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.
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 3 Feet High and Rising – 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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