ICONS: A Night With Legendary Graffiti Artists Prime and Man One [Photo Essay]
What do hip-hop and architecture have in common? More than most people think, according to Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, a traveling exhibition that hit L.A.’s Helms Bakery District this fall. Curated and designed by Sekou Cooke, the exhibition explores the rich world of hip-hop, from the movement’s fundamental elements, like emceeing and graffiti, to its lesser-known impact on design and architecture.
During the exhibition’s L.A. stopover, legendary graffiti artists Jose “Prime” Reza and Man One stopped by the gallery for a conversation with moderator and NOT REAL ART founder Scott “Sourdough” Power. The event, ICONS: A Conversation with Legendary Graffiti Artists Prime and Man One, gave the three longtime friends a chance to chat about their personal experiences navigating the changing street art scene in L.A.
“What does hip-hop mean to me? Freedom of expression,” says L.A. native Prime, who supplied the exhibition’s distinct gallery wall graffiti. Scroll through to see a selection of images from ICONS and learn more about hip-hop’s influence on the urban environment. Then mark your calendars for tomorrow—we have one more surprise in store for fans of hip-hop, graffiti, and architecture.
Legendary graffiti artist Jose “Prime” Reza and muralist Man One join arts media mogul Scott “Sourdough” Power for the ICONS panel at Helms Bakery District on Sept. 15, 2023.
L.A.-based muralist Man One mingles with gallery goers at Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, a traveling exhibition appearing at Helms Bakery District in Culver City, CA, June 22 through Sept. 17, 2023. The exhibition is part of the Los Angeles Design Festival, an annual citywide event whose 2023 theme was “Design for the People.”
Curated and designed by Sekou Cooke, Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture includes groundbreaking work from students, academics, and practitioners that’s rooted in the core ethos of hip hop: identity, process, and aesthetics. The exhibition features experimental visualizations, installations, façade studies, building designs, and urban development proposals.
Wrapping up the exhibition, ICONS: A Conversation with Legendary Graffiti Artists Prime and Man One took place at Helms Bakery District on Sept. 15, two days before moving on to the Museum of Design Atlanta.
Considered the founding father of L.A. stylized graffiti, Jose “Prime” Reza flooded the gallery walls of Helms Bakery with his distinct hybrid of Cholo lettering and East Coast-style writing. “[Cholo writing was] my stepping stone into the arts,” Prime tells Scott. “It has opened my eyes with regard to what it is and what it was used for.”
“[Graffiti] has gotten a lot more attention as an art form,” says Prime during the ICONS panel. “Sometimes, we get some graffiti mixed up with other [things], whether it’s gang graffiti or East Coast graffiti. People think that they are the same, but they’re not the same. [They have] two different messages. In the last few years, I think [graffiti] has made a giant leap. A lot of people are interested in it.”
NOT REAL ART founder Scott “Sourdough” Power moderates the ICONS discussion between longtime friends Man One and Prime, who trade stories about growing up in L.A.’s graffiti and hip-hop scene. “If it wasn’t for hip-hop, I would never have gotten my name,” says Man One.
“One day, I was on a bus and some kid was tagging on the bus. I asked him what he was doing, and he [said], ‘Just graffiti. Here.’ He gave me the marker and said, ‘Put something up. Just don’t put your real name.’ I was listening to Mantronix on my Sony Walkman. I started writing ‘Mantronix’ and that was the first time I did any tagging. It stuck and I wanted to do [it] all day long.”
Filmmaker, friend, and NOT REAL ART collaborator Badir McCleary (far right) stops by the ICONS event to see the work in Close to the Edge. An L.A. resident with a passion for public art, Badir has built a reputation for breathing life into the city’s forgotten neighborhoods with projects that support or resurrect visual culture.
Prime’s style, a combination of Cholo lettering and East Coast-style writing, is bold and instantly recognizable on the gallery wall of Helms Bakery District.
“That’s the most freedom that [graffiti artists] can experience,” he tells the audience at ICONS. “When there’s a giant surface we can play with.”
All photos published with permission of the artist(s); photos: Monica Orozco.
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