Every now and then someone has a brilliant flash of inspiration that results in an expression of pure and simple genius. Kool Herc had it when he grabbed the “breaks” from records and repeated those frenetic parts over and over. Simple concept, but no one had done it before.
And now, artist Jay Shells has done it with his street art installations called “Rap Quotes”. Shells has taken hip-hop lyrics which cite specific locations and placed them in those locations within the context of an ordinary looking street sign. For instance, one sign has the verse from The GZA, “Get your pockets dug from all your Chemical Bank ends. Caught him at the red light on – Putnam Avenue and Franklin.”
Most people will pass by that intersection oblivious to Shells’ signage and, if they do notice, will probably be perplexed by it for a brief moment before returning to their daily concerns. But there will be the occasional hip-hop head who stops, stares and completely loses it and, most likely, envision it at home on his wall as he is unscrewing it. And, according to Shells, that’s just fine with him. In fact, he expects it; that’s what he would do if it were him. It’s what any head would do. Instagram is fine, but most hip-hop heads are collectors of artifacts of the culture and this is a prize tantamount to a collection of old school fliers or a Haring chalk board from a subway station.
In locations all across New York, Shells has matched lyric to location with over 30 signs. The of impact seeing them all together is awesome, but the experience of stumbling upon them and discovering them in their environment is their true magic.
Here’s hoping you get a chance to see one before the collectors collect this limited-engagement exhibition.