Hip hop isn’t usually the first thought that comes to mind when you think of the Kentucky Derby. Beneath the seersucker suits, ornate hats, Benedictine sandwiches and mint juleps it simmers. This Derby, if Jabari Graham has his way, hip hop will reach its boiling point. That’s because for the first time the Jack Daniel’s Art, Beats and Lyrics (AB+L) tour is racing into Louisville.
Graham founded AB+L, which combines urban contemporary art with hip hop to create a one-of-a-kind lifestyle experience merging the two. In lieu of paying $100-or-more for some gala, urban dwellers, hip hop aficionados, art lovers or people just looking to continue in Derby revelry can cap off the night at Jack Daniel’s Art, Beats and Lyrics at Ice House (217 E. Main St.) on Saturday, May 7 at 8 p.m. The event is free, but RSVPS are required.
The Derby edition of A,B+L will feature performances from musical guests Twista, DJ Wally Sparks and Rich Medina. Visual masterpieces will be on display from co/founder, artist, Dwayne “Dubelyoo” Wright, along with Louisville-based artists Charles Rice and Red Biddix, to name a few.
Derby-Inspired Art Pays Homage to Past
Special Derby-inspired pieces will also be on display. Graham enlisted Lexington-based custom racing apparel company Bloodline Products to create replica jockey silks of two African-American jockeys: Willie Simms and Isaac Murphy. Simms won the 1896 and 1898 Kentucky Derbies and is the only African American jockey to win all three Triple Crown races. Murphy won three Kentucky Derbies in 1884, 1890 and 1891. In 1955, he became the first jockey to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.
“While doing research about the Kentucky Derby I was amazed by the many African American contributions to the Derby races, the families who owned horses and management/training of horses,” says Graham. “I think hanging their silks is just a cool way of acknowledging them.”
Just as A,B+L pays tribute to the past it also peeks into the future. Graham recognizes and appreciates the platform A,B+L creates for showcasing young, emerging artists.
“Not just in art but in promotions, too,” says Graham. “I seek young promoters/influencers/event planners for their assistance in spreading the word. Not only do I subcontract them but give them advice on how to get their project off the ground.”
A Platform for Emerging Artists
It wasn’t too long ago when Graham was in the same predicament. The concept of AB+L actually came about in 2004 after Graham was laid off from his position in promotions and marketing with The UniverSoul Circus. “At the time resumes just wasn’t working so I needed to find another way to get my name out there,” he says. “I’ve always been an art and music enthusiast; I just took what I learned from my previous job and applied it to myself.”
The first AB+L was held in an artsy area of Atlanta called Little 5 Points at a venue called The 5 spot. “I promoted the hell out of that event and packed it out, which led to doing the second AB+L at The High Museum of Art,” says Graham. “We packed out the museum as well, which ultimately gave me my job back at the circus. LOL.”
At the first A,B+L Graham met Wright and the two became partners. They decided to expand Art, Beats + Lyrics to other markets. In 2005, Jack Daniel’s, which is owned by Louisville-based Brown-Forman, came on-board to sponsor. The multi-city tour now showcases up-and-coming artists, along with seasoned veterans in art and music under one roof. Past headliners include Kendrick Lamar, the late Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest, Scarface, Clyde Stubblefield, Shock G, DJ Quik and Teddy Riley.
Despite hosting such big name headliners Graham is careful not to let the live music component overshadow the art. He does this through both event promotion and production.
“Sometimes I don’t announce the musical guests until the last week of promotions and lead with promoting the art,” he says. “And through the run of the show; when doors open till around ten we keep the music kind of low so people can look at the art and appreciate it. But after 10 p.m. we turn it up!”