April 23, 2008 Arts » Cover story

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The art and soul of hip-hop 

The urban art exhibition Art, Beats + Lyrics hopes to inject new life into a troubled art form

Page 3 of 3

In addition, the event will also shine a spotlight on progressive performers who represent other elements of hip-hop -- such as vocal performer Taylor McFerrin (son of Bobby McFerrin), DJ Rasta Root (who's affiliated with Phife of A Tribe Called Quest), the Common Ground Collective (who'll bring live music to the party) and more.

"I want people to be exposed to something they've never seen before," Dubelyoo says. "Many of the people who'll come to Art, Beats and Lyrics won't be going to galleries and haven't been going to the museums. A lot of those images at the galleries don't speak to them. So hopefully we can get those people to come out. And we want the people who are into galleries and museums to broaden their horizons to a culture of people who they probably would have overlooked."

"We really want to promote art like Russell Simmons promoted the music side of things," says Graham. "And we want to do more, like take the artists to art schools. We're not too much older than these students. And if they see someone like them making money and doing what they want to do, that's some inspiration."

While Dubelyoo and Graham have good intentions, they also have their share of detractors. A contingent of art and hip-hop fans who've seen ABL shows in Georgia have leveled arguments against the group, claiming that the event -- with its corporate sponsorship -- suffers from the same commercialism it seeks to squash. Early ABL events received financing from Sprite, and the current tour, as stated a few paragraphs back, is backed by Jack Daniel's. Graham, however, is quick to dismiss the talk of cashing in and selling out.

"Some people who have sponsors sell out," Graham says. "I do have to put [Jack Daniel's] name on the tag, but [the event is] not watered down. If I can make that brand look good and make it make sense for my objectives, too, then why not?"

At the end of the day, it's that quest for the dollar that defines the problems and pleasures of hip-hop. Like Common said about hip-hop: "Looking for cheese/That don't make her a hood rat." The culture's market is larger than ever and begs to be fed. But, just like DJs and MCs jack beats to craft their own rythmic identity, maybe more folks with uncommon messages can snag some stacks and provide a foil for the legion of cookie-cutter, claptrap rap. To that thought, Graham offers one last bit of advice:

"Just be different."

Art, Beats + Lyrics rolls through Charlotte, visiting NoDa's Centerstage (2315 North Davidson St.) April 25 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. To register for this free event, visit www.jackdaniels.com/abl.

To see video footage of Dubelyoo and Taylor McFerrin, visit www.qccltv.com.
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