Hip-Hop started out In The Park - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

My father told me “Chase community, not money. Money comes and goes, but community is forever.” That was one of many gems Christian Rodriguez, also known as Tame Artz, dropped like a clumsy thief during our nearly three-hour-long conversation. Tame is heading up the second annual hip hop in the park festival this August 12th at The Oval PHL, celebrating 50 years of hip hop. He also recently unveiled a massive mural along with mural arts honoring the four elements, DJing, Emceeing, Breaking, and Graffiti here in Philadelphia. We sat and talked about the community he’s chased and the culture that raised us both, and why celebrating 50 years of hip-hop matters.

Josh Leidy: So Tame, can you tell us how you started out? How does a kid from Philly go from tagging on walls to making giant murals and orchestrating festivals?

Tame Artz: I was born in Puerto Rico, and grew up immersed in that culture, Salsa, the percussion things like that. I was nine when we moved to Philly, and I remember being completely enamored with the graffiti. I saw all over the walls, and I realized I had seen the same things in PR, I just didn’t connect it until then. I even remember my first real connection to the culture: my dad did a lot of odd jobs when we first came and he would occasionally take me with him, and one time when he was hanging Sheetrock, his partner was always writing something on the back. I later asked my dad what his partner, who later would become my mentor, what was he writing, and my dad said he didn’t know, he always writing stuff. It’s funny to me to think all these homes in North Philly have tags on there walls, hahaha.

JL: So, your fathers’ work partner became your mentor?

TA: Yes. Delta: if you know Philly graffiti history, you know Delta. He was integral in teaching me the steps and stages of graffiti. I already knew hip-hop music from hearing it in Puerto Rico, but he was my first real exposure to the art side. My family fostered that idea of learning from people in the community and giving back ever since we were little. That’s why I do the mentoring I do, because it will build a more robust and better community for us all.

JL: How did you get started writing graffiti?

TA: I’d get little tags up all over on the bus or the train and I’d do some more significant pieces where I lived. But art was always inside of me. My mother, may god rest her soul, was an artist so it was in me. As I grew I thought, how can this talent help my community? I have a gift and I knew I wanted to do something bigger.

JL: How do you find being a full-time creative person?

TA: It’s hard at times, just with the amount of time you put in. There are a lot of unpaid hours as an artist. There really isn’t downtime, but it’s fulfilling in a way no other job is, for me at least. What I’ve realized is managing my time better and enjoying what this life affords.

JL: Yes, working on your own you take so much more work on and because you’re in constant hustle mode you can burn out.

TA: Yeah, definitely. I really think mental health is something we don’t about enough, especially men, and I used to put so much pressure on myself when I was younger that I had to be always working. Even now working across continents with Red Bull and Snipes, I’m on calls at all hours. But I know when I need time, I take it. If I have to come back to 20 unanswered emails that’s what I’ll do.  Also understanding that at times I need to delegate responsibilities. That goes back to building that community and knowing you can rely on people to get things done. If I’m at an event to support my friends, I’m also there to help. That’s important in our community. I teach this in my workshops, there’s power in working together, in solidarity.

JL: You are putting on a festival that will be the second annual Hip-Hop in the Park at the Oval on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. What for you is the importance of celebrating hip-hop’s 50th anniversary?

TA: Hip-hop culture is something that comes from the most systematically oppressed areas and cultures, but it celebrates this magic that came from Black and Brown people and their cultures. Now it’s a worldwide culture and folks from so many backgrounds relate I think that speaks to its essence in the struggle. The struggle is something we can all relate to, across cultures, languages, and whatever. We all relate to the struggle. You can even thank in a messed up way the slumlords that were burning down apartments for insurance money for helping to have these Black and Brown people mixing the soul, disco, funk, and salsa eras to blend into this new thing.

JL: You recently unveiled a mural here at 9th and Cecil B. Moore Ave, titled “Know the Elements” How did that come about and how did you choose the people to represent?

TA: Yeah, that was an amazing experience. One of my favorite things about that mural is what I and my team were able to do with it and what we were able to represent. One of my favorite parts about working on it was at one point when we were painting it, there was a group of young Black girls walking past and I heard them say “I swear she’s Black,” speaking of Queen Jo on the wall. … And the joy I could see in these young women’s faces seeing themselves on the wall meant everything. But to how I picked the people on the wall, I chose people I know who’ve had an impact and people who were on the come folks like Queen Jo and DJ Nash being alongside legends like DJ Jazzy Jeff, El Niño, Skeme, and BoxWon, shows how this culture has lasted and is continuing. The biggest honor we can show is to honor each other. I also wanted to pick people that were still here to get their flowers. One of the unfortunate things growing up where we did was the only time people got murals were when they were gone and I wanted to change that.

JL: That’s amazing! I was really taken aback by just the size and scale of it.

TA: Yeah! In fact the piece was even bigger, when me and Bill were designing it, there was part we planned to shrink down to fit, and one of the people looking it over was Ginger Rudolph, one of the biggest best art curators in the world. While reviewing, it was like this part needs to be a mural of its own. So this is an exclusive for you, now that it’s all a go I can say we are working on part two of the mural and Reef will actually be helping to create that one.

JL: That’s outstanding man, congratulations.

TA: Thank you, yeah to basically submit one piece for review and walk away with two pieces approved was an amazing feeling.

JL: So you have the Hip Hop in the Park festival coming this is your second one, how do you get involved with that and what can folks expect from the festival?

TA: In previous years I had already been doing small festivals and monthly activations. Then Melvin and Taj brought the idea of  Black Soul Summer. Basically bringing together Black and Brown creative curators to get sponsorships to put on free events and community activities. Taj and Melvin already had The All Love Block Party, and to build a summer filled with events, we did a Juneteenth party and had DJ Nash do an International Bounce Party to celebrate that, July it’s the Block Party and August it was for me important to have an event that celebrates all the elements of hip-hop. That’s how the festival came about and obviously this year its importance is even more with it being the 50th Anniversary.

JL: What type of events and performers can people expect?

TA: One of the important things for me was to add in the other elements because if you just have performances it’s a rap show, not a hip-hop one. We obviously have artists performing like Reef the Lost Cauze, Schooly D, Tuff Crew, Peedi, and DJs like DJ Aura, DJ Nash, and DJ Jay Rock. But we will also have live graf writing bboy and bgirls dancing. We have Poetry readings. We have the legend, Ursula Rucker. It’s really gonna be an amazing event. August 12th from 12-9 at the Oval.

It’s really kind of funny and feels full circle for me to have this event in front of the Art Museum because I was the first graffiti artist to have a piece exhibited at the Philadelphia Art Museum about 12 years ago. It was part of an exhibit there for three months.

JL: Wow, that’s incredible. So yeah having it there is definitely a full-circle moment for you. How can people keep up with you and the festival?

TA: You can keep up with me on Instagram at @tameartz and you can free rsvp for Hip-Hop in the Park at BlackSoulSummer.com.

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