When Dave Alsobrooks wanted to create art from the dirt of locations significant to Southern hip-hop artists, he knew he wanted to document the process. Alsobrooks partnered with documentary photographer Titus Brooks-Heagins, and together they have embarked on “The Trip” across the American South. What they find amid the social issues of the day is the often delicate art of friendship.
These lyrics started meaning something to me early on. . . A lot of it is about motivating yourself, being yourself, not letting other people tell you who you are.
A narrative of the American South found in hip-hop
The American South is home to a unique culture and history. At the intersection of the two, one Durham-based artist has found a meaningful narrative in a bygone musical genre: 1990s Southern hip-hop.
Artist Dave Alsobrooks sought to create works of art featuring Southern hip-hop lyrics and dirt from locations significant to the hip-hop artists. Embarking on “The Trip” with documentary photographer Titus Brooks-Heagins, he has found not only dirt, but a connection with stories of the present day American South.
For Alsobrooks, collecting the dirt is truly about its Southern origin, inspired by a tension that existed in 1990s hip-hop.
“[Hip-hop] was New York City where it started, then it was West Coast and then the South did their thing,” Alsobrooks said. “There was a specific moment when OutKast won Source award and Andre 3000 said, ‘The South got something to say.’ And they were being booed because they won that award by hip-hop royalty.”
Inspiring lyrics and honest stories
Amid that tension, the South emerged to take its place in hip-hop. Among the resulting genre’s captivated audience was Alsobrooks.
“These lyrics started meaning something to me early on. I can remember in middle school getting into hip-hop,” Alsobrooks said. “A lot of it is about motivating yourself, being yourself, not letting other people tell you who you are.”
In addition to revering lyrics that meant so much to him personally with his art, Alsobrooks sought to investigate the topics he grew up with. Growing up in a small town in South Carolina, this meant racial tensions.
Brooks-Heagins’s interest in telling the honest stories of communities has helped cover such topics as race and poverty in the project.
“It’s about telling the truth about who poor people are,” said Brooks-Heagins of his documentary work. “There are poor people who don’t get much respect outside of their community. But when they come back into their community, they’re ‘Mr.,’ they’re ‘Reverend,’ they’re leaders of the neighborhood. And so I have a tremendous respect for who they were and who they are and my work is about showing that narrative.”
In one community, Alsobrooks and Brooks-Heagins encountered a shirtless man walking down the street. They soon learned the man was a single father with three kids.
“…Not only were [the kids] adorable, but they adored him,” said Brooks-Heagins.
“It was important to take the photograph because it worked to dispel the myth; the notions about black men and their children.”
Images and stories like these help define the place, which afterall, is at the root of Alsobrooks’s art.
“It’s all about the place. None of these things would have happened if people hadn’t been in the places where they were and that’s why it’s so prominently featured in each of the pieces. You have to look through the lyric to the place where it originated,” said Alsobrooks.
Hope in a partnership with a mission
Together, Alsobrooks and Brooks-Heagins uncover and give ode to the American South. And along the way they find something else they weren’t necessarily looking for: friendship.
“For us to go through the South together without incidents, particularly in 2019. . . to me it says maybe there is hope,” said Brooks-Heagins. “Or maybe the hope is that two people can get together and are willing to do something like that. Maybe that’s where the hope comes from is from the action.”
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