Hip-Hop and fine art haven’t been cozy bedfellows, but painter Jackson Brown intends to change the commonly accepted perception. To achieve his mission, Brown teamed with art curator Bill Adler (Run DMC, Def Jam, Russell Simmons) and the pair has brazenly challenged the New York art scene with their exhibit, "Follow the Leader: Portraits of the Hip-Hop Avant-Garde.” The 29-year-old Brown has put to canvas the likes of Kool G Rap, LL Cool J, Afrika Bambaataa, Deborah Harry & Fab 5 Freddy, KRS-One, Flavor Flav, and others. A Hip-Hop head to the fullest, Brown has painted his master works in front of an audience in the Manhattan art district.
Before the exhibition runs its course, we had the chance to speak to Jackson Brown about “Follow The Leader.”
AllHipHop.com: How did this great art show come to be?
Jackson Brown: The way I came up with "Follow the Leader" is actually kind of funny. It was shortly after I met Bill Adler, the owner of Eyejammie.com, and I was wondering, "What should I do for my show?" One day I heard this kid “spitting” around the way in Bed-Stuy. He was wearing a t########## do-rag with a big baseball cap over his ears, a bright-ass red Rocawear jacket, a long white t-shirt under a longer black Biggie t-shirt, and some baggy jeans that he had to keep pulling up over the clunky Timbs on his feet.
Jackson Brown: In his bulls**t freestyle this kid was "killin’ mad n***as” and “flippin’ crazy birds.” His rap was, like, “mad clips/I’m a crazy n***a/word, son/n***as don’t know/movin’ keys…" — some stupid s**t like that. By the time he killed off half of South America and ate steak with
John Gotti, the other “thugs”, “dogs”, “soliders”, and “n***as” started to chime in with their “Mafias” and “killings” and “f**k b***hes” and “sets” and limp-wristed sign language. It was all very H###-Thug. “Look at these clowns,” I thought.
AllHipHop.com: So that inspired you?
Jackson Brown: It made me remember when rap was great. Rappers used to pride themselves on their individuality and skill. You could be someone’s best friend and never know they rapped, did graffiti, or was a breaker because they kept it in the lab until it was perfect. Then at the right time at the right party, they’d show the world. There was more pride then. There was balance. Rap was more creative. You had to have the rhymes, the game, everything. It was more like art.
So I decided to make a group of paintings about some of the people who inspired me when I was ten and twelve years old, early hip-hoppers who prided themselves on being individuals first. Biz didn’t sound
like Run. Shan didn’t look like Rakim.
AllHipHop.com: You portrayed gangsta rapper Kool G Rap as “Black Jesus.” Explain that.
Jackson Brown: The painting of Kool G. Rap as Black Jesus is my special "f**k you" to the art world. I felt my show and the gallery were not getting the props we deserved, so I decided to take them on. What better way to p### off the Establishment than to tell them Jesus was black, a gangsta, a real n***a, a radical who was down with w##### and criminals, a man who cared? Jesus stayed in the hood. Frightening, isn’t it? G. Rap came to mind because of "Road To The Riches." On that rhyme, he taught from where we were as colored people. Jesus did the same.
I painted the G. Rap piece while standing in front of the gallery on the coldest day in February. We ran a power cord from third floor, where the gallery is, to this beat-down boom box on the sidewalk. We were banging all the classic joints — Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, UTFO, Whodini, Slick Rick, Dana Dane, Joe-ski Love. Really funny. It was me, Bill, and Bill’s friend Dan Charnas, who used to work for Rick Rubin at Def American back in the day. We were holding our s**t, saying to every gallery in New York, "F**k you! This is hip-hop!" We were even burning Egyptian Musk incense to make sure these Herbs could smell it.
AllHipHop.com: Did you get any particular reaction from any onlookers?
Jackson Brown: It was about 30 degrees that morning when I was setting up. This one white guy – he was a public school teacher from DC — just stood there and watched me paint start to finish. I remember we were listening to Nas and he was telling me that Nas was his favorite emcee, and how he and his family, like Nas, struggled with his mother passing away from cancer. We were out there all day — on the strength. It was a beautiful thing.
AllHipHop.com: I was told you had a special patron come through and make a purchase.
Jackson Brown: Last Saturday, Kid Rock came through the gallery and bought a piece. It was dope because he and his man Shakes just hung out for an hour or so. We talked about music and art, things we are working on. Also, Disco D., who produced the track "Ski Mask Way" for 50 Cent, came through with his lady. Really cool peoples.
AllHipHop.com: Finally, what’s your favorite painting so far?
Jackson Brown: I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite piece. I would say that this is my favorite show. Bill gave me room to do my thing. He believed in and supported my work. That’s something that I am very proud of considering the artists that he helped develop — Run-DMC, The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, PE, Eric B & Rakim, EPMD. Sometimes I can’t even believe it.
For more information, go to www.eyejammie.com.