Creating phenomenal designs for some of the top urban labels on the market isn’t all Dubelyoo is about, though his portfolio of dope, hip hop-centralized paintings, sketches and graphic design might not lead you to believe that. Right now, Dubelyoo is focused on keeping it real, and for him, that means branching out into what’s really happening socially throughout America and worldwide.
Format had the chance to catch up with Dubelyoo, and from his home base, Atlanta, GA, hear a bit more about what’s really starting to take form in the direction of his artwork. It was pretty clear that although he can draw a to-the-tee sketch of Biggie, paint a tight perspective of Jay Z and have his name sought after by some of the fattest labels on the planet, there’s a lot more to Dubelyoo and his work than meets the eye.
Format: First off, tell us some of the labels you’ve worked with.
Dub: Oh man, I’ve done stuff for Nike, Burton Snowboards, Converse, Fubu, Ecko, LRG, Coca-cola, Heineken, Pepsi, AND1, Red Bull … but I haven’t done anything for Disney!
Format: Out of all the big label deals you’ve had, which one connects with you the most and why?
Dub: Well, a lot of the commercial stuff was just for advertising product, but I would say out of all the people I’ve done stuff for, RedBull, because Red Bull have been down to go on my wacky adventures with me, and they’ll take a chance. When I sat down with the rep at RedBull and said, “Listen, I wanna do a show about guns called My Uzi Weighs a Ton.” They were like, “Cool.” Other people wouldn’t do that.
Format: Tell me about your days as a young artist and how you’ve changed in terms of outlook since then.
Dub: Well I’m not that old, but the difference between me now and then, is that now I’m more honest with how I fit into the grand scheme of things. You come out of a gig thinking you’re the baddest thing on the planet, but the deal is, there’s being an artist and there’s being in art business, and as long as your art business stuff isn’t tight, you’ll always struggle. One dude, a friend of mine named Gilbert, said something I believe. He was like, â€œanybody that makes more money than he does, he can learn from,â€ and it’s true, especially when you’re an artist and you’re trying to go against the print game, and your stuff’s gotta be right for mass appeal.
Format: Are you striving for commercial mass appeal?
Dub: Well, that’s the tough part, because, I’m not trying to do pieces that I don’t like ’cause nobody wants to put bullshit out there. Anybody with integrity will have a problem with that. But the trick is, how do you produce something that you can live with that people will buy 10 years from now? It’s just like a singer writing a hit song. Some people don’t like singing their songs 30 years later, like “I don’t wanna sing Purple Rain no more!” So you really gotta dig it.
Format: What parts of you are in your art and designs?
Dub: I’m a traditional painter, I’m old school with it. A lot of people don’t think of that when they see my work, but I believe in practicing your craft and really trying to build strong imagery. As far as parts of me that’s in my work, I guess as far as it’s executed, ’cause I like to use a lot of texture and really bold colours, which you could say is tied to my personality.
Format: What’s it like working with Ecko?
Dub: One thing about Ecko is that Ecko gave a lot of young artists opportunity to work as professionals. I give them credit for that. Even though their projects can be difficult, I know it will always lead to a dope project in the end. And that’s rare, ’cause when you do something commercially for people you got a lot of heads putting their two sense in, and it usually kills the project or produces an inferior one.
Format: How do you stay grounded with all the commercial hype surrounding your work?
Dub: As long as you can learn something, you need to be humble, that’s how I feel – and you can always learn something.
Format: Do you consider your art to be serious in terms of its social impact?
Dub: That is a good question, because right now, I’m at a point as an artist where the hip hop stuff is cool, but I think there’s more to be said than just painting pictures of DJs and people rappin’. The show My Uzi Weighs a Ton, was me trying to break out and do something social. I was gonna do a show about MCs and DJs, but then I thought to myself, “Who’s gonna come to that? The same people that come to my shows and don’t buy anything anyway. The media won’t come, art fans probably won’t come, and you didn’t say anything important.” So, I decided to go with My Uzi Weighs A Ton, which focused on America’s fascination with firearms. It was hard to sell that idea. Even people I was cool with as far as sponsorship didn’t return my calls. When you start talking about doing a show on guns, people get nervous, but honestly, out of all the shows, that one had more of a social conscious to it. Next, I’m thinking of doing a show called Uncut Dope that’s gonna be about drugs. As far as being socially relevant, that’s where I’m taking my work right now. I’m also doing a show on Sudan, which you know; they’re not pretty pictures. That’s why being commercial and universally viable kind of bothers me, because it kind of goes against what I’m doing.
Format: At any time during your career, have you ever felt like you were selling out?
Dub: Every now and then you get a project where you’re like, “This is bullshit.” Usually it’s when the client doesn’t want you to do what you do. It’s like hiring a break dancer, and asking them to put on a tutu and do ballet. I think the experience I had at Fubu was weird and it was a case where I felt like I was selling out. Here’s the deal, my homeboy calls me up, right? This is a couple years ago, and he was like “Yo Dub, I got this gig with Fubu and it’s sweet money. All you gotta do is work 30 days in New York.” I was like, “30 days in New York, how much you talkin’?” It was gonna be like 15 Gs. They had a new clothing line that was gonna be real edgy design. I get there, and it’s edgy subject matter. I meet with the head dude at Fubu, and he’s like “Yeah-yeah, check this, we’re trying to do a clothing line, and we tryin’ to target ignant niggas on the corner from age 14-24″. And I was like, ok, ignant-niggas-on-the-corner? Some of the ideas they wanted me to do were crazy; clothing like, “I like trick-bitches.” Not many people know I was the dude that created that logo ’cause it wasn’t a cool project to be associated with. On the website, it had a nine-year-old holding a pistol looking through a peep hole. The deal is, I didn’t know it was gonna be like that ’till after I signed the contract, so I couldn’t just get up and walk out.
Format: What’s your mission, Convert the Wack all about?
Dub: It was a campaign that I came up with just to get the name out there. I came up with this “Convert the Wack” sign and had people take pictures with it. The thing is, you’re going out there and trying to change all the people that are corny, and show them there’s a better way to live. It’s a tough gig, ya’ know, ’cause a lot of people don’t know how corny they are!
Format: What effect do you think your work has on youth culture?
Dub: Well one, I hope the people look at it, and other artists look at it, and get inspired. I can’t see many parents out there pushing for their kids to go into the arts, but hopefully the young folks will view that as an option. There’s more things to do with your life besides sports and rappin’. I wanna be known as the dude that did more than just paint pictures of famous rappers. It doesn’t take a whole lot of mind power to do a 2Pac or Biggie, and I’ve done Biggie before, maybe two or three times for Scratch Magazine.
Format: What exactly does social relevance in art mean for you?
Dub: Unfortunately, we’re in a time where saying nothing is cool. It’s cool to make a song that really doesn’t mean anything, it’s cool to paint pictures that don’t say anything, it’s cool to make movies like that too, but you can’t have that being the predominant voice of nothingness out there. To me, social relevance is having an opinion or seeing things how you would like to see them, and then putting it out there for people to deal with, even if it makes them uncomfortable or even if they don’t like it.
When it’s all said and done, art is what they use to determine what a culture was about. When you look back at Rome, you don’t see pictures of gladiators and what they were doing, ’cause who cares? You look at the artwork, and that’s gonna be the thing that judges us, and it’s gonna be disappointing; but I hope it ain’t over yet.
Format: On your MySpace page, you claim to be a world famous artist. How has the fame affected you and your work?
Dub: I just thought that was funny, I mean, I’m not a world famous artist, but it’s cool; people knowing your work. The funny thing is when you meet people that have actually seen your work before, it’s weird because you just do what you do; e-mail your file to the company and they put it out, but you don’t know everybody that’s checking it out, so when people give you feedback it feels really good.
Format: As an artist, what does living and working in Atlanta do for your work?
Dub: You could be dope, but if you come from a tiny town nobody’s gonna give you the shot. Being in Atlanta is dependent on my work ’cause I’m around a lot of really great artists. They teach me things that I didn’t think about. One dude told me, “Ya know what Dubelyoo, your colours are flat; you need to get your colours poppin’. I thought my colours were popping, until I put it up against his stuff and was like, “Damn, you’re right!”
Format: With the Pepsi/Apple deal you had celebrating Black history month, what were you trying to achieve with your art?
Dub: With that one they gave us topics to address, and of course mine was hip hop, so I wanted to do a picture of a DJ without someone actually spinning, and show an MC without showing somebody rappin’. I wanted to take a typical situation and show it in an untypical way.
Format: What is Art, Beats & Lyrics all about and how do you play a part?
Dub: I co-produced it and basically it’s art shows with urban-themed events. First thing we did officially as a team was at the High Museum, where 4,000 people showed up. Then we did Cold Busted, and a party for the movie The Warriors. After that, the partner I worked with split off did a thing called Play, and then I went off and did the Uzi show, and now we’re probably gonna do another thing together.
Format: What’s up next for Dub?
Dub: I would like to produce a book. The idea, I’m still working on, but I wanna do something with hip hop legends. Right now I’m in the process of taking it to a publisher. End of the day it’s gonna be about 60 paintings, and I want it to be a collector’s item. But if it’s not gonna be dope, I don’t wanna do it. It’s gonna be all new stuff, and it’ll probably take me over a year to complete.