Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jay Shells' Rap Quotes and the Importance of Hip-Hop Geography

I’ve only been to New York City once. I spent close to a week there when I was 12 or 13 years old, and while I have a sister that moved to Manhattan about a year and a half ago, I haven’t gotten a chance to visit her there yet. As such, about 95% of my understanding of NYC’s geography comes from rap lyrics. Lines calling out streets and housing projects throughout the five boroughs have created a New York City in my head that is almost certainly incomplete and skewed toward certain areas, but this rap-centric New York feels realer to me than the city I visited over a decade ago.

Jay Shells, a New York based street artist and hip-hop head, has also gravitated to the geographical specificity of hip hop songs. Being called out on a great song lends a street corner or a park bench an added cultural significance and power that can’t be taken away by either urban blight or gentrification. He made 38 of these things, and all of them can be viewed here.

Shells gets extra points for putting up a sign of Lil’ Fame accusing the 73rd Precinct cops of being drug dealers right in front of the 73rd Precinct station in the middle of the day.

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