You maybe ask you why Mode draw sexy ladys and erotic scenes on his walls and¬†canvas. You will have the answer on this very long and interesting interview of the characters King…
Confident, curvy women stand overhead, men kneel and bury their faces between parted thighs. And I think there’s a connection there. Rather than reappropriate and recycle porn shots, Mode crafts whole bodies out of lyrical line and movement and energy, with his hands. The effect is full of life.
This interview is epic, both in length and depth. I sent Mode a few questions, and what came back was a rich, thoughtful discussion on everything from graffiti and hip hop, to sex and culture, to street art. I fought the urge to follow up with more questions and my own thoughts, and took it as a sign that I should say less, and leave it to Mode, whose insight should stand interrupted.
The requisite, unavoidable first question: how did you get into art?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, though obviously I didn’t start out being any better at it than my two brothers and one sister, who were also into this. It was just one of the things we did to pass the time and entertain ourselves as small children.¬†
Coming to London in the summer of ’76 changed everything though, opening my eyes and ears and filling my head with so many new sights and sounds; whether it was the punk and dub culture, the rich diversity of other children at my primary school, or the comics that our mother gave us as an incentive to read English. The TV and the radio also flooded my brain with inspiration of all sorts.
I would also say that the release of Star Wars in 1977, and the weekly 2000 AD & Warlord comics were critical benchmarks for me, and provided a constant source of inspiration for many years‚Ä¶
You were actively involved in the early hip hop scenes in London and Paris. How do you think hip hop‚Äôs changed over the years?
As far as my involvement with Hip Hop goes, I started to fall out of love with it at some point during the mid- to late nineties, when rap overtook and eclipsed everything else that this culture had been about for me. By rap, I mean the type of lyrics, which tend to gloss over and glorify the more negative aspects of the socio-cultural or socio-political environment from which this culture first emerged. I was turned off of it regardless of the fact that these irresponsible words were musically supported by some of the most talented producers out there.
My ethos as far as Hip Hop goes is one that Bunny Wailer (or was that Peter Tosh?) once summed up in the following manner, ‚ÄúIn the ghetto, we put zero and zero together and made one;‚Äù making positive out of negative, where the state and the social services have abandoned the underprivileged and the disenfranchised to their own fate. We didn‚Äôt come from a well-off background in Mauritius, but it was no ghetto either. Still, our parents made a few wise choices in their lives, for the sake of their children, and also tried to bring us up correctly. The social environment that you‚Äôre born into doesn‚Äôt always allow you the luxury of options, and things can go the wrong way, even for those who did start out trying to do the right thing. This shouldn‚Äôt provide an excuse though, for all those who just give up on trying to turn things around, and choose instead to exploit and profit from their own neighbours‚Äô misery and loss‚Ä¶
Of course we shouldn‚Äôt be disproportionately idealistic about the origins and workings of this culture, as it wasn‚Äôt all rosy fun and games in the seventies and on, but I would still add that, if we look back to the early eighties, the crack culture and economy which swept across the United States deeply affected and influenced the development of the culture (or should we say that it caused its regression?), and transformed the value system from what skills you had to how much drugs you sold, people you shot, or bitches you had.
Music, being the one main aspect of the culture which could be transformed into a marketable product, took on a much more important role, as it brought money, whereas it was before then just one of the disciplines of the culture, along with the dancing or the ‚Äúgraffiti‚Äù-writing. It swallowed up all that DJ‚Äôs and MC‚Äôs could contribute to the whole, and eventually transformed them into some ghetto or gangster fantasy that was played out in the form of music videos, encouraging many a talented but short-sighted lyricist to do likewise.
Up until October ‚Äô86 and ‚ÄúWalk This Way,‚Äù by Run DMC and Aerosmith, Def Jam was the only big label with consistent big hits, but, a couple of years later, when the majors realized that even the small labels were getting into the charts, they decided that it was time to invest a little and cash in big on our culture.
Groups had their demos accepted because they sounded like the real innovators who had made their mark off of the quality and originality of their music alone, these same innovators which were each and every time different from their predecessors. This is what attracted us and excited us back then about the culture, just knowing that the few tunes coming out in the coming months would sound so new and fresh; making us always look forwards in what we did, wide-eyed, with an even wider viewpoint.
In the early eighties there was more electro being produced than rap, per say, lyrics-free music that you or I could interpret in any way we felt, enriching the diversity within our culture. The ‚Äúproblem‚Äù with lyrics is that they can become a two-edged sword, which could just as easily point in new positive directions, inspiring, uplifting, and empowering us; or else they could become some kind of formatting, programming, and brainwashing process of a more narrow-minded kind.