Paint Where It Ain't: Illustrator Justin BUA's Legends of Hip-Hop
What becomes a musical legend most? Is it inimitable swagger? Is it formidable ring tone sales and a perpetually omnipresent social media presence? Though contemporary music industry standards would lead many to believe the hype of those transient criteria, NYC-based artist Justin BUA knows what’s really good. Conceived in the crucible of New York City’s rich melting-pot ethos, buttressed by his Jewish and Puerto Rican heritage, BUA understands the value of a good mash-up. That being said, it’s without question that the colorful experience of coming of age at a time when hip-hop culture was in the process of stitching together its vast and manifold patchwork quilt of influences is reflected in his vibrant palette.
His breathtaking new book The Legends of Hip-Hop (Harper Design/Harper Collins) further expands on that premise. While the visual aspect of hip-hop has traditionally been relegated to that of Krink and Sharpie-wielding graf writers and aerosol luminaries, Justin BUA’s remarkable output has proved that the art of hip-hop can’t be painted into a corner. And though his iconic fine art poster The DJ remains a bestseller to this day, his full resume is replete with enough jaw-dropping accomplishments to subdue even the most skeptical hip-hop curmudgeon. The Legends of Hip Hop clearly outlines his undying passion and love for the culture in an impressively unprecedented fashion.
Going beyond the perceived borders of the culture, BUA’s book spotlights his shortlist of the 50 most-influential figures on hip-hop culture via a collection of sketches and acrylic illustrations. The diverse list of honorees immortalized on canvas and paper include revered cultural architects (Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa), superhuman sports figures (Muhammad Ali), soul enigmas (Michael Jackson, James Brown), unsung heroes (Sha-Rock, Tracy 168), groundbreaking politicians (Barack Obama), and the dearly departed (Notorious B.I.G., J Dilla). In addition to photos of the artist at work in his studio and a forward by Public Enemy’s own Chuck D, the book includes BUA’s quasi-autobiographical musings on each legend adjacent to the accompanying portrait.
While there are certainly more than a few names missing from BUA’s distinguished list of legends, it’s refreshingly amusing to see his interpretation of some of the most celebrated figures in the game – such as MC Lyte repurposed in the image of Superfly. The Legends of Hip Hop serves as a celebration of the contributions of a select few who have shaped the preeminent culture of our time. A culture that has over the past 30 years restructured youth and popular culture, provided immense economic stimulus, influenced the concept of sociopolitical resistance, and helped challenge the notion of the status quo.
It also serves as a 160-page answer to the aforementioned question from an artist with an impressively flawless attention to artistic detail, well on his way to becoming the Rembrandt of hip-hop culture.