My brother and I run a twitter account that once a day tweets rap lyrics that we think are extraordinary. As a result, we both pay very close attention to the hip-hop songs, hoping to find something tweet-worthy.
A few weeks ago, I was working in my home studio listening to Big L’s first album Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous when I caught myself rapping along to one of the songs, with the lyric “…on 139 and Lenox Ave. there’s a big park, and if you soft don’t go through it when it gets dark…
” That’s when I paused and thought that it would be cool if that corner was marked in some way with that lyric so everyone who walked by was aware of its part in New York City’s hip hop history. I quickly began to think of other lyrics that mentioned a specific corner or location, and wrote them down as they came to me. Over the following days, friends became involved, sending me lyrics I hadn’t thought of.
Before I knew it, I had 30 verses from 30 different rappers. It was time to decide how to get them into their respective locations. I’ve used street signs before as a way to get ideas out in the public and decided that this was the best vehicle for my “Rap Quotes” project. I appropriated New York City’s standard (read: boring) visual language for municipal graphics and began designing the Rap Quotes signs. I made sure to use red and white as my only colors hoping that the signs would blend into their environment just enough to make them a surprising find for the most aware pedestrians. I thought it would be more fun for them to be discovered among the existing visual clutter than to scream out at everyone.
Within two weeks of the idea’s inception I had the actual signs in my hand ready to go. All I needed was a lookout—someone to drive around with me for an entire weekend and watch my back while I installed signs, many of which were in high-crime neighborhoods. I reached out to my friends at ANIMAL New York to lend a hand and the following weekend, Aymann Ismail (Animal’s video/photographer) and I were on a quest to install all 30 of my signs around New York.
For this part of the project I was a tourist in my own city. We went from Mt. Vernon to Smithtown, Long Island and everywhere in between. Speaking with people on the streets while hanging the signs was important. I like to see what people in the neighborhoods think of the project. Almost always, they are enthusiastic.
We had some killer soul food in Flatbush, some mediocre-to-bad food at a Canarsie diner, and invented a Mexican Pizza Hut sandwich at the combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell in Jamaica, Queens. We look forward to eating something unique in Staten Island next week.
We’ve since gone out twice more and have another installation planned later this week.
Because we made a video of my project, that meant it was no longer hidden for people to stumble upon, but immediately available to millions on the web. This created a scavenger hunt for would-be art collectors, and within two days of the video going live, all the signs were gone. This inspired me to think of a more permanent solution. If I can raise capital, I hope to make brass plaques that get bolted into the sidewalks so they cannot be stolen.
We are currently developing a website that plots the locations/lyrics of all the signs so they can at least live on forever in the digital realm. Beyond that, an app is in the early stages of development so we can take the project global. If you think of any rap lyrics that mention specific locations in New York, please send them to me at @TheRapQuotes @jayshells. And if you care to support this project, please consider purchasing a T-shirt here.
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