Al-Baseer Holly – From Hip Hop to Hip Art

Al-Baseer Holly | In episode 84 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks with visual artist and former member of the Hip-Hop group Philly’s Most Wanted

Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, The Fugees, Pharrell all wanted a piece of Philly’s Most Wanted, but then the dream fell apart, forcing Al Baseer Holly to go back to the beginning, finding comfort and success in his first love, painting. We talk about the early days, what went wrong, how he’d do it different and how painting Rita Ora’s Birkin Bag changed everything.

 

Read Transcript

Q&A

 

David: [00:00:13] 

Few artists are able to successfully pivot from one medium to another, but this week’s guest has made the transition and come out on top. Today, he’s known as Al-baseer Holly, an artist with a burgeoning career, who appears in ads for Courvoisier and shows in galleries and museums. But not too long ago, he was known as Boo-Bonic of Philly’s Most Wanted, a hip hop duo who’s first album was produced by the Neptunes, AKA Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. For a hot minute, they were all the rage. Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, the Fugees, all wanted a piece of what PMW had. Eventually they signed with Atlantic Records, had a hit, toured the world, put out a second album, and disbanded. In his second life, he paints and owns Tango Hotel, a clothing company that features his designs. Welcome, Al-baseer.

 

Al-baseer: [00:01:13] 

Thank you. Thank you for that introduction. And well- well said. Well said. [laughs]

 

David: [00:01:15] 

[laughs] Thanks, man. So what was it like growing up in Philly and wanting to be a rapper, while all the attention was on LA and New York? Philly didn’t have any artists that had been signed at that point, right?

 

Al-baseer: [00:01:30] 

Yeah. It was really hard. First, before it even got to the label part, it was a lot of footwork because there was no buzz generated around that area in general. There was no social media, no Internet, really. You had to like be on foot, go around battling people, and once we actually got to the point where, we started to gain some notoriety and the labels started to come down, they still were trying to tell us like don’t, Cause our name was Philly’s Most Wanted, they would be like, “Let’s just cut it, The Most Wanted. And you guys can kind of piggyback off of New York.” And we were like, “No. Like we’re from Philly. We don’t want to piggyback off of New-” basically, they wanted us to act like we were from New York. So that tells you what the scene was like at the time that we got signed.

 

David: [00:02:20] 

But it was a scene, right? There were a lot of rappers, a lot of battles.

 

Al-baseer: [00:02:24] 

Yeah, a lot.

 

David: [00:02:24] 

But it was all very community. And that’s something that’s really unique, and interesting about the rap scene in general. The sense of community.

 

Al-baseer: [00:02:34] 

Mhm.

 

David: [00:02:34] 

Even though they’re battles, literal and just, word battles, but physical battles.

 

Al-baseer: [00:02:40] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:02:41] 

But there’s still a sense of community around it.

 

Al-baseer: [00:02:44] 

Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. It was- I mean, it was, like, it was us, Major Figgas, uh, Eve, Charli Baltimore, Beanie Sigel, Cassidy. Um. We all literally battled in the same house day in and out. And none of those dudes had record deals at the time. We actually had the first record deal on the table, and Major Figgas, they actually were signed first. We had a deal before them, but we didn’t sign our deal for a year and a half. They signed the Rough House, I believe it was, or Rough Nation, immediately. So they actually were the first group signed out of Philadelphia. And then Beanie Sigel came, and then we came.

 

David: [00:03:32] 

So it’s still kind of a difficult thing, right, to be out of the spotlight and try to, build your repertoire, but at the same time I feel like it’s also an advantage in some ways, you don’t have to be influenced by the major market and try to fit in,

 

Al-baseer: [00:03:49] 

Yeah. Yeah, it’s like we could find our own niche. Own it. We felt really good about the sound that was coming, the new rap renaissance that came out of Philadelphia at the time. And, had a lot of support from like The Roots and people who were established already. It was a good time, a really, really good time. I’d like to see a documentary about it one day, cause there’s a lot of unsaid things and a lot of unknown things about that whole time in hip hop history in Philadelphia.

 

David: [00:04:26] 

Yeah, man. Maybe you could make it. That would be cool.

 

Al-baseer: [00:04:29] 

Yeah, I was talking about it very recently with, a some people.

 

David: [00:04:33] 

I was reading an article in Fader, like a long article, about the history of- of your group.

 

Al-baseer: [00:04:39] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:04:39] 

And it was trying to make sense of your musical career, and I’ll read a little piece of it. It says, “It was death by a thousand moves of minor management. It didn’t help that the video for the big single was banned by BET for being too overt in its drug smuggling ethos, its cruel arbitrary fate for a very good rap record that, by virtually any measure, should have made its creators bankable for the next decade of their lives. Instead, the group was left behind by two runaway trains, The Neptunes and Roc-A-Fella. And just a few years later, simply ceased to exist.” Do you agree with that assessment?

 

Al-baseer: [00:05:19] 

One hundred percent. The reality is I’m much older and wiser now. So it was a point in time where I put a lot of blame on management and mismanagement, you know? And, I’ve come to terms with that kind of thing. Like yeah, I’m sure they made some mistakes, but the biggest mistakes were made by me and my partner, because at the end of the day, we’re our own beings and we’re responsible for ourselves. And to let anybody dictate what we were trying to do, when we actually knew what was the right thing to do, and went against that for whatever reasons, it’s on us. So- so like, yeah, it was very painful to watch, um, both of those trains move out, when we knew how much we had to do with it, how often Jay-Z tried to even get us off Atlantic Records. You know what I mean? Like it was just all these things behind the scenes happening. And to see how it all panned out in that very beginning point, that it- it was painful. I can’t even lie to you, because like I’m watching people buying houses and cars and becoming millionaires, like right in front of my face, and we knew that we were right there too. You know what I mean? We were on the way. We made some money, for sure, but not nothing like we could have and should have, you know what I mean? One story I’ll tell you, like because of the BET thing. We went on tour with Cash Money, um, opening up for the Baller Jingles tour. And, um, we would come out and we would do, you know, they- “Philly’s Most Wanted.” And the crowd be like, you know, like [claps] And, uh, we’d be rapping and rapping and rapping, and then as soon as Cross the Border come on, you could tell, like the whole crowd just go crazy. Like, “Oh shit.” Like they just realized it was us, because we didn’t have any visuals out there because it got banned. So they didn’t know. They knew the song. It was number three in the country forever. But they didn’t know us. Like they didn’t know what we looked like. So like that really hurt us too, the video getting banned by Stephen Hill and those people over there at BET. So, you know, perfect storm.

 

David: [00:07:34] 

But that song also was interesting in that it was reaching out to other cultures, other kinds of music. It was opening up people’s minds. Even though you guys were hard, coming from Philly, everyone knows what that was like.

 

Al-baseer: [00:07:49] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:07:49] 

You still were open to other ideas and other kinds of music.

 

Al-baseer: [00:07:53] 

Definitely. It was very melodic. Very, heavy Mexican influence you know, like we were doing shows in like El Paso and all these crazy places that like I couldn’t believe music was taking. And just watching how that culture was really into that song, among others. But like it was really cool to see because- sitting with Pharrell, he knew all this before we even made the record, you know? So like to hear him break it down and tell us what was going to happen, all that kind of stuff, and then to actually see it take place, it was crazy. I was like, wow, this is really cool. We were really young at the time. We never experienced any of this stuff, so it was very, very cool.

 

David: [00:08:40] 

Very cool. Very exciting. And also working with The Neptunes and Pharrell, as you said.

 

Al-baseer: [00:08:46] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:08:46] 

When you first, uh, you know, met him, did you feel right away that he understood what you were doing and that you were working with some kind of special crew in the house there in Virginia Beach?

 

Al-baseer: [00:08:59] 

Yeah. Virginia Beach. I’ll tell you the entire story. I was just actually speaking to somebody the other day about this. Rich Christina who was our A&R at Atlantic Records. You know, we’re just getting signed, and everything is exciting. He’s like, “Yo, I’ve got a Nike guy, um, who works with Nike. He can get you guys anything you want. His name Chambers.” And we’re like, “Nike? Like we get all of this free Nike?” Like we couldn’t wait to meet him. So he was like, “We have a meeting set up, with him, but he’s talking to another guy that we hooked him up with because we want y’all to work with these guys too. They’re called The Neptunes, they did Noreaga’s record.” And we’re like, “Yeah, yeah, that record’s crazy.” You know, like so we go to the studio and Astor’s there, and Pharrell’s there, Chad’s there. Now Pharrell’s on the phone the entire time, when we first got there, he was on the phone. He’s sitting in the lounge area. We’re like, “Yo, um, you know, we’re from Philly, da-da-da-da.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I heard y’all crazy. Like let me hear y’all.” So we just start rapping. I don’t mean- I can’t even tell- No, he played this Eclipse video, uh, The Funeral. And, they had just been released from their record label, and he was like telling us all about it or whatever, and he was like, “Let me hear you guys.” It wasn’t one of his beats, I know that much. It might have been a capella, but we rapped and was rapping and rapping, but he was on the phone, and then he’s like, “Let me call you back.” And he hanged up the phone, and he’s looking at us like- like, “What the hell?” And we just kept going, And then he hopped up and he was like, “Alright. Come here, let me-” And took us in the studio. And he was like, “This a record I’m working on right now.” And it was, Hey Dirty, um, with Kelis, like Baby I Got Your Money, that song. And he played it, and he was like, “I just did this yesterday.” We like, “Man, that shit was crazy.” And he’s like, “Yeah.” Like so he’s like, “I- I got an idea for y’all.” Like- instantly, like he was just like you can see the wheels turning in his head. He’s like I got an idea. I know- I know- You know, and we were, honestly, like I know our records that came out and did well, like please don’t mind me across the border. I know they were commercially successful and had that kind of radio feel. But at the time we met Pharrell, all our shit was super hardcore. Like our music was like super street, dark and, hardcore. And he’s the one who was like, I guess, off of the heels of what he just saw happen with The Clips, his thing was like, “I- I don’t wanna make that same mistake again.” Like, you know, so he’s like, “I wanna- I wanna brighten it up. And I hear how hard y’all are. I know it’s authentic, but like I want to give y’all some stuff that like- like make sure y’all be successful, you know?” So the first record he gave us was Ladies Choice. And we were listening to it and like I was like, honestly, I was like, “I- I don’t know about this. Like I don’t want to do this song.” It was very R&B sounding and very- You know, and I’m just like… And he’s like, “Trust me. Trust me. Just do this song. After this, we’ll do whatever. Just do this one song. Trust me, trust me, trust me.” And we did it and loved it once it was cut, it was awesome. So like that was our first- That’s the rundown of how it went meeting Pharrell and Chad and those guys.

 

David: [00:12:23] 

That’s interesting for me to hear because I’ve been around Pharrell in different social situations, but never really seen him working and, see the brilliance. You don’t really see that outside-

 

Al-baseer: [00:12:35] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:12:35] 

And, you know, and he’s kind of lowkey at the same time.

 

Al-baseer: [00:12:37] 

Mhm.

 

David: [00:12:39] 

So yeah, that’s really interesting to hear how he works that way.

 

Al-baseer: [00:12:43] 

Yeah. He’s a fan. He’s a fan. Like he has to be a fan- Like he’s a fan. That’s how you get the best out of Pharrell. If he’s a fan of yours, or likes what you’ve done, his wheels just get going, like and that’s really cool. 

 

David: [00:12:58] 

Obviously he’s doing something right, 

 

Al-baseer: [00:13:01] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:13:03] 

How do you feel today when you go back and listen to your music and watch the videos? Like please don’t mind- [laughs]

 

Al-baseer: [00:13:09] 

It stands the test of time. It makes me really happy because I know when I’m long gone off this earth, and all these, we made some stuff – it’s been twenty years, you know what I mean? And it still sounds good. I know it’s gonna stand the test of time because Pharrell and Chad’s cache has risen. When we got with them guys, like Pharrell lived at his mom’s house. He had money, like he had an NSX Acura, and a Porsche, and an Escalade. Like he had money, but he still lived at his mom’s house, and they were in a studio that wasn’t theirs. Just to watch everybody’s elevation, it was crazy. And to know that we’re a part of that lineage, you know? Like it’s really cool. It’s really cool.

 

David: [00:14:03] 

As you said, you didn’t have Google and Internet and social media then.

 

Al-baseer: [00:14:09] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:14:10]

So when I go- when I went on to Google you, you know, Philadelphia’s Most Wanted, you know, all of the criminals like came up. [laughter]

 

Al-baseer: [00:14:18] 

Exactly. Yeah. Exactly.

 

David: [00:14:20] 

You’re gonna have to figure that out too.

 

Al-baseer: [00:14:24] 

If you put in Philly’s Most Wanted-

 

David: [00:14:28] 

Oh.

 

Al-baseer: [00:14:28] 

… a lot of that goes away. Uh. Philadelphia’s Most Wanted, that’s not us anyway.

 

David: [00:14:32] 

I think Philly though- No. Philly. I think I did Philly.

 

Al-baseer: [00:14:37] 

Really?

 

David: [00:14:37] 

Yeah, you should try it.

 

Al-baseer: [00:14:38] 

Well I know if you start going down further-

 

David: [00:14:40] 

Okay. Yeah, I’m sure.

 

Al-baseer: [00:14:41] 

Then you see the criminals. I’ve seen that before. So I know what you’re talking about, but, wow, this is crazy. Yeah.

 

David: [00:14:49] 

Violence in the community, it’s still going on, people were just recently shot. Some of the best and the brightest.

 

Al-baseer: [00:15:00] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:15:00] 

In that whole world have- We’ve lost every year.

 

Al-baseer: [00:15:04] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:15:05] 

Do you expect that will always be a part of- of the hip hop scene?

 

Al-baseer: [00:15:11] 

I think one of the most dangerous plagues to enter our universe and our world is clout. I think that right there is the real terror and a real danger to society is clout, because what people would do for it is remarkable and very unfortunate and sad. And sadly, I believe the trend will be more towards like, you know, Internet “Oh, I’m gonna do this for that.” Like I just yesterday, Roddy Ricch and 42 Dugg video shoot got shot up, and people got shot. And, you know, it’s just like I really- I’m really starting to think that people are just doing this stuff for attention and clout, you know what I mean? And it’s unfortunate. I see it trending in the wrong direction.

 

David: [00:16:04] 

Is there anything that can be done about it? Are people actually speaking on it, any effort to try to educate we have 69 Tekashi, obviously, the most extreme example of something like that.

 

Al-baseer: [00:16:17] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:16:17] 

And, you know, riding that wave to jail, but, you know, still…

 

Al-baseer: [00:16:20] 

I’ll say his thing was dangerous on some level, but like nobody really died, you know what I mean? With other stuff we’ve seen is like people really shooting to kill, like you know what I mean? Like CyHi, like his car being shot up like that, and he has no idea why. You know what I mean? He think it might have been mistaken identity or whatever, or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it’s just somebody that wanted to do that because it was CyHi and they see him riding in the Bentley and things of that nature. I don’t know. I guess the more spoken on out- outwardly, like where people get on those platforms where people can really see and hear, I will hope it will help, but me just knowing the culture, the more you speak like that, the more people like, “Fuck outta here. Like who are you to tell me what to do?” You know? Like that kind of thing.

 

David: [00:17:21] 

No, I understand. I hear you. Yeah, cause the gang thing, is the gang thing still, you know, as big as it was or is it coming back or what’s the status?

 

Al-baseer: [00:17:28] 

Yes. No, it’s big. Gangs are gangs. Gangs have been around before us, and they will always be around, you know? There was gangs in the wild wild west times. There’s always been gangs. And they’re going nowhere, you know what I mean? Like there’ll always be gangs. It’s just really about what is it about for the gang? What are you guys coming together for? What is it ultimately about? Is it about killing, to see how many people you can kill? Is it about power? Is it about money? Is it about uplifting your community? What does your gang represent? And that’s what I think needs to be figures out, cause gangs are never gonna- People have unrealistic expectations for things, you know? Like gangs are never gonna- That’s not the problem. It’s about the organizations within that, like what do they represent and what do you want to do, that’s what it’s about. You know, and finding that out, fine tuning that.

 

David: [00:18:30] 

You remember, I’m sure, the early story with Afrika Bambaataa taking the gangs and channeling energy into creativity, music, dance-

 

Al-baseer: [00:18:41] 

Exactly. Exactly.

 

David: [00:18:42] 

Art. And for a minute, it looks like that was working, but then things slipped. I guess maybe the social media can- We can blame everything on social media. 

 

Al-baseer: [00:18:52] 

This is why we’re speaking about clout. I don’t know if you saw it. I just saw this documentary, or this experiment. It was this show on HBO called Fake Famous, about social media and buying likes, and influencing, and how people are treated once their status is raised on these platforms. People take trips just to get pictures. People risk their life to get a certain picture. People have died trying to take a certain picture. For Instagram.

 

David: [00:19:26] 

For real. Oh, shit.

 

Al-baseer: [00:19:27] 

And like really died, like in the midst of it.

 

David: [00:19:30] 

Sure.

 

Al-baseer: [00:19:30] 

That’s just going too far. It’s going too far.

 

David: [00:19:34] 

An example of that that I keep remembering and thinking about, is during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, uprising, uh, I think it was in Long Beach, a girl pulls up in a car all dressed, hot – stands in front of like a broken store window someone takes her picture. She jumps back in the car and they drive away. [laughs]

 

Al-baseer: [00:20:00] 

I saw that. I saw that. Yeah, I did. I definitely saw that one, man. And like, yeah, that kind of thing, you know what I mean?

 

David: [00:20:07] 

Right.

 

Al-baseer: [00:20:07] 

Like it’s like- it’s like- It’s crazy. But, you know, it is what it is.

 

David: [00:20:11] 

Given what you know and, as you said, you know, older and wiser, how would you run your music career today, or even, you know, advise somebody else to? Would it be mix tapes, Soundcloud? Would you sign with a label, would you be indie?

 

Al-baseer: [00:20:27] 

Well, one thing, if I was lucky enough to be signed to a label, in this day and age, I think I wouldn’t put as much, um… power… into the idea that the label needs to make me a success. It’s a partnership. And when you’re really young, you don’t quite understand that, you know? So you get signed and you’re like, “Okay. They’re- they’re about to change my life.” Even though partly true, but it’s really a support blanket, because what you can say is that now you can go out and you can make all these moves, and you have a label behind you that you can say, “Look, like I’m signed to this label.” As leverage. You know what I mean? That’s what happened within my own company, with the art. When we formed a partnership for the brand, my art gave me a lot more leverage than it would have if I had not had the art, and was sending the actual business structure of it. Like percentage-wise and how important am I to this company, it gave me a lot of leverage, and if I would have just went there and just like, you know, like, “Hey, man. Like I- I want to be down, you know, I can do this.” That would have been cool too, but I wouldn’t have as much leverage. So I feel like, as artist’s today, a lot of them do, they take it upon themselves with that situation to maximize it. And that’s what I would do today, what- what I didn’t do then. We kind of laid back and waited for the label to change our lives, you know, what I mean? I would’ve been more proactive.

 

David: [00:22:10] 

Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to compare, right, cause it’s two different eras.

 

Al-baseer: [00:22:12] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:22:12] 

But the opportunities are greater today because of social media, also, if you want to say, the positive of all of that.

 

Al-baseer: [00:22:20] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:22:21] 

So that enables you to then make these deals and collaborations, and work with brands in a way.

 

Al-baseer: [00:22:29] 

It is. But at the same time, then it was giving you five hundred, four hundred thousand for a video. Two hundred thousand for a soundtrack feature. We could’ve maximized all those opportunities and we didn’t, you know what I mean? Because they’re not giving you that these days. They’re not giving you nothing close to that. You have to do it yourself, you know what I mean? And then the merch part of it, the three-sixty didn’t exist yet, and there was no merch component where they label felt invested, so they made sure you toured and made sure you did this, that, and a third. It wasn’t like that. You had to do all that yourself. You know what I mean? Now with the three-sixty, they encourage you, they’re gonna help you get these situations, because it’s beneficial for them. So that’s the blessing of today, for sure, versus then.

 

David: [00:23:18] 

So let’s talk about the art for a little bit.

 

Al-baseer: [00:23:20] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:23:22] 

You decided not to put out anymore music. IWhy? First of all. And were you painting on the side or still engaged with that in some way?

 

Al-baseer: [00:23:40] 

Well I’ve been an artist my entire life. My dad does it. I just always did it, but I never thought of it as a profession because talented as I was as a child, and I was always in the arts and humanity charters in my public schools and all that, they always had me in the gifted section, I still was ignorant I thought you had to die to become an artist. You know what I mean? Like to be great. I really thought that.

 

Al-baseer: [00:24:14] 

I thought that for my whole childhood, you know? So I automatically put that out of my mind as a career choice, although I was really good at it, winning art contests and everything. I decided very young what I wanted to be in life, and it was eight-years-old, I decided I wanted to be a rapper. I’m a Philly spitter, a purebred Philly spitter, so I just couldn’t change with the time as easily as some people can. And I don’t knock them for that ability. I wish, I really wish I could’ve, you know what I mean? But something in me just couldn’t let me just morph like that. I always kept in my head that hip hop would come back to the era of the spitter, and when it does, I would re-enter the chat, you know? I kinda just fell back from that and started getting more into my art therapeutically, buying time to think and figure out my life as an adult now. I’m an adult at this point, and it just kinda- I never chose to be an artist, even now. I didn’t choose it. I was just doing it therapeutically. And I started- I had the support of, um, Tommy Hilfiger.

 

David: [00:25:40] 

Really?

 

Al-baseer: [00:25:40] 

And Rita Ora. And certain people that were close to me, who saw, I would give them art, you know, but then it was like, “No, wait a minute. This is really good. You should like really-” You know? And they kind of put the battery in my back to be like, “Okay. Well I- I’ll see what’s going on here and take it a little more serious.” That’s just how I kinda took off.

 

David: [00:26:02] 

How did you connect with Tommy Hilfiger in that way?

 

Al-baseer: [00:26:06] 

Well Tommy Hilfiger, his son is my best friend.

 

David: [00:26:08] 

Oh, Andy? Andy?

 

Al-baseer: [00:26:10] 

No, his son. His- Andy’s Tommy’s brother. His son-

 

David: [00:26:13] 

Oh, it’s his brother. Okay, yeah.

 

Al-baseer: [00:26:14] 

Yeah, his son is Rich. Rich Hilfiger.

 

David: [00:26:16] 

Okay, I just know Andy. Yeah.

 

Al-baseer: [00:26:17] 

Rich Hilfiger is my best friend, and he’s also my business partner in Tango Hotel.

 

David: [00:26:22] 

Oh, shit. Okay.

 

Al-baseer: [00:26:22] 

Me and him own that brand. Along with Ezrasons, who are a manufacturer who we partner with. I’ve known Rich since he was fifteen-years-old, you know what I mean? We started making music together cause he was inspired- aspiring rapper at the time. And now he’s just full-out, every artist that looks like him kinda took his style. And I’ve seen the DMs to prove it. The XXXtencions the- Definitely, uh, rest in peace, Lil Peep. He’d been over the house a lot and always spoke about how he looks just like how Rich really looks.Peep didn’t look like that when Rich looked like that, you know what I mean? He has a heavy influence on that look and sound.

 

David: [00:27:22] 

Oh yeah, cool. I didn’t know about, uh, his son.

 

Al-baseer: [00:27:24] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:27:24] 

I knew Andy from the New York downtown scene back in the day. 

 

Al-baseer: [00:27:29] 

The Hilfiger’s are very influential. Tommy told me a story, real quick, I’ll tell you, about Studio 54 before he even had a clothing brand, he would go to thrift shops and he would just buy a bunch of stuff and they would cut it up and change it up. And, you know, and they would try to get into Studio 54. And he remembers getting in before Liza Minnelli and different people just because of how he was dressed and he had long hair. He always had that influence, you know what I mean? And that’s what made him start making clothes, when he saw the way people reacted to his cut and sew thrift stuff that he mixed and matched up like that.

 

David: [00:28:19] 

When did you realize you could make money, that this could be a profession? Or it just happened because you were painting. When did it start to click?

 

Al-baseer: [00:28:33] 

Well Rita Ora, who is a friend, was dating Rich at the time. And, she was always around. I promise you, this is like I’ll never get credit for this, but it’s just the reality of it. I’m used to not getting credit for things, I painted her a Birkin Bag, never saw one painted before. Never, you know- The only thing I saw which made me want to do it, was I saw Lady Gaga, she had a white Birkin Bag that she let her fans in Japan write on with a ballpoint pen. So it was like all ink, just writing whatever in Japanese on there. And I was like, “That’s crazy.” It was on our mood board for Tango Hotel. I just thought “This is crazy.” “That’s wild.” cause I know how much the bag was. So Rita had a black one, and she was like, “Can you paint like on mine?” I painted on hers, and then I started seeing the Kanye one from Condo and all these different versions of Birkin bags after that. But that set it off for me because when she posted the bag, she put my email. I just did it for her as a friend, I didn’t want nothing from it. And she put my email, and then I went back through my email later that night and it was inquiry, inquiry, inquiry, inquiry, and I’m like, “Huh?” And I started clicking on them, and it was just money just sitting there. [laughter] Like “How much? How much? You know, how much?” And I didn’t really believe it, so I was saying ridiculous numbers just to kind of like whatever, like three thousand, you know? And they’re like, “Where do I send the money?” I’m like, “Oh, okay.” And that was it. I never turned back. I never looked back. That was it. I took that as a sign from god, and I just kept pushing forward. And I vowed to never stop painting until the day I die, like ever. I do it every single day. I just got finished painting, that’s why I was late to the Zoom. I didn’t even realize. I was locked into this oil painting I was working on.

 

David: [00:30:53] 

You mentioned as far as your inspirations, Pablo Picasso and Basquiat, for example. Picasso, you know- Well first of all, I- I don’t know how much you know, because I’ve heard you say that you didn’t really know very much about art, but I imagine you’ve educated yourself. You-

 

Al-baseer: [00:31:13] 

Oh yeah.

 

David: [00:31:13] 

You mentioned Condo, like George Condo.

 

Al-baseer: [00:31:16] 

Yeah, yeah.

 

David: [00:31:16] 

I assumed- I assume that’s who you’re referring to.

 

Al-baseer: [00:31:19] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:31:20] 

Good examples because Condo is Picasso-esque in a- in a new way.

 

Al-baseer: [00:31:24] 

All of them are. All of them are. All of them are. See I’m very well versed now in art and in these people. Basquiat’s paintings are versions of Picasso’s, and a lot of people don’t know that. He would take a painting that he saw of- Pablo, and he would just do it in his way. But it’s the exact same painting. Kind of like how Kehinde takes these old Renaissance paintings and posture-wise, and then he just changes the imagery. But the posture and the energy of it is still there. So top of the food chain for me is Pablo and then there’s Basquiat and then there’s Condo, because Condo came up with Basquiat, so I know he was influenced by him as well. But they all influenced me, included by the big dog, Pablo Picasso, you know what I mean? And I’m lucky enough to have an original litho from 1969, a Picasso in my house, so that makes me really happy. And this guy’s a big influence to me too, Bob Ross. That’s the original Bob Ross.

 

David: [00:32:35] 

Oh really? [laughs]

 

Al-baseer: [00:32:37] 

That’s the original Bob Ross painting, that’s very rare, very hard to get.

 

David: [00:32:41] 

There’s this show now, Painting With John Lurie, it’s on HBO. John Lurie-

 

Al-baseer: [00:32:47] 

I saw that. I didn’t look at it though, but it’s a painting show?

 

David: [00:32:51] 

Yeah. He’s a very interesting, also great friend of Basquiat by the way, back in the ’80s on the downtown scene.

 

Al-baseer: [00:32:59] 

I gotta watch it. Yeah, yeah.

 

David: [00:33:00] 

He was a musician at first also. He had bands like Lounge Lizards, you know, sort of avant-jazz. Super cool, brilliant guy who went through a whole bunch of shit in his life as well.

 

Al-baseer: [00:33:12] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:33:13] 

He had a bad case of Lyme Disease. Wound up moving to the Caribbean and put together this show, Painting With John. It’s philosophy but it’s also painting. I’ll be really curious to see what you thought of it.

 

Al-baseer: [00:33:26] 

Oh yeah. I saw it and I think I attempted to watch it, and I was confused about what it was cause I didn’t see pai-

 

David: [00:33:32] 

Exactly.

 

Al-baseer: [00:33:32] 

I didn’t see paint right away, so I was like, “What is this?” And I kinda-

 

Al-baseer: [00:33:36] 

I’ll watch it again. I’ll give it another go.

 

David: [00:33:39] 

Yeah, cause I think he starts out by saying, “I’m not Bob Ross.” That’s what made me think of it. [laughs]

 

Al-baseer: [00:33:43] 

He definitely did. He definitely- Yeah, I saw that. I saw that. Yeah. I saw that. I love Bob Ross too. Maybe that turned me off too, cause that’s my guy. 

 

Al-baseer: [00:33:52] 

Bob Ross is everywhere. He’s my guy.

 

David: [00:33:55] 

Pablo Picasso, you know, got a lot of his influence from African art.

 

Al-baseer: [00:34:02] 

Yeah, I know. Yeah.

 

David: [00:34:04] 

So that’s also interesting, right? So it was like-

 

Al-baseer: [00:34:06] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:34:07] 

Sort of appropriated from Africa, and now being repurposed again by you.

 

Al-baseer: [00:34:11] 

Yeah. I know and the funny part, I see you’re a very smart man. I love talking- [laughter] No, for real. I love talking to people who understand certain things, because me being a black man and people looking at me, it’s easy for them to just write me off as like, “Oh, well you’re appropriating this and copying off of that, and this, that-” I’m like, “You don’t even know the full scope of what you speak of, and like how this thing-” First of all, there’s no original artist. Let’s start with that. There’s no artist that’s original. It’s all a rendition or influence or inspired by something. I can’t help what happens. I don’t look at paintings of my idols I don’t at all. I just paint from what I feel. If I wake up and my hand goes this direction, it goes that direction. And that’s just what it is. But if I’d known the history of art and known everyone’s influence, it’s very easy to feel that kind of way. But I also watch so many documentaries about all these artists that I also know that fear factor. It’s not an artist I’m a fan of who, in his prime, didn’t hear about how he was copying off of somebody, or how it wasn’t cool. Not one of them. From Lichtenstein all on down. Like all of them. They all heard it. You know what I mean? So I understand that, so when I hear it, it doesn’t bother me as much because I understand that’s par for the course. You know what I mean? I know that’s part of it, “Okay, you got that. Okay, we’ll see.”

 

David: [00:35:54] 

Yeah.

 

Al-baseer: [00:35:53] 

But when it’s all said and done, I know the story that I’m writing. I’m very well aware of it, I’m very conscious of it. It’s very intentional, just like my art.

 

David: [00:36:05] 

Yeah, and most artists-

 

Al-baseer: [00:36:05] 

And I know where it’s going.

 

David: [00:36:06] 

And most artists will admit that, that they’re influenced by someone. Like you said, nobody is not, you know, comes out just like a blank slate.

 

Al-baseer: [00:36:15] 

No. No.

 

David: [00:36:16] 

And just starts shooting- another person that you admire, in a different way, Virgil Abloh. I’ve heard you talking about him.

 

Al-baseer: [00:36:29] 

Yeah. 

 

David: [00:36:30] 

What, you know, and he’s a very minimal guy. He’s not at all like-

 

Al-baseer: [00:36:32] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:36:33] 

In the same vein as these other people that you’ve been talking about.

 

Al-baseer: [00:36:36] 

Yeah, yeah.

 

David: [00:36:37] 

So what is it about him that gets to you?

 

Al-baseer: [00:36:40] 

Well Virgil, I’ve been around him, not direct-directly but, we know some of the same people, and I’ve seen him around forever. Um. I know his flight, you know? I know his flight to get to where he’s at now, and he constantly got pushed down and pushed down, and suppressed and suppressed, kind of like how Jimi Hendrix was a member of The Isley Brothers, you know what I mean? And they used to push him all the way in the back because of the way he looked and all that kind of stuff. But a lot of The Isley Brothers songs that have a crazy guitar on it, they give Ron Isley brother credit for it, but it’s not him playing, that’s Jimi Hendrix.

 

David: [00:37:22] 

Oh shit. No kidding? Man, that’s-

 

Al-baseer: [00:37:23] 

You- you know what I mean? So like-

 

David: [00:37:25] 

I’m gonna go listen to all of those right after this.

 

Al-baseer: [00:37:27] 

It’s like really that kind of thing with Virgil that I always appreciated because he persevered and he came through in a huge way. Virgil is the only guy I’ve ever seen in fashion, that I know of, that’s working three or four brands at one time and there’s no conflict of interest with these brands, from his point of view. But like they’re not suing him. Like, “Oh no, you can’t work with them. Can’t do this, can’t do that, don’t do that.” He’s doing it all, you know? And They’re letting him. I think that’s amazing. I think he’s amazing. I just hope that it never gets to a place where I see him come double back and people will kind of criticize him for a couple things during the pandemic, but I’ve seen him double-back with the collection and the models that he chooses and all this stuff. So, you know, he’s doing his thing. I appreciate what he does.

 

David: [00:38:32] 

I’ve researched, so I know a few things, that Stevie Williams is somebody you grew up with, right? He’s the famous skateboarder.

 

Al-baseer: [00:38:43] 

Yes. Stevie- Yep. He’s part of Tango Hotel with us too. That’s like-

 

David: [00:38:47] 

Okay. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

 

Al-baseer: [00:38:48] 

That’s- that’s a brother of mine. Back in Philly in Love Park, we used to leave school and go down to the gallery to try to get girls and stuff like that. But we wouldn’t have money to get back, so we used to have to make a decision. Like we used to take money out of the wishing wells, grab silver coins that we saw to get enough money to get back home. And then one day we realized that the turnstile at Love Park was bent. I was very small, and you didn’t have to pay to go home. You could just slide through the turnstile and then you were in. We thought that was cool and we would watch the kids skating, it was Stevie and all them, unknowingly at the time. Skating. And then me and Stevie got cool as adults, like really got cool. And he told me about how they took a jimmy, like a club, like to prop up a tire on a car and pulled the turnstile bars enough so people could slide through, and I’m like, “Yo, that was you?” We benefited so much off of that, [laughter] like you know what I mean? We just bonded off of that and built a relationship in our early twenties and just been on since then.

 

David: [00:40:08] 

Yeah. He’s so influential. I had Boo Johnson on my show.

 

Al-baseer: [00:40:12] 

Boo Johnson.

 

David: [00:40:13] 

He was also talking about Stevie cause he helped him out as well.

 

Al-baseer: [00:40:18] 

Yep.

 

David: [00:40:19] 

Uh, quite a bit. So yeah, he’s becoming like a legend in my mind. I follow him on Instagram.

 

Al-baseer: [00:40:23] 

He is a legend. He’s a legend.

 

David: [00:40:26] 

Yeah, I’m gonna invite him on the show as well.

 

Al-baseer: [00:40:28] 

Yeah, he’s a legend for sure, for sure. He’s like Jay-Z to me in the skate world because at one point on Tony Hawk games, the early Tony Hawk games, he was the only African American on there, Stevie Williams. Before anybody, you know, he was the only one. Stevie’s a legend. He is a legend. A lot of people copy off him.

 

David: [00:40:48] 

And he’s still skating.

 

Al-baseer: [00:40:50] 

Yeah, he’s still skating.

 

David: [00:40:51] 

I see his Instagram.

 

Al-baseer: [00:40:51] 

And a lot of people copy of him. Yeah.

 

David: [00:40:54] 

He very quietly, made a huge influence on our culture.

 

Al-baseer: [00:41:01] 

Definitely.

 

David: [00:41:01] 

Need to give him a little more props, right? So, uh, you know, we’re gonna finish in a few minutes here, but I want to ask you, because you have a life partner, Cristina Martinez.

 

Al-baseer: [00:41:12] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:41:12] 

Right? Cause I know on your Instagram-

 

Al-baseer: [00:41:14] 

Yep.

 

David: [00:41:14] 

And you have shown together in- in galleries as well.

 

Al-baseer: [00:41:19] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:41:19] 

So I’m curious about how that works? Cause some couples like to keep their careers separate pressure either one to do something. But with you guys that doesn’t come up?

 

Al-baseer: [00:41:31] 

Well we met sharing a wall for an art show we did at the Museum of Modern Art in Cleveland. That’s how we met. So it was already a shared space situation, I loved her work. I would’ve collaborated with her even if we didn’t have a connection romantically. I thought she was cool. She liked my stuff. We spent so much time together and we care about each other so much, we see eye to eye on a lot of things pertaining to the world and art and things of that nature. So it’s not uncomfortable. It’s like very easy and seamless. It just works. Like I’m lucky. We’re lucky in that way. It just works. There’s no force to work with each other, it just happens.

 

David: [00:42:30] 

Do you have a studio at home? Do you both have studios? 

 

Al-baseer: [00:42:32] 

I paint- I paint right here. Right in the space I’m sitting in, like I paint.

 

David: [00:42:38] 

And she’s in another room, or where does she paint?

 

Al-baseer: [00:42:40] 

No, she lives in Seattle. We don’t live- we don’t live- Yeah.

 

David: [00:42:42] 

Oh, I see. Oh, you don’t live together. Okay, cool.

 

Al-baseer: [00:42:44] 

No, no. She lives in Seattle, I live in Los Angeles. Yeah. She has a studio in Seattle.

 

David: [00:42:50] 

Okay. Yeah, cause maybe that’s the way to do it, you know? Cause I was like-

 

Al-baseer: [00:42:53] 

Yeah, yeah.

 

David: [00:42:53] 

I’m trying to imagine, “Wow, how could these guys live together and get all this work done and so on?” But-

 

Al-baseer: [00:42:59] 

Yeah, yeah.

 

David: [00:42:59] 

I guess you figured it out.

 

Al-baseer: [00:43:00] 

Yeah, but we see each other all the time. I go up there all the time, she comes down here. She’s about to be here in a couple days, we plan on getting a museum house, that’s the ultimate goal. To build a house that doubles as a museum that holds our personal collections. Stuff of other artists that we collected over the years, and our art. Hopefully in the very far, uh, future, uh, have it open for people just to see when we’re long and gone for free. Yeah.

 

David: [00:43:42] 

That’s great. That’s- that’s a good ambition, man. Good dreams.

 

Al-baseer: [00:43:45] 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

David: [00:43:45] 

Okay, well great talking with you, Al-baseer Holly.

 

Al-baseer: [00:43:48] 

Same.

 

David: [00:43:49] 

Thank you so much. I look forward to shaking your hand one day.

 

Al-baseer: [00:43:53] 

Same to you. Appreciate it.

 

 

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