The Art Adventures and Endeavors of Andrew J. Katz

Mission: Black Star (Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli)

“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.

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Me, with DJ Bee. This is the moment after we bumped into one another on the Wharf in SW, DC. What a great guy! Hope to connect with him more in the future. @DJBeeOnline

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.”

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

Maybe my favorite image of the night, Greg Boulden snapped this detailed shot of my plans all coming together. Thanks, Greg!

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.

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.

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Although it was dark behind the backstage curtain, and I didn’t get a picture, my friend Saleem was working with Tracy in the dressing rooms.  Someone managed to capture this beautiful photo of the two of them, early in the night.

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.

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.

The exclamation point to the night – Andy Katz and HR. So great! Thanks, Laurie!

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


Method Man, Redman, RZA, Black Thought, and Mos Def Prints

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






Mission: Rakim

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.

IMG_20180106_180741_177 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…


IMG_20180107_094154_400I 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’.

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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.

20180106_224013DJ 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!


Mission: Kennedy Center – Kool Moe Dee, Roxanne Shanté & Grandmaster Caz

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 Design Golden 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!

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‘Mrs. Caz’ was kind enough to post these pictures from our initial meeting.

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.

The Madina ‘Golden Era’ poster was tagged by Caz, Roxanne Shanté, and Kool Moe Dee

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.


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Ecstasy’s hat box. It was pretty cool watching him walk in with this.

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.

20171120_220241Over 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



Mission: Digable Planets (Rebirth of Slick)

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”

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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”. 20170921_233529_preview

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:

Ladybug Mecca signing my drawing at the Howard Theatre 9.21.17


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




Mission: Cypress Hill (Haunted Hill)

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

One of my favorite lyrics in Hip-Hop history – “Okay, if knowledge is the key, then just show me the lock / Got da scrawny legs but I move just like Lou Brock”  – A Tribe Called Quest.   I wanted to create the same shot of dopamine, upon seeing this little design, as I get when I hear Q-Tip utter this great line!  For those of you who want to dig a bit deeper, there is a story behind the object dangling out of his pocket.  Can you figure it out?  Hint:  It was inspired by Q-Tip’s collaboration with the Beastie Boys. 

Check out my on-line store – 

Galileo earned the spotlight at the end of The Sounds of Science, by the Beastie Boys.  Here, I wanted to make ‘G’ look like a B-Boy and an intelligent, well-versed Hip-Hop fan.  I believe Galileo would’ve been a big fan of the Beastie Boys.  Don’t you?  
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Depicting my favorite line from the Beastie Boys storied catalog of music, the Cool Cucumber sticker was my first design. While I’ve drawn it many times, I wanted it to be offered as a sticker, with just enough visual information for those people who would need no explanation. 

Check out my on-line store – 



Mission: Prophets of Rage

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.

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Darren Holtom’s artwork – The cover of Nothing is Quick in the Desert (Except Death)

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.

Here are the finished portraits in my home studio

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.

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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





Mission: Questlove and Black Thought

“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.

IMG_20150208_085755180_HDR 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.  20160916_184454

He chose lyrics from a song called Bird’s Eye View by 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.

I’m glad it all turned out well. Grateful. – AK


Check out the American Riddle Podcast, as Malcolm and Meriem recap the event, and offer up some soundbites of conversation from the night…


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