“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
We like the breeze flow straight out of our lids
Them they got moved by these hard-rock Brooklyn kids
Us floor rush when the DJ’s booming classics
You, dig the crew on the fattest hip-hop records
Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) – Digable Planets
Back in May, the Digable Planets were scheduled to appear at the Howard Theatre in Washington D.C. I scrambled to pull together a new drawing, and just as I finished up, the concert was canceled. I’m not sure what happened, but the elusive trio quickly announced a new date – September 21, 2017. While it was many months away, I circled the day on my calendar. I put the drawing in my studio closet, knowing that it would be ready, if they came through.
The summer flew by, and work started up again. I was cautiously optimistic that the show would happen this time around. I started posting the drawing on social media, always including my favorite Digable lyrics and enthusiastically announcing the show to anyone who would listen.
My persistence was rewarded when Doodlebug Irving, one-third of the Grammy-winning trio, retweeted and ‘liked’ the new work. It was good to know that he had seen it, and knew I was coming to the show. The lead-up to the concert was going well.
The night of the show, I walked down U Street, and stopped by the Paul Robeson mural. It’s still a bit surreal, knowing that I was a part of that endeavor. I never tire of admiring the work that was accomplished with that crew. It was a beautiful evening, and I was getting anxious to see the show. I double-backed and headed to the venue to secure my ticket.
As I neared the box office, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that friends Malcolm and Meriem would be joining me. It was shaping up to be a memorable time.
The show was kicked off by a musical act that captured the sound of Amy Winehouse, and stirred the growing crowd into an anxious frenzy. We were all ready to hear Digable Planets perform some of our favorite tracks.
When they took the stage, Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug Mecca generated a magical blend of Hip-Hop and Jazz. Their sound was unique and clean, and we all floated along with the beats and the catchy lyrics. I got lost in the sounds, and fell in love with their chemistry, all over again. Where I’m From, remains a favorite, and I’m thrilled that I was present to hear them perform it live.
“Food for thought so get a buffet plate
The lyrics are so phat you might gain weight”
After the show, we made our way back stage. We saw a small crowd of people at the top of the stairs, and realized that Butterfly was there, taking pictures and chatting up a few people. Wordlessly, he tagged the artwork, and posed for a few more flicks.
Although there was one manager I didn’t know, our path was unobstructed. We went downstairs, and reached the last door in the hallway. We rapped lightly on the door, and without waiting for an answer, pushed it open. Half expecting to be turned away, or reprimanded for walking in, I was surprised to hear greetings of welcome. On the far side of the small dressing room, was Doodlebug. I hoisted the drawing to eye-level, and that’s when he saw it. “Oh, wow! Finally! Andy Katz! Man, it’s nice to finally meet you!”. With a big grin and a hug, he instantly made me feel at home. He signed the drawing, with lyrics from Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) – “Me I got crew kids seven and a crescent”.
He added a little crown, and we passed the drawing around for pictures. When it was our turn, he put his arm around me, and said “Andy Katz in the mother-fuckin’ house!”. It was a great moment. I’ll never take it for granted that these musical heroes know who I am. Malcolm presented his Autobiography of Malcolm X, and asked Doodlebug to tag the first pages. It’s an impressive collection, and even better idea. Malcolm is amassing these signatures for his son, and I love to witness the interactions when he puts the book in front of these unsuspecting celebrities.
It was time to search for Ladybug, and we left with a ton of gratitude in our wake. By the time we reached the top of the stairs, it was evident that she was there. Standing on the landing between the exit door and the stairs, she spoke softly and respectfully to each fan. Patiently, I waited until I could hold up the drawing. I sidled up next to her, and I had my opportunity:
So elegant and classy. I was a bit worried that she got graphite smudges on her hand, and she softly said “I’ll live”. I was so impressed by her grace and warmth. I’m already looking forward to seeing them all again.
Mission: Digable Planets – Accomplished.
Thanks, Butterfly, Ladybug, and Doodlebug. I will be back. – AK
Rude and crude like a pit bull, get to the point
Your fuckin’ card will get pulled, now
I’m headed up the river with a boat and no paddle
And I’m handin’ out beatdowns
I’m headed up the river with a boat and no paddle
And I’m handin’ out beatdowns
Put me in chains, try to beat my brains
I can get out, but the grudge remains
When I see ya punk ass, I’m gonna getcha
Get some through ya, shotgun go boo-yaa!
Hand on the Pump – Cypress Hill
It had been two years since my first experience attending Cypress Hill’s Haunted Hill at Fillmore, Silver Spring. This time around, I had plenty of lead-time, so I wanted to show up with new artworks. Although the show was on a Wednesday night, the day after Halloween, I was looking forward to seeing their live performance.
After work, I drove to Silver Spring, with plans to grab some dinner before going into the venue. Instead, I made a loop around the back of the Fillmore, and spotted fellow Hip-Hop artist Kevin Carmody, with art in hand. We ended up hanging outside, and catching up about past shows. He had his MCA piece and a large group composition, featuring each member of the group.
In my portfolio I had a few pieces: the B-Real I made for the Prophets of Rage Hail to the Chief video (see my Mission: Prophets of Rage post), a new small colored-pencil B-Real portrait on wood, and a new corrugated cardboard portrait of SenDog –
After a while, it started to drizzle. We wondered if we wouldn’t be better off finding another place to wait. Ultimately, we decided to stay. Our patience paid off, when the road manager emerged from the backdoor, and seemingly summoned an SUV out of the darkness of the street.
The car swung around, and backed up a few feet; leaving the shortest possible distance between the back door of the club, and the vehicle. We casually walked up, simultaneously pulling out our artwork. The entire group spilled out of the car, and seemed in no rush to leave us behind. Once they each spied the artwork, we made easy conversation as they took turns tagging the portraits. As it had started to rain, B-Real mentioned that we should make an attempt keep the work dry, and invited us under the open back hatch of the SUV. That was a good indication that we could take our time.
In my brief exchange with SenDog, he said “Beautiful, man. You got the patches in there, too.” I said, “It’s not quite done, but I have plans to finish it up”. He replied, “Make sure you let me know when you do. I’d like to hang that one up!”. Nice. That’s always the ultimate compliment and sign of approval; when they want it for themselves. I told him I’d let him know when it was done, and we posed for a quick picture.
Kevin was busy getting each group member to sign his piece, when I sidled up to B-Real. I showed him the small wooden composition, and he reacted with enthusiasm. “Woah, that’s fresh. That’s fresh!” He happily tagged the little drawing, and the whole group moved inside the building. Just like that, it was mission: accomplished.
Most of the time, I bring my portfolio and a backpack inside with me. This time around, I jogged back to my car, and put everything away. It was great to enjoy the show with empty hands, and a closer view.
As we entered the floor area, Rahzel and DJ JS-1, welcomed the crowd with a great intro set. JS-1 cut up some great Hip-Hop classics, while Rahzel would mimic the beats and the choruses with his incredible, one-of-a-kind beatboxing. I was blown away by their performance of Sucker MCs, a Bob Marley tribute, and Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. Their collab was an added bonus that could easily be a headlining act. I felt fortunate that this was a part of the show and I was definitely left wanting more. If you get the chance, check this duo out.
Around 10 o’clock, Cypress Hill to took the stage. The crowd was amped, and packed in tight against the barricade. I took a few steps back, and realized that I’d be watching the show next to Rahzel. He had ventured out to the floor, and was bouncing along with the music amidst the energetic audience. CH ran through Hand On the Pump, Just Kill a Man, Ain’t Goin Out Like That, and Insane in the Brain. While the smoke density increased, and the hour got late, it was apparent that Cypress Hill has some amazing fans. It’s always a lively, enthusiastic crowd, and I love seeing this group perform. They never disappoint, and that night was no exception. Just great. I’ll always return when they come through the DMV. I’m already looking forward to next year. Thanks, guys! – AK
Wow! I’m so excited to share this new endeavor. I wanted to distill my enthusiasm and admiration of clever lyrics into a small, shareable piece of affordable art. By using Procreate and an iPad tablet, I’ve been able to render a series of ‘ILL’ustrations that depict my favorite lines in Hip-Hop history. My hope is that people will not only collect these little bursts of color and line, but also share, discuss, and reminisce about their favorite turns of phrase. Together, we can build a visual library of imagery and archive the genre of Hip-Hop music. – AK