I’m currently creating a series of illustrations based on Hip Hop creators, artists, legends and individuals that have inspired or intrigued me over the past thirty years. My focus is on their uniqueness, human fragility and creativity.
This project happened in a very organic way, not at all planned.
I commute to my regular occupation in London as a senior Concept Artist for the video game Industry and whilst on the train I like to keep myself entertained by sketching in little black books.
I’ve been creating drawings on my train journeys for about four years. This is the time when my mind can wander, a stream of consciousness begins and things happen. I love crafting a vision, a thought in lines.
I work directly in ink pen to paper. The main challenge comes from the wobbly train journey, often packed with stressed out commuters.
Over ten years ago, I created an LP cover for the late Break DJ Leacy, entitled ‘Breaksplotation’. The illustration featured a snap shot/fly on the wall view of a late 70’s, early 80’s New York City park jam.
After receiving appreciation and praise from many Hip Hop legends, including Biz Markie, Rakim, Pete Rock, X-Clan and Grand Wizard Theodore to name a few, I embarked on a ‘thank you’ illustration back to these individuals. I started with Paradise Gray (X-Clan), Rakim and then Pete Rock.
I created a portrait of the artist/individual in an honest un-egoic interpretation.
As we know, the origins and foundation of all the elements of the Hip Hop culture are partly based on competition and the ‘battle’ mentality. So after having shed a slight ego imbalance myself over the years (BBoying, Graffiti and DJ’ing), starting a family and stepping out of the scene for a while, I could approach the subject matter with more honesty, creativity and maturity.
I picked up on what inspired me about these folks, whether it be a certain lyric from a classic tune, or my perception of what may be going through their mind at their moment of creation. And without having to cater to the (possibly my own?) B-Boy machismo, ego, front; I could explore these themes without the fear of having to cater to a certain audience or the artist. For me, the ‘what if’s and maybes’ are a way to traverse. As an Artist, putting my voice and perception to their persona is fascinating.
The Rakim drawing was inspired by his lyrics from ‘Follow the Leader’ that I first heard in 1987.
I pictured Rakim seated at a table, in the moment of creation…writing rhymes, his mind exploding with vision before pen hit the paper.
When creating the Pete Rock illustration, I focused on an honest ‘in the moment’ interpretation. Fiddling, experimenting, turning knobs, pushing buttons, making his music ‘in the lab’, in the basement.
Kool Keith resides in a hospital bed/arm chair, writing on parchment, as he is served tea by an odd looking goblin.
His general rhyme topics from his Ultramagnetic Mc days are featured in his thought bubble, exploring imagery that suited his unique style and quirkiness. If the artist is a creative individual, it makes it easier to add my own interpretation to the image.
Africa Bambaataa is unique eccentric and mysterious. There is so much symbolism and esoteric information that he has an interest in, which makes the character a joy to analyze. I could create a whole series on just the man himself. His costume is a nod to his Soul Sonic Force days, who were also inspired by the P-Funk costumes of the 70’s. The key of Ankh, the Grey extraterrestrial, pyramid power, are all symbols of the esoteric nature of Bam. The forearm tree roots symbolise his connection to the people of earth as he discovers his own key of life.
Guru from Gangstarr was inspired by his lyric from ‘What you want this time’ taken from the Step in the Arena LP from 1992 ; where he rhymes about being harassed by a girl, whilst trying to cook spaghetti. I introduced the double bass, sax and trumpet as playful, slightly annoying characters.
Q Tip from a Tribe called Quest is featured sitting, in a moment of contemplation, whilst small foetus like imps frolic. Inspired by the cover character from ‘The Low End Theory’ classic LP.
DJ Kool Herc; the godfather of Hip Hop stands relaxed and slightly bemused, as speaker imps take up his second favourite pastime; Kite flying. New York City is draped by his Dredd locks whilst the sun sets and heart slows.
I feature trees in lots of my illustration for their steadfastness and attachment to the earth, an analogy of the cultural heritage.
DJ Premier has a great face to draw, full of character. A self confessed nerd, tinkering away in his studio of sound.
Featured are Speaker imps, Brooklyn blocks, keyboards and oddball characters.
MF DOOM has so much lyrical imagery to play with. A theme within a theme. Doom is featured being taken for a gentle sunday stroll whilst he examines with his pen and pad. whilst creating this illustration, the train ride was an extremely bumpy affair. A lot of ‘happy accidents’ were made and played with.
With J Dilla, I not only wanted to celebrate his creativity but also his willingness to experiment and push his sonic sound. My interpretation wanted to celebrate the child within, the fun of being in the moment, his soul free to travel beyond the vail, leading to his next adventure.
Who’ll be next on tomorrow’s train ride?