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.