Rap­pin’ in the streets

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By MATT STEVENS

TONY Castillo skate­boarded down Fair­fax Av­enue in Los Angeles as he had for more than two years, but on one De­cem­ber morn­ing he no­ticed some­thing new.

Clasped to the street­light pole in front of the sneaker store Flight Club, a bright red sign with white text stared him in the face. Though it had the look of a stan­dard street sign, it of­fered no in­struc­tions on park­ing, driv­ing or walk­ing. In­stead it dis­played a rap lyric that made ref­er­ence to the very spot Castillo had just blown past.

“Bun B the OG like ’ 95 Air Max / Neon green outta Flight Club off Fair­fax.”

Hours later, the 25-year-old from the Venice, Cal­i­for­nia, area found him­self sweep­ing in front of his store next door and grav­i­tat­ing to­ward the sign again. He set his fin­gers to work twist­ing off the nuts and push­ing hard on the braces to pop out the bolts. Af­ter about “a cig­a­rette and a half”, Castillo held one of his most trea­sured pieces of street art.

“I can see the en­ergy the artist put into it,” he said. “This is some re­ally thought­ful stuff.”

Artist Ja­son Sh­elowitz (also known as Jay Shells) in­stalled 45 of the 46 signs he had de­signed for Los Angeles County in De­cem­ber, but since then he be­lieves all have dis­ap­peared.

This writer searched for 19 and found only frag­ments of one. A spokesman for the city of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Ser­vices said it is il­le­gal to post signs on pub­lic property with­out a per­mit, but the depart­ment has no record of re­mov­ing any of the signs.

Some signs have been taken by street-art en­thu­si­asts like Castillo, and at least one quoted artist took his sign for him­self. Rap­pers in­clud­ing Murs, Ac­tion Bron­son and Lupe Fi­asco have given big ups to the project via so­cial me­dia, some­times post­ing pic­tures of their sign on In­sta­gram, Face­book or Twit­ter.

Sh­elowitz said he plans to re­turn to Los Angeles soon to put up six new signs around town. Gallery 1988 on Mel­rose Av­enue plans to ex­hibit limited edi­tion signs and pho­tos of signs start­ing in April.

“I was think­ing (the signs) would be a hid­den gift for people who pay at­ten­tion to their sur­round­ings,” Sh­elowitz said. “I wanted it to be some­thing where if you hap­pened to see it, you’d be like, ‘That’s ... awe­some!’ – and just take a minute.”

Grow­ing up in the sub­urbs of New York, he was sur­rounded by mu­sic; he and his friends drove into the city to see live hip-hop and as he got older, some be­came DJs and pro­duc­ers. “Never quiet,” he said. “Al­ways on.”

Years later, in his home stu­dio on the Up­per East Side, Big L’s track Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dan­ger­ous started play­ing one day. The song warns against late-night trips to a park at the cor­ner of West 139th Street and Lenox Av­enue in New York. Sh­elowitz con­tem­plated the lyric, and the seed for the project took root.

“I think I just re­al­ized at that mo­ment – I had never been there,” he said. And when he ar­rived, “I just thought it would be so cool to mark that cor­ner with the lyric.”

Soon he was send­ing mass emails and so­lic­i­ta­tions on so­cial me­dia ask­ing for any rap lyric that men­tioned a very spe­cific lo­ca­tion. Af­ter the sug­ges­tions rolled in, he put up more than 50 signs in New York, and months later, he carted 46 signs to Los Angeles dur­ing a hol­i­day visit.

Sh­elowitz took to Twit­ter in late De­cem­ber 2013 to send out pic­tures of each sign’s lo­ca­tion, weeks af­ter he put them up.

But by then, the scav­enger hunt had al­ready be­gun, and most of the signs were gone.

An­war Car­rots, 23, took it upon him­self to steal his own sign.

Car­rots, who asked to be iden­ti­fied only with the fic­ti­tious last name he uses pro­fes­sion­ally, showed up at a friend’s lis­ten­ing party at Di­a­mond Sup­ply Co sev­eral weeks ago and was im­me­di­ately greeted by chat­ter about his sign.

“What quote?” he won­dered, so a friend took him a few steps out­side. There he saw words he had rapped at age 17 “just for fun” with his friend Casey Veg­gies.

The sign was in front of Di­a­mond be­cause Sh­elowitz had mis­tak­enly writ­ten “Di­a­mond” in­stead of “cop­pin”.

“I kind of freaked out,” said Car­rots, who helps run a cloth­ing and man­age­ment com­pany. “I’m not a rap­per ... the lyrics are off. (And) I had seen those quotes when I go to New York some­times, so I was like, ‘This is leg­endary.’” – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Signs of life: artist Ja­son ‘Jay Shells’ Sh­elowitz with some of his rap quote signs. He con­ceived of a project to mark lo­ca­tions men­tioned in rap lyrics in New york and Los angeles with sign­boards quot­ing the lyrics. — MCT pho­tos

Tony Castillo stands at the en­trance of Fight Club, on Fair­fax Street in Los angeles, hold­ing a rap quote sign by Sh­elowitz.

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