The Charlotte Renaissance
BY: JUSTIN MURRAY
We are all familiar with the term “concrete jungle”. It originally derived from Bob Marley’s song, “Concrete Jungle” where Marley talks about living in the ghettos of Jamaica. The song incidentally made its way to the US and became a popular phrase, used to describe urban city life. More specifically the African American experience within a given city. Stemming from the streets of New York City and Chicago, the term “concrete jungle” also applies to the city of Charlotte.
Throughout our very own Queen City there is an overwhelming amount of urban talent. Raw and without form just like the beginning of our planet earth, this talent has yet to be truly explored. Urban artists have utilized the arts to mirror their experience and to choreograph their daily lives. This form of art is original in its nature because of the rich creativity and deliverance it brings forth.
With the use of music, poetry and art the urban culture would cease to exist. Through music urban artist are able to find rhythmic patterns and create beats that flow like a native drum. The tone used in urban music brings forth a soulful melody that has the ability to enchant even the hardest of hearts. Likewise, urban poetry often utilizes expressive dialects to visualize the inner self of the urban artist. In an attempt to reach another level of self consciousness urban poets strive to release their emotional energy with scripted expression. One of the most influential and vibrant forms of expression for an urban artist is through painting. Whether it be a canvas, a wall, or an abandoned street corner building, the urban artist is able to capture their surroundings using the tools that have been given to them by the concrete jungle.
When surrounded in a community whose culture seems to be filled with violent lyrics and negative stereotypes; Antonio Smith, a local artist finds his release through music. Going by the stage name, Sincerely; Smith has created a style based on poetic principles. While he strives to create thought provoking verses that sync with harmonic melodies. His touch with realism is something uncharacteristic of the new age music artist. Smith’s goal is to inspire and encourage everyone that listens to him. A self-taught musician, Smith plays the piano and writes his own songs, pulling from his past experiences for material. Smith’s passion for music comes from an internal fire that smolders quietly inside his body. As he releases his music with fervent passion and a vivid anointing, Smith brings energy to the urban artistry. Smith’s motto, which he uses as guidance when creating music is as genius as his music. “Everything I touch might not turn gold but everything I touch will have soul”.
There are hundreds of artist like Smith, who strive for internal expression while attempting to capture the world around them. One of those artist goes by the name of “Rando Bando”, formally known as Randy Johnson. With the stroke of a brush, Johnson finds himself painting contemporary scenes and figures at a whim. His motivation for art began as a child but did not flourish until he turned 17. Johnson’s expertise exists somewhere between the grounded and the uplifted. Working within his own framework of urban beauty, Johnson strives to create images that visualize the urban soul. Johnson’s artwork is nothing short of triumph. His views toward the arts are what drive him towards meaningful expression. “The need for expression through the arts is what really drives me” Johnson says, “art is passion, it’s love, it’s everything. Without art, you don’t have soul, and soul is essential to life”. The different pathways that unify different forms of urban art are not smooth and steady, in fact, they are the contrary. These pathways are long and narrow. Filled with misguided hope, disappointment, and often misfortune. The urban artist can not truly express themselves until they walk down this path, taking one step at a time.
Though this road may be one of solidarity it can also present encouragement from outside forces along the way. At the University of North Carolina, Janaka Lewis; an English Studies professor, appreciates the importance of urban art. “When I was growing up I was introduced to Nikki Giovanni and after reading her work it opened my eyes to poetry”. Urban art in its truest form has the ability to bring social concerns out of the shadows and into the light. Often with urban art, there is a direct reflectance of social issues that are exposed by urban art. According to Professor Lewis, “Art is essential to survival”. Without the influence of art, urban artist would not be able to release their conflicts peacefully. Through poetic liberation Professor Lewis was able to put her mind on paper. Being a former artist herself she believes, “The biggest challenge all urban artist will face is the ability to control their performance without giving to much away”.
To the urban artist, the ugly is the beautiful, the pain is the healing, the struggle is the victory. The artist who lives within complexity will strive the furthest. Existing in uncertainty builds character and forges determination. These characteristics are what construct the urban artist and makes them unique. The Charlotte Renaissance is upon us; all we have to do is just watch.