
“It definitely built my character … having no father figure, you have to learn and weave your way through life in the streets as a young person. I wanted more for myself … all the elements around you, the dopeheads the crackheads, all those things that can draw into you, can take you either direction … you know what I’m saying? That’s why I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink … I don’t do anything.”
Scales did find some unlikely mentors in the Hayes brothers, who ran a local barbershop and community hangout. East New York at that time was a haven for gangs, drug dealers and violent crime.
“Those are the guys that got me interested in cutting hair. I actually started sweeping up their shop and asked questions about cutting hair. I was always fascinated by it. When I went home, I would practice on my little brother and my friends.”
While the brothers were comfortable with Scales sweeping up, they would not offer him a full-time job “as there was too much ‘stuff’ going on for a kid to see,” Scales said. “And I respected that, you know.”
He did eventually get a cutting job at another shop.
“But I always wish they were here to see the impact they had on me. You know, how I am doing today with what’s now my ninth barber shop.”
PAYING IT FORWARD
Looking around El Domoliek's – named after two of Scales’ sons – there is a sense of that community spirit, even in the throes of a worldwide pandemic. Cutters, regular clients, and even visitors just in for a chat all filter through, wearing masks.
The barbershop has been ground central for Scales’ philosophy of paying it forward for this and the next generation, whether it’s hosting annual Toys for Tots events in December, book bags in August for returning students, mentoring Black youths or helping to feed the homeless.
“I’ve been doing it so long now it’s like clockwork. People have done things for me and you have to reciprocate, you have to give back.”
The pandemic has even given rise to new unforeseen issues, he says, with students not having access to meal programs they would normally get during the school year.
“Now I’m trying to figure out … with lots of schools now being forced to do homeschooling … where people could just come for supplies instead of book bags. It’s just trying to make a change to do whatever you can do.”
While Scales shies away from the moniker of ‘community leader’, that is in fact what he is, without the politics.
On the mentoring side, Scales did a stint with Five Hundred Men Making a Difference, which paired mentors in the community with local youth in the hopes of creating the area’s next leaders.
Also close to his heart is the work he’s done with PCNY: “They have a broad arrangement of people that come together to do call and food drives.”
And looking back to his own childhood, in the future Scales would like to do some boys camps, taking at risk youth out of the neighborhood for two weeks and offering them life-changing experiences to broaden their goals in life.
“You cry when you leave because you don’t want to be away from your family … and then you cry when you come back because you don’t want to leave. It’s just stuff kids are never going to see in the community … you don’t know what’s on the other side of the world.”
Even spearheading the campaign for more youth basketball courts in the neighborhood, at a time when the facilities are being shuttered due to COVID … that’s on the to do list of personal community efforts for Scales.
Jeffrey 'Meatloaf' Scales on his latest Rock Boy Choppers Bagger ... version 5 is currently in the works. — Rahoul Ghose
And I said, ‘you’re the white Meat Loaf and I’m the black Meatloaf … there’s definitely two of us, 100 percent’. It was a crazy, crazy experience … something I had to knock off my to do list.
WHAT’S IN A NAME: MEATLOAF SCALESA
Scales earned the first of his three nom de plumes in his formative years. Now shared with the aging rockstar of Bat Out of Hell fame, ‘Meatloaf’ was simply a friend’s poke at his childhood physique.
“When I was a small kid, I had a little body and a big head. And kids used to make fun of me … it was like “Yo, you got a meatloaf head. It kind of stuck with me as I got older.”
In his inimitable fashion, Scales took something that could have torn him down, and owned it. It’s a strength he has always had, adapting to whatever life throws his way.
The same could be said for when, as an adult, Scales was served with a cease and desist order by none other than Michael Lee Aday, the American singer/actor Meat Loaf, for using his childhood nickname on a fashion line.
Scales took the confrontation as an opportunity to meet and talk with his namesake, who also holds an affinity for all things motorcycle-related. After three unsuccessful attempts at staging a motorcade for the singer in NYC, which were postponed due to an accident and sickness, Scales finally met the singer last year after being invited to his off-Broadway show with a group of his friends.
“We all met at the barbershop and rode to the city,” Scales said. “I was the third interview, we had photo ops and talked. And I said, ‘you’re the white Meat Loaf and I’m the black Meatloaf … there’s definitely two of us, 100 percent’. It was a crazy, crazy experience … something I had to knock off my to do list.”
Scales’ almost Godfather-like altered surname, one that has prompted people to ask if he has some Italian blood in him, has a less famed backstory.
‘Scalesa’ derived from a clerical error when Scales was first hired by the city’s Parks and Rec Department as a seasonal worker. Scales’ script-like writing on his employment form ended up adding an ‘a’ to his last name in the payroll database.
“They were like, ‘Are you Black Italian?’ I liked the way is sounded and just kind of ran with it as my street name.”
The database did have to be corrected though, so he could be paid under his proper name.
WE’RE BLACK ROCK STARS
The Rock Boy name attached to Scales’ chopper, motorcycle and web series brands was actually a second choice, one that Scales snapped up and registered after being unable to acquire his first inspiration.
Already building his own bikes and wearing his brand of fashion, Scales remembers being chased down after leaving the 1 Oak NYC club in Chelsea by two women, more than six years ago.
“It was like ‘Yo, where are you from? You from LA or something?’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m from Brooklyn … we design custom bikes and stuff like that.’ And she’s like: ‘Yo … like Black Rock Stars.’ A light bulb just went up inside my head.”
Black Rock Stars was unfortunately unavailable. Rock Boy became the name that would define Scales’ unique Brooklyn-borne urban style.
Meatloaf Scalesa always makes a grand entrance at the annual Distinguished Gentleman's Ride fundraiser in NYC. — Hugh Miller | Ethan Covey
We had a bike shop in Brownsville, we’d just switched to Baggers, and at the same time big wheels started to come out … 26 inches. I wanted to be the first one to do it.
BIKER BEGINNINGS TO BAGGERS
Scales has been drawn to motorcycles since he was small child and still remembers sitting on his first bike, a Honda Goldwing at seven, in the neighbor’s driveway with a childhood friend. He learned to ride on his uncle’s Honda CB 500, but his first bike was actually a Honda Helix scooter at 14 years old.
“I remember parking the bike in the yard … my mother was hanging up clothes and not paying attention. So, I tried to put it in the back of the house and cover it up. When I got upstairs, she was like, ‘Whose bike is that?’ I told her it was my friends … but she didn’t believe me. ‘We can’t afford it,’ she said.”
Mothers always know … everything.
Then followed a slew of different bikes: race, dirt, street, Japanese, American.
But Scales’ most vivid memory of the times was going down to the train depot, as bikes for the local Honda dealership were regularly offloaded there.
“We’d always go there just to look at the bikes.”
Harleys came into the picture when Scales hit his mid-20s. And he started to modify and design around Harley Davidsons in 1999/2000.
“We had a bike shop in Brownsville, we’d just switched to Baggers, and at the same time big wheels started to come out … 26 inches. I wanted to be the first one to do it.”
Scales said initial reaction to the look, which flipped the stretched chopper look of a small wheel in the front and larger in the back, was very negative … urban Black riders ruining the Harley Davidson aesthetic.
But Scales fought through the negativity to do his own thing … whether it was even bigger front wheels, out of the box color schemes or design elements which reflected his own vision, something uniquely Black, urban and Brooklyn.
“I just didn’t want to be like everyone else, be the norm, because everyone is the norm, everyone has black bikes … I just wanted to be myself and show it in my bikes.”
With the collaborative help of several builders and painters, Scales has completed four bikes to date and has already started on a fifth variation. Each can take up to six months’ build time.
Bikes start with Harley speced models, but are highly modded with new suspensions, rims, bodywork, frames, handlebars, control systems, brakes and internal wiring. It takes a team of specialized builders and artisans to produce a single bike, which can sell for up to $50,000.
The years have also seen some significant accolades including the distinction of being the first Black bike designer to be featured on the cover of Ironworks Magazine (November 2012) with photography by New York’s own Mark Velazquez. More recently Scales’ Tiffany blue bike and his fashion sensibilities were front and center in Wall Street Journal columnist A.J. Baime’s regular ‘My Ride’ feature, later replicated in his coffee table book 100 Dream Cars: The Best of My Ride.
What stands out is Scales’ color aesthetic and the matching bespoke clothing he designs to complement the bikes. One has only to participate in the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride fundraiser each year in NYC to see his work on full display for the motoring fashionistas.
Like his favored improvisational musical styles – rap and jazz – Scales introduces a spectrum of color not necessarily associated with the motorcycling world.
“I just love colors, colors that go with my skin tone, colors that I can pull off … who would say I want to ride a Tiffany blue bike, in a Tiffany blue suit?” Scales says, adding that variety and vision is something he gives full credit to his mother for encouraging.
Ultimately, Scales would like to get to a point where his bikes can be produced in greater numbers at a faster rate.
“It will be like, do you want a short bag, a long bag, what color do you want. I want it to come out of the crate ready for shipping/delivery.”
Success may lie in a trip overseas to visit several aftermarket parts manufacturers and set up business deals for parts importing, Scales said, pointing to Japan as the future.
Rock Boy respect truly hit in November 2012 with a cover photo on Ironworks Magazine, the first to highlight a Black builder/rider, and continued in 2018 with a photo feature in the Wall Street Journal and inclusion in columnist A.J. Baime's coffee table book 100 Dream Cars: The Best of 'My Ride' last year. — Mark Velazquez/Ironworks | Cate Dingley/Wall Street Journal
I just love colors, colors that go with my skin tone, colors that I can pull off … who would say I want to ride a Tiffany blue bike, in a Tiffany blue suit?
BUILDING A ROCK BOY EMPIRE
Rounding out the Rock Boy trifecta is Scales’ award-winning Black lifestyle web series Rock Boy Empire. Now in its third season, the partially scripted drama is a chance to not only highlight the NYC urban scene; it also allows Scales to showcase his bikes and fashion, and tell his story.
“I’m filming episode 9 of the third season and there’s 13 episodes per season,” he says adding all are available on YouTube. “The streets, they gravitated to it, and it’s like no matter where I go now, I get recognized.”
Scales, who ultimately would like to move the series to a higher end streaming service, also has a documentary proposal in the works and a request for a reality series under consideration.
Part of that documentary may include Scales’ own brush with mortality, a motorcycle accident in which he came close to losing his arm after being struck by a hit-and-run taxi cab in New York City.
Life’s blessings gave him a doctor who managed to repair the damage to his arm, which required four operations to rebuild the forearm below his dislocated and almost severed elbow.
“Any time I go to do something I say God tested me, to see how strong I am. But I begged the doctor and said if you take my arm, I’m going to go crazy. I’m going to lose everything, my business, my job, my family, myself.”
Faith, fate, inner strength … call it what you will. But Scales lived through the ordeal and came back even more driven and centered on his life’s goals.
An empire is built on sweat and tears. When he’s not working at the barbershop or promoting his brands, Scales can be found driving a $390,000 heavy load tow truck for the city’s sanitation department, dubbed the ‘racker’. Many years ago, he made the decision to take full time employment with the city for the security in supporting a growing family. Now with a majority of his five children grown up, Scales thinks the time has come to push his dream of a Fortune 500 company, featuring his Rock Boy enterprises and his salon, into reality.
Rock Boy Empire: Series 1, Episode 1 ... where it all started. Season 3, Episode 9 now in the works. — Rockboy Empire
People see me and they’re like, ‘You made it’. And I’m like, ‘No, I didn’t make it yet.’ ... My vision is already there. I just have to play it out … you know what I’m saying?
APPLYING THE PRESSURE FOR SUCCESS
Outside El Domoliek's, at Marcus Garvey Blvd and Jefferson Ave., Scales holds a sidewalk court of sorts, standing beside his current ride, a burgundy, fuchsia and gold Harley Ultra Glide / Road King conversion that boasts a 32-inch SMT front rim worth 7K alone, and a distinctive, offset, large amber headlight.
Looking up and down the street, Scales says he’s thinking about organizing a biker night with the restaurant across the street this fall, COVID compliant of course.
His current ride turns heads and draws a crowd everywhere he goes. In this neighborhood, so does Scales. Motorcyclists, cyclists, walkers by and skateboarders all wave as they pass the barbershop. A neighboring business owner stops to shoot the breeze. And one young skater, selling large bottles of hand sanitizer from his backpack, makes a sale.
“You gotta support,” Scales says, handing the 20-something a bill. “I take everything as a blessing, you know. That’s got a lot to do with who I am. I’m not supposed to be here, so anything that comes up … I just draw forward.”
“People see me and they’re like, ‘You made it’. And I’m like, ‘No, I didn’t make it yet.’”
With his eyes on the future – looking to a time when his Rock Boy motorcycles, fashion and media presence all intersect and finally hit big – Scales knows success is just around the corner. Pie in the sky: Scales will have a showroom featuring his bikes and fashion on 42nd Street.
He just needs to keep pushing forward, applying his own unique brand of pressure.
“My vision is already there. I just have to play it out … you know what I’m saying?”
If you're interested in being part of the Rock Boy vision, contact Jeffrey Scales on Linkedin ... and follow his Instagram accounts for the latest news: @meatloaf | @rockboychoppers | @rockboyempire .