The Creative Benefits of Rap Fandom

I’ve been drawn to creativity all my life, and ultimately I don’t think I could say life would offer me much without the presence of creativity. Life experience is the source of creativity. It’s an ink well, a paint palette, sixteen bars, a concerto, a pose, Blue Steel, a slice of pizza.  An artist sees life around them, finds subtle and profound meaning in what can be seen, and what is rarely seen, and translates that into imagery. The imagery is sometimes visible, sometimes on in the mind; it can be audible, felt in vibration, picked up, held, consumed, and animated. The complexity of creating imagery — composition, conceptualization, history,  metaphor, and execution — when done well, is something to behold, and something inspiring.

An area of creative experience that has always fueled my work has been that of rap music. I’m not tied only to rap, and many days and many works in my studio are fed by several types of music. I will say first that working to black metal always seems to darken my palette when the work needs to go there. But when I think about rap music, I’m very particular. I’m not a fan of the entire genre and aspects of the more violent, sexist, and downright ignorant group of rappers that dominate the radio I have no interest in. I was introduced to a specific group of artists in the late 90’s that were doing something different. They were mostly white men from New York,  doing something completely new altogether. Two rappers/artists that I’ve followed closely are Aesop Rock, and Rob Sonic.

When I was introduced to them seems like ancient history, but I can specifically remember asking a friend where he’d bought the album The Sanity Annex by Sonic Sum, and going and getting it that same day. I can also remember the first time I heard “Delorean” by EL-P in my friend’s car on the way to the grocery store and had to know who the guest featured rapper was on that track. Over my years in college I followed Aesop and Rob, inspired by their ability to create such visually rich imagery in their music, as well as producing their own tracks. Alongside their music practice, I truly respect their collaboration with fine artists and illustrators in the generation of album artwork as a visual component of the audible work. They were, and have remained, a culturally relevant and of-my-generation example of artistic relevance, and mastery of craft.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet these two several times over the years at live shows around the midwest Indianapolis and Chicago, and last winter in Portland, Oregon where I’ve moved for graduate school. I’d consider myself a super-fan, sometimes to a nerdy degree. My wife and I stopped in San Francisco on our honeymoon and I dragged her to Grubstake just to buy a t-shirt for the Mallon Boys to sign at their next concert I went to. I’ve illustrated unofficial gig posters for shows of theirs, entered work in twitter contests, and framed signed posters from their album sleeves. Now I have no claim to say that I know these two as individuals, and we have certainly not had more than a few exchanges over handshakes, pats on the back, photos, and twitter replies, but being an artist, and a keen listener, it’s not hard to deduce quite a lot about these men as artists through the analysis of their lyrics and music. Any work of art can be a life story. Every word is truth in experience to some degree. Visual and verbal imagery leave traces, big and small, of the personal narrative behind it. While my focus in master studies is moving away from illustration, a need grows in my work for coded ideology, insight, and communication. I turn to rap music often to analyze the layering effect of metaphor and composition. Aesop and Rob seem to fold imagery in over itself, buried in layers, like rap inception. Their rap duo Hail Mary Mallon has been a delight to hear and witness. While solo work, as any artist can agree, tends toward a more serious and introspective experience, HMM takes a more playful approach to collaboration and pays homage to the early days of NYC rap. The metaphors and imagery that unravel out of each track are a time machine, an inside joke, a conversation over hamburgers, a breakdance party on a beach, a fundraiser concert. What I find is a confidence in skill, a mastery of verse and production, a complete authorship, and a willingness to ask new questions with and from the work. Over the years, like any group of visual, performative, or musical artists, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing an ongoing evolution in their work, a refinement of style and approach, and a deepening relation to that of fine artists. 

So if you’re an artist, of any kind, listen closer to your music. For me, there is something powerful to be gleaned from a rap song. Not imagery to appropriate, but as an example of the potential of experience, of the way a thing can be said, photographed, danced, or painted. I consider my fandom of Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic a valuable asset in my artistic practice. Just as any painter may study the work of Gerhardt Richter, Edward Hopper, or Claude Monet, There are also contemporary artists in a wide variety of fields and disciplines that are influencing the evolution of art. These two men are true artists, and an inspiration to me and many many others.

Here are some works of mine related to the article:

"The Wind-Blown Way Home" inspired by lyrics from Aesop Rock's track "Gopher Guts" -  Amory Abbott  ©2013

"Live from the Burgundy Camry" Unofficial Gig Poster for Hail Mary Mallon's Portland show. Amory Abbott ©2015 


"The Isle of Astonishing Motherfuckers" Fan Poster for Hail Mary Mallon - Amory Abbott ©2014


"Whiskers the Undead" 1st runner up for a twitter contest to draw a character from Aesop Rock's album Skelethon. Amory Abbott - ©2015


And finally here are some dumb/fun photos of me with the Mallon Boys. Thanks for reading!