After Rap-ifying Long Beach & LA Signs, Artist Takes Hip Hop Lyric Signs to Houston

Photos courtesy of Jay Shells.

He’s hit the streets of Long Beach and LA. NYC and Hotlanta. Philly and Inglewood. Hell, the man has even traveled to St. Thomas in the name of hip hop.

His name is Jason Shelowitz, more commonly known in the art world as Jay Shells, and his mission is a simple one that started in 2013: blend hip hop history, wayfinding, and art to create what has become known as The Rap Quotes.

Now, Shells will be invading Houston to honor Pimp C, Bun B, Bushwick Bill, Willie D, Slim Thug, Chamilionaire, Mike Jones, and more.

Of course, when he first tackled LA County—arguably the largest geographical spread of hip-hop artists in, “Long Beach to Rosecrans”—he had already hit the East Coast. What he faced in LA County was of an alternate breed to hip hop’s geographical spread.

“It’s very different than New York,” Shells said. “I mean, I had to drive 18 miles south of LA when I was there—I don’t think you can even drive 18 miles in New York so I had no idea how long it was gonna take me.”

The LA County aspect of Rap Quotes, which was largely driven by hip-hop enthusiast Robert Mullalley of San Diego who sent Shells a plethora of West Coast snippets that heralded LA intersections from 104th and 10th to Van Ness and Imperial, began in December of 2013 and stretched into 2015.

Of course, anyone with an iota of knowledge about hip hop’s history knows that Long Beach’s roots in it run deep, from Nate Dogg in the 1990s to Vince Staples holding the crown currently.

Shells’ project in the county, with its 45-plus signs, had three that have managed to managed to creep their way into Long Beach:

  • Warren G at 21st and Lewis: “So I hooks a left on 2-1 and Lewis/ Some brothers shootin’ dice so I said, ‘Let’s do this’” from the iconic song “Regulate”
  • Daz Dillinger while he was in Tha Dogg Pound at Myrtle and 20th: “Niggas got to trippin’ and I thought I heard it/ So I went to the hood on 20th & Myrtle” from “I Don’t Like to Dream About Gettin’ Paid”
  • Snoop Dogg at Martin Luther King Jr. Park: “Yeah, King Park was the location/ And the Bigga G that was my destination” from “21 Jump Street”

The success of Shell’s work in LA led to his first art exhibition of the signs through a partnership with LRG and Gallery 1988 East in April of 2014.

It’s been almost three years since Shells has come to Long Beach, his ephemeral work largely come’n’go due to people wanting to jack his work and hang it on their own walls. (Selfish but surely understood: after all, if those in the places represented don’t get their keepsake, City officials will take them instead since posting random signs is, well, illegal.)

The Los Angeles Times, for those who have missed the spectacular signs, have created a map of where his first 45 were installed (which is outdated but still a decent reference point for the scope of Shells’ work)—all the more proof that Shells needs to head out back to LA.

Something he plans on doing given the rise of Kung Fu Kenny and Vince Staples.

In the meantime, Houston, be on the lookout. And as for more rap quotes? We say mos def.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food to politics to urban transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 12 nominations and an additional win for Best Political Commentary. Born in Big Bear, he has lived in Long Beach since college. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.