“Let’s face it. What I’m doing isn’t really vandalism,” Jay Shells tells ANIMAL after a weekend of putting his site-specific Rap Quotes around Philadelphia. “But the questionably legal act of installing signs became trickiest around City Hall and the Liberty Bell where an abundance of bored security guards are waiting to flex on a smart ass like me.”
But he got it done. Jay installed 22 new signs with lyrics from Black Thought, Action Bronson, Beanie Sigel, Meek Mill and more. Danny Brown — who “used to have that crack like the Liberty Bell, but now I hit chicks with lips like Estelle” — was subtly zip tied outside with a clear view of the bell through the window.
I filmed Jay for days last year when he launched the project in New York, slyly installing his uncanny street signs near corners, projects and precincts. He even put up Lil Fame calling out “clockers down on 73rd that was drug associated since the 70’s, word” right outside their driveway. Since the project blew up, hip hop fans around the country had been asking Jay to come up or come down. He’s already hit up Los Angeles, where he got plenty of love. There 150 signs nationwide, with lots more to come.
“Philly is the least populated city I’ve ever been too,” Jay says, his sights set on Detroit in the future. “Most places we went, I found myself wondering where everyone was.” So we didn’t encounter too many locals. Jay was putting up his second sign on Tasker Street when one older fella ran out of his house in his socks, asking what we were doing, but he scratched his chin approvingly after Jay explained it was a public art project. “Oh, okay, I know Jay Electronica, very good,” he said and went back to his house.
“I guess he was feeling it,” Jay says. “A few people outside a church on Vine began discussing the lyrics while I was installing. They were into it. They appreciated that the corner where their church is has a mention in music.”
Some spots didn’t even have any street poles, so Jay had to resort to two-sided tape, like with his favorite, Black Thought’s “So I’m meditation’ on how to maintain, stepped off at City Hall into the rain.” A few signs shouted out cheese steak spots — Action Bronson on Ishkabibble’s, Will Smith on Jim’s and Pat’s. Jay thought it would be nice to hand the people working in the stores their very own signs. They were pretty stoked about it. Outside of Pat’s and Gino’s, we saw some old Trusto-corp and Russell King signs that have been there for a while, so Jay thought his would last longer than other cities.
“I had two signs for the Plateau in Belmont Park, one from Bahamadia and the other from The Fresh Prince,” Jay says of our favorite spot. “We rolled up and people were cooking out, there was a DJ bumping classics and an overall party vibe.”
We had a dope time in Philly. Jay was amped to see a few of Steve Powers’ walls in person, as well as some of the largest rollers (peace to Texas and Gane). “Philly has a lot of flavor, and I will happily go back anytime.” If you know some lyrics that Jay missed, hit him via twitter @TheRapQuotes. What’s next for Jay? “Atlanta in October. Catch me at the Claremont Lounge getting dirty.”
(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)