I’ve just completed a new trio of classic Hip-Hop lyrics illustrations. As a group, they will serve as the second set of stickers that I’ve designed through Sticker Mule.
The three new images emerged from the amazing wordplay and descriptive lyrics of iconic Hip-Hop tracks. First, I mined the vivid and clever lines of the Microphone Fiend – Rakim. His opening bars for Paid In Fullpaint a clear picture of how his abilities as an MC have provided him with an alternative to a nefarious past. In the Master Plan illustration, I wanted to capture the line simply and boldly.
“Thinkin’ of a master plan
‘Cause ain’t nothin’ but sweat inside my hand
So I dig into my pocket, all my money spent
So I dig deeper, but still coming up with lint
So I start my mission, leave my residence…”
Eric B and Rakim – Paid in Full
The second of the new designs, also a Rakim gem, is one of my favorite sequences in all of Hip-Hop. From the song Microphone Fiend, we hear of The R’s frustration when someone tries to take his mic. It doesn’t go over well.
“Music-orientated so when hip-hop was originated
Fitted like pieces of puzzles, complicated
‘Cause I grabbed the mic and try to say, “yes, y’all”
They tried to take it, and say that I’m too small
Cool, ’cause I don’t get upset I kick a hole in the speaker, pull the plug, then I jet.“
Eric B and Rakim – Microphone Fiend
Most recently, I went back into my archive and brought back a design that was 95% complete. I had drawn the quintessential LL Cool J – I Can’t Live Without My Radioimage, even before I started making stickers. I’ve always love his ability to construct a visual with his braggadocious approach to rhyming. So simple and clean, his songs remain relevant and inspiring.
“My radio, believe me, I like it loud
I’m the man with the box that can rock the crowd Walkin’ down the street, to the hardcore beat While my JVC vibrates the concrete“
LL Cool J – I Can’t Live Without My Radio
I now have six of my favorite lyrics available as stickers. Collect them all, and be on the lookout for t-shirts emblazoned with the same selection of imagery. I’m really looking forward to constructing a library of the best Hip-Hop visuals. Stay Tuned!
Each sticker is approximately 4″ tall. If you’d like to acquire the stickers, they are available here:
I’ve lived and worked in Maryland my entire life. I live on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and I’ve held a teaching position in Annapolis for thirteen years. Unfortunately, I had been struggling to connect to the art and music community that seems to thrive in this capital city. Although I teach visual arts, and I’ve been enthusiastically making paintings and drawings, my work had instead been finding homes in Washington DC and Baltimore. After a chance meeting with local artists Sally Comport and Linsday Bolin-Lowery, the connection I was hoping for was suddenly cemented.
One day, after school, I had visited Sally’s Art at Large studio on West Street. I was invited there to discuss public art and uses for augmented reality and the HP Reveal app. It seemed that there was new interest in making mural endeavors and museum exhibitions come to life. I was eager to share how I’ve experimented with this interactive technology.
The meeting went well, and we strategized new ways that we could bring this to the Annapolis community. I was demonstrating the app, and lamenting the fact that I hadn’t been successful gaining a foothold in the local scene, when we heard voices in the FIN ARTgallery next door. Lindsay suddenly lit up. She said, “I think Jimi is over there! I’ll go get him, so we can show him what we’re talking about!” She disappeared for a few seconds, and returned with Jimi Davies, a.k.a. Jimi Ha Ha – musician, artist, and creative. I knew about Jimi from his music (Jimmie’s Chicken Shack) and I had seen his popular culture art pieces all around town. He is a multi-talented guy and a ball of creative energy. It was cool to finally meet him.
After the introduction, and a brief explanation of how the augmented reality app works, Jimi said matter-of-factly, “OK, let’s do it! Let’s put your art in our magazine, and use the app to make the issue interactive.” Normally, I have to convince people of the innovation and advantages of this type of technology. It didn’t take me long to realize that Jimi is a creative risk-taker. His ‘what’s the worst’ that could happen?’ attitude was inspiring, and I was blown away by the openness to include me and and my artwork in the winter issue. It was that simple.
In the months leading up to the launch, I figured that I’d hear from the design team. I thought they might struggle with the app, or they would have questions about the layout of the article. Instead, Cory Deere, the art director for the magazine, crafted a beautiful layout, and included augmented reality ‘hotspots’ throughout the issue. I heard absolutely nothing about the project until the night of the launch party. I was on Route 97, coming back from the airport, when Jimi posted some teaser details on social media. From the partial picture that he shared, I knew that my corrugated cardboard portrait of Chuck D would be featured on the cover. I couldn’t get to the party fast enough!
I pulled up at the bar, and waited to see someone I knew. After a few minutes, I pulled out my phone to text a few people. Just then, a magazine was slapped down on the countertop. “I figured, you should get the first look at the new issue!” said a friendly voice. It was Jimi, and he had arrived for the concert and party. He clapped me on the back, and I thanked him profusely for his kindness and generosity. With that, he excused himself to get a few things set up. I had a few minutes alone with the new article. Julia Gibb, the author of the piece, had come out to Kent Island a few months back to interview me. Although she recorded our conversation, I was a bit worried that she had the herculean task of distilling it down to a few columns. I was elated at how she capably wove together my long-winded ramblings and pieced together a flattering biography. It was overwhelming. Thanks, Julia. Thanks, Cory. Thanks, Jimi. Thanks, Sally. Thanks, Lindsay.
The attention to detail and the professional quality of this magazine is not easy to forget. It’s surprising that this is a free, local publication, that serves as promotion for musicians, galleries, artists, and restaurants. Although it costs nothing, it is a rich, vibrant snapshot of an exciting, close-knit, burgeoning community of creative people. I’m humbled to be a part of it.
Once the article was published, and I got my hands on a few copies, I began sending them to friends who don’t live in Annapolis. One of the coolest messages of support and thanks came from Germany. Giovanni Fichera, curator of the Public Enemy On-line Museum, and arguably the world’s biggest Public Enemy fan, posted this photograph –
It’s been a fun few weeks, and I hope these new connections will become solid friendships and strong ties. I’m fortunate to be welcomed into this unique community.
Please follow the directions on the first page of the magazine. This way, you will be able to interact with the photos and the advertisements using the HP Reveal app.
Special thanks to Academy Award-nominated photographer, documentarian, and friend Mig Martinez. He and Rebecca Groom were so kind as to construct a video of me with my work (back in May, at the Blind Whino in DC). I used those photos and video to enhance the article and the augmented reality. Thanks, Mig. Thanks, Rebecca.
“Shaolin shadowboxing and the Wu-Tang sword style. If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu-Tang could be dangerous. Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?”
“En garde, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style.” –
Bring Da Ruckus – Wu-Tang Clan
November 1 loomed large on the calendar. Announced at The Anthem in DC, the night of the Black Star show on April 20th, the Wu-Tang Clan would be performing together in honor of the 25th Anniversary of their iconic Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers album. The end of October, Halloween, signaled a deadline for any new artwork to be made.
Overwhelmed at the thought of making ten portraits, I decided to let myself off the hook, and I instead focused on trying something new. I toyed with the idea of making a group piece, but quickly dismissed the idea in favor of traditional headshots. It was important to stress quality over quantity, and I purchased a wooden panel on which to attempt the first drawing.
For the past couple of years, I had reverted to black and white imagery, mostly rendered on corrugated cardboard. For the Wu-Tang pieces, I wanted a bold, fresh, and louder look. I wanted to experiment with colored pencils, and decided to invest in some Prismacolor supplies. I was hoping that I could stay tight and realistic, while emulating the look and feel of an oil painting. The woodgrain of the panel would serve as a background, while setting off the hard edges of the portrait’s contours. I cued up season one of Breaking Bad, found a strong image of Raekwon the Chef, and I set to work.
Although it took a bit longer than the cardboard work, I was pleased with the contrast between the natural color of the board, and the vivid colors afforded me by the soft pigments of the pencils. It seemed to strike the right balance, and I was reminded of the smooth oil paintings of renaissance portraiture. It was then I realized that I’d finish each piece off with gold-leaf.
As the day approached, I was spending every spare minute working on the portraits. I was bringing them to work, furiously scribbling during my lunch hour, and working into the night. It was evident, that I would only get a few of them done. I had previously made digital paintings of Method Man, RZA, and Redman, and I planned on bringing them along as gifts for each of them. Still, I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to have a piece for each member to sign. To add an additional hurdle to my time crunch, I was running up to New York City for the Bumpy Knuckles Family Reunion event at SOBs. There would very little time to make any additional work.
Using one last, desperate gasp of energy, and with a suggestion from my buddy Malcolm, I decided to pull together a portrait of Russell Tyrone Jones – Ol’ Dirty Bastard. If I could get it done in time, I would have something to show all of the members of the group. This was the best part of the plan!
I would now have seven portraits, and a G-Scale toy train car to bring with me to the show. I began to worry – How would I carry all of this stuff?
As the window of time for art-making dwindled, a few logistical pieces began to fall into place. DJ Bee, Real Fresh Radio, and KEJA Marketing (Norfolk, VA), reached out to say they’d be providing the pre-show music for the event. They have all become friends, and I was excited to find that they were offering their help. Between Feed the Scene connections, and our Real Fresh Radio family, we would obtain three backstage access passes. This would surely help to clear our path.
Three members of our newly minted mADurgency artists’ collective, Myron, Malcolm, and I, agreed to meet at the show. I precariously piled my new panels in plastic sleeves, delicately crammed the train car in my backpack, and gripped my portfolio case, as I waddled up to the entrance to The Anthem. I had everything I needed.
As I hadn’t met Malcolm, Jeremy, or Myron yet, I decided to go in alone. Upon entering the spacious venue, I went to the stage edge to gather a perspective from the floor. Immediately, I saw DJ Bee already in position and moving the early crowd. I decided to get my pass, and head backstage to get a lay of the land.
There was a lot of activity – moving stagecraft, positioning performers, and setting up security. I found a corner, and created a home base for my artwork and supplies. Surveying the area, and realizing that I was plenty early, I began to relax a bit. It was then that I noticed another person standing in the wings of the stage – DC legend, DJ Kool. Having met him before, and wanting to say ‘Hello’, I walked up to him to offer a handshake. He saw me, and began shaking his head. “How come I’m the only one that doesn’t have a dope piece of art from you!” he bellowed, with a smile. What, He remembered me and my artwork? With that, he offered his hand, and I laughed. He said, “Oh yeah, I know who you are!” It was a great moment. We talked for a few minutes, I thanked him for Let Me Clear My Throat!, reminded him about the time we met on stage with Doug E. Fresh (that’s a good story), and we agreed to connect on some artwork in the future.
More and more people were filtering into the backstage area, and it became apparent that I wouldn’t be in some small, select group of lucky fans. There were going to be a ton of bodies in this tight space.
Myron, Malcolm, and Jeremy each arrived separately, and we started to strategize the best way watch the show, while still trying to get a few seconds with the group members.
We went up to higher perch, and looked over the small crowd. Just then, a small entourage of people brushed past, and somebody who was the spitting image of ODB, was in the middle. It was his son. Quickly, I pulled out the portrait, and asked if he would add his name to the new piece. He obliged, and took a few pictures with us. It was great to get him to co-sign the image. It meant a lot that he approved.
Seconds later, with a cacophony of activity, Method Man came up the stairs and entered the space next to the stage. What had recently been a small group of people milling about, suddenly became a crowd swarm – everyone wanting a piece of Mef. Once he got his bearings, and a few people gave him some breathing room, he began addressing people who were nearby. One person gave him some CDs, somebody began recounting how he and they knew some of the same people, and I tried to hang back a bit. Eventually, Malcolm took the print from me, and got it in front of him. He took a moment, and realized that we were giving it to him as a gift. Recognition spread across his face, as I explained that he had asked for one when I met him at the Howard Theatre. He shook my hand, turned, and I put the ODB portrait in front of him. He quickly scrawled his name on it, and Malcolm snapped a few flicks. He floated out of the area, with people trailing behind him.
It never occurred to me to take the train out of my backpack, and I decided that would be the right approach. It was too cumbersome and awkward to navigate these tight spaces with something so delicate. Besides, I was having a lot of trouble organizing all the other pieces. It was going well, but it was obvious that this was not going to be a cake walk.
Just then GZA walked by. He was almost unnoticed, as he made his way towards the stage. He double-backed towards the staircase, and I managed to get his attention with the artwork. He stopped halfway up the steps, and turned towards me. His companions were complimenting my artwork, and he was saying “Where do I get one of these?”. He quickly signed the bottom of the composition, and he was back on his way.
The staff at The Anthem began organizing the crowd. They gave us direction to clear the area, and before we knew what was happening, the elevator opened. A small group of people emerged from the car, and made a bee-line toward the stage. Surrounded by other performers, in the center of the group, was Redman. He took the stage, and the crowd began to disperse. They all wanted a better vantage point.
A few of us regrouped, and hung back, taking turns going out to the floor to see the show. While Redman was doing his thing, RZA came through the remaining, backstage crowd. He leaned up against a railing chatting with a few people, as the crowd swelled behind him. It was a very cramped space, and people were working together to keep it from getting out of control. When RZA turned around, he started taking pictures with those who were asking. I decided to get up there with the ODB portrait. When I finally made it through the crowd and got it in front of him, he paused, and said “You see now, this is a beautiful thing. This lady right here (he jerked his thumb towards the woman to his left) is ODB’s sister!” It was really a cool moment, and even better that he thought to point it out to all of us. She deflected the attention, but you could tell she appreciated the acknowledgement.
The rest of the night was an attempt to enjoy the show. While we were on the second level, the Anthem crew readied the floor leading up to the stage. It was obvious that the rest of the group would be coming down soon. They erected barricades (even though we were backstage), and created a lane that allowed an unimpeded path. Any shot that we would have to meet the rest of the group would have to be after the performance.
Wu-Tang rolled out of the elevator, came up the stairs, and more or less regrouped on stage. The crowd on the floor went ballistic, and the majority of the backstage audience searched frantically for the best view. Myron and I took a few minutes to assess the situation, when I noticed Malcolm had disappeared. Thinking that he had gone out to the floor for the show, I settled into our unique spot behind a large black curtain. We could hear the show, and from certain angles, we could catch glimpses of the raucous action. It wasn’t ideal, but we were working. I was on a mission.
Malcolm reappeared. He had been back in the dressing room hallway. Now I had lost track of Myron. “I think he went to find some water”, Malcolm said. “Redman is just chilling back there.” He had finished his set, and with all of the movement and action downstairs, he had made it back to his room without notice. Malcolm said, “Let’s go!”. I had been back there a few moments ago, and took polite direction from a friendly security guard. It was his job to keep this area free of too many people. When Malcolm and I went back a second time, the guard looked up to protest, when Malcolm ‘Kenobi’ said, without breaking stride, “Oh, we’re dropping off artwork for one of the artists”. Immediately, the guard relaxed, seemingly satisfied with this explanation. We fell into a slow walk, and casually found the correct door. Without overthinking it, we knocked lightly. A gentleman that neither of us recognized opened the door a bit, and asked us our business. We explained that we had artwork for Redman, and that we were there on behalf of mADurgency and Chuck D. He pulled the door open for us to enter, as we had evidently found the correct combinations of words. We entered the dressing room, replete with a buffet of food, smoke, and around 7 or 8 people. As we rounded a small corner, there he was – Redman. He had changed his clothes, and looked relaxed and approachable. We introduced ourselves, and began a conversation about art, logo-design, our last meeting at The Howard Theatre, and plans for future connections. Red seemed genuinely interested in how I had made the portrait, and peppered me with questions about the tools, the time, and the process it takes to make a piece like this. He signed one for me, took one as a gift, and posed for a few pictures with us. We gave our information to his manager, the man who opened the door, and tried not to wear out our welcome. It was a great conversation, and a meaningful exchange. Malcolm is obviously getting good at this.
It was time to head back out to the floor. We wanted to catch the show, and see if we could finish the mission. My plan to deliver prints to Red and Mef had succeeded, and I was still hoping to get the rest of the Clan on the ODB portrait, and the Raekwon, and the Ghostface, and… Man, we still had some work to do.
When the show ended the barricades came back up. This time, we stood against the railing with the artwork. Myron held the Raekwon, I had the Ghostface piece and the ODB portrait. As they came through, they spent a few, quick moments with those who were offering kind words and pats on the back. The ODB portrait functioned like a magnet, as each member would glance up, and make their way over. U-God, Ghost, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck; one after the other. I did manage to miss Cappadonna and Masta Killa, but it was not for a lack of trying. There was just so much happening, so quickly.
Just like that, they disappeared upstairs. I think we could have pressed our luck, and headed up after them. Instead a wave of contentment washed over me; as well as exhaustion. It was getting pretty late, and I was riding high. I didn’t want to push, so we decided to call it a night.
We walked out of the venue into the cool night air. People were grabbing cabs, recounting their favorite tracks, and laughing together on the sidewalk. Myron called an Uber, we said our ‘goodbyes’ and Malcolm and I walked to the parking garage.
It was cool to have a few minutes to review all that had happened. We were shaking our heads and laughing, as we knew it would be hard to keep all the best details straight. That’s a big reason that I write all of this down. I don’t want to forget the fleeting moments of exhilaration, the worry, and the payoff for all of the logistical planning. It’s incredibly fun, but it’s not always easy.
This was a satisfying and exciting mission. I look forward to tracking down Masta Killa, and Cappadonna another time. For now, I’m going to think back on November 1st 2018 as the night we accomplished our Wu-Tang mission. – AK
“Yo, microphone check one-two, what is this?
The Five Foot Assassin with the ruffneck business
I float like gravity, never had a cavity
Got more rhymes than the Winans got family
No need to sweat Arsenio to gain some type of fame
No shame in my game cause I’ll always be the same
Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have
You want to diss the Phifer but you still don’t know the half
I sport New Balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path
Messing round with this you catch the sizing of em?
I never half step cause I’m not a half stepper
Drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper”
Buggin’ Out – A Tribe Called Quest
The month of May is always a busy time for a teacher. The school year is wrapping up, grades are due, and classrooms need to be prepped for summer use. On top of that, the school where I work, puts on an annual art show that features artworks from over six hundred student artists. During this confluence of events and projects, I received an interesting message from the director of the Blind Whino, an event space and arts club in Southwest DC.
Ian Callender, co-founder of the Blind Whino and SW Arts Club, had been playing phone tag with me for about a year. I had participated in two or three thematic exhibitions at the quirky, eclectic, converted church, so I was on his radar. We had yet to click on any substantial level, but when he texted me on May 3rd, I was excited to hear from him. He asked me if I’d like to have a show of my work in the recently renovated Art Annex gallery space. I eagerly agreed, and asked when the show would be planned – “Will it be this summer, or in the fall?” “Tomorrow.” was Ian’s reply. What?! How could I possibly put up a full gallery show with less than twenty-four hours notice. I work tomorrow. I don’t have enough pieces to fill the space. I haven’t had any time to… Wait a minute. I have all of my pieces from my Two Paths show. Most are framed, wired, and ready to hang. I have labels made for every piece, and three out of four of my classes are on a field trip tomorrow. Maybe this is possible. I worriedly replied, “Yes. I’ll do it.” I arranged to miss a day of work, and I raced home to fill my car with my art. Along with blankets, pillows, and all manner of protection, I gingerly placed each piece as strategically as I could. It was important to make the work fit, as I would need to bring everything in one trip. After some rearranging, and a few moments of desperation, I managed to get all of the doors closed. As long as there was room for me, I would be able to navigate my way to DC, early the next morning.
I was so amped to get the work up on the walls, I decided not to wait for any help. Once I got in the building, I was on a mission of efficiency and enthusiasm. I was fortunate to experience a surge of creative adrenaline, and as a result, I put the entire exhibit up by 12:30 pm. I stood back, and marveled at the body of work that served as evidence of my Hip-Hop project. I was overwhelmed. Part obsession, part passion, part research, and part tribute, each of these pieces represent memories, moments of connection, and love for the music of my formative years. As I carefully added labels to each composition, a few people meandered through the space. I couldn’t believe I had pulled it off.
A line of portraits – Grandmaster Flash, Method Man, Redman, Chuck D, Kool Keith, KRS One, and EPMD
My Beastie Boys tribute. It was not lost on me that the day I set up the exhibit, it was May 4th – Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch’s birthday
Ian had a talented artist – “The Funky Engine That Could” tag the main wall – Microphone Check 1-2, What is this?
An angle that depicts three rooms of the show
“The Funky Engine That Could” tagged this beauty on the main wall!
Black Thought, chillin’ with my Biz Markie piece, and the Man Plans God Laughs artwork
The Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch tribute deck, along with Chuck D’s new This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History book
That night, an event was planned. Slowly I began to understand how the space functioned. The walls of the gallery could be adorned with art and thematic work, while the space could be rented out for all kinds of special parties and gatherings. As I was setting up, I met a small group of planners who would be sharing the space. It was their job to construct an incredible experience for a plethora of orthodontists, who were in town for a national conference. They decided on a Star Wars Theme, as it was May 4th – as in – “May the Forth Be With You”. So, there I was, surrounded by classic Hip-Hop imagery, with Eric B. and Rakim’s Microphone Fiend blaring from my speakers, while the team set up a life-size C3PO and a Han Solo frozen in Carbonite. It made for an even stranger scene, when they began erecting a swing made out of large teeth. Evidently, the whole party was being sponsored by a business that was selling an invisible liner for straightening teeth. With any luck, all of the invited orthodontists would become smitten with the new product. I made the decision that I would stick around to see how it all unfolded.
Although the party was a great success, and there were several hundred people in attendance, I was a nervous wreck. People were bumping up against the paintings, using the pedestals for their drinks, and I even spied a lady using one of my matted pieces to fill out her raffle ticket. In my head, I was freaking out. I had to split, before I made a scene. It was their party, after all. Still, before I left, I snapped a few pictures of the crowded gallery, and spotted Chewbacca checking out my George Clinton piece. What a strange scene!
The next morning, I went straight back down to DC. I checked on the work, and I wanted to be there for the official, first day of the show. Although we had not advertised, and the show had been put up without announcement, there was a steady stream of people who came through the space. I was excited and intrigued by the conversations that emerged, and began to formulate a plan for a more formal opening.
Once I settled in, Ian introduced me to Mig Martinez, a photographer and documentary filmmaker. We became fast friends, and Mig generously offered to document the show with his special talents (Go watch his Netflix doc Farewell Ferris Wheel). While we swapped stories about our favorite Hip-Hop, and I demonstrated the interactive elements of my paintings (employing the HP Reveal app), we arranged to meet for a photoshoot and a quick interview. These special connections are the most meaningful aspect of putting up the work.
View the Promo video that Mig and Rebecca Groom put together. – #AnotherMiGVideo
Over the next several weeks, I tried to balance my responsibilities at work, while attempting to be present in the gallery space. The show was to be up for less than a month, and I wanted to make the best of it. I felt so supported, as friends and even people I hadn’t met, sent me messages of encouragement and approval.
At the beginning of the third week of the show, I had an open gallery reception. My goal of having a live DJ, while being surrounded by friends, family, and Hip-Hop artworks was once again realized. DJ RBI came out to spin, and later had me call in to his WPFW show, to talk about the show. Each element added to the richness of the experience. I’m so grateful to Ian, Mig, my friends, family, and the Blind Whino for handing me such a special opportunity. I’ll think back on it often. – AK
“I’m part of this artists’ collective, that Chuck D put together, called mADurgency. We’re illustrators, and graphic designers, and artists who were put together to serve the Hip-Hop community. Our goal is to perpetuate Hip-Hop culture” – Andrew J. Katz
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a semi-local on-line entity called StayUp.News. Out of Baltimore, this group shines a light on Hip-Hop, it’s audience, and those who have struggled to be heard.
StayUp.News is a revolutionary media project that seeks to document social and political issues through Hip-Hop, amplifying the voices of persons from sectors of society that often go ignored in the process of news gathering, and doing so in a language that is intimately familiar to them.
For over 40 years, Hip-Hop has served as the principal language of many communities, particularly in urban America. By treating Hip-Hop as an intellectual tradition, and harnessing its canon and vocabulary in order to frame social and political conversations, StayUp.News delivers a fresh and unique perspective on all manner of issues impacting people on a daily basis.
We agreed to meet, and set up the interview to take place in the modest studio space I keep in my home. It was a welcome idea that the crew would come to me, as I often find myself driving long distances to carry on with my Hip-Hop project.
Tahj, the interviewer, and Jack, the cameraman, arrived right on time, and quickly transformed my little room into a well-lit tv studio. We talked for over an hour, with topics ranging from the mADurgency collective that Chuck D started, to my personal Hip-Hop origins. I spoke for a good chunk of time about tributes and celebrations that are often the goals of our artworks. We compared notes on competition in the art world, and discussed how empowerment and helping others is a better way to go.
In the end, our hour-and-twenty-minute session was trimmed down to three minutes. While I find it a bit odd to be the subject of an interview, and even more strange to see myself talking on-screen, I’m grateful to StayUp for offering me a unique platform for documenting and telling my story. Thanks, Tahj, Jack, and Alejandro. This was a nice feather in my cap.
Here is the interview. Thanks for checking it out! – AK
“The new moon rode high in the crown of the metropolis
Shining, like “Who on top of this?”
People was tusslin’, arguin’ and bustlin’
Gangstas of Gotham hardcore hustlin'”
Respiration – Black Star
It sounded too good to be true. A reunion, of sorts, featuring the elusive and mysterious Yasiin Bey, and his lyrical prodigy, Talib Kweli. The remarkable duo has been difficult to pin down, as each member has a wide breadth of creative outlets from which to express themselves. Yasiin Bey, a.k.a. Mos Def, has been acting on and off, fortified his political stances, and had recently announced a retirement from music. Fortunately for all Hip-Hop fans, this was short-lived, and he has once again emerged to announce tour dates, including the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. Kweli can be seen and heard in the political and activism world, mixing it up with haters and aggressive debaters, on both sides of the aisle. Amidst the myriad of endeavors, these artists have made time to collaborate, and bring fans together for reminders of Hip-Hop at its best.
Yo, from the first to the last of it, delivery is passionate / The whole and not the half of it, forecast and aftermath of it / Projectile that them blasted with, accurate assassin shit / Me and Kweli close like Bethlehem and Nazareth
Definition – Black Star
I had never been to The Anthem in Washington DC, and I was excited to learn that the show was planned for the new venue, on Friday, April 20th. I purchased a ticket in February, not knowing what to expect. The flier sported a few surprises, including several opening acts, and the announcement that ‘sounds (would be) provided by DJ Bee’. I crafted a short note to my friend Bee, in Norfolk, Virginia. It seemed that, for the first time, we would have an opportunity to meet in person. He and I had connected over Hip-Hop and art, more than two years ago. It would be icing on the cake to formally connect with him. Word of the show spread quickly, and many of my Hip-Hop family agreed to link up in April.
The event date neared and, coincidentally, I had been experimenting with drawing applications on an iPad. Using an Apple Pencil and the Procreate app, I was attempting to render my Hip-Hop heroes. The big difference between what I had been doing, and drawing/painting on a device, was that now there was no original artwork; the image resides on the device. Weird. Over the first months of 2018, I was immersed in learning to navigate the tools of digital art-making. I was attempting to achieve photo-realism, while simultaneously having my composition read like a traditional painting or drawing. I used every opportunity to experiment with techniques and new tools. It was important to become fluent in using this new technology. I spent scores of hours generating a new series of Hip-Hop imagery: Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, Redman, Method Man, Black Thought, RZA, Clyde Stubblefield, and the mighty Mos Def. I was gaining confidence, becoming more efficient, and marveling at the richness of the colors. It was while I was working on the Mos Def piece, that I heard about the Black Star show.
April 20th arrived, and the weather was shaping up to be ideal for checking out the Wharf in Southwest DC. I left work as soon as I could, and beat most of the normal Friday afternoon traffic. I wanted to get a good lay of the land, and it was important to assess the probability of getting backstage. I brought along a watercolor portrait, from 2014, and a few of the new prints. I had met Kweli a few months back, when he performed at the Howard Theatre. Tonight, it would be all about meeting Mos, and witnessing a rare performance from two of the best to do it.
A day before the event, I checked-in with those friends who would be meeting up at The Anthem – Malcolm, Mike from Philly, Liz from Philly, and Jeremy (DJ Boom) from WLVS. When Jeremy and I connected, he mentioned that he had press passes. He added that I would be his ‘Plus One’. I wasn’t sure what that would entail, but I began to imagine that this might smooth our path a bit. I thanked him profusely, and hoped that we could finagle a way to get Malcolm a pass too.
I was taking in the Wharf, and scouting a spot for food, when I spotted a guy wearing a ‘Fresh Radio’ sweatshirt. As I pointed to the shirt, and started to remark that I was hoping to meet DJ Bee tonight, I realized that it was the man, himself. When he saw me pointing, he furrowed his brow, anticipating a strange interaction. Instead, recognition spread across his face, and we both grinned. Wordlessly, we had figured it out. This was the meeting we had been planning. We agreed to meet up again, posed for a quick selfie, and we parted ways. He would be warming up the crowd, speaking with his hands! It would be great to see him perform.
I ended up meeting Malcolm and Meriem, only to double-back to the front doors of The Anthem to meet Jeremy. If he was providing a pass for me, I didn’t want to keep him waiting, or have him have to search for me. We linked up, and after a few snags on our way in, we found Jeremy’s contatct with the passes. The floor was filling with eager concert-goers, and we decided to take our new sticker-badges for a spin. As we approached the backstage entrance, we anticipated resistance, but a quick glance and a nod from a burly security guard lessened our concern. So far so good.
While the backstage area was dimly lit and mostly concrete, we were elated to be there. We had been told that ‘Mos Def wont sign anything’, and our expectations were a bit low. Still, standing at the base of the stairs, leading directly to the stage, it was obvious that any performer would have to walk right past us on their way. We began to relax a bit, and realized that we were free to come and go as we pleased. We found Tajuana, our friend from the Howard Theatre. She works security at both venues, and has always been supportive of our missions. She knows that we can be trusted, and seems to appreciate that we don’t push and shove, we are polite, and we will leave without argument, if the situation calls for it. She’s a real friend, and I always love to see her. She gave us a few tips about the schedule and the times, and we settled in near the area by the backstage curtain. We figured we would be in for a long wait, and I wanted to get Malcolm back here with us.
Before the show, when we realized that Malcolm would be watching the show from his seat, we agreed that I would take his copy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X with me. In the off chance that I had a few minutes with Mos Def, I would certainly try to add to Malcolm’s impressive collection of signatures. It felt good to be trusted with such a treasured item.
The show had begun, with Bee amping up the crowd with Hip-Hop gold. The wings of the stage started to fill, and J Berd and Mad Squablz took turns priming the crowd with their unique brand of rhyming. It seemed that Squablz had about forty people in his camp. It was heart-warming to see that kind of support for a friend and family member.
Just as we settled in to enjoy the show, a lone, slight figure shuffled past, wearing a white hoodie. He was heading towards the stage, to take in the show. I realized quickly, that it was Yasiin Bey. There was no entourage, and no fanfare. I grabbed my painting, and got Jeremy’s attention. I didn’t want to rush up on him, but no one had realized he was there. Jeremy snatched up my painting, and put it in front of Yasiin. He glanced down at it, and I waited to be rebuffed. Instead, he quietly walked back into the light, looking for a place to set the painting down. Now everyone was following him; like a modern-day pied piper. He spied a red fire extinguisher box, jutting out from the wall. He delicately placed it on the box and began adding his artfully drawn signature to my painting. I was in awe that this was happening, and snapped to, when I noticed about fifteen people documenting the moment with all manner of video equipment and cameras. I finally remembered to take some of my own pictures, when he turned around. He signed Jeremy’s star-shaped record, and I prepared Malcolm’s book for a quick tag. When it was my turn, I explained that this was Malcolm’s book, for his son. I told him that he was in the seats, and that he gave me the book in the hopes that Yasiin Bey would add his name to the collection. He obliged, uttering softly, a single word – “Wow.”
The moment that Yasiin Bey found a spot to tag the original watercolor. Photo by Greg Boulden
Photo by Greg Boulden
Photo by Greg Boulden
I thanked him over and over again. We started to celebrate, and share the stories of the book and the paintings, when we realized that Bey seemed to be in no rush. He was lingering with the small crowd of photographers and performers. Although I still had my prints with me, I was worried that I’d appear greedy if I asked for another signature. Instead, I asked Jeremy to present the last piece to him. When he did, Bey graciously, and with purpose, walked over to the wall, and began writing on the print. I thought he was sharing song lyrics, but after the fact, I realized that he was recalling a memory. He wrote: …At some point in California I believe Black Though was present – Bey
I genuinely thought I was dreaming, as the scene unfolded so slowly and without interruption. At the last moment, I looked up to notice a clear, profile shadow on the wall, projected from a camera light. I finally remembered to take my camera out of my pocket and snapped flicks of the surreal scene. Little did I know, that several skilled photographers were much more prepared. Special thanks go to a new friend, Greg Boulden, as he used his special skills to capture these moments. Just incredible.
Amidst our small circle of congratulations, Jeremy and I made several new connections: Stephen Jones, of Artotorium (IG), photographer Greg Boulden, and performers Mad Squablz and J Berd (from Frederick, Maryland). It was all love and mutual appreciation. As we stood there, swapping stories, art, and handshakes, I noticed a woman giving assistance to a small Rastafari man, shuffling towards the stage. Immediately, I recognized the diminutive figure as Paul Hudson (H.R.), from the legendary, punk band Bad Brains. He figures heavily as a mentor and influencer of Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch from the Beastie Boys, and was photographed in the early days, by Glen E. Friedman. I asked a half dozen people if they knew, for sure, if it was him. I was in a Hip-Hop crowd, and no one knew what I was talking about. Ha!
He took a seat on the left side of the stage, and wore a slight smile along with his sunglasses and knit hat. I was sure it was him.
HR, from Bad Brains, at his perch on the side of the stage
Jeremy, Mad Squablz, and myself
The opening acts each took their turn on stage, and Dead Prez brought the crowd up to a new level of excitement. It was time for Black Star. I moved to the far side of the stage, and found an incredible vantage point from which to watch the show. I was in my glory. As I looked around, I found myself in awe of the scene. A packed crowd to my right, Black Star performing directly in front of me, and a group of VIPs to my left. Apparently, they didn’t realize that there was a ton of room on the landing where I stood. As I scanned the group backstage, I noticed a familiar face. Is that – Tracy Morgan? I guess when a legendary group reunites for a special show, everyone shows up.
I quickly texted Malcolm to see if he’d want Tracy to sign the Malcolm X book. He responded enthusiastically in the affirmative, and I set to work.
We were directly behind the stage, when I approached Tracy. I explained that the book belonged to Malcolm, who was in the seats, and that the book was for his son. He signed his name next to Yasiin Bey, and I thanked him. I said “I’m glad you’re here.” He replied, “Thanks for having me.” It’s evident, that he loves to talk with people, and is glad to be alive.
As the show went on, I sidled up to the woman who had walked in with HR. I asked her if I was correct in my assumption. She assured me that it was him, and I took the opportunity to bring up a mutual acquaintance. Once she realized that my intentions were harmless, she introduced herself, as Laurie, a fellow artist, and HR’s wife. Embarrassed that I didn’t know the connection, I thanked her for her time, and gently asked if, after the show, I could request a photograph with HR. She said that he is usually accommodating to such requests, and that she’d try to make it happen. I tread lightly, knowing that he had recently undergone some major surgeries. I didn’t want to be a bother.
Glen E. Friedman shot of HR from Bad Brains – c. 1982
HR from Bad Brains
The show, ended, and Talib and Yasiin exited the stage with a path cleared to the stairway. While everyone clamored after them, I watched HR and Laurie walk slowly off the stage, behind them. Seemingly, the stars of the show had set the pick for a quiet, clear walk to the backstage area. While everyone had their heads turned to see Black Star, HR walked to the center of the room. There, Laurie spotted me, and introduced me to the man. I thanked him for being there, and hoped that he was feeling well. I mentioned that I am a big Beastie Boys fan, and brought up the fact that Adam Yauch was a huge fan of Bad Brains. HR lit up when I mentioned MCA, and I guess I did too. He put his arm around me, and we posed for a quick picture. This moment was an exclamation point to the night that had been such a bevy of special meetings.
I floated out to the main floor to connect with Malcolm. The place had largely emptied out, and every few seconds I would inadvertently step on a plastic cup, or concert flier. We met up in the center of the floor, and agreed to head outside. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face, as I rambled through the story of the night. Malcolm and Meriem were kind to listen to me attempt to piece together a coherent tale. My head was filled with an overwhelming number of images and memories. I hope that, by writing it down here, that I can recapture some of the magic that was April 20th, 2018, at The Anthem in DC. Thanks, Yasiin, Talib, Tracy Morgan, HR, Laurie, Jeremy Beaver, Stephen Jones, Greg Boulden, Mad Squablz, Dead Prez, Malcolm, Meriem, Mike and Liz from Philly, Saleem, Feed the Scene, and The Anthem for adding to my stories. I’m not sure where this Hip-Hop project is heading, but it has been an incredible ride. – AK
I pause, flick the ash from my L /
I Pause, like Run and Jason Mizell
A-YO – Method Man and Redman w. Saukrates
These five new compositions were rendered on an IPad Pro, within the Procreate app, using an Apple Pencil. I was amazed at the control, color, and detail that was afforded me, when working on a device. It’s an exciting time in my artistic development, as I learn to cultivate my understanding of these new tools. I am making available a small edition of prints of the five portraits. Each will be 14” x 16” (except RZA – 14” x 14”, and Mos Def 11” x 14”) and printed with archival inks on high-quality papers. Because these were rendered on a device, there is no original, so prints are the final product. Let me know if you’d like one. Here’s the link to purchase: Redman, RZA, Black Thought, Mos Def, and/or Method Man
Right now, I’m working on printing up copies for Red and Mef. They both asked for their own. Looking forward to the next Hip-Hop adventure, and the next art-making opportunity. Thanks for checking them out. – AK
I was a fiend, before I became a teen /
I melted microphones instead of cones of ice cream /
Music orientated, so when Hip-Hop was originated /
Fitted like pieces of puzzles…complicated /
‘Cause I grabbed the mic and try to say “Yes, y’all!” /
They tried to take it, and say that I’m too small /
Cool ’cause I don’t get upset /
I kick a hole in the speaker, pull the plug, then I jet
Microphone Fiend – Eric B and Rakim
Your favorite rapper’s rapper, always in the conversation of the best to ever do it, Rakim Allah, The ‘R’, a.k.a. The Microphone Fiend, recently came through DC, via the Howard Theatre. Although I’ve painted and drawn Rakim’s portrait many times over the past few years, I was compelled to craft a new piece, employing a manipulated cardboard technique.
The original show was scheduled for December 29th, and it was highly anticipated. There were two opening acts, Tray ‘Poot’ Chaney, and Intelligenz. Each of these talented artists took turns exciting the swelling crowd with their unique brand of poetry. It has been inspiring to watch them hone their craft.
Right around the time that Tray took the stage, word spread that Rakim wasn’t going to make it to the show. He had been in a minor car accident, and would be unable to perform. DJ Technician, Rakim’s right-hand-man, made a valiant attempt to keep the party going. Unfortunately, it was clear that the night was over for us. We headed back to our cars, making plans to meet up again for the postponed show.
True to their word, The Howard and Rakim announced a make up date. The show would take place on January 6th, the following Saturday night.
I was looking forward to having some time in DC, well before the show. I like to walk around the U Street corridor, and usually swing by the Robeson mural. That day, however, the temperature was in the single digits, and it was truly uncomfortable to be outside. I went station to station, stopping here and there in order to get warm.
I landed at Ben’s Chili Bowl for a few minutes. Here, I grabbed a small bowl of chili, and snapped a few pictures that matched up with scenes from the movies State of Play, and The Pelican Brief.
This approach to exploring our surroundings has been cultivated by the Delta Bravo Urban Exploration Team. It’s a natural fit for anyone who enjoys connecting our visual world with the songs, movies, and music of the past. Danny O’Connor, of House of Pain fame, has encouraged us to go out and explore. This group of ‘nomads’ accepts the challenge, and continues to enthusiastically submit visual evidence of our travels. It’s been gratifying to re-examine our nation’s capital through this lens.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous
Once I got the feeling back in my hands, I was back on the street. My buddy Malcolm was going to see Chris Rock at D.A.R Constitution Hall, but was going to meet up with me first. I could tell he was going to try to get to both shows. I found street parking at Howard University, and settled in at another restaurant to wait for Malcolm. He came through for a few minutes, and took an Uber car downtown. I headed to the theater to see how things were shaping up.
Although I’ve met Rakim a few times before, I get quite anxious that I might cross paths with a living legend. After hanging around the main floor of the theatre, I decided to try my luck back stage. I was pretty sure he wasn’t there yet, but I thought it might be important to get a good spot near the stage door. I began to see some familiar faces – Saleem, Scroger, Intelligenz, G$, Nick, and ‘Swole’ the security guard. Being among these new friends, I attempted to relax. The side door opened, and a small group of people entered the landing of the stairwell. Each new person offered handshakes and hugs of familiarity. I was pleasantly surprised when I was included in this exchange. I spotted Rakim’s brother, who I had met before, and quickly showed him the drawing. As a result, he invited me downstairs to the dressing rooms, and cleared my path to wait for The God MC.
Once downstairs, I timidly pushed open the dressing room door. Here, I had met Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Naughty By Nature, Speech from Arrested Development, and Rakim, himself, on several other occasions. I knew I was in the right place. Surprisingly, there was only one other person in the room. I quickly surmised that it was DJ Technician (Tech), as he was head-phoned and focused on his laptop set list. I said, ‘Hello’, and he acknowledged me with a polite nod. I stood there for a few minutes, taking in the awkwardness of the scene, when Rakim’s manager, Matt, walked in the small room. We shook hands, and I showed him the Glen E. Friedman My Rules coffee table book and Chuck D’s This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History book. I had brought each along in the hopes of Rakim tagging his pictures. He reminded me that Rakim had written a piece that appeared in the Friedman opus.
A minute later, Matt wandered out of the room, accompanied by a cacophony in the hallway. I glanced up to see Rakim glide into the space. He looked at me with slight recognition, and shook my hand. He shut the door behind him, and I quickly realized that I was one of three people in the room – Tech, Rakim, and Andy Katz. Was this right? Was I supposed to be here? I stood there, awkwardly, trying to think of something to say. I felt decidedly uncool, and I contemplated walking out. Instead, I struck up a conversation. I reminded him that I’ve brought him art before, and that he’s has always been great about writing lyrics on each of my pieces. I handed him the Chuck D book, and found the page adorned with his image. It’s a digital painting by the UK artist, Askem. He signed the book, and when he handed it back to me, a whole stack of my stickers fell out from the front page. I forgot they where in there. Ra looked at me, and said, “Look man, you just dropped all your shit. Give me a minute to get settled.” I stooped to pick up my stuff, and started laughing at the situation and how he had handled it. When I stood back up, my plan was to leave him alone, and politely exit. By the time I got my bearings, I realized that he was at the mirror, shaving. I said, “Ok, Ra, I’ll get out of your way, now. Thanks!”. He replied, “Naw, man, you’re alright. You don’t have to go.” With that, he turned around, and checked out my other book, and the new portrait. He tagged the pages of My Rules, and I handed him the new drawing. As I passed it off to him, I mentioned that I was trying some new techniques with the cut cardboard. I pulled out my prepared lyrics sheet, and asked if he would pen one of the two options. Instead, he walked over to the counter top, and gently laid the drawing down. He said, “Naw. How ’bout 7 Emcees?”, and he began to write…
I was practicing nonchalance, when I thanked him for recording a shout-out for MCA Day. I informed him that it meant a lot to the attendees that he would take time out to say a few words about Adam Yauch. It had been a few years, and he was among the first to put his thoughts into video form. I was glad I was able to thank him for that. He said, “No problem, man. You know – That’s Hip-Hop. That’s what it’s about.” I thought to myself – ‘Yeah, I’m getting that feeling’.
At this point, it became a good time to leave him. I wanted to remain polite, and give him the space he needed to get set for the show. I walked into the hallway, and realized that a small crowd had gathered. They looked at me with disappointment, as they realized that I was not with Rakim. I blended into the group, excited to share my story. I eavesdropped on a few conversations about top five emcees, Hip-Hop history, and listened to the praise of Rakim, as everyone was getting amped to see the show. As I was gearing up to share my opinions, I looked up to find that Rakim was standing next to me. He said, to no one in particular, “Y’all ready to do this?” With that invitation, we moved en masse up the narrow stairway. We were headed for the stage door, when Rakim ducked into the small dressing room next to the stage. The rest of us proceeded through the door to the main stage and lined the perimeter. The curtain was down, and we could hear the audience on the other side, waiting impatiently. It was a surreal moment.
DJ Tech, at his perch behind the turntables, was already speaking into the mic, when the curtain rose. He was energetically rattling off superlatives that prepared the crowd. Rakim’s son, Tahmell was introduced to the expectant throng, and he capably made his mark with a style and approach all his own. This only fueled the fervor, and when he was done, it was time for the Microphone Fiend to join us on stage. Tech’s accolades rose to a crescendo of indecipherable hype, when Rakim slowly strutted out to center stage. He was there.
I stood back, making every attempt to enjoy my exciting vantage point, in disbelief that I wasn’t being asked to leave. About two songs in, Malcolm, fresh from the Chris Rock show, appeared next to me. We shook hands, glanced at each other, and burst out laughing. Wordlessly, we stood in awe of our situation, absorbing and appreciating every moment.
After the show, while still on the stage, Macolm was able to obtain Rakim’s signature on his The Autobiography of Malcolm X book. This new tradition has resulted in a treasured and ever-evolving, historic collection of notable figures, paying tribute to Malcolm’s namesake. All this, as a gift to his son.
Late that night, or early the next morning, depending on the way you look at it, we braved the frigid air, and walked back to our cars. This time around, we were happily recounting the evening, and making plans to archive our stories. This was another incredible experience, and I’m already looking forward to the next adventure. Thanks, Ra! It was worth the wait. – AK
* Special thanks to Saleem, Nick, and Swole. Their support and continued hospitality, certainly make these ‘missions’ a possibility. Without their help, I wouldn’t have the nerve to seek out these opportunities. Thanks fellas!
Before rap was a game or Hip-Hop was a nation/
Before Lauryn Hill began her miseducation/
Before Milk was chillin’ or PE brought the noise/
Before Heavy D and the Boyz/
Before the roof caught on fire, Before fresh was the word/
Before Whodini and friends and Roxanne’s Revenge/
Before the freaks came out at night, before say Ho/
Before the Crash Crew was rocking on the radio…
GOAT – Grandmaster Caz
Have you ever seen the cheesy paintings of the presidents playing billiards together? Although they were from different eras, and didn’t live during the same time spans, artists have rendered this patriotic impossibility as an american Mount Olympus. Here, we can imagine Eisenhower and Lincoln amiably slapping each other on the back, and Reagan and Nixon happily recalling their younger, less challenging days. It’s ridiculous, of course, but not long ago, I found myself in a situation that rivaled that scene.
A few months ago, The Bridge Concert Series was announced by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Determined to bring Hip-Hop to the storied institution, the center named Q-Tip (a.k.a Jonathan Davis, a.k.a. The Poet Incognito, a.k.a. Kamaal Ibn John Fareed) as the Creative Director. This important move ushers in an entire era of unique and powerful music, and a cross-section of the American experience as a whole. It’s about time, and it seems as if Tip is taking this challenge personally.
In preparation of the ‘Bridge’ event, I promised myself that I’d show up with art in hand. I prepared two pieces – a cardboard composition of Grandmaster Caz, and a small colored pencil rendering of the unmistakable Kool Moe Dee. I wasn’t sure how I would meet them, but I wanted to be ready if things came together. I grabbed my new This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History book off the shelf, and loaded up my portfolio case with my new art. For good measure, I unframed the Madina DesignGolden Era of Hip-Hop poster, and brought it along. After all, Kool Moe Dee and Roxanne Shanté, each on the poster, would both be appearing. It was difficult to keep all of these opportunities straight, but it was better to be over-prepared.
Strangely, the whole event was planned for a Monday night. This makes everything a bit more difficult, as it’s a work night early in the week. Fortunately, the work week was short because of the Thanksgiving holiday. I was all ready to go.
I got to the Watergate Hotel parking garage with plenty of time to spare. My plan was to walk to get something to eat, and return to meet Malcolm Riddle, and Jeremy Beaver closer to showtime. It was about 5:00 pm, and I decided to walk over to the river view, behind the Kennedy Center. I snapped a couple of photos of the panorama, and glanced back towards the Watergate. I often get caught up in all of the history that surrounds us when we are in the nation’s capital. As I doubled-back towards Virginia Avenue, and the front of the Kennedy Center, I noticed that there was a woman echoing my steps. It seemed that someone else had a similar idea, and a similar path.
Upon closer inspection, I realized enthusiastically, that the woman was none other than Cora Brown, the wife of Grandmaster Caz. I only recognized her, because we are ‘friends’ on Instagram. Earlier in the week I had shared my Caz rendering with her, and she had replied that she was excited to see it in person. I took this as an opening to introduce myself to her.
I said “Excuse me, are you Mrs. Caz?” She lit up, and said “Yes, I am!”. I extended my hand to introduce myself, and said “Hi! I’m Andy Katz”. “Oh, no, Honey. I don’t shake hands, I give hugs!”, she informed me as she enveloped me into her arms. I let her know that I was the one who had drawn Caz, and that I had it with me. She asked if she could see the drawing, and I excitedly pulled it out. She took pictures of the drawing, and of the two of us together. She asked if I had a ticket for the show, and I replied in the affirmative. She said, “Why don’t you just come in now? You can use my lanyard”. With that, she took off the production team pass that she had been wearing around her neck. She handed it to me, I put it on, and we walked in the stage door together, shoulder to shoulder. Incredible!
After walking past a formal guard station, and through a heavy door, we came to a second, windowless door. We pushed through, and entered a large lounge area, replete with a wide variety of food and drink, and several large black leather chairs and couches. Adorning the wall were hundreds of small, framed show posters, displaying a rich history of Kennedy Center performances. It was an impressive display, yet it had a glaring omission – No Hip-Hop. I believed we’d be changing that in the next few hours.
I tried to act like I belonged in the lounge area. My new necklace, and my new friend assured me that no one would be asking me to leave. I tried to relax, and Cora told me that everyone went back to the hotel to change for the show. There was a full buffet of food, and a ton of room to sit and wait. I turned around to put down my portfolio case, only to find that Grandmaster Caz had entered the room. Cora pointed him in my direction, and I mustered a few words of introduction. I pulled out the drawing, and expressed my thanks for contributions he had made to the Hip-Hop genre. He was so cool and laid back, that I began pointing out my favorite parts of his Art of Rap appearance. It has been great to see him get the credit he deserves, and I was able to convey that thought directly to him. He posed for a few pictures, and without rushing, took a seat to properly tag the artwork. I asked him to sign lyrics, and we decided on the short, but powerful “I’m That…” phrase that he delivered directly into the camera for Ice T’s Art of Rap doc.
We were able to talk for a little while, and then, he too, had to go to change for his performance.
For the next few hours, my head was on a swivel, as the early history of Hip-Hop ebbed and flowed in front of my eyes. I met Mr. Wave, an original B-Boy and break dancer, Sha-Rock, one of the first female MCs, and a whole host of supportive fans and friends of the performers. Eventually, Malcolm showed up, and we were able to get him back stage, as well. We decided to view the concert from the back stage area, when our friend Saleem showed up with another wave of Hip-Hop royalty. After he entered the room, in walked Kool DJ Red Alert, Busy Bee, Roxanne Shanté, and Kool Moe Dee. It was difficult to keep up with the greatness that was passing in front of us. “Hey, There’s Kurtis Blow!”, “Did Sadat X just come through?”, “I heard that Whodini is showing up around 9:00.” While we were comfortable, and could take our time, we didn’t want to take any of this for granted.
It was an amazing opportunity for all. We had a chance to meet the icons of the genre, and they had the chance to kick down the doors of the Kennedy Center…once and for all.
Over the next several hours, we paid compliments and tribute to Kool Moe Dee, Sha-Rock, Busy Bee Starski, Roxanne Shanté, Kurtis Blow, Red Alert, Sadat X, Jalil and Ecstasy from Whodini. It was an amazing night, and I’ll think about it often. I’m so glad that I’m able to connect with these important figures. Be on the lookout for more special programming at the Kennedy Center. – AK