Jay Shells: The “Rap Quotes” Book

Context and placement are key to the success of Street Art. Jay Shells’s project, “The Rap Quotes” more than meets those standards. Indeed his project might be one of the most relevant examples of street art responding to a specific time and place in history that you’ll ever see.

Jay Shells: The Rap Quotes Coast To Coast. Dokument Press. Sweden, 2019.

We’ve been repping Jay Shells (Jason Shelowitz) for years since we first found his text-based signage on Brooklyn streets in the oddest of locations. Within a short time they began to make sense, and then brilliant sense – since they acted as a GPS for some of your favorite rap lyrics. 

“What if somehow these lyrics existed visually, in the exact location mentioned?” he says to illustrate his original idea.

Since that time the artist has taken his Rap Quotes across the country (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles), faithfully hunting down streets and neighborhoods and corners and businesses referenced by a host of recordings from classic rap era and a few of the new kids on the block as well.

“I’ve always had a serious passion for lyricism, partly because I’ve always been envious of people who are gifted with words,” he says in his new hardcover book that documents the 5 year campaign. It is gratifying to see him out scaling the telephone poles and climbing ladders with drill in hand to post these signs. They are a semi-permanent claim to public space and people’s history at the same time; a recognition of an art form of writing that rarely gets such laudatory treatment.

See the video at the end documenting the process – which Shelowitz credits as being the force that encouraged him the most. “My friend Bucky (Turco) ran a magazine and website called Animal New York, and when I told him about the project, he wanted to be involved. He introduced me to his newly hired photographer and videographer, Aymann Ismail at a party on a Friday night in early March 2013. We hit the streets early the next morning to get the 30 signs up, with Aymann document the process. About a week later, they posted the video and photos with a short write-up, and the rest is history.”

Check out some photos of the book in the mean time.