Competitive barber Nasee Yehuda at Madison Street Barbers Credit: Olivia Obineme

Nasee Yehuda is the proprietor of Madison Street Barbers (2429 W. Madison) on the near west side. During last month’s Major League Barber Original Midwest SuperBarber & Stylist Tradeshow at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, the 39-year-old took first place in the Fastest and Cleanest Fade event. He spoke about how he got immersed in the world of competitive barbering.

When I was younger, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to the barber shop. My father, he used to cut my hair, but he wasn’t a barber. It was rough because coming up in inner-city Chicago, if you didn’t have a good haircut, you got talked about. So me and my brothers started practicing on each other. I never wanted to be a barber. I just wanted a good haircut so people would stop bullying me.

I’m the type that when I do something, I want to master it, so I was like, “OK, let me practice on myself.” After a while, when my friends started coming to me—”Hey, can you line me up?”—I knew I was getting better. After a while they started to offer me, like, $2. By the time I graduated high school, I was averaging $50, $60 cash money, every single day.

I wanted to go to barber school, but to my mother, it was like, “This sounds like you just want to hang out.” In the late 90s, a lot of my friends were in gangs, selling drugs. If I went to barber school, I’d be hanging out with these same guys. She knew the trouble they got in was eventually gonna rub off on me.

So I went to college, and I flunked out, because I barely went to class, because I was cutting hair. I’m a perfectionist. Cutting hair is like art to me: “OK, I’m late to psychology, but I want to make sure this line is crispy.” I got put on academic probation and had to sit out a semester, and what my mother told me was gonna happen, actually did happen. I was hanging out with my friends, selling drugs, and when they went to jail, I went to jail.

The public defender convinced me to plead no contest, so I got a felony on my record. That kind of shifted my future, you feel me? It was like, “Cut hair, or work for day labor and get less than everybody else,” ’cause I was a felon. That’s what made me get good at cutting hair, ’cause it was all I had.

I started cutting on my back porch. There was a barber shop that opened across the street, and everybody who came on the porch would tell me, “Why aren’t you cutting hair in the shop right there?” One day the owner came out and walked across the lot. I’m thinking he’s gonna muscle me. He didn’t come over there and entice me or nothing like that. He said, “Ain’t you tired of making this little change on this back porch? What you need to do is come over here to the barber shop and make some real money.” I felt like LeBron. I felt like Kobe. I was 20 years old.

I opened up Madison Street Barbers in October 2014. The most popular cuts are low fades, mohawks, high-top fades, all those old-school retro cuts. But I do everything. I do comb-overs, I do razor fades. I do straight-razor, hot-towel shaves. I do color. I do bleaching jobs. All that. Every once in a while, I’ll get somebody who wants something custom. This one guy has a clothing line, and he wanted me to put the logo of his clothing line on his head.

My first show was MLB, the Major League Barber Original Midwest SuperBarber & Stylist Tradeshow, in January last year. I got second place in freestyle design. When I won that, you couldn’t tell me nothing. You know how hard it is to win in Chicago? There are a lot of dope barbers in Chicago. From then to right now, I been in damn near every competition. I’ve won 16 trophies. I’m kind of like the trophy addict of the barber industry right now. This year at MLB, I got first place for fastest fade. I did a haircut in 13 minutes and 20 seconds.

Outside of a barber shop, men don’t really have many places they can go and just be men. Sometimes you might want to go somewhere and have a guy ask you, “What’s wrong?” I’m that guy. I’m gonna talk with you. We gonna laugh, we gonna joke. And I don’t repeat nothing. My clients know I don’t tell their business. I had a guy that came through the shop, and his whole income tax got took. He was just feeling really bad. I gave him a nice haircut, and he said, “I feel a lot better, man. I feel so much better.”  v