Art is open to interpretation; whatever you see is what you see. There are many different ways to interpret a piece of art. For instance, the painting you see above is open to interpretation.
What do you see?
I’ll tell you what I see. I see a runaway slave in danger. It looks like that brother escaped from a plantation and hijacked a boat to get back to Africa, but it ain’t gonna happen cause the sharks are gonna eat his ass alive! Looking at this makes me wanna yell: Row nigga, row!
Ok that is one way to look at it. Here’s another.
The brother is lost at sea and is in immediate danger. There is blood in the water, the waves are high, the sharks are circling, and it looks like there is a storm coming his way. It looks like the brother doesn’t have a chicken’s chance in Colonel Sander’s backyard of making it. His rickety boat has no sail and it looks like he has nothing to steer with either. In other words: the brothers in trouble. The phrase up a creek without a paddle takes on a whole new meaning when looking at this painting.
But if you look at the painting again look off to the left and in the horizon you’ll see what looks like a boat. The picture doesn’t look as bleak now. Maybe if the brother stays focused on surviving and if he has something to steer with, maybe, just maybe he can steer his way to that ship. All that to say the brother needs to stay aware of the immediate danger and concentrate on how he can get out of it, a’la get to that ship somehow someway.
You can apply that to your life anyway you want.
How about this photo, what do you see?
Easy answer: two guys named JDL and Master Rob posing hard, chillin' out.
Ok, but let’s look deeper.
First of all let’s start with this, who are these two guys? The gentleman on the left with the short afro and pork chop sideburns is JDL (Jerry Dee Lewis) of the pioneering rap group the Cold Crush Brothers. The man next to him with the bald head and shiny white sneakers is Master Rob of another pioneering rap group called the Fantastic Romantic Five.
In their heyday the Cold Crush and the Fantastic were the hottest groups on the streets of New York. Tapes of their infamous battle circulate the streets to this day. Ask anyone who was around back then and they’ll tell you: The Cold Crush won. But then someone else with salt and pepper hair and an expanding waistline will counter: Yeah, but Fantastic took the trophy home.
In their heyday their battle was the equivalent of Jay Z vs. Nas or Kool Mo Dee vs. LL Cool J. It was a heated rivalry, they argued on the streets and in the clubs. But never once did these guys exchange blows or fire shots at each other. Their battle stayed on the stage.
But let’s look a little deeper.
Both of these men are now middle aged and judging by their clothes are incarcerated. Dig on that for a minute. Here are two men in the prime of their lives, locked up. It doesn’t really matter what they are in there for. What matters is that they are there.
Their plight is no different from the hundreds of thousands of other brothers who are incarcerated today. But what’s the root cause? I’m no sociologist or psychologist so don’t get me to talking.
But I can say this: Jail is the place that people go to when they lose sight of what’s important. When we lose focus on what really matters, much like the brother in the painting, who, it seems is focused on the impending doom rather than his salvation. In all honesty, it is much easier to focus on immediate threats than possible hope.
When I see guys like them in that situation I think of three things: One: it is good to see their alive and the others are dead dreams and unrealized potential.
Many young brothers and sisters are in pursuit of that golden dream of a career in music. That is good. But, if you have no marketable skills and education, what happens is without the hope of an opportunity to make real money; you’ll get lost drifting from menial job to menial job without any hope of doing better. When hope is lost is when we tend to lose focus. And that’s when you see grown cats behind bars for some bullshit.
Photo of Master Rob and Hut Maker JDL is from the archives of http://www.jayquan.com