The Education of Clinton Hill

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Walk down Fulton Street in Brooklyn and you might find some people who have a lot to say about hip-hop and its cultural significance. Captured in a vivid spray of colors, these folk have been immortalized in the murals of African-American artist Brett Dizney-Cook.

One of the murals, with a smiling face on one board and a fist on the other, hangs on the facade of wooden scaffolding on a run-down building. The background of pale yellows, greens and blues seems to radiate from the warmer orange and dark green and purples of the figure’s face. The face is that of Mabusha Cooper, a.k.a Push, a talk show host for a hip-hop Internet radio station.

The Issues of Hip-Hop (Society) is a 16-piece collection displaying a side of hip-hop culture that Dizney-Cook, 32, thinks was missing from the Hip-Hop Nation exhibit currently at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The museum’s show, which purports to be a comprehensive history of hip-hop, showcases sneakers, hats and gold chains once worn by rap artists from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Hip-hop is more than just a lackadaisical museum display of commercial artifacts, says Dizney-Cook. “Hip-hop is a father with two children, a guy who’s writing a book on the history of Brooklyn, an entertainment lawyer, a woman working on her Ph.D at NYU, a former gang leader who works with teens on gang violence,” he says. “That is all hip-hop, and this is why I did my project.”

Dizney-Cook, who has installed his murals across the country as well as in Brazil and Barbados, wanted to give a voice to the people who were not included at the Brooklyn Museum show. Dizney-Cook tracked down his subjects in Crown Heights, Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant, like Isis, the former gang leader; Laurie Cumbo, the Ph.D; and Push the talk show host. Then he spent the first three weeks of September in his Harlem studio spraying the images on plywood. Dizney-Cook and his assistants then installed the 8-by-16 foot paintings–without any permission–on scaffoldings and facades in central Brooklyn.

His models also got involved in the project, coming to his studio to help him project and trace their images onto the wood panels, as well as paint the text that headlines each piece. Dizney-Cook asked each subject 10 questions about hip-hop, and posted the printed interviews on the border of each mural.

In early October, a bus tour of the murals turned into something like a roving gallery opening. Two of Dizney-Cook’s subjects took 50 visitors to the eight sites. At each stop, passersby gathered around the group, joining in a lively discussion of hip-hop and art and following behind the bus as it went to the next site. “It was great, because people saw what was happening and were able to be part of the tour,” says Cumbo, who directs the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts in Bed-Stuy.

“Part of this work is about building communities, both for those people who were involved, and outside the community–and with me,” says Dizney-Cook. “Those [people] are all family now–we shared a lot.” His work will be at P.P.O.W. Gallery in Soho this April.

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