THE ART OF HIP-HOP IN GREENSBORO
When Rakim rapped “thinkin of a master plan cause ain’t nothing but sweat inside my hand” on “Paid in Full,” the line became an instant hip-hop classic. Eric B. and Rakim’s debut project was released in 1987, and 27 years later “Paid in Full” is still one of the most highly regarded songs in hip-hop culture. Of course, Rakim was talking about the hustle involved with making some quick cash, but the sentiment has become synonymous with carving your own lane by any means necessary. “Thinking of a master plan” was almost a rallying cry for the bourgeoning hip-hop scene throughout New York City, especially at the time the Four Pillars of Hip-hop were established by the Zulu Nation. The Zulu Nation is long considered to be rap’s “parliament” of sorts and helped to establish rank and file among the constituency of hip-hop lovers and its culture.
Greensboro’s arts studio Uptown Artworks is preserving a hefty portion of the culture with its exhibit “Thinkin of a Master Plan;Hip-hop the ARTform.” The exhibit will be on display May 9th and May 10th and the works will focus on hip-hop, its surrounding culture and creative form. Uptown Artworks will present a bold and vibrant view on hip-hop’s bravado with a unique visual component. The art of jOseph, Phil Young, DJ Herbin The Artist, Kevin Burnette, Mariela Nunez, Tamica Mabry, Charles Reeves, Shanitra Dunn,Yanna Setay, Dwayne Howell and Stewart Knight will journey through hip-hop’s history and its influential past, present and future.
“As probably one of the only black gallery owners in the surrounding area, I felt I was almost doing a disservice to my roots and the hip-hop culture if I didn’t at least attempt to produce a hip-hop themed art exhibit,” said Uptown Artworks There are four aspects that round out a well-cultured hip-hop perspective in any form. The pillars gave definition to a movement that was quickly sweeping a nation and seeking unique individuality in a growing world of music. The pillars included; rapping (MC’ing), turntablism (deejaying), b-boying (break-dancing) and graffiti art and are still highly regarded to this day. Being able to incorporate one or more aspects of the pillars into the artful aspects of society is considered a preservation of the culture. This premise was embraced by graffiti writers, MC’s, deejays and b-boys and b-girls all over the nation. Even today, the reference of the Four Pillars of Hip-hop invoke memories of pride and crafty happenings in the Golden Era of Hip-hop.
Wilkerson added “With Phil Young and Kevin Burnette in studio #6 creating and selling their iconic graffiti and stencil art that covered the gambit from Jay Z to Bruce Lee, as well as DJ Herbin in studio #8 who created some really dope (as in cool) mixed media sneaker art… I was inspired by their creations to do this.”
Participating in the hip-hop culture at its beginning was considered an act of revolution and resistance in itself. The lyrics were often depicting life and hardships many in the black and brown communities faced daily. Those who were apt to take part in the graffiti movement faced threat of the long arm of the law and even rivalry from other graffiti crews. Still though, some of the most noted artists in creation today were born of this same resistance.
Banksy, the elusive graffiti writer, uses his voice and paint as a form of protest even today, lamenting society’s woes on various surfaces throughout the world.
Graffiti is not the only visual form of art associated with hip-hop.
Recent trends have shown that some of rap’s biggest moguls are investing in high-end artwork and setting trends in the world of art ventures. You’d be hard pressed to listen to Jay-Z’s last full-length project “Magna Carter Holy Grail” without hearing its numerous mentions of owning pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Jay even collaborated with Marina Abramovic to drive home the point even further. And though Jay-Z and Abramovic both have significantly larger influence than the average artisan, art is no longer considered to be just for the “aristocrat” or highbrow.
Kendrick Lamar’s latest release, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which features one of the greatest verses from North Carolina’s Rapsody, is widely considered a lush art experience. Its soundscapes paint a vivid picture of life in the ghetto while even its album artwork is unique on its own. Artists like Frank Ocean are building the visual component into their releases as well. Ocean’s as-yetreleased full-length project “Boys Don’t, Cry” will be released complete with a magazine and exclusive artwork. Hip-hop music in particular can utilize visual artwork as a tool to revolution, a premise Afrika Bambaataa and the other founding fathers meant for the genre since its inception.
Keeping with the tradition of offering musical appearances along with the artwork that reflects the multi-layered approach to hip-hop preservation, the exhibit will feature a number of music guests including Real Ting Dis, Eric Herbin, Lamar LP and more. Exhibit attendees should expect pieces of art that reflect both the rebellious tones of the hip-hop culture while also stabilizing the essence of a genre that has carried its own political strengths.
Artistic types come in all genres of the creative spectrum and the hip-hop culture is proving this isn’t just a trend, but more of an opening in the discussion of expression. Artists like Tyler the Creator, Swizz Beats, Pharrell and others have openly embraced their love of art and rallied around its significance in the hip-hop world. Their inclusion is creating a dialogue and conversation that includes more than just the typical status quo. Hip-hop music is being taught as an art-form on college campuses all over the country with entire curriculums deriving from hip-hop pieces. These artists do have the advantage of money to whet their appetite for society’s most dynamic art pieces, but there are tons of opportunities to experience art no matter your budget.
Like Rakim who was thinking of a master plan back in the 80’s blazing a trail for the evolved artist can be a feat in itself. Locations like Uptown Artworks offer a place for artisans and other collaborative entities to come together in the name of creative stamina in the same ways that made the Harlem Renaissance one of history’s most important artistic movements.
“Honestly, there’s a lack of artistic activities that specifically target the Black community, and on a broader scale, the hip-hop generation. I partnered with Phil Young last year to produce an erotic art show and now with this hip-hop exhibit and live performances, we want to introduce more art after dark concepts,” said Wilkerson.
Uptown Artworks is one of Greensboro’s art destination and work spaces for artists who want to preserve not only the culture of hip-hop, but of collaborative movements in general. “Thinkin of a Master Plan; Hip-hop the ARTform” will do more than showcase paintings and other art from hip-hop thinkers and creative; the event will highlight the gaps in artistic society that hip-hop has bridged with both sight and sound.
Uptown Artworks is a “working artist studio” intended to assist local and regional established and emerging visual artists. We are committed to the fostering of creativity and the cultivation of contemporary art through diverse exhibitions, studio space for artists, expansive educational programming, and a multidisciplinary approach to the dialogue between artists and audience. Uptown Artworks exists to provide individual artists with a professional and productive environment for artisans, 24-hour facility access, developing and maximizing off-premise visibility for artists, and developing a gathering space for the Guilford County art community.
These artisans work in a rental studio space that is open to the public at times of Uptown Artworks art exhibition, special events and programming, and at the artist’s discretion. These showcases are designed to promote the diversity of talent, artist and crafts persons within Uptown Artworks, that work in a broad spectrum of disciplines and perspectives who may also choose to work together at times and share ideas, as well as the studio space. !
“Thinkin of Master Plan: Hiphop the ARTform” begins on Saturday, May 9, at 8 p.m. The following day, Uptown Artworks opens its doors at 2 p.m. for the exhibit. Tickets are available for $7 plus fees and can be purchased through EventBrite. Uptown Artworks is located at 1007Arnold Street in Greensboro.