Documentary makes the impermanent permanent. It’s a satisfactory compromise for street artist Jason Shelowitz (AKA Jay Shells), whose ‘Rap Quotes’ project has the longevity of a fruit fly or a sand castle at low tide.
Inspired by many rappers’ tendency to work the streets, blocks and parks of their upbringing into their lyrics, Shells decided to turn those shout-outs into official-looking street signs and hang them up at those specific street corners and locations. So the line “I’m blacker than midnight on Broadway and Myrtle” from Mos Def’s track ‘Champion Requiem’ got printed on a sign and hung at that street corner, a section of Brooklyn where the rapper grew up.
If you watch the film, you can see Shells is only securing the signs with hand-tightened nuts and bolts. He openly acknowledges that most of the signs likely won’t even stay up through the day and doesn’t care. Quite the opposite in fact. Imagining some hip hop fan coming across the sign, Shells says, “Fuck it, it’s my gift to you. Go take ‘em.”
Watching the video, I’m just as taken by the artist as I am the art. There’s an exhilaration — a giddiness, almost — apparent in Shells as he bounces from location to location, climbing his little step stool, snapping photos and thwarting the police. His creative energy is contagious – that my friends – is the energy that you give off when you make something you care about. Irrepressible.
Rap Quotes is a reminder to make stuff. At least part of you has to say feed the beast, fuck the money or you’ll never get anything off the ground.