Jay Shells Expands His Iconic Rap Quotes Art Project Into Murals

November 26, 2014 | Aymann Ismail

After getting New Yorkers to clean up their act with his etiquette campaign, artist Jay Shells has been memorializing iconic hip-hop lyrics with the Rap Quotes project. For the project, Shells identifies specific locations mentioned in rap songs, paints them on street signs, and posts them at the intersections they identify. It’s a way to pay homage to the music — and the city’s — roots. He started in March, first in New York, then branched out to LA and Philadelphia.

But there was always one problem with the installation art: The signs were so popular that they were stolen. “Within a week, these signs will be gone,” Shells predicted when he first put them up, and he was right (Posting art in the exact location identified in a popular song doesn’t exactly make it hard to find). Most of his signs were stolen within 24 hours.


So when Shells was approached by JMZ Walls to paint a mural recently, he realized he’d found the solution. Shells told ANIMAL that he requested to paint a wall near the Broadway and Myrtle intersection, as a more permanent way to commemorate Mos Def’s “Mathematics”:

“I was always hoping that the street sign project would open the door for something more permanent. Although I realize it wouldn’t always be possible to do a wall or a plaque on the floor for every single [rap quote], I thought it would be great to get a good handful of them to be more permanent. But even this one, because of the nature of these outdoor galleries that are popping up, in five or six months it’s going to be painted over, so it won’t even be permanent there, but it is definitely more in line with what I was hoping to accomplish.”

Now, Shells hopes to secure more walls:

“I’d love to [do more]. The thing is they take so long I really need legal walls to do these. It took almost an entire day to paint that, so as long as I can find legal walls near some of them I’d love to do more.”

Watch Shells install the original rap quotes sign here:

If you know have suggestions of lyrics for Shells, hit him via Twitter @TheRapQuotes.

(Photo: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)