Troy Lamarr Chew II is the Subject and the Author in "Ya Feel Me?!"
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of hip hop, new paintings by the artist remix venerated hip hop album covers and music videos with Chew’s face supplanting that of the musical artist. Spanning 30 years of music history, the paintings showcase the evolution of fashion, sound, lyrics, and form that each musical artist pioneered. This new body of work continues Chew’s ongoing exploration into the semiotics of hip hop in which he teases out the symbolic innuendo of lyrics and slang. In the new paintings, titled after lyrics by the musician portrayed, Chew destabilizes the role of the visual artist and draws attention to how we identify with pop culture media. Like a musi- cian sampling from across genres and cultural histories, Chew uses his musical idols across decades to produce his own unique type of authorship, representing himself simultaneously as the producer and the consumer. Each self-portrait inhabits the par- ticular confidence of the musical artist depicted while also bringing humor to his own journey of self-realization.
In Supa dupa fly Chew inserts himself into Missy Elliott’s 1997 music video for her first single ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’, sporting her immediately recognizable “gar- bage bag” suit and glasses helmet viewed through a fisheye lens. Missy’s costuming in the video purposefully accentuated her chubbiness, underscoring the trait she felt served as her biggest obstacle to stardom. In leaning into this insecurity, Missy dared the audience to criticize her in the face of her undeniable talent and original voice. Similarly, in Chew’s painting, the vulnerability of a self-portrait becomes a point of strength, bolstered by the artist’s technical precision and comedic approach. Through occupying Missy Elliott, Chew paradoxically announces coming into his own artist identity.
Drawing from Chew’s personal connections to hip hop, Ya Feel Me?! spans decades of musical output and shifts in how audiences connect with musicians. The evolving means of musical consumption are visible across the paintings in the exhibition, from defunct TV channel logos to graphics of new streaming services. Hustlers-r-us, Game sharper than a elephant’s tusk. depicts Chew occupying the 2006 album cover for Bay Area rapper E-40’s highest grossing record My Ghetto Report Card. Chew has made cheeky edits to the text which reads “T-40, My Ghetto Art Show” and replaces the pa- rental advisory sticker with his own name. By taking ownership not just of the musical artist’s image but the CD packaging, Chew draws attention to the changing physicality of media. Music eras unite through Chew’s identification with each musical artist, his self-portraits becoming representations of the connective tissue each consumer brings to their idols, this artist included.