“I had to roam so I picked up the phone
Dialed Ali up to see what was going down
Told him I pick him up so we could drive around
Took the Dodge Dart, a ’74
My mother left a yard but I needed one more
Shaheed had me covered with a hundred greenbacks
So we left Brooklyn and we made big tracks
Drove down the Belt, got on the Conduit
Came to a toll, and paid and went through it
Had no destination, we was on a quest
Ali laid in the back so he can get rest
Drove down the road for two-days-and-a-half
The sun had just risen on a dusty path
Just then a figure had caught my eye
A man with a sombrero who was 4 feet high”
I Left My Wallet in El Segundo – A Tribe Called Quest
Until recently, I’d say the last six or seven years, music was something that I would consume on a very personal, individual basis. The exception would be when I would have people in my car, and an iron-grip-of-control on the music coming from the speakers. Music was always setting the mood, providing the soundtrack, and willing me to be my best.
It wasn’t until the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, that I considered driving a long way to get to the music. Normally, the music travelled with me; and it was always accessible. That night in Cleveland was a wake up call and a reminder that we have a finite time to witness live shows and memorable performances. It was the night we found out Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch would not be in attendance. He would not be performing with his two band mates and friends, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz.
I have written about that night, in my ‘Mission: Chuck D’ piece, but I have also been ruminating on the embryonic nature of the event. It presented to me, with much clarity, the finiteness of life and how we choose to live it.
I was glad to have been there, and made up my mind to be present in generating and enjoying my own experiences. I came home a changed man.
What has followed is a newly developed alter ego. For forty years, I had always been boringly rational, safe, and responsible. With the exception of a few bumpy years in high school, I was exceedingly predictable, often relying on my friends to provide spontaneity and adventure. It’s not to say that I am irresponsible now – that’s why I use the term ‘alter ego’. During the day, I’m still reliable and consistent.
Now, however, I throw caution to the wind. I make attempts to put myself in positions where interesting things will happen.
“But if leading the perfect life is unlikely, it is still entirely possible to lead an interesting life – and I would maintain (as my modest contribution to art theory) that if you lead an interesting life you are on track to make interesting art. Your job is to put yourself on an intercept path with interesting experiences.” – The Studio Door | Ted Orland
Since 2012, I have used my artwork as a ticket for adventure. I hide behind it, and I wield it as my confidence and nerve. So much so, that the act of bringing my artwork to live events has become my art. It’s a bit of a performance, with the finale being written by the cast of characters who dip in and out of the scenes; and ultimately by the subjects of my paintings and drawings. This blog serves as an archive of these unscripted experiences.
The friendships and connections that have been forged, as a result of these new adventures, are life-long and gratifying. I relish each new relationship and the stories that inevitably result in meeting new people and traveling to new places.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Masta Ace, a criminally underrated and slept-on MC. It was a wonderful experience, made even more memorable because I was surrounded by my new friends when it happened. When we regrouped after the meeting, and Ace had gone on his way, we began casually joking around about driving to Adelphi University, to see Chuck D deliver a speech on the history of Hip-Hop. The event was something we wished was closer, but we still wanted to be there to support Chuck. Assuming that we were all busy that day, I quickly forgot about the idea. Two days later, the day of the event, my friend Myron sent me a text – 1:34pm “Still thinking about Adelphi fellas?”
The die was cast. The gauntlet was thrown down. We decided that we could make it up there – just in time.
We made it up to Adelphi University, on New York’s Strong Island, with 15 minutes to spare before showtime. Via text, we let Chuck know that we were in the house, and found seats in the middle of the small theatre space. As I sat there, flanked by my two new friends (and Dinco D from Leaders of the New School), I realized how fortunate I am. I have been able to fall in with people who have the same curiosity and thirst for knowledge as I do. They want to immerse themselves in experience, history, culture, and tribute. They want to retell the same stories and have the same debates over and over again.
“Who is in your Top 5? Ok, Who are your Top 5 groups? Did I ever tell you about the time I rapped with Run DMC? How about the time I took the train to NYC to see Tribe open for Kanye West (and skipped the Kanye West part)”. To friends, these stories never get old. If they do, they are too polite to tell me.
Although I’m way behind, I wanted to share some of the road trip stories here. Recently, we drove to Philly to see the Beastie Boys book tour – We drove to New York one Sunday, to attend Bumpy Knuckles birthday celebration (that was an incredible night!) – We went to Brooklyn to clean up Adam Yauch Park, when some playground equipment had been defaced – We drove up and back to the Tribe 25th Anniversary show in NYC – We went to Philly to see a Public Enemy / Stetsasonic / Chubb Rock show – We always made it to Brooklyn to celebrate MCA Day – and we have been in and around the DC Hip-Hop scene for several years.
Immediately after the unveiling of the sign
Kool Herc and Chuck D
Spoonie Gee (The Metropolitician) and Andy Katz
It’s difficult to summarize these trips and missions (as I call them). There are countless hours of waiting, joking, talking, debating, and laughing. I’m already looking forward to the new adventures that will arise in the coming months. Fortunately, my good friend Malcolm Riddle has documented several of these road trips on his ‘American Riddle’ podcast. I’m going to leave them here. Let me (and Malcolm) know what you think:
A couple of months ago, I noticed a small, on-line flier, announcing a Record Store Day event at Records and Rarities, followed by a concert at Union Stage. The picture, and accompanying text, explained that Masta Ace and Marco Polo would be appearing at both locations, in support of their A Breukelen Story album.
Immediately, I began making some mental plans to get to one of the locations to meet another original member of the storied Juice Crew (I’ve met Roxanne Shanté, Craig G, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, and Biz Markie).
To be honest, I had to put a lot of this on the back burner, and had some doubts that I would be able to find time to make any original artwork for the event. That being said, I had the Madina Golden Era ‘Stamp’ poster beckoning from the wall of my studio, and Chuck D’s This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History book, to bring along. I would have plenty to get in front of the Brooklyn-born MC. In the meantime, I had many responsibilities at work, keeping my schedule full.
As the date approached, I made some attempt to gather materials; including some Prismacolor colored pencils and a new 16″ x 20″ wood panel. If I could find several hours over the subsequent few weeks, I might be able to pull something together.
In researching the imagery for the new piece, I found a beautiful photographic portrait from which to work. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, one of my new friends, and fellow mADurgency artists, Confuse Art, had recently rendered a stunning digital version of the same picture. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to tackle the same image. He had knocked it out of the park, and there was nothing left for me to say. He had said it all.
Beautiful, right? Following that act would be futile, but I still wanted to give it my best.
After some searching, I landed on an album cover-art photograph that had striking blues, oranges, and dynamic light and shadow. I was in business.
Each night of the week leading up to the event at the record store, I carved out a few hours to get some work done. It began to come together nicely, and I was feeling good about finishing it up in time. Everything was in order.
Record Store Day arrived, and I plugged the coordinates for Records and Rarities into my GPS. I wanted to get there early, and check out the vinyl, as well as the lay of the land. Although the event was in northern Virginia, I had plenty of time to get there. I was hoping Malcolm and Myron would meet up with me, but I wasn’t sure of their plans.
I got to Springfield Mall around 11:30 am, not too long before Marco and Ace were scheduled to appear. I found the store on the second floor, and wandered around a bit; eventually purchasing the special 7″ record that they were there to promote.
I texted Malcolm and Myron, both, and I suggested I wait for them to show up, before getting into any kind of line. While there was evidence of an earlier crowd – a tray of mini cinnamon rolls, coffee, and a sectioned off area out front for lining people up, the young guy behind the counter told me “That was for when we opened this morning.” After all, it was Record Store Day – There were all kinds of special releases and sales.
Malcolm and Myron texted me back individually, both letting me know they would be here closer to 1:00 pm. I’d have to wait awhile. I asked the employee, “Where is everyone? You’d think they’d be lining up to meet Masta Ace!” He replied, “Yeah, we’ve been promoting it all week. We said ‘Masta Ace!’ So people will be here”. I walked out to get a bite to eat, and looked back over my shoulder to make sure they weren’t arriving as I was leaving. It was pretty quiet, so even if they showed up while I was gone, I would be able to get close again quickly.
At around 12:30, I walked back over to the store, and got a surprise text from Malcolm – “Parking now”. He was earlier than he thought he’d be – great! I looked through the plate glass window, and once again, saw that Ace and Marco weren’t there. I guessed that it’s a lot like a live show – sometimes the talent arrives a bit late (so you’ll buy more drinks or merch). I’m not a fan of waiting, but it’s part of the mission.
I was waiting for Malcolm outside the store; I wanted to greet him when he came around the corner, so we could go in together. About 10 minutes went by, and I was wondering what was taking him so long to walk in from the parking lot, when my phone vibrated. It was Malcolm – “Where are you?” I replied – “I’m standing right out front of the store.”
Malcolm – “They’re here. Where are you? I’m looking right at them.”
Me – “What?” – (sinking feeling)
Malcolm – “What mall are you at?”
Me- …(Um) “Springfield”…
Malcolm – “We’re at Tyson’s”
Me- “Where’s that!?” – (F**K!)
Even though I knew the answer, I went back into the store. I went straight up to a guy I assumed was the manager. Pointing to all of the posters announcing the Masta Ace and Marco Polo event, I inadvertently interrupted the moment he popped a whole mini cinnamon roll in his mouth. “Excuse me, is there another Records and Rarities?!” I knew the answer, but stood there watching him chew just enough to mumble out a crumb-spewing “Tyson’s”. I spun on my heels and started for the car. I left the dude chomping on his cinnamon roll, in a cloud of profanity-laced disappointment. Not my finest moment. I probably owe him an apology.
I had to get over to Tyson’s Corner mall, and I didn’t know how far, or how difficult it would be to get there. The 495 beltway around DC is notorious for its traffic and overall unpredictability.
Although in hindsight I made incredible time, the next 15 to 25 minute drive seemed like an eternity. I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t know if they would stick around long enough for me to make all of this running around worthwhile.
To break up my mad dash from Springfield to Tyson’s, I hit the Bluetooth phone option in my car – “Call Malcolm Riddle!” – The disembodied voice calmly replied “Calling Malcolm Riddle”. After a few rings, it went to voicemail. “FU*K!” I imagined Malcolm chilling with Ace, and the phone ringing silently in his pocket. “FU*K!” I waited a few minutes before trying again, but ultimately I got the same result.
Little did I know that those phone calls were, in fact, interrupting Malcolm getting his photo taken with Masta Ace and Marco Polo. Our good friend Saleem was holding the phone, and declining the call each time. While Saleem was focused on snapping a good flick, the phone would vibrate and the name “Grandmaster Katz” would fill the screen. Malcolm has called me this for awhile now, but Saleem thought he was declining calls from Hip-Hop legend Grandmaster Caz. He said, “Malcolm, Why is Caz calling you!?” I’m sure everyone was disappointed to know that it was just me calling to confirm my idiocy.
Mercifully, Malcolm called me back. He was quiet and calm, and explained “You’re good. They knew you were coming, so they’re gonna wait for you.” I was closing in on the mall, and not-so-quickly, found a parking spot. I sprinted through the garage, with my portfolio case and heavy backpack in tow. I wasn’t sure if the entrance I was using was even remotely close to the store. I guess I got lucky, as the store came into sight. I was huffing and puffing, and I’m sure I looked a bit disheveled. When I came through the door, I received a Bronx cheer, and heard a few people laugh and call out my name. In the middle of the small group, I saw Saleem. He was laughing at me, but offered a handshake and a hug. “I know, I know, I’m an idiot” – I said. Malcolm sidled up next to me, and was all ready for pix. I’m pretty sure he explained to everyone that I was on my way. He made it happen. I think he was prepared to make sure they wouldn’t leave before I arrived.
“Move as a team, never move alone” – Public Enemy (and now mADurgency’s motto)
Deep breath. OK, I got there. I pulled out the ‘Golden Era’ poster, and opened my portfolio to reveal the new colored-pencil piece. Marco came over and immediately started taking pictures of the work, and offered to snap a few of me with Ace. I was settling in quickly, and the duo was making me feel right at home. Surrounded by people who really look out for me, I felt incredibly fortunate, and began to relax.
Ace asked if I would step behind the table so we could get some picture of the two of us with the artwork. He could tell that I was excited to meet him, but he was soft-spoken and totally focused on the moment. He asked me questions about the media and the surface. I thanked him for his time and attention, and explained my attempts to get the work, not only signed, but tagged with lyrics. I produced a small card from my pocket. On it, I had written a short line from The Symphony – “There’s a sign at the door: No bitin’ allowed”. – To be sure, a classic lyric. I said, “If I’m really lucky, you’ll sign the artwork, but also add some lyrics. I brought this one with me.” He read the card, and said “Would you mind if I wrote a different one?” “Ha! No I don’t mind a bit! I’d love that! Thank you!”
You see, that’s the connection. It’s so much more authentic if the artist is thoughtful about the collaborative nature of the exchange. I was thrilled. I wanted to take a video of the signing, and by the time I had focused my camera, Ace was seated and contemplating what he would be adding to the piece.
He chose the opening bars from The Story of Me, a beautiful, personal, and introspective track.
It took me 15 years to understand my worth
It was 1988 when Marley planned my birth
Had to get my feet up out of the sand and surf
Never thought that my rap lines would span the earth
I continued to thank Ace, although I felt he understood, perhaps more than others, just how much this experience meant to me. We exchanged handshakes and promised to stay connected. Malcolm and I also began to explain the mADurgency endeavor. He signed Chuck’s book, Madina’s poster, and even helped us record a video shoutout for the mADurgency artists’ collective. It was time to leave this guy alone.
Malcolm, Myron, and I went to sit down just outside the storefront. I collapsed into my chair, as the adrenaline of the drive and the meeting was wearing off. We had a good conversation about the day, and began to strategize about other ‘missions’. We were there for an additional 45 minutes, when we looked up, and saw Ace walking out of the store. He waved to us, and we said our thanks again. We marveled at how this Hip-Hop legend could navigate the crowded mall with nary a raised eyebrow. He wordlessly walked out of sight, unbothered by the passersby.
Thanks for waiting for me, Masta Ace. You made it an incredible experience. – AK
In 2012, the world lost a great man. Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, founding member of the Beastie Boys, continues to be missed and celebrated. As a tribute, and to continue his Hip-Hop and activist legacy, I decided to design a skateboard paying tribute to his memory.
Originally, I hand-painted a deck, and brought it to New York City. I had an opportunity to meet AdRock, and my goal was to get the board in front of him. I wanted to express our admiration and feeling of loss to Yauch’s bandmate and friend. When AdRock and his wife, Kathleen Hanna, curated an art show, I made it a point to be there.
After the charity art exhibition, I began to wonder about making a pro deck. I was operating without a map, and I didn’t know where to begin. It became very important for me to figure things out.
I was watching a documentary called Skateboard Nation – featuring the construction of skateparks that served the Native-American youth community. The film featured an interview with Jim Murphy of Wounded Knee Skateboards (quite possibly the perfect name for a skate company in service of the Native-Amercian community). I was moved by this story, and decided to attempt to contact Mr. Murphy. I wrote him a short, impassioned note, explaining my motivation and goal to make my deck idea into a professional-quality skateboard design. I was pleasantly surprised when he replied to my message, almost immediately.
He turned me on to Chapman Skates in NY state, and I quickly contacted them. Glenn Chapman answered the phone on one ring, and clearly and concisely laid out what would be my next steps for fabrication.
I set the number of decks at a limit of fifty. I wanted to get these decks into the hands of fifty people who felt the same way that I do about Yauch. While it has been six years since I started this endeavor, I continue to be excited and inspired by the connections this story evokes.
I set aside board number one of fifty. I would keep this deck, and bring it to live Hip-Hop shows. There, I would ask MCA’s peers to tag the surface, paying tribute to their friend, and sharing stories and memories during the exchange.
As of this writing, I have obtained signatures and stories from: DJ Hurricane, Danny Boy O’Connor, Dante Ross, Phife Dawg, Posdnous, Trugoy, Maseo, B-Real, Eric Bobo, SenDog, DJ Julio, Mix Master Mike, Monie Love, Chuck D, Doug E. Fresh, DJ Kool, Billions McMillions, Speech, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, DMC, Glen E. Friedman, and Cey Adams
The deck has brought me on many adventures, and has allowed me to meet many interesting people. Of the original fifty, I have about 10 decks left, and I’m so pleased that people have gone out of their way to celebrate Yauch in this way. Each of the fifty decks are signed, numbered, and come with a letter explaining the impetus for the design. In the future, I hope to add to deck number 1 – although it’s getting a bit crowded on there! – AK
A couple of ways to obtain one of the Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch decks:
If you’ve stumbled upon my blog, you may have wondered, “Why is it called This Might Not Work?” Aside from being an art teacher and a Hip-Hop enthusiast, I have consumed much of the work of Seth Godin. Seth is a well-respected guru-type who exists in the business and marketing world. While I am not a businessperson, I do encounter people who would like to purchase my artwork. I want to become savvy and helpful when someone is attempting to navigate the arena of acquiring a new piece of art. I want the quality of the work to remain the most important aspect of the transaction, and always strive to insure that all parties are satisfied with the experience. Seth’s podcast Akimbo, and books like The Icarus Deception (among others), have empowered me to get my work out into the world. The title of this post – People Like Us, Do Things Like This, and my blog title This Might Not Work, are both ‘Godinisms’. He writes these phrases often, and they serve as reminders for each of us to ask the questions – Who are you? What do you want to do? What do you hope to accomplish?
People Like Us Do Things Like This
There is no more powerful tribal marketing connection than this. More than features, more than benefits, we are driven to become a member in good standing of the tribe. We want to be respected by those we aspire to connect with, we want to know what we ought to do to be part of that circle. Not the norms of mass, but the norms of our chosen tribe. – Seth Godin
I was looking for T-Shirts to wear to live Hip-Hop shows. It’s no secret, if you know me, that I constantly point out my favorite lyrics in my favorite Hip-Hop tracks. I’m sure it gets a bit redundant, if not annoying, but my goal is a quid pro quo conversation where someone will offer their favorite lines, as well. I’m always trying to find out what inspires other people.
My search for cool t-shirts made me realize that I have pretty specific tastes. I like simple, bold, textless imagery. I couldn’t find anything like that. Either the designs were too busy, gawdy, or over-the-top (Sylvester Stallone), or they were hitting you over the head with block-letter messages; leaving no room for interpretation or imagination.
I decided to make my own designs. People like us, do things like this:
If you read this much, and understand my approach, you are a part of my tribe. I invite you to check out my new Classic Hip-Hop lyrics T-Shirt designs. Each new image is inspired by my favorite lyrics and my favorite turns-of-phrase. The Hip-Hop genre is rife with vivid, colorful, and vibrant descriptions. These compositions are my celebration of those clever combinations of words and imagery. Let me know your favorite lines! Thanks for checking it out! – AK
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