Hip Hop Heads in New York City this past weekend braved the dessert–like temps followed by a sudden down pour, to see a star-studded line-up of the genres finest at the 12th annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. Rapsody, Talib Kweli, Fabulous, legendary Queensbridge MC, Nas and more blessed the stage with their lyrical genius, but while the crowd bumped along to the their favorite rappers unbeknownst to most there was another live show happening right across from the stage.
Acclaimed graffiti artists John ‘Crash’ Matos and Chris ‘Daze’ Ellis created a live mural, inspired by Netflix’s brand new series, The Get Down. Crash and Daze are graffiti consultants on the series which Nas is an executive producer on (and Grandmaster Flash, an associate producer). And in keeping with the celebration of hip-hop music and culture it was only right that the festival highlighted the underrated art form which was such a staple in hip-hop’s early days.
The Get Down, premiering on Aug. 12, is a semi-docu style series set in 1977 that captures the birth of hip-hop told through the lives, music, art and dance of a group of South Bronx kids. The series’ stars include: Shameik Moore, Jaden Smith, Justice Smith, Herizen Guardiola, Tremaine Brown Jr., Skylan Brooks—just name a few. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, with direction from hip-hop icons, the story captures the cultural movement like no other show has done before. But it’s Daze and Crash who lend to their talents to the show’s aesthetic and authenticity.
Who knew graffiti could land you a gig with Netflix? Not these guys. “This amazes me that our influence and inspiration has gone on a global level. It was our whole life for that period, but we didn’t realize at the time that it literally would be our whole lives” explains Daze just before the duo gets to work on the piece.
So just how did they get down with The Get Down? “Baz contacted Daze and I. They were looking for technical advisors with the line of sight—with the visuals of the street. ‘Cause what they were shooting was basically music and the characters. And they didn’t have any real street imagery from that period. We were in the streets, very active. So they contacted us and we gave them an idea of what the picture looked like. Then we were asked to participate and he actually created characters based on us for the program,” breaks down Crash.
Seems like pretty important work for a couple of graffiti artists who began their prolific careers painting on the gritty New York subways in the mid-70s. “No matter what we did, it was illegal. We used to steal the paint. We painted on subways and on and on.”
Daze points out that “people were more ready to embrace the other elements [of hip hop], such as music and dance and the turntables or the DJ-ing part. In New York, the graffiti part was always last because of the illegal aspect of it. You had to find a way to relate to it, but over the years, people realized that we were a part of New York culture as well.”
Crash chimes in, “If you look at the early videos of rap, music, whatever video it was, whatever it was, you look in the background and it’s all painted up. So to capture that, it was a problem and I know the record labels didn’t want to agree with that. Someone gets sued—but it’s come around.”
It certainly has. As graffiti consultants, Daze explains everything from visuals to “reading a script to them asking us questions about the way people would dress, the clothes they’re wearing to creating titles and original artwork with the series” was on the table.
“The piece that we’re doing today is the title for one of the episodes from The Get Down. Since it’s a collaborative effort, he’s working on one part of the phrase for the title and I’m working on another part. We’re working on it in two different styles and they’re gonna kind of blend together as one unit.” Crash notes “that the style’s reminiscent of that period in the early 80’s.”
Having both been in the graffiti game for 30-plus years the two have done many joint projects and actually share a studio in South Bronx so creating a live mural together at one the city biggest festivals is no biggie, even through an unexpected summer shower that hit the festival.
Besides local murals found around NYC, Daze and Crash have tons of pieces at museums and galleries around the world. But if you don’t feel like traveling that far, get a taste for graffiti culture by tuning into The Get Down on Netflix.
(Photos: Rebecca Smeyne; Netflix)
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