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'THIS MIGHT NOT WORK'

The Art Adventures and Endeavors of Andrew J. Katz

Mission: Questlove and Black Thought

“We’re living in some times that’s the craziest /
They say these legislators are the laziest /
Dedicated religious figures have gone atheist /
Each and every thing must change, there’s no escaping this”

– Black Thought a.k.a. Tariq Trotter at Harvard’s Innovation Lab

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In the winter of 2015, I was fortunate to get tickets to see The Roots at Fillmore Silver Spring, in Maryland.  I had plenty of lead-time, and the show date fell on a night towards the end of a lengthy break for the holidays.  I challenged myself to make two portraits for the show, deciding to experiment with composition and media.  While I had been satisfied with many of my watercolor portraits, I wanted to get out of my comfort-zone, and try some new approaches.

I had been playing around with making drawings on butcher paper; a brown surface, with the consistency of a paper bag.  I really liked being able to work the surface with a full range of graphite pencil, only to then heighten the image with white charcoal.  Using the brown ground as a middle value is distinctly different than working on a white surface. After a quick succession of portraits of Kool G Rap, Lord Jamar, Sadat X, Grand Puba, and Slick Rick, I decided to get more ambitious with the size and the level of experimentation.  I needed to find some large cardboard.

IMG_20150208_085755180_HDR In order to save money in college, many student artists would forge relationships with appliance stores.  Once a refrigerator or washing machine would sell, the large cardboard box would be given to an artist for repurposing.  The inexpensive (or free, in many cases) cardboard provided a uniquely textured surface, and could be bent, cut, or torn.

I researched strong photographs of Black Thought, and selected a frontal, head and shoulders shot that was presented in black and white.  I wanted to work large, so I began with a full sheet of 32″ x 40″ corrugated cardboard. This would be the first piece in what I now call The Corrugated Cardboard Collection, a series of portraits featuring the icons of the Hip-Hop genre.

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Feeling good about the Thought portrait, and riding the buzz of a successful experiment, I made plans to stay ambitious in my attempts to render Roots drummer, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson.  Instantly recognizable, and ‘cooler than the other side of the pillow‘, Thompson is a multi-talented, multi-faceted DJ, producer, and journalist.  He famously quipped – “The only mofos in my circle are people that I can learn from”. It’s this notion, along with an incendiary approach to making music, that captured my imagination and attention.  I was looking forward to the challenge of capturing his likeness.

I decided to paint a fresh, new watercolor, with the intention of including the Philadelphia skyline running along the background in silhouette. At the bottom of the portrait, a small space afforded me an opportunity to attach a series of roots to the torso of the figure. In this way, the piece had become a surreal tribute to the man, his band, and his city.

After sketching out the composition in a light, 4H pencil, I sought feedback through Twitter.  I blasted out details of the sketch, and was pleasantly surprised with the rich, useful, and thoughtful comments. Inspired anew, I began laying in the watercolor washes.

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When the new painting was complete, I was satisfied that it represented the best of my technical abilities.  Many artists want to believe that their last work is their best work. In this case, I definitely felt I had reached a new level of accuracy. I  was looking forward to sharing this new composition, and getting it in front of Questlove.

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Unbeknownst to me, my family had planned an incredible vacation down to the city of Asheville, North Carolina.  We would be renting a lake house and exploring the town. I was excited to go, and looked forward to crossing paths with my friend, Jay Myers. The only wrinkle in our plans was that I’d be in Asheville, while The Roots, Black Thought, and Questlove were in Maryland!   I began to problem-solve, and realized that I could come back alone a day early to take in the show.

After Christmas, we drove down to Asheville, taking our time and taking the most scenic route. Overall, it took about 10 hours, and I began to regret my decision to cut my vacation short. Asheville is a cool, little city, and I really liked the vibe and the people we met.

After a few days of leisure, I packed up and left my family and the lake house ,to make the long trek back to Maryland. I felt particularly guilty, as my wife had a bad cough and a fever by the time I departed. She’s always very supportive of my penchant for these art adventures, and assured me that I should get on the road.  I felt like an asshole.

This time around, I was by myself.  I buckled in, started the car, and loaded up a queue of great music. Over the many miles of straight highway, I ran through a dozen podcasts, and a ton of road-trip classics.  It was a beautiful but monotonous drive, and near the end, I was happy to see the familiar terrain and roads of my home state.

Back within sight of my artistic goals, I began to focus on the task at hand. I was meeting Malcolm, Mike from Philly, and my friend Keith, at the concert. We converged on The Fillmore, and picked up our tickets at will-call.  Upon our arrival, the crowd was already beginning to swell, and we decided to make our way to the stage area.  We posted up next to a short barricade that led to the backstage area.

The crowd filled in quickly, and we were pushed to the front, left-side of the stage. We would have a good vantage point, and we’d be able to see the band as they took the stage. The Roots put on an energetic, fun, and inspiring performance, using each member of the group to rile up the huge crowd.  I was particularly impressed with Black Thought and his command of the mic and the stage. I think it’s fair to say that he remains underrated.

During the show, Malcolm and Mike took turns encouraging me to hold up my work, and I, not wanting to block anyone’s view, declined.  Eventually, they took matters into their own hands and each took a piece of art from my portfolio.

As the Roots left the stage, Mike and Malcolm held up the Black Thought piece, and the J-Dilla ‘evolving watercolor’.  I held the Questlove painting.  We were able to catch their attention, and although there was a barricade separating us,  they moved closer to sign the work and mix it up. Black Thought was first, and I asked if he’d tag some lyrics on the drawing.  I had written down a couple of options, and I was just about to pull the paper from my pocket, when he held up his hand, looked at the ceiling, and said “Naw”.  I thought he meant that he wouldn’t write lyrics, but instead he was making his own choice.  He looked down at the work, and began to write.  20160916_184454

He chose lyrics from a song called Bird’s Eye View by Statik Selektah. The song features Raekwon, Black Thought, and Joey Bada$$.  It was the first time that someone tagging one of my portraits had made this kind of spontaneous decision.  It made it more meaningful.

Both Black Thought and Questlove added their signatures to the J-Dilla piece, and cemented the unique qualities of that work. I’m not sure where it will end up, but I’m extremely proud of tracking down so many of Jay Dee’s peers, contemporaries, and admirers.  It is a one-of-a-kind, and it represents the travel, hustle, and experiences attached to attending a live show with art  in hand.

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We shuffled the paintings, and before he walked off, I handed the watercolor to Questlove.  I politely asked him to sign it, and he joked: “I don’t want to ruin it!”.  I said, “You could write whatever you want on there, and it would be great!”  After he held it up for a photo, he doodled a quick self-portrait and a signature. Then, he was on his way.

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The show was over, and people began to disperse.  We decided to hang around a bit, to see if we could catch them again outside. We went around to the back of the venue, and almost immediately found Black Thought on the way to the bus.  He was posing for pictures, and hamming it up with a few concert-goers next to a short wall.  We pulled up, and thanked him for playing. We took turns getting some flicks, and joking around with him about just how many times I had posted my drawing on Twitter.  It was all in good fun. Just then, Questlove appeared, and took his time with each one of us. It was important to me to get a photo with both of us holding the painting. He was very patient, and participated in the back and forth of storytelling and compliments.

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It was time to go, and I needed to get on the road. It seems that while we were at the show, Lisa, my wife, had taken an unexpected trip to the emergency room.  She needed an IV, and was diagnosed with pneumonia.  Obviously, I would be traveling back to Asheville in the early morning.

The contrast of the elation I felt for the experience of live music, coupled with the meetings of Black Thought and Questlove, and that of the panic and helplessness I was experiencing with Lisa in the hospital 450 miles away, evoked a strange tornado of emotions.

On my way back down to North Carolina, I was able to ebb my distress with fresh memories of good music and good friends.  By the time I arrived at the hospital, the prognosis was much more positive than when I had left.  They caught the pneumonia at an early enough point where it could have been much worse.  I’m writing this story about a year and half after it all happened, perhaps distancing myself from the worry and feelings of panic.  I’m happy to report that Lisa made a speedy recovery, and I was awarded with The World’s Worst Husband Award, for abandoning her when she needed me most. Fortunately for her, her parents, her sister, and my kids were there to see her through. It was a great day when she was released from the hospital and we took the drive back to Maryland.

Time has put a happy spin on these events, and although I still feel pangs of guilt for leaving for my art adventure, the story generates smiles and relief from all who were involved.

I’m glad it all turned out well. Grateful. – AK

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Check out the American Riddle Podcast, as Malcolm and Meriem recap the event, and offer up some soundbites of conversation from the night…

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Mission: Red and Mef

“Yo, I was going 2 buck we roam / Cellular phones
Doc-Meth back in the flesh, blood and bones /
Don’t condone / Spend bank loans on homegrown /
Suckers break like Turbo and Ozone” –

Da Rockwilder – Method Man and Redman

A few months ago, I heard the news: Method Man and Redman would be performing in Baltimore, Maryland at Ram’s Head Live.  I didn’t have tickets, I had no art ready, and I had a conflicting engagement that would prevent me from attending.  This logistical trifecta insured that I would have to wait for another opportunity to catch them live.  Serendipitously, a few days before the show, news emerged that the duo would be rescheduling their performance for May 4th, 2017.  I didn’t find out what happened, and I didn’t really care.  I realized that this turn of events afforded me a window of time to pull some art together and get this show on my calendar.

My fellow artist and friend, Kevin Carmody, had previously made plans to attend the show.  After going back and forth, we each decided to render a portrait of one member of the duo.  Kevin would draw Method Man, and I would draw Red.  It was a mad dash to pull the portraits together, as the show was quickly approaching.

After several phone conversations, and inviting my buddy Malcolm to meet us down there, it was time to make some art.  Kevin’s piece raised the bar, as he used graphite and ink to capture Meth’s scowling mug perfectly.

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Method Man – by Kevin Carmody

The gauntlet was thrust down, and I was next to artistically answer the call.  I got a hold of two fresh sheets of 32″ x 40″ corrugated cardboard, and researched photographic portraits of Reggie Noble (a.k.a. Redman).  In some instances a competitive vibe might have emerged between artists, but I can honestly say that I was inspired by Kevin’s work.  It made me want to draw.  It made me want to connect with our subjects.  I knuckled down, and got to work.  After many hours of cutting in the shadows, and attempting to render believable, appealing gradients, I reached for my white charcoal.  It’s here that the cardboard, graphite, and white media combine to generate a volumetric and realistic effect. When I looked up from my drawing, many hours had elapsed.  I decided to prop the composition up on the far side of the room.  At the end of prolonged studio sessions, I find it important to get away from the drawing for a few minutes. I leave the room without looking back at the piece.  This way, when I return, I will see the image with fresh eyes. Some artists even turn the drawing upside-down in order to insure the visual balance and overall success of the composition.  I did a lap around the house, purposely staying away from the studio space.  When I returned, I saw my finished Redman artwork.

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Feeling better about our readiness to go to the show with art in hand, both Kevin and I changed our original plans.  We continued to draw, and each of us managed to pull together a second portrait.  Our excitement had turned into four separate pieces of art. We were all set. I pulled the Madina-designed ‘Celebration of the Golden Era poster off the wall, stuck it in the folder with the artwork, and packed up the car.

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Method Man by Andrew J. Katz
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Redman by Kevin Carmody

After work, I drove to Federal Hill, in Baltimore, to fuel up with food. I was too early to meet Kevin and Malcolm, and I decided to move over to Fells Point for a while.  Once I re-parked the car, I dropped in to Soundgarden to check out some vinyl.  The date was May 4th, and my thoughts drifted to Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch.  It was five years ago that he passed away.  I remembered that this particular record shop has a small reminder of this sad truth, and I went to find the miniature tribute. It was still there, and I snapped a quick flick.

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For old time’s sake, I snagged a new Beastie Boys shirt to commemorate the moment, and then I was on my way.

We arrived at the Power Plant Live area around 6:00 pm. Doors to Ram’s Head Live open at 7:00, and the show wouldn’t be starting until 8:00.  There were a ton of opening acts, which led us to believe that Red and Meth wouldn’t be going on until after 9:00 or 10:00. It’s just a reality of going to see these live shows, that there will be a lot of late nights.  We decided to go around the back of the venue to see where the talent would be entering.  There was a small bunch of people milling about, and we struck up a conversation with a burly, stone-faced security guard.  He was unimpressed with our work, and seemingly uninterested in anything except his pre-show break and the cigarette pursed between his lips. He leaked that the headliners would likely not be getting to the venue until after 10:00, and encouraged us to find another place to hang out. As we walked away, we wondered aloud whether or not he was just trying to get rid of us.

At that point, we heard from Malcolm.  He’d be meeting us any minute, and we’d get some dinner and take our time going in to the venue. There didn’t seem to be a need to rush.

We hung out for awhile, swapping stories, and catching up.  As showtime neared, we decided to scout the area around back one more time.  As we approached, we noticed more people hanging around, and all manner of Wu Tang Clan shirts and hats, indicating that we were in the right place.  A friendly photographer walked up, and asked us about our large folders.  “Do you all have art in there?”  He asked to see our work, and we happily shared our wares.  We connected on Instagram, and found his photography striking.  It seemed that, while he was working the show, he also had some hard copy photos inside, waiting to be signed.

As we finished our conversation, Kevin asked him “Are Red and Meth here yet?”.  The photographer said, “Naw, they still at the Renaissance. They’ll be over later”.  At this, a little light bulb went on above my head.  The Renaissance Harborplace Hotel is about three blocks from where we were standing. Together, Malcolm, Kevin, and I decided to walk over there to catch them before the show.

We got over there in less than five minutes, and settled in to some comfortable and fancy chairs in the lobby. It was a nice change of pace. It was a quiet night, and we had room to spread out and talk. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of someone walking by wearing a yellow hoodie.  I said, “Kevin, there goes someone!”  He hopped up out of his chair, and realized almost immediately, that it was Method Man.  Kevin said “Hey, I’ve got some art to show you, do you have a minute?” Meth, was heading to a hallway, and said “Hold on a second, I’ll be right back.  I want to see it!” He disappeared for about thirty seconds, and just when I was wondering if he would come back at all, he walked right over to our small group.

He leaned over to see Kevin’s portrait, and was visibly impressed.  “That’s dope!  Yeah, I’ve seen this on-line”. He enthusiastically signed it, and turned towards my drawing.  After signing mine, and tagging the ‘Golden Era poster’, he agreed to take a few pictures.  It was a great few minutes.  He let us know that Red would be down a little later.

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It was getting late now, and we were surprised at the lack of urgency there was in getting to a packed show a few blocks away.  In the meantime, I heard from ‘Mike from Philly’.  He had driven down to see the show, and texted me from the venue.  “I’m here.  Where are you?”.  I let him know we were a few blocks away, and he quickly joined us.  Although he was disappointed that he missed Meth, it was great to have the four of us together for a show.  A few minutes later, Method Man came back through, and Mike got a chance to connect with him.  It turned out well, after all.

When Redman finally emerged, we approached him with our artwork. He graciously signed our pieces, and posed for a few pictures.  Mission: Accomplished.  As soon as we expressed our thanks, and after all of the pictures had been snapped, we realized we’d better run over to the venue to catch the beginning of the show.

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Ultimately, the duo took the stage at 11:15.  They were high-energy and funny; spraying the crowd with their bottled water between songs. I was impressed with their passion and their connection to the audience. It was a great set, and I’m glad I was able to catch them live. Admittedly, I cut the night short, and left before the last song was played.  I had to work the next day, and I had a long drive home.  When I went back outside, with music still playing in my wake, I noticed that it had started to rain. I quickened my pace until I reached the garage.  As I jumped in the car, and pointed my car towards home, I reflected on another exciting mission.  It was great to be with Mike, Kevin, and Malcolm, and I look forward to seeing where the music will take us next. Thanks guys! – AK

 

WLVS: ‘Listen Vision’ Interview

“I like to say that I use my art as a ticket for adventure” – Andrew J. Katz

Not long ago, I received a social media invitation to participate in an on-line television/radio interview.  There are many new outlets for sharing my artwork and my stories, so I jumped at the chance.

The invitation came from the owner/operator of Listen Vision Studios in Washington D.C. –  Jeremy Beaver. Also known as DJ Boom, Jeremy reached out to me, after seeing my artwork on Facebook and Twitter.  I was penciled in as the March 10th ‘District Spotlight’ guest, and he amiably asked me to bring a thumb drive full of my artwork, and five or six original pieces.

I drove to DC that Friday afternoon, and quickly realized that WLVS is just up the road from my U Street stomping grounds, and directly across the street from Howard University.  I was scheduled to be on the air at five o’clock, and getting there a bit early, I decided to explore the Howard campus.

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Founder’s Library – Howard University – Washington, D.C.
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Read this book – Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

After reading the powerful and thought-provoking Ta-Nehisi Coates book, Between the World and Me, I was curious to see his ‘Mecca’; the school and the quad that he credits for expanding his personal and world perspectives.  I wandered past the football field and imagined where the historic homecoming scenes unfolded.  Hip-Hop has had many iconic moments on this campus, and I got swept up in conjuring the images and personalities that helped cement HU’s Hip-Hop resume. It was strangely quiet as I rounded the corner leading to the expansive quad.  The iconic clock tower loomed large, as I noticed fraternity letters and temporary decorations adorning the thick, old trees dotting the campus.  It was apparent that there were many traditions and fraternal rituals that would require more investigation and explanation. It would have to be another time, as it was nearing the time for my interview.  I decided I’d better head over to the studio.

I climbed the stairs in the front of the red-painted building, and walked past a booming speaker.  WLVS is constantly streaming live, and there was a broadcast emanating loudly into the street. Images of Mr. Señor Love Daddy from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing came to mind, as I realized that people in the community were encouraged to listen as they walked by.  The louder the better, and it was all facing in the direction of Howard University’s open gates.

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Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Señor Love Daddy in Do the Right Thing

Upon entering the second floor of the building, one immediately sees the on-air studio area. A few young guys were fiddling with some A/V equipment and casually talking about music.  They looked me up and down, and went back to their business.  There was a closed door at the far end of the room, and display cases filled with an extensive Hip-Hop memorabilia collection. I tried to get comfortable, and propped my portfolio up in the corner, while I went in for a closer look.  There were signed CDs, small, customized pins, figurines, exclusive sneakers, and all manner of posters and box sets.  Most things were autographed and displayed with much care and attention. At this point it was 5:00, and I realized that I still hadn’t met Jeremy in person.

Just then, the door at the end of the room opened, and Jeremy emerged.  Energetic and charismatic, he was moving quickly through the space. He set up his phone and simultaneously introduced himself. We shook hands and he instructed the young sound engineer to get ready for our discussion.  I pulled up the tall bar stool, and made sure my artwork was at the ready.  I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to show, but I wanted everything at arm’s length. After less than thirty seconds of having met Jeremy, we were on the air. Here is the interview that followed. Thanks for checking it out!:

Andrew J. Katz / KatzART on Listen Vision Studios – 3.10.2017

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FIGHT the POWER – Public Enemy – as referenced in the interview

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Mission: Black Medallions Native Tongues Art Show – NYC

Dreams really can come true. Over the past four years, my Hip-Hop project has been a source of satisfaction, gratification, connection, and growth for me as an artist.  I have been able to meet my musical heroes, and I’ve found myself in the presence of greatness on more than one occasion.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure what I’m trying to accomplish.  Don’t get me wrong, it all makes sense to me.  Each new adventure seems to unfold in an organic series of serendipitous events and conversations.  Paying tribute to the legends of Hip-Hop and the kings of the mic remains paramount, while gleaning inspiration from live music and the thrill of putting myself out there sustains the impetus behind this enigmatic project.

It’s not in my nature to walk up to people I don’t know.  Once I have art in my hand, it’s a different story. I become empowered and emboldened to connect with people.  It’s almost like an alter-ego.

Imagine my surprise, when I was invited to participate in an art show in New York City. My friend and fellow artist, Amy Cinnamon, asked me to team up with her and six other artists to assemble a thematic exhibition. The Black Medallions, a group of avid Hip-Hop heads, were producing a show in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.  The theme of the exhibition would be the Native Tongues; a group of Hip-Hop groups originating in New York during the late 1980s and early 1990s (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, Chi Ali, Queen Latifah, Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep, Leaders of the New School, The Beatnuts, and Monie Love).  Each of the visual artists tapped to be included in the celebration had previously rendered artwork that fit into the theme.

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One of Amy Cinnamon’s fliers, detailing the show and the participating artists

On December 15th and 16, 2016, we all converged on the Caelum Gallery in the Chelsea Arts Building.  Enthusiastically, I started unpacking my artwork, and began dividing the blank walls into transformable spaces.

The breadth of artwork styles was impressive, as we had work from Andrew Spear , Amy Cinnamon, Klash Won, Dan Lish, Askem, Joe Buck, André LeRoy Davis, and me.   As the work went up quickly, the anticipation grew. After all, we had two legendary DJs performing; one on each night.

 

On Thursday night, we had a great crowd, and the conversation surrounding the art and the music was rich and inspiring.  I tried to step back a few times, so I could take in my surroundings. It was very special.

As the conversations continued, and the music filled the room, there were two turntables standing unattended at the back of the gallery.  They were all set up to accommodate the iconic DJ and producer of the quintessential Hip-Hop album Feet High and Rising – DJ Prince Paul.

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The turntables – waiting for DJ Prince Paul

Once he arrived, he made a bee-line to the decks, and wasted no time. He was there to play Native Tongues music.  For the occasion, I had prepared a corrugated cardboard portrait to share with him.  While I was anxious to show him the piece, I made sure I gave him a wide berth. I didn’t want to interrupt his set.  After a few minutes, I saw my chance. I approached, and he removed his head-set.  He warmly greeted me with a smile, and said he recognized the artwork from Twitter and Instagram. This mission was accomplished – Thank you, DJ Prince Paul!

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Mission: Accomplished – DJ Prince Paul

Amid all the hoopla and connection, I set a small goal for myself.  Once I realized that I’d be showing in the same exhibition as the artist who painted the cover of De La Soul is Dead, Joe Buck, I made plans to show him my vintage t-shirt inspired by his design.

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Joe Buck’s De La Soul is Dead album cover

When I found out that he didn’t have one of the shirts himself, and in fact had never seen this particular version, I decided that I must remedy this injustice! I proudly, and weirdly, presented Joe with my hole-ridden, disintegrating shirt.  He happily accepted it, and seemed to genuinely appreciate the strange gesture.  It made me happy to give it to him. In return, Joe regaled me with the story of how he came to be the artist for this important album. If you ever get the chance, you should ask him about it. It’s a great story.

The next night was just as exciting and memorable.  In my memory, the two nights sort of blend together, but this time around it would be Large Professor spinning the wax.

Once again, I was prepared with a portrait and some lyrics for him to add.  This time, I caught him on the way in, and was rewarded with a great line and a few good pictures.

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Large Professor tagging the corrugated cardboard portrait
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Mission: Accomplished – Large Professor
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The ‘finished’ Large Professor composition, tagged with the lyrics – “On the masses / Yeah, it’s the live guy with glasses!! – Large Pro”

The second night held some great surprises, too, as Tim Einenkel from The Library came to show his support.  He was fresh off an interview with Dinco D and Charlie Brown from Leaders of the New School, who also made a cameo at the end of the night.

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Dinco D and Charlie Brown of Leaders of the New School in front of Dan Lish’s incredible artwork.  So great! – Photo credit: Amy 

The surreal nature of our surroundings peaked, when J. Period showed up and copped a Dan Lish print. We collectively felt an added sense of success and pride. It was very meaningful to see these connections come full-circle.

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Dan Lish’s – A Tribe Called Quest piece. Mind-boggling!

It was amazing to be a part of such a talented group of artists and DJs, and I’m already looking for additional opportunities to connect the art and music. I’m excited about the level of support and camaraderie that this event sparked. Look for another Black Medallions show next year.  Thanks, everybody! – AK

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Me, with Tim Einenkel from The Library with Tim Einenkel, a great Hip-Hop themed podcast (I hate the Yankees).

Mission: The Library with Tim Einenkel

“I made a piece of art which emboldens me to go up to

people I would really not go up to otherwise…

All of a sudden, I have this piece that is the bridge, and I use it.

I feel much more confident when I have artwork

than if I were empty-handed”

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As we approach New Year’s Eve, one cannot help but reflect on the year that is coming to a close.  Although there have been many negative descriptors for 2016, and the year that was, I wanted to focus on one of the positive experiences that emerged from my personal goal-setting last December.

As an avid listener of podcasts, I’ve been impressed with the medium.  Often I found myself deeply immersed in a topic that was only presented through audio.  The long format interview allowed for a deeper conversation, and more meaningful connections with the subjects. I wanted to be a part of it.  It was important for me to explore the possibilities of storytelling and connecting with this new outlet.

A few of my favorite Hip-Hop podcasts are The Combat Jack Show, American Riddle, and The Library with Tim Einenkel.  Malcolm Riddle’s American Riddle podcast was my entry into the podcast world; when he invited me on his show to share my Hip-Hop adventures.  Not only did that experience help me bring my art to a new audience, but I now consider Malcolm a good friend. We routinely converse about the state of Hip-Hop, the top five MCs of all-time, and which live show we should attend next.

My first podcast interview – American Riddle episode #77

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I was hoping to generate more stories, and eventually share them through the podcast format. It seems to be a great way to archive the experiences, and my hope is that it will complement this blog.

Through Twitter, I set my 2016 goal of being a guest on The Library or Combat Jack. It felt quite narcissistic to invite myself, but I had been empowered by a few Seth Godin books about making art and self-promotion (aside:  My blog is titled “This Might Not Work”, which is inspired by Seth Godin’s approach to creative risk-taking”  It’s a p.c. version of Curtis Armstrong’s advice to a young Tom Cruise in Risky Business :

“Sometimes you gotta say ‘What the F#$k’ – make your move”

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Much to my pleasant surprise, Tim Einenkel was open to having me on his show.  Tim has interviewed many of the icons of Hip-Hop: Chuck D, Ice T, Big Daddy Kane, Grandmaster Caz, etc.  Although I jumped at the chance, somehow ‘Andy Katz’ didn’t seem to go with the amazing list of his past guests. That being said, I enthusiastically took part in an interview with Tim.  The following, is the result of that collaboration.  I’m grateful that Tim and Malcolm have offered me a platform for sharing my ideas, opinions, and my art.  It’s special when you have that level of support.  I look forward to exploring additional avenues for sharing my art and my stories. I hope you give these episodes a listen.  Thanks, Tim! Thanks, Malcolm! – AK

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Tim and I at the Black Medallions Art Tribute to the Native Tongues in NYC. Although we had made the podcast almost a year before, this was the first time we met in person.

Part 1:  “The Library: Artist Andy Katz Interview”

Part 2: “The Library: Artist Andy Katz Interview”

 

Mission: Chuck D

“The minute they see me, fear me /
I’m the epitome, of public enemy /
Used, abused, without clues
I refuse to blow a fuse /
They even had it on the news” –

Don’t Believe the Hype – Public Enemy

Those of you who know me, have likely heard me retell this story on a loop. I’m always worried that I will forget a detail, or on some level, take it for granted. I don’t want to let that happen.  In many ways it’s the beginning of the past four years of my artistic life, and I want to chronicle it here.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Public Enemy dominated a Hip-Hop scene that craved a conscious voice and meaningful messages.  The group and its bombastic music had listeners asking important societal questions, challenging norms, and educating the US citizenry on its own history. Being an impressionable young suburbanite, I was fascinated by music that made me rethink my own biases, expanded my global outlook, and sounded like nothing I had ever heard.

One night, in the the late 1980s, the song Bring the Noise was introduced to me, as my friend Mike O’Leary and I drove around our hometown. He said, “I saw this movie, Less Than Zero.  There’s a scene with this song playing in the background.” It was fast track that had initially incomprehensible lyrics. I was fascinated by the sound of Chuck D’s deep voice and confident, authoritative delivery.  I was instantly hooked, and earnestly began deciphering each word.  I wanted to learn more about this group, and in particular their MC.

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In early 2012, we were ecstatic to learn the Beastie Boys had been formally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The ceremony was to take place at the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, and a bunch of us immediately made plans to get there.  Our hopes of obtaining tickets were cut short, when the on-line site for ordering crashed.  Only our friends Tom and Victoria managed to score a pair of tickets. We would not be joining them.

Serendipitously, we received a call in early April.  “Hey, we have a lot of upcoming bills, and our car needs new tires.  Do you still want tickets to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony?”.  Just like that, we would be making the pilgrimage to Cleveland.

We made plans to stay with our friends Tom and Beth. They had moved out to Cleveland a few years before, and they’d let us crash for a few nights.  Just before we drove out, we heard that the Beastie Boys would be inducted by their peers – LL Cool J and Chuck D from Public Enemy.

The night in Cleveland was bittersweet.  Before the concert ceremony, we walked around downtown.  There was a buzz in the streets, as there were musical dignitaries around every corner.  As we walked up 4th Street, towards our dinner destination, we almost literally bumped into AdRock from the Beastie Boys.  He was standing outside of the restaurant where we would be eating!  As we walked past and into the bar area, I made eye contact with Adam. “Congratulations!”, I said.  “Thank you”, he quickly replied.  Once inside, we realized that he would likely be having dinner here as well. No sooner had this thought crossed my mind, when he walked in and went downstairs to the private dining areas.  A few minutes later, he emerged, followed by a taller, lankier figure.  Could it be…?  Yes. It was Mike D! The two Beastie Boys made their way back outside, and stopped to have a conversation away from the larger group.  I wondered aloud if MCA was also in the building. Admittedly, I was flipping out.  After all, this is why we were here.  We snapped a few pictures, but otherwise let them be. They were holding a small folded piece of paper. We realized later, that it was Adam Yauch’s note to the audience.

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The ceremony was a thrilling barrage of music and iconic personalities.  I felt very fortunate to be in attendance, as we witnessed performances from Guns ‘n’ Roses, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Roots.  However, the absence of Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, during the Beastie Boys acceptance speech, signaled a huge cause for concern. We later learned that he had been readmitted to the hospital. He passed away a few weeks later.

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Although I didn’t take this picture, I was in attendance for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Chuck D and LL Cool J inducted the Beastie Boys that night.

Being in the same space as Chuck D, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys was a dream realized.   Here is the shaky video that I shot that night:  Chuck D and LL Cool J induct the Beastie Boys into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I was really moved by the speeches and the performances. It really felt like history being made. (Full transcript of Chuck D’s speech)

“Back, caught you looking for the same thing /
It’s a new thing / check out this I bring” –

Don’t Believe the Hype – Public Enemy

The next morning, standing in Tom and Beth’s kitchen, I said, “One day, I’d really like to meet Chuck D.  Not just shake his hand and say hi, but really talk to him.” I’m not really sure why I felt the need to verbalize my plan, but after that night, I decided to make it my goal.

The next few months were spent immersed in my emerging Hip-Hop project.  I was drawing and painting the artists who were coming through the Baltimore/DC area, and seeking them out.  I received news that Public Enemy would be playing at the 9:30 Club in Washington.  Although I was late to the game, I started to enthusiastically use Twitter to put my art out into the Hip-Hop community.  I began to realize the scope and power of the medium, when I’d connect with those artists whose music had inspired me to make my art. I decided to render a Chuck D portrait, and bring it to the show. This might be a significant opportunity to meet him.

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Mr. Chuck D – 16″ x 20″ Charcoal on Paper

 In the weeks leading up to the 9:30 Club show, I earnestly continued to post lyrics and the progress on my new portrait.  Each time, I would cram a quintessential PE line into the one hundred-forty character limit, while including my art.  Over and over again – lyrics, art, 9:30 Club, lyrics, art, 9:30 Club.  Interestingly, I realized that you could tag whoever you’d like.  I began including  Chuck D  on each tweet, giving him the opportunity to ignore or perpetuate the message.

A few days before the show, I was sitting on my couch, watching TV.  My phone vibrated, and I checked the screen.  What I saw, caused my heart to skip a beat. It was a message from Chuck D:  “Hey bro, DM me”.  I wasn’t sure what to do. Was he upset that I was tagging him?  Was it a ‘cease and desist’ conversation? I was mortified to think that in celebrating these songs and this group, that I had inadvertently annoyed the man at the helm.  What did ‘DM’ mean?  What have I done?!

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After collecting myself, I sent @MrChuckD a DM; a direct message.  I introduced myself, and I asked what I could do for him?  He quickly replied that he wanted to put me on the guest list for the show. He had a proposition for me, and he wanted to talk it over. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I responded that “I was looking forward to it” – The understatement of the millenium.

As I prepared to go to the show, I wondered how it would feel to walk up to the box office and simply give my name.  Would they really just let me in?  I was relieved that I wouldn’t be going alone, when my buddy Keith said that he’d  join me.

In what would later become a pattern, I got to the venue entirely too early.  I found parking, and walked around U Street for a little while.  Keith met me just before the show in the back parking lot.  Together, we walked up to the ticket window, and I asked if I was on the guest list.  I was NOT.  Thankfully, I had bought a ticket weeks ago. Still, I was disappointed as I expected to feel some jolt of excitement seeing my name on a special list.  I didn’t know what that would mean, but I was anxious to find out. Instead, Keith and I went to the attached bar/restaurant to catch up.  It would be about an hour until the doors officially opened.

While we chatted, Keith could tell I was disappointed. He changed the subject and we fell into an easy conversation. I was still looking forward to a great show.

Just then, a few members of the Public Enemy crew walked through the bar doors.  I recognized one of them as DJ Lord, as we had become connected on Twitter.  I surprised myself by calling out to him.  I quickly introduced myself, and showed him my folder containing the portrait of Chuck.  He reassured me that I’d get a chance to show Chuck the artwork, and that he’d see me inside.  I was reenergized, and getting a bit antsy.  We paid our check, went outside, and headed for the doors at the front of the venue.  As we walked down the sidewalk that ran along the side of the building, we found ourselves heading towards the tour bus.  It had pulled up while we were inside.  Just as we reached the front of the bus, someone stepped out of the vehicle directly into our path. It was Mr. Chuck D – The Rhyme Animal – The Hard Rhymer – Carlton Ridenhour. I was awestruck. “Uh…hey, Chuck.”, I managed. “Hey guys.” he said, without recognition. “I’m Andy Katz.” “Oh, hey, Andy, c’mon let’s go.” “This is Keith.”  “Hey, Keith!”. Not knowing what to say or do, I offered to help him with his bag. He had a backpack, and a small suitcase on wheels. “No, I’m alright. Where’s the door?”  As he found his bearings, people started to gather and take notice.  He stopped a few times; saying hello and shaking a few hands.  We followed closely, not fully understanding our next steps.  The three of us rounded the corner and found ourselves at the turnstiles lined up at the entrance. The doorway was flanked by  two menacing-looking bouncers, and I slowed my gait. Chuck confidently strode through the gap  between two turnstiles, knowing that the talent doesn’t count towards the audience numbers.  “These two guys are with me.” he said, as he jerked his thumb in our direction. Keith and I dutifully, walked through the gates, while I made an unsuccessful attempt to stifle a grin. Could this really be happening? Were we walking in to a Public Enemy show, with Chuck D? Chuck turned, and said “Do you guys know this place?  I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go?” We walked into the floor area, and he saw a door across the way.  It was a backstage area, and we decided it would be best not to follow him.  We were inside, and we were brought there by the Rhyme Animal himself.

“I got so much trouble on my mind /
Refuse to lose / Here’s your ticket /
Hear the drummer get wicked”-

Welcome to the Terrordome – Public Enemy

The show started, and I moved around trying to obtain a good vantage point. This was the Hip-Hop Gods tour, and it featured many different acts.  It seemed that Chuck was positioned as a true emcee, walking on stage between each performance to formally introduce each group.  It was great to see Son of Bazerk, Monie Love, Awesome Dre, Leaders of the New School, Wise Intelligent (PRT), Davy DMX and Johnny Juice.  It was a revue of many strong performers, with Public Enemy serving as an exclamation point.

Each time Chuck introduced a new act, he would watch the performance from the visible wings of the stage.  He would walk down a few steps, and lean in to hear and see.  I thought these moments during the concert would be a good opportunity to show him the portrait.  I took a few pictures, and if you can believe it, the security guards told me to stop. Incredibly, the were trying to enforce rules that have since been obliterated by hand-held technologies.  I snapped a few more, but basically respected their request.  I began walking over towards Chuck, pushing past a large speaker that served as a barrier.  Just then, a security guard put his hands up and said “Sir, you have to stop.” I guess he didn’t see me walk in the venue with Chuck, shoulder to shoulder.  Damn.  I pulled out the portrait, and held it up so that it was facing the side stage area.  People behind me wouldn’t be able to tell what I was doing,  If Chuck were to look in my direction, he’d see the drawing.  As if on cue, he glanced in my direction.  He smiled, and waved me over.  It was very loud, with beats and rhymes pulsating from the large speakers.  I mouthed the words “They won’t let me back!”, and he understood.  He quickly got the attention of the guard who had thwarted my attempts to move closer, and motioned to him to let me approach. It was that easy.  I walked the ten paces towards the man; embarrassingly giddy with excitement.  It was almost impossible to hear, but I extended my hand to introduce myself again.  He shook my hand, and spun me ninety degrees.  He threw his arm around me and, while motioning towards the drawing, said loudly into my ear “What do you want me to write on it!?”  Having thought about this all day, and recently hearing an interview where he shared his favorite line, I shouted “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin’!”  He took my pen, and scrawled the famous lyrics.  He took his time, and signed his name; followed  by a quick drawing of the iconic Public Enemy crosshairs logo. It was more than I could’ve imagined.

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Mr. Chuck D – 16″ x 20″ Charcoal on Paper – (signed by Chuck D – “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin’ – Chuck D – Don’t Believe the Hype”)

 Over the loud music, Chuck shouted “We still need to talk!” “I’d like that!”, I screamed.  “You comin’ to Fairfield?”  “What!?”  “Fairfield?”, he repeated. I had no idea what he was talking about, but, not wanting to look like an idiot, I nodded in agreement.  Fairfield?  What was that?  I thanked him profusely, and walked back towards the crowded floor.  Fairfield?  What does that mean? Is that the next stop on the tour?  Why had I agreed?  Oh, man, I AM an idiot! It’s too late.  No picture, no meeting, no end to the story.

I quickly decided to run back to Keith and tell him what happened.  We both thought it would be best to put my new prized possession in the car, and I ran outside to do just that.  I was delirious with adrenaline, and started towards the car.  The air felt cold and provided an unexpected relief from the steamy crowd.  I put my portfolio case in the car, and hustled back inside. I didn’t want to miss a second of PE’s performance.

The concert was amazing, and I was happily pressed up against the far right side of the stage for the duration.  The presence of the group is that of a formidable posse.  They command the room with booming beats and powerful lyrics. Although they possess an expansive catalog, they performed everything I wanted to hear – Terrordome, Bring the Noise, Rebel Without a PauseFight the Power, I Shall Not Be Moved – I was in my glory.

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The show, as all shows do, ended. I began to strategize a way to say thanks to Chuck, and ask for a picture with both of us holding the portrait.  I realized that might mean a late night, but I was all in. I had taken the next day off of work; the first and last time I would miss time to attend a show (This is a rule I instituted after that day/night).

I walked outside, and went to get my drawing. Keith and I met up by the tour bus, and the crowd began to disperse. I wasn’t too worried about waiting a long time, and I figured I was in the right place to cross paths with Chuck again.  Keith decided to head out, and I was left with a few others waiting on the sidewalk.  It felt like a scene out of the movie Almost Famous, and I began to feel a bit like a stalker. I always want to pay tribute to my musical heroes, but I never want to create an awkward situation.  There’s a fine line.

It was not a long wait, but it was beginning to get late; or early, depending on the way you look at it.  It was after 1:00 a.m. when Chuck emerged from the side door onto the dark sidewalk.  He walked to the bus, saying hello to the few people who remained.  I said, “Hey, thanks for signing the drawing.  Do you think we could get a photo with it?”  He said, “Yeah, but I thought you were coming back to Fairfield.”  I confessed that I didn’t know what he meant. “Farfield Inn. It’s where we’re staying.”  With that, he shook my hand, and climbed aboard the bus.

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Which Fairfield?  Apparently, there are at least two in Washington D.C., one downtown, and one on New York Avenue.  I guessed that I should head to the one on New York.  If I was wrong, at least I’d be pointed in the direction of home.  I scurried to the car, and as I pulled out of the lot, the bus hissed, groaned, and slowly began to move. I followed the huge transport, as it turned onto Florida Avenue, with the music of the night still ringing in my ears.  I decided I better call home.

“Hello?” Lisa said groggily. “What time is it?

“It’s after one”, I replied.

“What?! Where are you?”

“I’m  behind the PE bus on Florida Avenue. They’re going about ten miles an hour.”

 “You’re where?  Are you stalking them!?”

“Ha! No Chuck invited me back to their hotel.

 I’ll be home in a little while.  Go back to sleep.”

When we reached the hotel parking lot, the bus swung around, and sidled up to the front entrance.  The huge vehicle barely fit under the awning, and it blocked the driveway, but provided the shortest distance to the lobby for the occupants.  I, on the other hand, noticed that the parking lot was filled to capacity.  I drove towards the back of the building, only needing to find the smallest space in which to leave my car. After searching for what seemed like an eternity, I wedged it between two sleeping semis. I jumped out, and hot-footed it to the entrance, about a hundred yards away.

Unfortunately, about ten minutes had elapsed while I had toured the unwelcoming parking facility. When I breathlessly arrived in the artificially lit lobby, soft Muzak was playing, and there were a few people milling about.  No sign of Chuck.  I would have thought I was in the wrong hotel, but surreally I noticed Professor Griff was working on a computer at a lobby kiosk.  I began to lose hope, and my adrenaline was wearing off. I realized that I missed my chance.  I sat down on a bench, and muttered a few curse words under my breath.

I stayed for about ten more minutes, but it was clear that the adventure had come to an end.  I trudged back to my car, and started for home.

“You go ooh and ahh, when I jump in my car /

People treat me like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar /

No matter who you are, when I’m up to par /

I betcha go hip hop, hurray or hurrah” –

Timebomb – Public Enemy

I was about ten minutes down the dark highway, when my phone lit up.  It was a message from Chuck!  “I looked for you, but didn’t see you.  Are you around tomorrow?  We don’t leave until 10:00.”  Immediately, I began formulating a plan to get back down to DC.

The next morning (really a few hours later), my family quietly left for school and work.  They were giving me the day to sleep, as they were unaware of the open-ended invitation I had received a few hours ago.

I arrived at the hotel, much the same way I had left; unsure of what to expect.  This time, the lobby was abuzz with activity and conversation. People were coming and going, but there seemed to be a larger group of people just past a central column, in the continental breakfast area.  I headed for a small table, on which to set up camp. I figured I’d be here for a while, although it was nearing ten o’clock.  As I rounded the corner, I saw what was capturing everyone’s attention.  It was Flavor Flav. He was amidst a semi-circle of people, and apparently conversing with all of them. He was loud and jovial; yelling about the breakfast offerings and taking pictures with everyone who asked.  Even the hotel staff was waiting patiently for their turn. To Flav’s credit, he hugged each person, and took his time with each fan.  Although my thoughts were on my meeting with Chuck, I pulled out my vinyl copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.  Once Flavor Flav had finished  with everyone else, and shouted “I’m going to McDonalds for some mother-fuckin hashbrowns!”, I decided to ask him to sign my favorite Hip-Hop album of all-time.

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It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back – Arguably the greatest Hip-Hop album of all-time – My copy, signed by Chuck D and Flavor Flav

I went up to him sheepishly, and said, “Would you sign this?”  He didn’t say anything, but took the pen out of my hand and tagged the album sleeve.   I followed up with, “I saw your show last night. It was great! I love you guys!”  He stopped, handed the record back to me, and said “YOOOO!  You were there last night?! I love YOUU!”.  He gave me a giant bear hug, laughed, and off he went.

After Flav left, almost everyone else cleared out. I noticed that the bus from last night, had pulled up to the front doors.  I guessed they were getting ready to get on the road.  I pulled the drawing out, propped it up beside the table, and sat in view of the elevator doors.  Although, I had been invited, I began to feel a bit awkward about my being there.  Just then, a guy with long dreadlocks and a MLB fitted Yankees hat came towards me and my drawing.  I recognized him from the Public Enemy entourage, as he had given me a CD at show a few years earlier.  He gestured to my drawing, and said “Did you do that?”.  “Yes! I’m hoping to show it to Chuck.  He signed it last night.” “Man, my mother would love that!” “Your mother?” I asked.  “Yeah, Chuck’s my brother. I’m Eric.”  “Oh, wow! Hey Eric!”  “Yeah, he’ll be down in a little while”

He made his way to the bus, as did a few other people that I didn’t recognize.  The lobby got progressively more empty, and I saw only hotel employees at this point. Just then, the bus pulled away.  Had I missed him again?  Oh shit! I sat there, and realized that I was alone.  To add insult to injury, a member of the custodial staff began vacuuming the floor around me.  I lifted my feet so they could get under the table where I sat.

I started packing up.  I was embarrassed and annoyed that I had spent my time sitting alone in a hotel lobby, when a woman approached me.  Judging by her logo-adorned name tag, she was an employee of the hotel.  She said, “Are you waiting for Chuck D?  Don’t worry, he’s still here. He never takes the bus. He likes to drive himself. If you take a picture of me with him, I’ll take a picture of you. What do you think?”  I never thought to ask how she knew all of these details, but it didn’t matter.  I was back in business!

A few minutes later, the elevator doors opened, and Chuck D emerged.  He was walking with the same backpack and suitcase-on-wheels that I saw him with the previous night.  He walked directly towards me, and gently shook his head.  “Man, Andy, I’m sorry to keep you waiting”.  I shook his hand again, surprised to hear my name, and assured him that everything was fine. I was beside myself with excitement, and I couldn’t get my mind around the fact that this was finally happening.  He signed my album, and the Madina Golden-Era poster.  He posed for a picture with me and the drawing. Then, we took a seat at the table.

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The moment of truth – Andy Katz and Chuck D
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Chuck D signing the Madina Design Golden Era of Hip-Hop poster

I sat across the table from him, my mind racing with questions.  He began digging in his small bag, every so often, tossing a concert flier or ear buds onto the table. He began carefully rolling up the wires of his headphones, when he asked, “So, you’re the one who has been posting all the lyrics on Twitter?” “Yes.”  “And all of that art is work that you’ve made?”  “Yes.”  “Would you want to do that for PE…post pictures and lyrics on Twitter?” “Uh, yeah. I already do it a lot.”  As the conversation proceeded, my brain started formulating questions I had always wanted ask.  “You wear a Pittsburgh Pirates hat, but you’re a Mets fan, right?”  “Yeah, the P on the hat is for Public Enemy, and I always admired Roberto Clemente, but I’m a Mets fan”.   “I was going to bring you a Baltimore Orioles hat as a gift, but I didn’t know your size.”  “Ha! You know, I was wearing an Oriole hat when I met my wife”. I had never heard that.  Chuck asked me if I had a pen. “Here’s my phone number. Text me whenever you want, but never call. I don’t really use the phone, and I never answer.”  I jotted down the number on the back of an old business card. “I just saw the Iconoclasts documentary with you and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  It was great.  Remember how you felt when you met him; one of your heroes? Well I wanted to tell you that’s about how I feel right now.”  I’m glad I said it, but I didn’t want to change the dynamic of the conversation.  We talked a bit about art, Twitter, the tour format, and family.  I mentioned that I’m a teacher, and he suggested that he could come and visit the school sometime. All told, we had about twenty minutes together. Malik Farrakhan, Public Enemy’s head of security had appeared, signaling that it was, indeed, time to hit the road.  Together, we walked towards the front of the lobby.  Once we got near enough, the automatic doors parted.  In the space between the two sets of doors, a woman was on her way into the building. She saw Chuck, stopped, smiled, and spread her arms for an embrace. Without skipping a beat, Chuck gave her a squeeze, an made some amiable small talk.  Obviously, he had made her day, and it dawned on me that she was a perfect stranger.  This is what it’s like to be a living legend. People feel like they know you, and that you should know them too.  A feeling of gratitude washed over me, as we went out to the curbside.  Chuck pointed to a little mini-van, and said “This is me. I like to drive.”  For good measure, I shook hands one last time, and told them to stay safe.  I thanked Chuck over and over again, assuring him that I was up to any task he’d throw my way.  I waved goodbye, and headed towards my car.

As I drove home, I had music playing. I listened to each of the songs that I had experienced live the night before. Inevitably, I began asking myself questions:  Why had Chuck picked me?  Was I really up to any task?  How could I rise to the challenge?  Did I form complete sentences? Did I make any sense when I spoke to him?

I decided to put those ideas on hold, and to instead enjoy the drive home.  I turned up the volume and I cued up Bring the Noise. I sang every word, and pondered what was to come.

Thanks, Chuck! – AK

 

 

Mission: Tom Morello

Amp Up and Amplify / Defy /

I’m a Brother With a Furious Mind /

Action Must Be Taken /

We Don’t Need The Key We’ll Break In –

Know Your Enemy – Rage Against the Machine

Audioslave, The Nightwatchman, Prophets of Rage, Rage Against the Machine – What do all these groups have in common? – The virtuoso guitarist Tom Morello.  Like many Beastie Boys and RATM fans, we were holding tickets to see the Rhyme and Reason tour in the summer of 2000.  Bicycling Beastie Boys member Mike D had an unfortunate run-in with a New York City pothole, and dislocated his shoulder.  The tour was cancelled, Rage eventually disbanded, and my hopes of seeing two of my favorite bands on the same bill were dashed.

Flash forward to the summer of 2016.  An unstable political climate, and a lack of conscious, resistant musical voices, brought to life a new supergroup collaboration – The Prophets of Rage.  Named for a Public Enemy song, the new band featured Chuck D, from Public Enemy, B-Real from Cypress Hill, and Tim Commerford and Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine.  From the moment I heard about the new formation, I formulated plans to paint and meet the famous guitarist.

I researched dynamic imagery that depicted Morello with his classic ‘Arm the Homeless’ guitar, and selected a pristine sheet of 22″ x 30″ cold-pressed Arches 140 lb watercolor paper. I wanted only the best materials for this piece.

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I completed the new composition in the early summer, only to find that the closest performance, in northern Virginia, would be the same night I’d be in New York for MCA Day.  There was no possibility of missing the event in Brooklyn, and I began searching for a viable solution.  I arranged to get tickets for the Prophets of Rage show in Holmdel, New Jersey on Friday, August 26th.  This worried me a great deal, as I’d be further from home, and would not have the flexibility of waiting around before or after the show.  It didn’t seem likely that I’d be able to make my plan of meeting Tom Morello a reality.

The week before MCA Day is always a whirlwind of activity. Putting on an event in a city two-hundred miles from home has many challenges. I was making labels for the art, finishing up an Adam Yauch portrait, and carefully packing up photographs, skateboards, and paintings that would be making the trip. The Tom Morello watercolor sat in the corner of my studio space, and I wondered how I’d ever get things to come together.  The Wednesday before I went to Brooklyn, two days before the scheduled Prophets of Rage show in northern Virginia, I was on-line, checking in with a few people I’d see in New York. I was surprised to see photos from Eagle Bank Arena (formerly the Patriot Center) that depicted members of Prophets of Rage.  I quickly deduced that they had arrived early for their mid-Atlantic swing, and they would be around the next couple of days.  I contacted Kate G, Chuck D’s assistant, and asked what their plans were for Thursday. There was no show, and it was a full day before I was scheduled to leave for New York.  She got back to me quickly, and said, “Practice all day!”  This was it!  This was my chance.  I devised a new plan. On Thursday morning, I’d drive out that way, and contact Kate or Eric Ridenhour, once I got to the parking lot of the arena.  Maybe I could meet them on the way in, or on the way out. It just might work. I was inviting myself to their band practice.

Thursday morning, I cleared my schedule and set my GPS for Eagle Bank Arena.  It would only take a little over an hour to get down there, but I wanted to devote the whole day to the goal.  As I turned into the large, empty parking lot of the venue, Know Your Enemy emanated from my car speakers.  On a day when there was no event scheduled, it was strange to be here.  Parking was not an issue, as there were hundreds of available spaces. I decided to drive around towards the back of the building, to see if there was any indication that they were inside.EagleBank Arena.  George Mason University Athletics

I parked the car, and pulled out my portfolio case. Instantly, I realized I was in the right place, as the unmistakable vibrations of music shook the ground.  The band was inside!  I hurried to the lower parking lot, and searched for some way into the building.

As luck would have it, as I approached, I saw Eric Ridenhour, Chuck’s brother, sitting on a metal chair looking at his phone. I shot him a text message:  “Hey Eric, It’s Andy Katz! Look up, and you’ll see me!”  I silently counted to ten, and waited for a reaction. Eric looked up, and a smile of recognition lit his face.  I was about fifty yards away, and he began walking towards me.  When he reached me, at the edge of a fence, we gave each other a quick hug. “Are you trying to get in to see Chuck?”, Eric asked.  “I was hoping that could happen.”, I replied.  “C’mon then, I’ll check it out”.  He gestured me to follow, and we walked over to a big steel garage door.  “Wait here.” Eric pointed to the empty metal chair where he had been sitting. “I’ll be right back.”

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When I’m on one of these ‘missions’ there is a lot of waiting.  I’m used to it, and I try my best to enjoy the situation. This time around, it was an incredible experience. While I sat there, wondering if I’d make it inside, I listened to my own personal concert.  Only a few yards away, Prophets of Rage was running through a full set. I could hear it all – Take the Power Back, Bombtrack, Welcome to the Terrordome, Insane in the Brain, Know Your Enemy, Bring the Noise. They would stop and start, and I could hear them working through the unfamiliarity of songs that were not their own.  I was lost in thought, when Kate came out to see me.  “Hey! What’s up?” More hugs and smiles. “Hey, I hope I’m not being pushy, showing up like this.” “No, you’re definitely not being pushy”, Kate assured me.  We chatted a while, and I noticed that the music had stopped.  Eric poked his head out and waved me in the door.  “C’mon. They just finished. Chuck wants to see you.”  Obviously, those were the words I wanted to hear.  We entered an area that was noticeably backstage. There were supplies, crates on wheels, wires, and stagecraft equipment.  We turned left, and went down a long, brightly-colored, cinderblock hallway. Everything was yellow and green – George Mason University’s team colors.  We passed a few doors, and turned left into a spacious meeting room. There was food and bottled water on a table, and a few comfortable leather couches.  There, working on his computer, was Mr. Chuck D.  He didn’t greet me this time. Instead, I pulled up a chair, and sat in what was now a small circle. It was James Bomb (S1W), Chuck D, Kate G, Eric, and me.  Kate and Chuck were having an energetic debate about sneaker culture.  I had come in too late to have an opinion, but I was able to gather that it had something to do with Stephon Marbury’s shoe contract. It must’ve have looked like I was watching a tennis match, as Chuck and Kate argued their points with enthusiasm. In the middle of all this Chuck looked at me and said, “And how are you doin’, AK?”  “I’m good. Thanks for having me”.  We stood to hug one another hello, when Chuck said, “You’ve got something for Tom?”  Not at all being on a first name basis, I almost didn’t realize who he meant.  “Oh, um, yeah!. It’s this new watercolor that I painted”. I pulled it out of my large portfolio folder to show him.  Immediately, Chuck took it from me, and said “C’mon, Let’s go find him!  I think he’s on the stage”.  The stage?  I couldn’t believe this was happening.  Chuck held my painting delicately, with the image facing out in front of him, and marched into the hallway. I followed, and pulled out my camera so I would be ready. I hit record, and like an idiot, once again forgot to turn my camera horizontally.  I quietly hoped it was recording ,as I heard Chuck suggesting who I should paint next. Here is what transpired as we walked towards the stage:  Chuck D helping me meet Tom Morello

Admittedly, I was embarrassed to turn the corner and have my camera fixed on the two unsuspecting bandmates.  I eventually put it away, as the conversation turned more authentic.  After Chuck introduced me to Tom and Brad, he took a seat casually on the back of the couch.  He left me to my own devices, and I stuttered out a request for Tom to sign the original painting.  He finished chewing his lunch, and hopped up to accommodate me. He took the painting, and gently tossed it flat on the ground.  I was surprised, when he nimbly jumped to the floor and carefully got ready to sign it.  I said, “I’d love some lyrics on there, too!”  He said, “Hmm, lyrics? Ok.”

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Tom Morello signing the original watercolor – Eagle Bank Arena, George Mason University

I have to say, this whole thing felt like a dream. I mean, Chuck D is one of my heroes.  Here he was selflessly making one of my dreams a reality.  I felt lightheaded, and continued to wonder when I was going to wake up.

Tom hopped up, and shook my hand.  I thanked him over and over again, and he continued to assure me that it was no problem.  I mustered up the courage to ask him to record a quick spot for our MCA Day tribute.  I pulled out a picture of Rage Against the Machine that included Adam Yauch flanked by the members of the band.  I said, “I stole this image from your Instagram account. We’re going to include pictures of MCA with his friends and peers on the wall at our event.”  Tom and Brad both agreed to sign the picture, instantly transforming it into a treasured souvenir. I’m so glad I brought it along.

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Tom dutifully moved to the center of the room, asked if I was ready, and said a few words about Yauch.  It was apparent that he was used to this type of request, as he effortlessly and comfortably recounted his thoughts. I couldn’t wait to share the video with the MCA Day crew.  This was all a little difficult to believe.

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View Tom Morello on Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch video 

When I snapped to, I realized that I was interrupting their lunch, and that I was quite possibly overstaying my welcome.  I thanked them again, and floated back out into the hallway.

Almost as soon as we returned to the other dressing room, I realized that I had neglected to get a photo with the painting and Tom.  I said to Chuck, “Oh wow! I was a little star-struck, and I forgot to ask Tom for a picture.” Chuck said, “Well, let’s go catch them before they leave.”  In the moments that we had left Brad and Tom, they had already made it down to the end of the long hallway.  Chuck called after Tom. “Tom, Andy was star-struck, and forgot to ask for a picture!”  So much for subtlety.  Tom walked back towards us, and Chuck took my phone. He crouched down, and snapped our picture.  This whole scene was surreal.

Quickly, I packed up my things, and said my goodbyes. I didn’t want to ruin anything by hanging out too long.  I walked out with everyone as they loaded into the waiting SUVs.  They were heading to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They’d be getting a sneak peek at the yet-to-be-completed Musical Crossroads exhibtion, to which Chuck, and Public Enemy, had donated personal artifacts.

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Public Enemy’s boom-box at the NMAAHC 

I walked slowly towards my car, trying to process the experience, and mentally archiving each detail.

I drove a quarter mile down the road, and pulled into a parking lot.  I sat still for a good ninety seconds.  I had many questions:  Did that really just happen?  Why is Chuck D so good to me?  Will I be able to adequately describe this experience?  Who will even believe this?

I thumbed through my playlist, and cued up the self-titled Rage Against the Machine debut album.  I clicked play, as I put the car into ‘drive’.  I pulled back into the flowing stream of cars, and headed towards home. – AJK

Standing Up Against Hate: Taking back Adam Yauch Park

We live in interesting times.  Recently, it seems as though the events that play out in the news, or on our computer screens, couldn’t possibly be real.   No matter on which segment of the political spectrum you reside, there are incidents and stories that challenge our beliefs and humanness.  This past weekend, in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, New York, someone scrawled some quick, poorly drawn swastikas and the slogan ‘Go Trump’ on playground equipment at Adam Yauch Park.  While this would be unacceptable and deeply concerning in any context, the timing and the placement of these divisive sentiments sent shockwaves out into the proud communities of the borough.  These waves reverberated through local bodegas, religious sermons, political discourse, and family discussions.  It didn’t take long for the news to traverse the bridges surrounding New York, and make its way out into the larger world.

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Brooklyn Bridge – 2013

On May 3, 2013, Palmetto Park was officially renamed Adam Yauch Park. Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch was a member of the Hip-Hop trio the Beastie Boys.  He had come of age in Brooklyn, New York, and played in the very streets where the park bearing his name is located.  Yauch passed away in May of 2012, and left behind an incredible legacy of love, spirituality, and music.  I was fortunate to be there for the park’s dedication, and felt a great sense of warmth and happiness when the new sign was installed.

As you might imagine, many concerned friends and family members took to email and text to share the news of the ugly new messages that appeared.  Obviously, I was upset by this turn of events. Quickly, I decided to combat each message of negative news with an uplifting reminder of the day the park was dedicated. If someone sent me a link to the angry backlash, I’d post an image from the park on that May day in 2013.  I attempted to remain positive and thoughtful in my responses.  Though I was briefly successful, it was obvious, that something more needed to be done.

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My son, Ethan, the day Adam Yauch Park was dedicated (I’m in the background) – 2013

Saturday morning, the 19th of November, I woke early, intent on getting started on my trimester grade reports.  I had a lot of work to do in order to meet the Monday deadline.  Instead, I began to piece together a plan to get to Brooklyn as soon as possible. By the time I was done with my shower, I had decided to hop in the car and join the clean-up and protest/rally that was planned at 11:30 am.  I figured, if I left immediately, I’d be up there just in time.  Much to my surprise, I had misread the information regarding the event. It wouldn’t be happening until Sunday at 11:30 a.m.  I had twenty-four hours to plan, and more importantly, get my grades done.

Admittedly, I was preoccupied as I entered my grade data into my laptop.  I wanted to plan an efficient and productive trip to New York.  It occurred to me to invite some friends. It would be an opportunity to reflect, discuss, and strategize on the way up. What would we do?  Who would be there?  Was this really a good idea?  I decided to throw it out there, and I texted Malcolm.  If he was up for it, and replied in the affirmative, it would make the decision to go a certainty:

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“Droppin’ Science Like Galileo Dropped the Orange!” – He was ‘in’.  We’d meet in my driveway at 7:00 am on Sunday morning, drive up, and play it by ear.  It had been unseasonably warm that Saturday, and I even managed to do some yard work.  So when it was cloudy, windy, blustery, and cold on Sunday morning, we were not prepared. Malcolm arrived without a jacket, and borrowed one of mine.  I threw a few extra layers in the car, MCA Day stickers, some art, my Adam Yauch Tribute Skateboard, and a extended playlist of Hip-Hop songs; enough to get us to the moon and back.  We were ready to go.

As we drove, Sirius XM was playing a ton of Tribe tracks, in honor of Phife Dawg’s birthday.  A section of Linden Boulevard in Queens had been named for him the day before.  “Back in the days, on the Boulevard of Linden…”. Man, that’s a great tribute.

We talked politics, shared our concerns on the current empowerment of the ‘alt-right’, and wondered aloud about what would be waiting for us at the park.  We wanted to stay positive, show our support, offer to help, and come back home.

We arrived in Brooklyn at 10:00. It took exactly three hours to get to the park by car, and we circled around to find a parking spot. We found a legitimate garage over by Borough Hall, and hoofed it over to the park to check things out. It was quiet, except for a few families playing with their children on the monkey bars. The offensive messages were long gone, replaced with paper hearts, and sidewalk chalk messages of love. It would be wonderful to stand together to promote this positive defiance.

I texted Mike Kearney, creator and curator of MCA Day, to let him know we had arrived. He and Nicole Waters-Minervino were holed up in a nearby eatery.  I took a couple of pictures, and we headed over to meet them.

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My Adam Yauch Tribute Deck – at Adam Yauch Park 11.20.16

We found Mike, Nicole, and Nicole’s son Carlo at a table about one hundred yards from the park, itself.  We pulled up a few chairs, and caught up on the plans for the day.  In case he was asked, Mike was crafting a speech to address the crowd. He would speak to those in attendance who were most familiar with Adam Yauch; those who wanted reassurance that his legacy would be defended and upheld.  We wordsmithed a bit, and got ready to head back over.  It was great to be reunited with the passionate people who had inspired me to find this place again.  We were going to be representing all those who were unable to attend.

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Mike Kearney putting some thoughts to paper

As we walked back over, I changed into my emerald green Adidas firebird track jacket. This had been a gift from Mike to the crew who helped put on the MCA Day event. It’s an empowering reminder that we are part of a larger group; a family. As we rounded the bend at the end of the street, the park came back into view. It was now filled with hundreds of people. It was exhilarating and emotional to see such a genuine and formidable response to the hateful messages that had been left.  We entered the park and took in the hand-made signs, the faces of the like-minded strangers, and the welcoming vibe.

Not long after we arrived, Senator Daniel Squadron used a megaphone to welcome us all. He made clear declarations that hate speech and acts of divisiveness would not be tolerated in Brooklyn. He invited other elected officials and clergy to offer words of encouragement and direction.  Two Imams, a Rabbi, and several local politicians took turns inspiring the crowd with their notions of peace, unity, and strength.  Together we sang the Star Spangled Banner, and This Land is Your Land. I was caught up in the sights and sounds of the day, when Malcolm tapped me on the shoulder. Wordlessly, he motioned to his right. Making his way through the crowd, on his way to the center of the circle was Adam Horovitz, and his wife Kathleen Hanna.  Once they made it to the center of the crowd, Squadron ‘passed the mic’ to our brother Adrock and he ‘shined like a light’:

AdRock Addressing the crowd at Adam Yauch Park – Brooklyn, New York – 11.20.16

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AdRock making his way through the crowd

When the singing faded, and the speeches were complete, the crowd began to disperse. Those who needed more interaction and those who wanted to hold onto the vibe stuck around for pictures and introductions.  Malcolm, a former resident of Flint, Michigan, wanted to thank AdRock for including some thoughts about the city of his youth. Like a magnet, Adam attracted each member of the eager crowd.  Some of the people making their way towards Horovitz included musical collaborators DJ Hurricane, Dante Ross, and ‘Money Mark’ Nishita; who had come directly from the airport, as evidenced from his rolling luggage that was trailing behind him. In a strange swirling dance, of sorts, the crowd ebbed and flowed, as AdRock posed for countless selfies and not-so-subtly looked for a quick exit.  Each time he thought he was done, someone else would grab him for a picture.  Once again, Malcolm tapped me on the shoulder, and simply said – “Ben Stiller”.  He was there with his daughter, and cheerfully approached AdRock to offer his appreciation. The pictures and discussions went on for another twenty minutes or so, when the crowd finally began to thin.  Everyone was patient, polite, and good-natured.

One of my favorite moments came when I finally caught up with ‘Money Mark’.  The gifted keyboardist of the extended Beastie Boys family of musicians, he was incredibly gracious when I asked him for a quick flick. 20161120_124658

It was finally time to head for the gate, and go our separate ways.  As we walked down Columbia Place, we noticed that AdRock and DJ Hurricane were still hanging around, slowly making their way away from the park.  We quickly caught up, and managed to thank them for coming out and getting us all together.  When we approached, fans and friends were still asking for autographs and pictures. Somebody handed AdRock a silver Sharpie marker that summarily exploded in his hand. He began looking around to find some way to clean off the marker ink. Johnny-on-the-spot, Malcolm said, “Hey, I got you.  I have some baby wipes”.  AdRock lit up, “oh wow!  Really?  You have a kid, too? I have a three year old.  How old is your baby?”  “15”, Malcolm said, flatly. “Are you kidding me? I have twelve more years of this?”, lamented AdRock. It was a great moment of levity, and allowed for some much needed laughter.

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Katz, Horovitz, and Riddle (after the baby wipe incident)

We made our way to Luzzo BK Pizzeria on Atlantic Avenue, and reflected on the day. Malcolm and I said our goodbyes, and walked back towards Borough Hall.  We hopped in the car, and immediately began sorting through all that had taken place.

On our drive home, we successfully archived our trip by laying down a new American Riddle podcast. It made a lot of sense to capture everything while it was fresh. I don’t want to forget any details from this special day. Thanks to all those who showed up; either at the park or on social media.  Together, we really are stronger.  – AJK

Mission: Kool Keith

“Kleptomaniac, my rhyme is psycho /
A Ricky Ricardo / a Guy Lombardo /
Sporting a rag top, an El Dorado”Poppa Large – Kool Keith

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Last week, I was surprised to learn that Kool Keith was on the calendar to perform at the U Street Music Hall in Washington, D.C.   I quickly gathered supplies for a new portrait, and tried to carve out some time to work on it.

‘Kool’ Keith Thornton is the enigmatic frontman from the Bronx-based Ultramagnetic MCs. He has more A.K.A.s than ‘Picasso got paint‘: Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, Black Elvis, Dr. Ultra, Crazy Lou, and Poppa Large,to name a few. Since the 1990s, he’s released several solo efforts, and continues to tour around. An incredible rhymer and odd-ball lyricist, Keith has churned out an admirable catalog of strange, yet addictive, tracks.  I was excited to see him perform.

Ego Trippin’ – Ultramagnetic MCs – 1988

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In order to get the new drawing done, I locked myself in the studio all day Saturday.  The show would take place on Sunday night.  I was determined to have something ready by the time he took the stage.

Before I headed to DC, I remembered to grab the Madina Design Golden Era poster.  Keith is in the bottom row, sporting his Black Elvis ‘helmet of hair’:

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Kool Keith signed the Madina Design Golden Era stamp poster – “Black Elvis” (at the top)

I got to U Street around 5:00, and walked to see the Big Paul Robeson mural that we put up last year.  Visiting the mural has become a personal tradition over the past several months. I hope to continue this ritual for years to come.

Around 7:00, I got a text from Malcolm that said he was walking up towards the venue. Once we met up, we went right in.

There were a few opening MCs, and we were caught up in their energy and their message. We were impressed with each of the opening acts, as they got the intimate crowd primed to see Keith.

Right before he went on, we managed to get backstage for a meeting.  Keith was, in a word…Kool.  He signed the portrait with lyrics from Poppa Large, and tagged the Madina Golden Era poster.  Mission: Accomplished!

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Andy Katz and Kool Keith – photo credit Malcolm Riddle
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‘Finished’ Kool Keith portrait – Graphite and White Charcoal on Cardboard – 11.13.16

Seeing him perform was a great experience.  He is a comfortable MC who flows effortlessly.  While it was a Sunday night, and the crowd was small, KK, with the help of DJ Indiana Jones, treated us to an epic performance.  After the show, Malcolm and I grabbed a 1/2 Smoke and some chili fries at Ben’s Chili Bowl. It was another special night.  Thanks, Keith! – AJK

 

 

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