Portuguese beat maker Mz Boom Bap links up with 17-year-old rapper Curtis Roach to produce an early 90s retro hip-hop track entitled ‘Heard Em Say.’ Anything that sounds remotely like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, or Illmatic in general, is music to my ears.
“everything from the drum programming to the sample selection to the subtle ringing distortion of the Akai s950 delivers a seldom seen old-school authenticity.”
Quartz published an interesting piece on the neuroscience and origins of “cool.”
Today, we define cool through the lens of fashion and consumption. Instagram is the fashion runway for generation thumbs. Social media influencers signal the new trends. Studies show that our medial prefrontal cortex lights up when we see something desirable in our feed.
But I found the history of the word cool most interesting.
“It was black Americans at the turn of the 20th century who first used “cool” as an expression of approval.
From blues to rock, from hip hop to Eminem, black culture is American culture.
Given the heightened racism in American politics today, it is worth examining why American culture became the cultural hegemony of the world in the first place. We are the hodgepodge of experiments.
And it is our duty to ensure American culture — one of openness and plurality — appears cool.
Manuel Zavaleta is a multi-talented artist based out of Queens, New York. He’s also an incredible colleague and good friend. We recently grabbed some lunch at a burger joint near his studio.
Take it away Manny…
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Manuel Zavaleta. I’m a former graffiti artist and video producer turned graphic designer, photographer, and now entrepreneur. Art is my creative release.
What are you currently working on?
I operate a photography studio in Queens called Style Engineers. I shoot there personally but am more focused lately on leasing the space out to photographers. Both Van Styles and Tracy Morris recently used my studio for some of their work. I enjoy offering other photographers a concierge service, making sure they have all the right equipment, wardrobe, and amenities needed to have a seamless shoot.
Some day I’d like to open up my studio to young art students and give them a few lessons on the basics of photography like Cooper Union did for me growing up. Having a “physical space” to play is important; it inspires creativity.
Where do you like to work?
I work best in a studio environment or out in nature. I prefer to be on the move rather than sit still in a chair. So getting out to the studio where there’s natural light and a good space allows me to get into the flow and rhythm like I used to do with graffiti.
Any there any similarities/differences between graffiti and photography?
“The craft of photography reminds me of graffiti.”
Once you spray something, it’s permanent. The aerosol is not tangible. The same thing happens when you click the camera, the photo is done. Both mediums are light, air and time. The art is really in your eye and movement. My friends say I look so happy in the process. You can go in with a concept in your head but you really can’t plan for the end product. But I don’t do graffiti any more.
What motivates you?
I think every artist want to be remembered like Rembrandt. But artists need to live to so that’s why I rent out the studio. The studio business is my entrepreneurial side. That friction between art and commerce is essential. The hardest part is the marketing and advertising.
What was your earliest ambition?
I always wanted to make album covers. Growing up in the 90s hip-hop era will do that to you.
Who’s your inspiration?
“Entrepreneurs are my gangsters.”
But not in the bad sort of way. You can do renegade art with class as Marc Ecko and Benjamin White both show. The entrepreneurial bug also runs through my family, especially my mother. In fact, her passing was the reason I got into photography. I needed an emotional release and now photography presents new opportunities.
You can find out more about Manuel’s work online here:
Time Is Illmatic is a feature length documentary film, told through the lens of rapper NAS and his bluesman father OLU DARA, which deconstructs
Nas’ indelible rap album Illmatic and the socio-economic and cultural conditions that inspired it.