This past Saturday, March 4, the good folks at Okay Space and the Black Swan Projekt introduced an exhilarating exhibit from legendary MC (and one of the forefathers of gangsta rap) Schoolly D and celebrated artist Pablo Power.
The work, which was entitled Philly vs. New York: A Declaration of Co-Independence, is still going on as we speak (check it out!) and consists of individual works from each artist. Show in a collaborative light and presented in 12″ square format, Philly vs. New York references Schoolly D’s artwork from some of his most iconic album covers, while Pablo shows off an equally illustrative style all his own.
As both artists showcase their strengths, we here at Okayplayer decided to speak to them about how this idea follows up to their 2013 exhibition, Am I Black Enough?, how they themselves linked up and how #BlackLivesMatter and President Agent Orange affect the Arts.
Okayplayer: How did the idea behind ‘Philly vs. New York’ go from concept to actuality?
Schoolly D: I have always had a New York / Philly relationship from 1985 while recording the Schoolly D Yellow Album. I recorded [that] in Philly and in New York in the Latin Quarters and The After Midnight in Philadelphia, which was used in iconic films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant. So, when I met Pablo [Power], he convinced me to start painting again and that got my thoughts racing on the idea of us putting shows together. We had a slight misstep here and there because of our schedules, but when Andrew came a knocking, we answered the door.
Pablo Power: I met Schoolly D in early 2013 at a performance he was doing in Asbury Park. Shortly after, we began talking about doing a collaboration of some sort. An exhibition seemed like a logical first step. Since junior high, Schoolly D has been a huge inspiration to me through his music and the little bit of his artwork that I had seen on his album covers. I was inspired from our introduction to revisit his visual art. The concept for our first show became hero worship turning into inspiration and collaboration. The possibility of our fans becoming collaborators with their demigods and finding common ground where that creativity could occur. We had less than two months between conception and opening day to produce that show, but what did come out of it was amazing. That began the conversation, friendship and collaboration that has flourished into our current exhibition at Okay Space, which is a massive step beyond our last show.
OKP: How has the relationship between Philly and New York rap grown since you first came into the game?
SD: I kind of live in the world of Schoolly D, so I can only speak for myself (as some rappers from Philly really don’t like New York rappers for some reason). My relationship with the New York rap scene has been the same since day one, fucking cool. By the way, I don’t consider this a game, to me, it is a lifestyle.
OKP: What were some things about art that you learned while growing up that weren’t being taught at Parsons School of Design?
PP: I started academic training at an intense design and arts high school in Miami, which is when I also began seriously pursuing my first body of personal work. I spent many years writing and painting murals in the street, usually without permission, out of a desire to introduce something colorful, crafted and considerate into locations that may otherwise be forgotten about, overlooked or avoided.
I have always had a fascination in the synthesis of that dichotomy and its ability to bring awareness to facets of life that people may not otherwise want to face. This same desire led directly into photographing and documenting other satisfaction I have had from my own work has come from inspiring someone to park their luxury car in a neighborhood that they would normally never consider going near, and walk through murky puddles in an abandoned building.
Or having someone suddenly engaged in the stories of people who roam the streets that they drive past every day because through my photos they’ve had an intimate look inside a community that they’ve never realized existed right beside them. Discovering that art has so many platforms to bring people out of their comfort zone and into a dialogue with someone outside of their realm of understanding is something that still inspires me and drives my work today.
OKP: How does the art of Philly depend on the art of New York to flourish?
SD: It is a healthy competition in my eyes. New York is one of the most talented cities in the world and Philly is one of the most smartest cities in the world. If you want to learn come to Philadelphia and if you wanna be something go to New York.
PP: New York is the creative engine that drives and inspires so many other communities, but a huge part of what drives New York is the constant circulation of people that come here from other places, with their own motivation and contributions. For the 24 years that I have been in New York, I have come into contact with creative people from Philly who move here or visit frequently to find outlets for their work, especially during times when there was less opportunity there. I am happy to see that there is a lot of new opportunity growing in Philadelphia, which is bringing some of its expats home and even attracting a lot of New Yorkers to move there. I am definitely considering it myself.
OKP: On Welcome To America you asked black America a question. Now that we see, hear and witness so many injustices that note that those folks in Washington, D.C. don’t really care about us — what do you think of movements like #BlackLivesMatter.
SD: Though I believe “from ashes come great things,” I am surprised we’re still standing in the shoes of our grandfathers, meaning every 20 years or so we beat the system and then it beats us right back because we got lazy with our core. Black lives matter, ’nuff said, and every generation has to fight the fight.
OKP: With President Agent Orange in office what are some concerns you might have for the Arts that might be affected by this administration?
PP: It is extremely frustrating when the person with the greatest ability to encourage and foster creativity in the world chooses not to do so, and even goes out of his way to take away resources that already help people gain access to the arts. That’s a struggle that has always existed and very likely always will.
On a personal level, I find it to be an inspiring challenge though. When outside support is especially in peril is when I see the importance of doing what we can as creative individuals and as a community to be even more important than usual. It’s these periods when we all have an obligation to step up and help people in a creative and positive way.
Art, the creative spirit, and finding ways that it can bring people together on common ground is the antidote to anyone who thinks that we don’t deserve support or have importance in the world. That’s a big part of what we wanted to say when conceptualizing “Philly vs. New York”. It’s not “versus” in the sense of one thing being better than the other. It is a challenge to step into the arena at your best and show the absolute best that you have to the world.
Outside forces can try as they please to dictate their will upon us, but they can never touch that creative spirit.
Philly vs. New York continues throughout March at Okay Space until April 1st. Check out the flyer below and come through to see these two art mavens duke it out.