What is a map? And how does it outline space? Or rather, how does it connect and disjoint place, culture, time, and the relationships in-between? Jay Shells has been physically mapping out a history of rhyme and neighborhood narrative with his The Rap Quotes project, which utilizes rap lyrics and nondescript street signage as an ode to hip hop’s street love. It began in New York City, when Jay was considering Big L’s notorious line “On 139 and Lenox Ave. there’s a big park/And if you’re soft, don’t go through it when it gets dark.” He posted the lyrics up on a red street sign right by the park L described and the idea clicked, sparking a dialogue of music, nostalgia, and place that he felt hadn’t been told in this way before.
Visiting these locations and installing the signs by hand has Jay performing a pilgrimage of sorts, marking his stops with hefty slices of rap history. The Rap Quotes expanded naturally to the West Coast in December, when Jay posted up 45 signs around Los Angeles with a range of lyrics about our city like the classic Biggie line “Met a bitch at the Versace store, said she suck it ’til I ain’t got no more, only in LA” from “Going Back to Cali” to The Game’s shout out to everyone’s favorite chicken and waffle joint, “You know I love you liked cooked food. I’m a good dude, let’s hit up the Roscoe’s on Pico, I’m in a hood mood.”
The project returned to LA today with an exhibit at our friend Jensen’s Gallery 1988 (East) on the corner of Melrose and La Brea. We stopped by early to chat with Jay about his plans to expand the project into Philly and possibly take it global, and how he wants to work with the city to create permanent plaques since the signs get stolen so quickly (something he actually doesn’t mind at all). He previously said in his interview with the LA Times that he thinks of the signs as a “hidden gift” for those who take time to observe their surroundings - us curioser folk that prefer to pause and read a sign. Or stop to look at - and really think of - a map.
You can stop by Gallery 1988 (East) at 7201 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90039 between now and May 17 to catch the exhibit. Check out our video and photos from the event below: