My Buckshot and I caught industry pioneer Cey Adams and former DEF JAM promoter Bill Adler’s talk on the expansive world of hip-hop art, design and fashion at Young Blood Gallery & Boutique, in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood of The ATL on friday evening. I scooped up a signed version of their wonderful, colorful new book on the now thirty-five year old movement: DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop. The art in the book just pops off the page, and I highly recommend buying a copy.
I found Cey to be an engaging alternative hero. From his grassroots history as an NYC graffiti artist in Queens, to his friendship with the once-raucous Beastie Boys. From his humorous business dealings with the ridiculously pretentious and driven Sean “Puffy” Combs, to his sense of marvel at the solid work of his peers. From his pride of personal accomplishment in creating a perfect Adidas track jacket, to his real love of what happened as the movement gained momentum in New York and gradually America as a whole. Over the years, hip-hop has culturally captivated the attention of the entire world in ways both surprisingly subtle and oh so obvious.
It was interesting to be getting an education from old school New York hip-hop industry vets in the current world capital of rap: THE ATL. Unfortunate that I found Mr. Adler’s delivery a bit too pompous in tone to add much easily-ingested enlightenment, but he did have a unique take on why Queens was actually the borough of The City where the bulk of creative activity took place: It was more suburban than Manhattan and Brooklyn – and in some ways more openminded because it was less full of ghetto struggle. That was not received well at all from several Brooklynites in the audience, but it was a curious and possibly true take on how and why the scene materialized where it did. The pulsing urban energy of NYC-Manhattan, NYC-Bronx, NYC-Brooklyn, mixed with the relative peace of mind that bred creativity and collectivity in NYC-Queens, where so many of the great performers lived.
Often overlooked fact that some of the more influential people in the explosion of hip-hop and its art were white folks working in predominantly black mediums. Some examples: Rick Rubin (Mega Producer), Keith Haring (Artist), the Beastie Boys (Rap Stars). Though an undeniably black creation of life expression – an African-American art form – the fusion of black urban and often white suburban energies is, to my mind, what pushed hip-hop into the stratosphere of unparalleled commercial popularity it realized.
Hip-hop and its cottage industries demonstrate the cultural power of AMERICA. Hip-hop is modern musical poetry and an all-American art movement. At its worst, it is just crappy noise, but at its best, it is musical art of top form.