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
Clear the way!
Clear the way for the Prophets of Rage!
With choice, became the people’s voice
Shout loud for the ears up in the crowd
Raise your fist up (fist up)!
While I lift up (lift up)!
Prophets of Rage
In 2016 the political climate churned with wild rhetoric on both sides of the aisle. Name-calling, unethical attacks, and one-upmanship overshadowed the needs and issues of the American populous. The election was fraught with uncertainty, embarrassing attempts at leadership, and xenophobic ideals that left many feeling unrepresented and unempowered. Ideologies became polarized, and identity politics became the new norm.
Amidst the confusing, often overwhelming, din of teeth-gnashing and obnoxious counter-points, a group of familiar musicians emerged with a loud and proud message of their own – Prophets of Rage.
Formed from parts of three groups – Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill, the formidable cadre of MCs and musicians took aim at the political establishment, and generated a collection of new material that challenged, bent perspectives, and encouraged us to ‘take the power back’.
I was fortunate to see Prophets of Rage in August of 2016, but when they came around again, recently, they were promoting their new album, and playing venues that offered a more intimate and vivid setting. A few of us pounced on tickets for the standing-room only, general admission show at the 9:30 Club in DC, and waited for the September 14th date to arrive.
Several months before, amidst a busy time artistically, a group of us were challenged by Chuck D to generate artwork for the upcoming Public Enemy album. Regrettably, I was unable to find the time to dedicate to a worthy attempt. Rather than submitting something subpar and rushed, I decided to watch from the sidelines. I was thrilled when my friend, and mADurgency colleague Darren Holtom, earned the cover of Nothing is Quick in the Desert. He is an amazing artist, and I am ‘chuffed to bits’ (a phrase that he taught me) for him and his accomplishment.
Eventually, I was able to successfully manage my ‘to do’ list, and remembered that Chuck had mentioned that he’d be needing portraits of each of the members of Prophets of Rage. As there are six of them, I made loose plans to accomplish the task of rendering six new pieces of art. My deadline? The 14th of September.
The summer flew by, and it was time for me to think about going back to school. I suddenly remembered my plan to get the portraits done. I let Chuck know of my goal, and mentioned my self-imposed deadline of September 14th; the date of their upcoming show in DC. He responded with encouragement, and said “Wow AK… C-Doc is compiling Hail to the Chief video with massive illustrations but I know it is a stretch to finish them all by Sept 10”. Oh, wow! If I can get these drawings done, they might be included in the new Prophets of Rage video. My new deadline was September 10th, four days earlier than expected, with a very slim chance that the drawings would be inserted into a production that was almost complete. I had to try.
I doubled and tripled my efforts. When I’d get home from work, I’d sequester myself in my small studio; often listening to old Sopranos episodes while I drew into the wee hours of the morning. I finished my Brad Wilk portrait first; deciding to experiment with cut and manipulated layers in the cardboard. I was excited by the potential, and quickly found an incredible photo of DJ Lord to draw. My goal became efficiency, and making every minute count. The new DJ Lord piece instantly became my new favorite, as it was a very strong original photograph. I was a third of the way through my charge, when I got a bit too big for my britches. Via Facebook Messenger, I let Lord know that I was working on his portrait, and that I was excited to show him. Before sending him the file of the new drawing, he quickly asked – “Which picture did you use?”. I enthusiastically sent him the photo. “Noooooooo!’, he responded. What? Oh, no! “I hate that picture, and it’s old!”, he said. “You can’t used an old PE picture for a Prophets of Rage drawing!”. I can’t? There are rules? I thought it was a great picture. Oh, man. Now I’m behind. I have to start all over! My feelings of accomplishment had been transformed into panic and uncertainty. I wouldn’t get the job done. I thought for sure I would fail.
Miraculously, I pulled it off. I completed all six portraits, and I was all set to bring them to the show. I checked in with the boss, and let him know that I was coming to the show with a portfolio full of art. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
The afernoon of the show, I rendezvoused with my crew just off of U Street in DC. Malcolm, Amy, Kevin, Mike, and Bill all met a few yards away from the venue, and we had plans to hang out for a pre-show dinner. As we walked by the front of the 9:30 Club, just as we connected with Bill, I noticed Eric Ridenhour at his post just outside the backdoor of the building. I ran over to say hello, and let him know I had some artwork with me. We just started talking and hanging out, when I noticed a couple of the Public Enemy S1Ws: James Bomb and Pop Diesel. While I’ve met them before, I never know whether or not they’ll remember me. I decided to re-introduced myself. It was becoming apparent that we wouldn’t be leaving to go find food. We were here to stay, and Pop and Eric were all set to help us achieve our goal. While Kevin Carmody was intent on meeting B-Real and Chuck D, I had work representing each member of the band. I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t be allowed into the venue with my portfolio case. Once we spoke to Eric and Pop, I felt a little better about the situation, but we were going to have to wait awhile.
First to arrive, was DJ Lord. He emerged from a large, shiny, black SUV, and immediately the 9:30 Club security sprung into action. They erected a temporary, metal barrier, and closed it after the vehicle pulled up. Lord walked around the back of the truck and got his gear. It was then when I managed to get his attention. I pulled out the drawing and held it up. “Aww, Andy Katz!”, he said. He came right over, and took the drawing and investigated my handiwork. He seemed to like it, and I noticed that the other passenger that had arrived, began taking pictures of him and the portrait. Lord posed for some pictures, including a few with me and the artwork. He signed his name in the corner, and a feeling of relief washed over me. He was happy with the result. Just then, Etan (IG – privatefoto), the photographer that had been in the car, enthusiastically suggested that Lord walk further into the alley for an impromptu photo shoot. He encouraged Lord to pose with the drawing in front of him, and I followed them past the SUV. Etan began snapping a bunch of flicks, and I took pictures of the scene. I was excited about the potential of the shot, and it began to sink in that this was an amazing start to the night.
Lord thanked me, tagged the ‘rejected’ portrait, too, and headed inside. I returned to my spot on the other side of the barricade, with a spring in my step. Etan followed me over, and he was excitedly telling me that the reference photo that I used for my drawing was one that he took. It was a great moment.
After a bit, two other SUVs pulled up to the same spot. Before we could get close, the security guards pulled the barricades back into position, and I spied Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford, quickly moving from the vehicle and slipping in the back door of the venue. We had missed half of the band! “Hopefully,” I thought, “I’ll catch up with them later”. Once they disappeared inside, I realized that Pop and James had kept their promise to let Chuck know that we were there waiting. Chuck, along with B-Real and Etan, had walked over to greet us and the rest of the group. After a quick fist-bump, Chuck asked if we were all set for tickets. He signed the new artwork, and shook a lot of hands. Just as he excused himself to head inside, we slid down to check in with B-Real. By the time I got to him, Kevin had managed to get his piece signed. I pulled out my drawing, and B-Real reacted – “You guys are killing it!”. It was time to go in the building, and we dispersed to head for the door. Three out of six, so far. But how was I going to get in front of the rest. I thought, “Don’t worry about it. Just go in, and enjoy what promises to be an incredible show. This should be great!”.
We walked in after navigating the security wands and searches. My portfolio seemed to be acceptable, after they gave it the once-over. We were in. Our group gathered near the end of the bar, and I shot Chuck a quick message. “Thanks! Hoping to get the art in front of Tom, Brad, and Tim. Any chance?”. I hit ‘send’, and went back to enjoying the conversations with friends and angling for the best view of the stage. The place was starting to get packed, and I shot a quick picture of our vantage point.
Just then, I looked up, and saw Pop moving through the crowd from front to back. Our eyes met, and I realized that he was looking for me. “Andy, Eric’s looking for you!”. I turned, and noticed Eric, almost immediately. Eric grabbed me, and said “C’mon. Let’s go! I can only take you, but let’s go, now!” Taken off-guard, I just followed him. I didn’t have any time to tell anyone where I was going…and I didn’t know what was happening. I felt a pang of guilt, knowing that I was leaving everyone else behind. I can never plan how these experiences will unfold, and I was focused on getting the art backstage. I’d have to apologize later, but right now, I had to focus on the task at hand. No wasted steps. Don’t stutter. Don’t geek out. Be polite and kind, but don’t overdo it.
Eric led me upstairs, and around to the right side of the stage area. We were a floor above the main crowd, and as we passed through a black curtain, Eric nodded at two security guards. Once Eric pointed to me, and held up a finger to indicate ‘plus one’, we were good to go. We entered a small, cramped hallway, that spoke to the age of the building. There were two stair cases paralleling the hallway -one going up, and one going down – and three or four doors on the left. We pulled up to the first open door, and I saw Chuck’s familiar face. He stood up to greet me, and I shook his hand and thanked him again for his attendance at MCA Day. He said “I was glad to be invited”. Humbly downplaying his impact, as usual. He walked me back into the hallway, and we poked our head in the next room. On a small couch sat Tom Morello, and a woman I didn’t recognize. Across from Tom, in a chair, sat Timmy C. Chuck re-introduced me, and I reminded Tom of our previous meeting. I told him that we proudly showed his shoutout for Adam Yauch at the past two MCA Days. Recognition showed on his face, and he moved up to the edge of the couch. I said, I have some artwork, that I’m hoping will be featured in the Hail to the Chief video. This seemed to change his interest further, and he became more engaged in the conversation.
He posed with his portrait, and I congratulated him on his beloved Cubs’ World Series victory. I started feeling more comfortable, and the pressure seemed to ease. I turned to Tim, and I said, “I have a portrait of you, too.” Maybe he thought I was getting a bit too comfortable, and having too much fun, because Tim began to bust my chops pretty hard. “This doesn’t look like me! You made me look bald! You gave me a chrome-dome! I’m not signing that!”. Chuck tried to soften the comments. “What are you talking, about? It’s beautiful.” Everyone was laughing at Tim’s rant, but I was mortified. “I can fix it!”, I blurted. “Naw, its’ beyond fixable!”, Tim said. “Oh, man! You’re killing me”, I half-joked.
I decided it was time to find Brad (if I could). I left the room with my tail between my legs. Oh, wait! I remembered that before leaving for the show, I gently put my Arm the Homeless guitar sculpture into my portfolio case. Storing it that way was less than ideal, and I thought it might break, but I was determined to bring it along. “Tom, I have one more thing I’d like to show you”. I pulled out the fragile, little model, and presented it to him. “I’m an art teacher, and I made this as a demonstration for my 7th grade class. It’s your guitar!” Instead of mocking me, he gently took the guitar in his hands. Instantly, he pretended to shred, and I managed to fire off a picture. He signed it, and I thanked him profusely for the incredible experience he was affording me. Surreal.
I turned into the hallway again. Where was Brad? “Brad’s upstairs doing his pre-show things”, someone called out. Maybe it was time to head back down to the floor. Just as I got to the black curtain, I heard my name – “Andy!”. It was James Bomb. He said, “Here’s Brad.” At the other end of the hallway, Brad Wilk had appeared. I approached him, still a little gun-shy from my exchange with Tim. “Hey, Brad. I made a portrait of you. I’m hoping it’s going to be in the Hail to the Chief video.” “Oh, are you the guy making the video?”, he asked excitedly. “Oh, no. That’s C-Doc. I’m just submitting these portraits so they may be included”. As I explained, Brad became interested in the work. “Wow, you made this?”, he asked. “Wow, I think…I may want to have this?” He was studying the cardboard, and the design of his tattoo that I had included in the background. Just then, as if to burst my new bubble, Timmy C poked his head out of his dressing room. “You drew the tattoo all wrong! It’s not wide enough on the right side!” Brad pulled the drawing away from Tim, and seemed to ignore him in favor of our conversation. Tim floated away, and we continued. “If you want it, I can make that happen.” “Are you saying I can have this?” Brad asked bewilderedly. “If that’s how you want to do it.”, I responded. “Ummm, nooo.”, he said softly. “You don’t want to do that. But still, maybe all of us should have one of these.” I loved this idea. After all, I made them for the group. They were for the video, but I would be honored if they wanted them. “I can make others, and we can figure that out.” “Yeah, great!”, said Brad. I decided it was time for me to let them get back to business. There were a bunch of people downstairs who were ready for a show. Quickly, I asked Timmy if he was sure he wouldn’t sign the artwork. He shrugged, and said, “OK. I don’t want you to feel bad!” Too late. But I’m glad he relented. I didn’t want to hold them up. I snapped a quick picture of Brad with his portrait, and I was on my way. Six for Six. Unbelievable.
The concert was amazing. Easily, one of the best I’ve ever seen. To have that energy, that talent, and that catalogue of music all performed in that little, storied place, was almost too much to take in. I was bowled over. Malcolm and I had moved closer to the stage, and when they ran through their classic Hip-Hop tracks, we felt as if they were playing just for us. We rapped all the words to Bring the Noise,Hand on the Pump, Welcome to the Terrordome, and Insane in the Membrane. I was glad we were there to witness this together. The old Rage songs sounded flawless and raw, simultaneously. It felt like I’d traveled back in time. I was ready to take on the establishment and make my mark. It’s amazing how music can make you feel. What a gift.
At the end of the show, I apologized to anyone around me who I may have bumped with my obnoxiously large portfolio case. Who would bring a big case to a concert?
We walked out to the street, and realized that while we were inside, it had rained. Everything was wet and shiny, but it had cooled everything off. Malcolm and I decided to stick around, while everyone else went their separate ways. A small group of people waited around until the band emerged from the back doors. Brad and Chuck came over to give their thanks, and we all took turns taking pictures of one another. Another amazing mission accomplished.
About a week later, I received a direct message from Jason Lee Rockman. He lives in Canada, and we are connected through mutual friends and our love of music. He said “I’m sure you knew, but it case you didn’t. Bad ass!!” Above his message, I saw the new Prophets of Rage video – Hail to the Chief. My artwork was featured prominently in the first seconds of the clip. With the help of Chuck D, and David ‘C-Doc’ Snyder, I had done it – My work was in the official Prophets of Rage video (3:23 mark). Unbelievable. Thanks, Mr. Chuck, Malcolm, Kevin, Amy, Bill P, C-Doc, Mike, Pop, Eric, James, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, DJ Lord, B-Real, and, yes, even Timmy C. You were all an important part of my artistic development, and provided me with an experience that I’ll never forget. I can’t wait for the next adventure. – Clear the Way! – AK
“We’re living in some times that’s the craziest /
They say these legislators are the laziest /
Dedicated religious figures have gone atheist /
Each and every thing must change, there’s no escaping this”
– Black Thought a.k.a. Tariq Trotter at Harvard’s Innovation Lab
In the winter of 2015, I was fortunate to get tickets to see The Roots at Fillmore Silver Spring, in Maryland. I had plenty of lead-time, and the show date fell on a night towards the end of a lengthy break for the holidays. I challenged myself to make two portraits for the show, deciding to experiment with composition and media. While I had been satisfied with many of my watercolor portraits, I wanted to get out of my comfort-zone, and try some new approaches.
I had been playing around with making drawings on butcher paper; a brown surface, with the consistency of a paper bag. I really liked being able to work the surface with a full range of graphite pencil, only to then heighten the image with white charcoal. Using the brown ground as a middle value is distinctly different than working on a white surface. After a quick succession of portraits of Kool G Rap, Lord Jamar, Sadat X, Grand Puba, and Slick Rick, I decided to get more ambitious with the size and the level of experimentation. I needed to find some large cardboard.
In order to save money in college, many student artists would forge relationships with appliance stores. Once a refrigerator or washing machine would sell, the large cardboard box would be given to an artist for repurposing. The inexpensive (or free, in many cases) cardboard provided a uniquely textured surface, and could be bent, cut, or torn.
I researched strong photographs of Black Thought, and selected a frontal, head and shoulders shot that was presented in black and white. I wanted to work large, so I began with a full sheet of 32″ x 40″ corrugated cardboard. This would be the first piece in what I now call The Corrugated Cardboard Collection, a series of portraits featuring the icons of the Hip-Hop genre.
Feeling good about the Thought portrait, and riding the buzz of a successful experiment, I made plans to stay ambitious in my attempts to render Roots drummer, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson. Instantly recognizable, and ‘cooler than the other side of the pillow‘, Thompson is a multi-talented, multi-faceted DJ, producer, and journalist. He famously quipped – “The only mofos in my circle are people that I can learn from”. It’s this notion, along with an incendiary approach to making music, that captured my imagination and attention. I was looking forward to the challenge of capturing his likeness.
I decided to paint a fresh, new watercolor, with the intention of including the Philadelphia skyline running along the background in silhouette. At the bottom of the portrait, a small space afforded me an opportunity to attach a series of roots to the torso of the figure. In this way, the piece had become a surreal tribute to the man, his band, and his city.
After sketching out the composition in a light, 4H pencil, I sought feedback through Twitter. I blasted out details of the sketch, and was pleasantly surprised with the rich, useful, and thoughtful comments. Inspired anew, I began laying in the watercolor washes.
When the new painting was complete, I was satisfied that it represented the best of my technical abilities. Many artists want to believe that their last work is their best work. In this case, I definitely felt I had reached a new level of accuracy. I was looking forward to sharing this new composition, and getting it in front of Questlove.
Unbeknownst to me, my family had planned an incredible vacation down to the city of Asheville, North Carolina. We would be renting a lake house and exploring the town. I was excited to go, and looked forward to crossing paths with my friend, Jay Myers. The only wrinkle in our plans was that I’d be in Asheville, while The Roots, Black Thought, and Questlove were in Maryland! I began to problem-solve, and realized that I could come back alone a day early to take in the show.
After Christmas, we drove down to Asheville, taking our time and taking the most scenic route. Overall, it took about 10 hours, and I began to regret my decision to cut my vacation short. Asheville is a cool, little city, and I really liked the vibe and the people we met.
After a few days of leisure, I packed up and left my family and the lake house ,to make the long trek back to Maryland. I felt particularly guilty, as my wife had a bad cough and a fever by the time I departed. She’s always very supportive of my penchant for these art adventures, and assured me that I should get on the road. I felt like an asshole.
This time around, I was by myself. I buckled in, started the car, and loaded up a queue of great music. Over the many miles of straight highway, I ran through a dozen podcasts, and a ton of road-trip classics. It was a beautiful but monotonous drive, and near the end, I was happy to see the familiar terrain and roads of my home state.
Back within sight of my artistic goals, I began to focus on the task at hand. I was meeting Malcolm, Mike from Philly, and my friend Keith, at the concert. We converged on The Fillmore, and picked up our tickets at will-call. Upon our arrival, the crowd was already beginning to swell, and we decided to make our way to the stage area. We posted up next to a short barricade that led to the backstage area.
The crowd filled in quickly, and we were pushed to the front, left-side of the stage. We would have a good vantage point, and we’d be able to see the band as they took the stage. The Roots put on an energetic, fun, and inspiring performance, using each member of the group to rile up the huge crowd. I was particularly impressed with Black Thought and his command of the mic and the stage. I think it’s fair to say that he remains underrated.
During the show, Malcolm and Mike took turns encouraging me to hold up my work, and I, not wanting to block anyone’s view, declined. Eventually, they took matters into their own hands and each took a piece of art from my portfolio.
As the Roots left the stage, Mike and Malcolm held up the Black Thought piece, and the J-Dilla ‘evolving watercolor’. I held the Questlove painting. We were able to catch their attention, and although there was a barricade separating us, they moved closer to sign the work and mix it up. Black Thought was first, and I asked if he’d tag some lyrics on the drawing. I had written down a couple of options, and I was just about to pull the paper from my pocket, when he held up his hand, looked at the ceiling, and said “Naw”. I thought he meant that he wouldn’t write lyrics, but instead he was making his own choice. He looked down at the work, and began to write.
He chose lyrics from a song called Bird’s Eye Viewby Statik Selektah. The song features Raekwon, Black Thought, and Joey Bada$$. It was the first time that someone tagging one of my portraits had made this kind of spontaneous decision. It made it more meaningful.
Both Black Thought and Questlove added their signatures to the J-Dilla piece, and cemented the unique qualities of that work. I’m not sure where it will end up, but I’m extremely proud of tracking down so many of Jay Dee’s peers, contemporaries, and admirers. It is a one-of-a-kind, and it represents the travel, hustle, and experiences attached to attending a live show with art in hand.
We shuffled the paintings, and before he walked off, I handed the watercolor to Questlove. I politely asked him to sign it, and he joked: “I don’t want to ruin it!”. I said, “You could write whatever you want on there, and it would be great!” After he held it up for a photo, he doodled a quick self-portrait and a signature. Then, he was on his way.
The show was over, and people began to disperse. We decided to hang around a bit, to see if we could catch them again outside. We went around to the back of the venue, and almost immediately found Black Thought on the way to the bus. He was posing for pictures, and hamming it up with a few concert-goers next to a short wall. We pulled up, and thanked him for playing. We took turns getting some flicks, and joking around with him about just how many times I had posted my drawing on Twitter. It was all in good fun. Just then, Questlove appeared, and took his time with each one of us. It was important to me to get a photo with both of us holding the painting. He was very patient, and participated in the back and forth of storytelling and compliments.
It was time to go, and I needed to get on the road. It seems that while we were at the show, Lisa, my wife, had taken an unexpected trip to the emergency room. She needed an IV, and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Obviously, I would be traveling back to Asheville in the early morning.
The contrast of the elation I felt for the experience of live music, coupled with the meetings of Black Thought and Questlove, and that of the panic and helplessness I was experiencing with Lisa in the hospital 450 miles away, evoked a strange tornado of emotions.
On my way back down to North Carolina, I was able to ebb my distress with fresh memories of good music and good friends. By the time I arrived at the hospital, the prognosis was much more positive than when I had left. They caught the pneumonia at an early enough point where it could have been much worse. I’m writing this story about a year and half after it all happened, perhaps distancing myself from the worry and feelings of panic. I’m happy to report that Lisa made a speedy recovery, and I was awarded with The World’s Worst Husband Award, for abandoning her when she needed me most. Fortunately for her, her parents, her sister, and my kids were there to see her through. It was a great day when she was released from the hospital and we took the drive back to Maryland.
Time has put a happy spin on these events, and although I still feel pangs of guilt for leaving for my art adventure, the story generates smiles and relief from all who were involved.
“Yo, I was going 2 buck we roam / Cellular phones
Doc-Meth back in the flesh, blood and bones /
Don’t condone / Spend bank loans on homegrown /
Suckers break like Turbo and Ozone” –
Da Rockwilder – Method Man and Redman
A few months ago, I heard the news: Method Man and Redman would be performing in Baltimore, Maryland at Ram’s Head Live. I didn’t have tickets, I had no art ready, and I had a conflicting engagement that would prevent me from attending. This logistical trifecta insured that I would have to wait for another opportunity to catch them live. Serendipitously, a few days before the show, news emerged that the duo would be rescheduling their performance for May 4th, 2017. I didn’t find out what happened, and I didn’t really care. I realized that this turn of events afforded me a window of time to pull some art together and get this show on my calendar.
My fellow artist and friend, Kevin Carmody, had previously made plans to attend the show. After going back and forth, we each decided to render a portrait of one member of the duo. Kevin would draw Method Man, and I would draw Red. It was a mad dash to pull the portraits together, as the show was quickly approaching.
After several phone conversations, and inviting my buddy Malcolm to meet us down there, it was time to make some art. Kevin’s piece raised the bar, as he used graphite and ink to capture Meth’s scowling mug perfectly.
The gauntlet was thrust down, and I was next to artistically answer the call. I got a hold of two fresh sheets of 32″ x 40″ corrugated cardboard, and researched photographic portraits of Reggie Noble (a.k.a. Redman). In some instances a competitive vibe might have emerged between artists, but I can honestly say that I was inspired by Kevin’s work. It made me want to draw. It made me want to connect with our subjects. I knuckled down, and got to work. After many hours of cutting in the shadows, and attempting to render believable, appealing gradients, I reached for my white charcoal. It’s here that the cardboard, graphite, and white media combine to generate a volumetric and realistic effect. When I looked up from my drawing, many hours had elapsed. I decided to prop the composition up on the far side of the room. At the end of prolonged studio sessions, I find it important to get away from the drawing for a few minutes. I leave the room without looking back at the piece. This way, when I return, I will see the image with fresh eyes. Some artists even turn the drawing upside-down in order to insure the visual balance and overall success of the composition. I did a lap around the house, purposely staying away from the studio space. When I returned, I saw my finished Redman artwork.
Feeling better about our readiness to go to the show with art in hand, both Kevin and I changed our original plans. We continued to draw, and each of us managed to pull together a second portrait. Our excitement had turned into four separate pieces of art. We were all set. I pulled the Madina-designed ‘Celebration of the Golden Era‘ poster off the wall, stuck it in the folder with the artwork, and packed up the car.
After work, I drove to Federal Hill, in Baltimore, to fuel up with food. I was too early to meet Kevin and Malcolm, and I decided to move over to Fells Point for a while. Once I re-parked the car, I dropped in to Soundgarden to check out some vinyl. The date was May 4th, and my thoughts drifted to Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch. It was five years ago that he passed away. I remembered that this particular record shop has a small reminder of this sad truth, and I went to find the miniature tribute. It was still there, and I snapped a quick flick.
For old time’s sake, I snagged a new Beastie Boys shirt to commemorate the moment, and then I was on my way.
We arrived at the Power Plant Live area around 6:00 pm. Doors to Ram’s Head Live open at 7:00, and the show wouldn’t be starting until 8:00. There were a ton of opening acts, which led us to believe that Red and Meth wouldn’t be going on until after 9:00 or 10:00. It’s just a reality of going to see these live shows, that there will be a lot of late nights. We decided to go around the back of the venue to see where the talent would be entering. There was a small bunch of people milling about, and we struck up a conversation with a burly, stone-faced security guard. He was unimpressed with our work, and seemingly uninterested in anything except his pre-show break and the cigarette pursed between his lips. He leaked that the headliners would likely not be getting to the venue until after 10:00, and encouraged us to find another place to hang out. As we walked away, we wondered aloud whether or not he was just trying to get rid of us.
At that point, we heard from Malcolm. He’d be meeting us any minute, and we’d get some dinner and take our time going in to the venue. There didn’t seem to be a need to rush.
We hung out for awhile, swapping stories, and catching up. As showtime neared, we decided to scout the area around back one more time. As we approached, we noticed more people hanging around, and all manner of Wu Tang Clan shirts and hats, indicating that we were in the right place. A friendly photographer walked up, and asked us about our large folders. “Do you all have art in there?” He asked to see our work, and we happily shared our wares. We connected on Instagram, and found his photography striking. It seemed that, while he was working the show, he also had some hard copy photos inside, waiting to be signed.
As we finished our conversation, Kevin asked him “Are Red and Meth here yet?”. The photographer said, “Naw, they still at the Renaissance. They’ll be over later”. At this, a little light bulb went on above my head. The Renaissance Harborplace Hotel is about three blocks from where we were standing. Together, Malcolm, Kevin, and I decided to walk over there to catch them before the show.
We got over there in less than five minutes, and settled in to some comfortable and fancy chairs in the lobby. It was a nice change of pace. It was a quiet night, and we had room to spread out and talk. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of someone walking by wearing a yellow hoodie. I said, “Kevin, there goes someone!” He hopped up out of his chair, and realized almost immediately, that it was Method Man. Kevin said “Hey, I’ve got some art to show you, do you have a minute?” Meth, was heading to a hallway, and said “Hold on a second, I’ll be right back. I want to see it!” He disappeared for about thirty seconds, and just when I was wondering if he would come back at all, he walked right over to our small group.
He leaned over to see Kevin’s portrait, and was visibly impressed. “That’s dope! Yeah, I’ve seen this on-line”. He enthusiastically signed it, and turned towards my drawing. After signing mine, and tagging the ‘Golden Era poster’, he agreed to take a few pictures. It was a great few minutes. He let us know that Red would be down a little later.
It was getting late now, and we were surprised at the lack of urgency there was in getting to a packed show a few blocks away. In the meantime, I heard from ‘Mike from Philly’. He had driven down to see the show, and texted me from the venue. “I’m here. Where are you?”. I let him know we were a few blocks away, and he quickly joined us. Although he was disappointed that he missed Meth, it was great to have the four of us together for a show. A few minutes later, Method Man came back through, and Mike got a chance to connect with him. It turned out well, after all.
Me and Meth
Malcolm and Meth
Mike and Red
Malcolm and Red
Mike and Meth
When Redman finally emerged, we approached him with our artwork. He graciously signed our pieces, and posed for a few pictures. Mission: Accomplished. As soon as we expressed our thanks, and after all of the pictures had been snapped, we realized we’d better run over to the venue to catch the beginning of the show.
Ultimately, the duo took the stage at 11:15. They were high-energy and funny; spraying the crowd with their bottled water between songs. I was impressed with their passion and their connection to the audience. It was a great set, and I’m glad I was able to catch them live. Admittedly, I cut the night short, and left before the last song was played. I had to work the next day, and I had a long drive home. When I went back outside, with music still playing in my wake, I noticed that it had started to rain. I quickened my pace until I reached the garage. As I jumped in the car, and pointed my car towards home, I reflected on another exciting mission. It was great to be with Mike, Kevin, and Malcolm, and I look forward to seeing where the music will take us next. Thanks guys! – AK
“I like to say that I use my art as a ticket for adventure” – Andrew J. Katz
Not long ago, I received a social media invitation to participate in an on-line television/radio interview. There are many new outlets for sharing my artwork and my stories, so I jumped at the chance.
The invitation came from the owner/operator of Listen Vision Studios in Washington D.C. – Jeremy Beaver. Also known as DJ Boom, Jeremy reached out to me, after seeing my artwork on Facebook and Twitter. I was penciled in as the March 10th ‘District Spotlight’ guest, and he amiably asked me to bring a thumb drive full of my artwork, and five or six original pieces.
I drove to DC that Friday afternoon, and quickly realized that WLVS is just up the road from my U Street stomping grounds, and directly across the street from Howard University. I was scheduled to be on the air at five o’clock, and getting there a bit early, I decided to explore the Howard campus.
After reading the powerful and thought-provoking Ta-Nehisi Coates book, Between the World and Me, I was curious to see his ‘Mecca’; the school and the quad that he credits for expanding his personal and world perspectives. I wandered past the football field and imagined where the historic homecoming scenes unfolded. Hip-Hop has had many iconic moments on this campus, and I got swept up in conjuring the images and personalities that helped cement HU’s Hip-Hop resume. It was strangely quiet as I rounded the corner leading to the expansive quad. The iconic clock tower loomed large, as I noticed fraternity letters and temporary decorations adorning the thick, old trees dotting the campus. It was apparent that there were many traditions and fraternal rituals that would require more investigation and explanation. It would have to be another time, as it was nearing the time for my interview. I decided I’d better head over to the studio.
I climbed the stairs in the front of the red-painted building, and walked past a booming speaker. WLVS is constantly streaming live, and there was a broadcast emanating loudly into the street. Images of Mr. Señor Love Daddy from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing came to mind, as I realized that people in the community were encouraged to listen as they walked by. The louder the better, and it was all facing in the direction of Howard University’s open gates.
Upon entering the second floor of the building, one immediately sees the on-air studio area. A few young guys were fiddling with some A/V equipment and casually talking about music. They looked me up and down, and went back to their business. There was a closed door at the far end of the room, and display cases filled with an extensive Hip-Hop memorabilia collection. I tried to get comfortable, and propped my portfolio up in the corner, while I went in for a closer look. There were signed CDs, small, customized pins, figurines, exclusive sneakers, and all manner of posters and box sets. Most things were autographed and displayed with much care and attention. At this point it was 5:00, and I realized that I still hadn’t met Jeremy in person.
LL Cool J signed boxing glove – “Mama Said Knock You Out”
Some of the pins in the WLVS Hip-Hop collection
Signed Jay-Z and KRS-One books
Just then, the door at the end of the room opened, and Jeremy emerged. Energetic and charismatic, he was moving quickly through the space. He set up his phone and simultaneously introduced himself. We shook hands and he instructed the young sound engineer to get ready for our discussion. I pulled up the tall bar stool, and made sure my artwork was at the ready. I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to show, but I wanted everything at arm’s length. After less than thirty seconds of having met Jeremy, we were on the air. Here is the interview that followed. Thanks for checking it out!:
Dreams really can come true. Over the past four years, my Hip-Hop project has been a source of satisfaction, gratification, connection, and growth for me as an artist. I have been able to meet my musical heroes, and I’ve found myself in the presence of greatness on more than one occasion.
The funny thing is, I’m not sure what I’m trying to accomplish. Don’t get me wrong, it all makes sense to me. Each new adventure seems to unfold in an organic series of serendipitous events and conversations. Paying tribute to the legends of Hip-Hop and the kings of the mic remains paramount, while gleaning inspiration from live music and the thrill of putting myself out there sustains the impetus behind this enigmatic project.
It’s not in my nature to walk up to people I don’t know. Once I have art in my hand, it’s a different story. I become empowered and emboldened to connect with people. It’s almost like an alter-ego.
Imagine my surprise, when I was invited to participate in an art show in New York City. My friend and fellow artist, Amy Cinnamon, asked me to team up with her and six other artists to assemble a thematic exhibition. The Black Medallions, a group of avid Hip-Hop heads, were producing a show in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. The theme of the exhibition would be the Native Tongues; a group of Hip-Hop groups originating in New York during the late 1980s and early 1990s (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, Chi Ali, Queen Latifah, Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep, Leaders of the New School, The Beatnuts, and Monie Love). Each of the visual artists tapped to be included in the celebration had previously rendered artwork that fit into the theme.
On December 15th and 16, 2016, we all converged on the Caelum Gallery in the Chelsea Arts Building. Enthusiastically, I started unpacking my artwork, and began dividing the blank walls into transformable spaces.
Many of the attendees walked away with some great souvenirs – buttons, stickers, and this incredible Phife ‘Game of Microphones’ print from Madina Design (UK). I managed to grab one of these, myself!
Amy Cinnamon’s incredible graphic design cartoons
Askem’s “Art You Can Hear” section of the gallery
My little corner of the gallery!
On Thursday night, we had a great crowd, and the conversation surrounding the art and the music was rich and inspiring. I tried to step back a few times, so I could take in my surroundings. It was very special.
Phife Dawg – Graphite and White Charcoal on Cardboard
The ever-evolving J Dilla watercolor
Q-Tip – watercolor on paper
As the conversations continued, and the music filled the room, there were two turntables standing unattended at the back of the gallery. They were all set up to accommodate the iconic DJ and producer of the quintessential Hip-Hop album 3 Feet High and Rising– DJ Prince Paul.
Once he arrived, he made a bee-line to the decks, and wasted no time. He was there to play Native Tongues music. For the occasion, I had prepared a corrugated cardboard portrait to share with him. While I was anxious to show him the piece, I made sure I gave him a wide berth. I didn’t want to interrupt his set. After a few minutes, I saw my chance. I approached, and he removed his head-set. He warmly greeted me with a smile, and said he recognized the artwork from Twitter and Instagram. This mission was accomplished – Thank you, DJ Prince Paul!
DJ Prince Paul tagging the new corrugated cardboard portrait
Amid all the hoopla and connection, I set a small goal for myself. Once I realized that I’d be showing in the same exhibition as the artist who painted the cover of De La Soul is Dead, Joe Buck, I made plans to show him my vintage t-shirt inspired by his design.
When I found out that he didn’t have one of the shirts himself, and in fact had never seen this particular version, I decided that I must remedy this injustice! I proudly, and weirdly, presented Joe with my hole-ridden, disintegrating shirt. He happily accepted it, and seemed to genuinely appreciate the strange gesture. It made me happy to give it to him. In return, Joe regaled me with the story of how he came to be the artist for this important album. If you ever get the chance, you should ask him about it. It’s a great story.
Me, presenting Joe Buck with my vintage De La Soul is Dead t-shirt
The official transition of power – Katz to Buck
The next night was just as exciting and memorable. In my memory, the two nights sort of blend together, but this time around it would be Large Professor spinning the wax.
Once again, I was prepared with a portrait and some lyrics for him to add. This time, I caught him on the way in, and was rewarded with a great line and a few good pictures.
The second night held some great surprises, too, as Tim Einenkel from The Library came to show his support. He was fresh off an interview with Dinco D and Charlie Brown from Leaders of the New School, who also made a cameo at the end of the night.
The surreal nature of our surroundings peaked, when J. Period showed up and copped a Dan Lish print. We collectively felt an added sense of success and pride. It was very meaningful to see these connections come full-circle.
It was amazing to be a part of such a talented group of artists and DJs, and I’m already looking for additional opportunities to connect the art and music. I’m excited about the level of support and camaraderie that this event sparked. Look for another Black Medallions show next year. Thanks, everybody! – AK
“I made a piece of art which emboldens me to go up to
people I would really not go up to otherwise…
All of a sudden, I have this piece that is the bridge, and I use it.
I feel much more confident when I have artwork
than if I were empty-handed”
As we approach New Year’s Eve, one cannot help but reflect on the year that is coming to a close. Although there have been many negative descriptors for 2016, and the year that was, I wanted to focus on one of the positive experiences that emerged from my personal goal-setting last December.
As an avid listener of podcasts, I’ve been impressed with the medium. Often I found myself deeply immersed in a topic that was only presented through audio. The long format interview allowed for a deeper conversation, and more meaningful connections with the subjects. I wanted to be a part of it. It was important for me to explore the possibilities of storytelling and connecting with this new outlet.
A few of my favorite Hip-Hop podcasts are The Combat Jack Show, American Riddle, and The Library with Tim Einenkel. Malcolm Riddle’s American Riddle podcast was my entry into the podcast world; when he invited me on his show to share my Hip-Hop adventures. Not only did that experience help me bring my art to a new audience, but I now consider Malcolm a good friend. We routinely converse about the state of Hip-Hop, the top five MCs of all-time, and which live show we should attend next.
I was hoping to generate more stories, and eventually share them through the podcast format. It seems to be a great way to archive the experiences, and my hope is that it will complement this blog.
Through Twitter, I set my 2016 goal of being a guest on The Library or Combat Jack. It felt quite narcissistic to invite myself, but I had been empowered by a few Seth Godin books about making art and self-promotion (aside: My blog is titled “This Might Not Work”, which is inspired by Seth Godin’s approach to creative risk-taking” It’s a p.c. version of Curtis Armstrong’s advice to a young Tom Cruise in Risky Business :
Much to my pleasant surprise, Tim Einenkel was open to having me on his show. Tim has interviewed many of the icons of Hip-Hop: Chuck D, Ice T, Big Daddy Kane, Grandmaster Caz, etc. Although I jumped at the chance, somehow ‘Andy Katz’ didn’t seem to go with the amazing list of his past guests. That being said, I enthusiastically took part in an interview with Tim. The following, is the result of that collaboration. I’m grateful that Tim and Malcolm have offered me a platform for sharing my ideas, opinions, and my art. It’s special when you have that level of support. I look forward to exploring additional avenues for sharing my art and my stories. I hope you give these episodes a listen. Thanks, Tim! Thanks, Malcolm! – AK