Most seven-year-olds boys are obsessed with Legos and their XBox, but not too many also draw 2 Live Crew album covers for fun, do t-shirt collaborations with streetwear clothing brands or have had their art commissioned by some of the biggest names in hip hop.
Then again, Yung Lenox isn't most seven-year-olds.]
For the last few years, the bespectacled Seattle, Wash. second grader has been steadily earning a name for himself as the foremost doodler of rap, loading up his Instagram feed with quickly drawn marker works of famous emcees and their albums – from Ice Cube's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted to ODB's Return to the 36 Chambers – that look like acid-trip versions of the originals.
After making some John Hughes movie covers for Frank Magazine, having his work displayed in New York during 2013's Frieze Week and winning deserved buzz from pop culture media like Complex and Huffington Post, Yung Lenox is now ready for his L.A. close up.
On May 8, “L.A.'s Most Wanted,” Yung Lenox's first California solo show will open at Gallery 1988 West, bringing the little dude's outsider perspective to West Coast hip hop classics.
“I haven't been to L.A. much,” says Yung Lenox, who has already drawn album covers of NWA, Dr. Dre and Tupac, “[but I'm excited] to see some of the L.A. rappers.”
The city's pop-art scene is excited to see him too.
While other pint-sized artists currently earning art-world acclaim (such as five-year-old Aelita Andre) have had their scribbly paintings labeled as “abstract” or “surrealist” by overzealous parents and hopeful curators, Yung Lenox's work – in addition being impressively realistic – actually represents something much smarter, a voice that makes perfect sense in L.A., a city built on fresh artistic perspectives.
“What drew me to his work, before knowing his age, is his approach to re-creating album covers so clearly on a level more childlike than the lyrics in the music,” says Jenson Karp, co-owner of Gallery 1988 West. “Raekwon vividly talks about drug sales and violence on his classic first solo album, and to see the cover redrawn in a childlike, coloring-book style – no matter the age – it's an ironic take on something so iconic in the minds of my generation.”
So how did this nerdy looking honor roll student from the Pacific Northwest become the coolest kid in contemporary rap culture and L.A.'s latest art phenomenon? According to his father, Skip Class – a copywriter and branding consultant who manages and encourages his son's artistic output without a sliver of stage-dad tendencies – it all started with Gucci Mane.
“He was drawing superheroes all the time and he would keep asking me who he should draw and one day I jokingly said, 'Gucci Mane,'” Class says. “Lenox said, 'Who's that? Is that even a real name?'”
Class showed him a photo of the Alabama rapper, and within 20 minutes, Yung Lenox had drafted a recognizable copy. Later, he did the same with Max B, then Geto Boyz, then A Tribe Called Quest. In all, he has done nearly 100 music and pop culture pieces and continues to draw about 20-40 minutes per week, a small fraction of time compared to the amount of hype he has received for his work.
Yung Lenox, for his part, hasn't let any of the attention go to his head. He nonchalantly tells people that he “think[s] rappers are weird” and that his current occupations include “Lego maker, school worker, librarian, biking, baseball and pillow fighter.” Drawing, to him, is only “medium important.”
“The biggest thing we notice is just how normal it all is,” Class says. “Some kids go to piano lessons after school or do a sport and Lenox draws rappers, you know?”
The juxtaposition between Yung Lenox's normal life and artist life is striking. On a recent weekend, he played in a baseball game with his Little League team, but on Sunday, he got to interview his favorite rapper, Kool Keith, which was filmed for a mini-documentary currently being shopped. According to Yung Lenox's Instagram, the two discussed “doo doo pistols, green women and yellow legal pad paper.”
The show “L.A.'s Most Wanted” promises to be striking in an entirely different way, presenting dozens of unseen works from a young artist on the rise. Though most of his art has been viewed by fans through a computer screen – where they appear fairly accurate and precise – the L.A. show is an opportunity to witness Yung Lenox's portraits and album covers up-close, exposing their true grit.
“Sometimes you just want to have fun and be excited about something new and catch a career early in the process,” Gallery 1988's Karp says. “That's what Yung Lenox, and Gallery1988 as a whole, is all about.”
Yung Lenox's “L.A.'s Most Wanted” opens Thursday, May 8, Gallery 1988 West, 7308 Melrose Avenue, Fairfax. (323) 937-7088, nineteeneightyeight.com
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