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  • Writer's pictureErica Stella

Sold's Stack of Books: The Rap Quotes Coast to Coast by Jay Shells

The impact of hip-hop on American culture and the world will be studied for decades, and the influences are as important as the impacts. So many social, political, and economic factors came into play in the 70's, when the birth of this genre took its 1st breath in NYC. Rather than getting into trouble with drugs or violence, a city kid who knew how to dance, rhyme, draw, play records or beatbox during that time, could find the right path through adolescence within this sub culture.

With a new format in the early '80s, MTV brought a visual presentation and much larger audience to hip-hop. Graffiti was injected into everyone's home, and made this new form of public communication commonplace, and eventually commercialized. The punk scene inspired the anarchy reflected on the streets in the East Village around that time, but hip-hop was becoming a universal language and gaining attention worldwide, and graffiti fell right in line...

There is a parallel road that graffiti and hip-hop have traveled down, and today another generation emerges. "Street Art" in its multitude of variations, is an evolution of graffiti, and social media is the new tool of communicating those ideas to a broader audience - just like the early MTV era.

Jason Shellowitz AKA Jay Shells discovered his own unique way of honoring the lyrics of hip-hop, and incorporated his expression on the streets in an interactive and geographically-relevant way, with his Rap Quotes Project. This idea didn’t come out of thin air. After listening to Big L's debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous numerous times, there was one instance while painting in '03, where the idea was sparked. A location is called out:

"...on 1-3-9 and Lenox Ave, there's a big park,

and if you're soft don't go through it when it gets dark... "

Drawing from this track, and inspiration from Trusto Corp, Jay Shells came up with the concept of using the image of street signs to honor the golden lyrics these rap gods have anointed these locations with. Documenting 6 years of this poignant and important public art project, The Rap Quotes Coast To Coast published by Dokument Press is not only an excellent visual presentation, with photos by Aymann Ismail, Robert Lambert, Jay himself (and others noted like our own Bytegirl), but also a collaboration like no one in hip-hop has ever imagined. And it is not over yet.

For me, the front cover already has nostalgia welling in my eyes. Every single time the hypnotic buzz of "Elevators (Me & You)" drops, I remember holding that ATLiens CD in my hand for the 1st time. It was when my young "NY State of Mind" was expanding by the sounds of the South, and I was hooked to every track that came from Goodie Mob, and anyone in the Dungeon Family - but especially Outkast.

"...One for the money yessir, two for the show,

a couple of years ago, on Headland & Delowe,

was the start of something good..."

Categorized by city, obviously the 1st chapter is NYC, and its content takes up the majority of the publication. The Mecca is where the majority of locations are traced, marked and documented - not only because it is the birthplace, but because so many inspirations have stemmed from the 5 boroughs.

This documentation continues with street sign pieces installed in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston (set apart with purple signs). Each chapter is introduced with a summary page, alphabetized by the artist of the lyric. I take note of this because this is where this book goes from documented art book, to reference material. I can see myself listening to an album, hearing a verse - the MC calling out a cross street or landmark, I pause, rewind; listen again. The next step is to pull this amazing site-specific catalog off the shelf to see if Jay got that one. And the way this book is organized, it makes that info very easy to find.

As we move through each city, the enormity of this undertaking starts to hit you. The impact of his installations must have influenced individuals familiar with those spots. This is where the public art impact takes form, where the reward comes into play - as opposed to being arrested for vandalism. Jay's had a various amount of responses from local communities, but some of the most meaningful conversations about community he could have imagined.

With the recent, and much too soon, passing of Nipsey Hussle, I was happy to find 3 placements in LA. The notation on page 54 also drew me to Biggie's LA location. It just shows how MC's were inspired by other cities that they didn't necessarily rep. If Jay hasn't caught a location yet, stay tuned for the next edition!

Speaking of the next edition... Jay apologizes in advance to the cities of Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, the Bay Area and others not included before production deadline in '18.

*hint hint: SUPPORT the artist & this project by buying the book - so he can keep this going!

For me, I'm looking forward to the International edition. In this "imaginary future" book of his, there would be the photo, and obvious annotation of Élysée Montmartre from Black Thought's Grammy award winning song, "You Got Me" ...

..."She said she loved my show in Paris at Elysee Montmartre, And that I stepped off the stage, And took a piece of her heart..."


Pick up this MUST HAVE addition to your library now for ONLY $19.95, and join us:

Tuesday, April 30th, 6PM - 8PM

Rizzoli Bookstore

1133 Broadway @ 26th Street

This will be a fantastic celebration of this important publication, discussion and book signing with the man himself - Jason Shellowitz AKA Jay Shells, and photographer Aymann Ismail.

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