Kai: Street Artist Painted Kanye West and Eminem How They Act -- Like Medieval Kings

Categories: Hip-Hop, art

Much like rock stars and supermodels, hip hop and street art have a long history that spans decades. And never before has the relationship between street art and hip hop had more of a literal representation than with the soon-to-be-unveiled "Now Royalty" collection by Los Angeles-based street artist, Kai Aspire, which depicts some of hip hop's biggest names as medieval noblemen.

Kai first made an impact on the L.A. street art scene with his bold anti-smoking "Morons" mural back in 2009, which depicted what looked like a pack of Marlborough Red brand cigarettes, but with the word "Morons" where "Marlborough" should be. Needless to say, the piece sparked plenty of conversation, and ultimately inspired Kai's own father -- a smoker for many years -- to finally quit.

Since then, Kai's work has adorned the Melrose Corridor area of West Hollywood where he grew up, with each piece showboating a different social message -- everything from anti-drinking ("Abysmal Vodka" as a play on Absolute Vodka), anti-consumerism, and even an anti-technological douchiness piece ("Boundberry," a nod toward society's obsession with mobile communication).

With social awareness as his overall message, Kai's newest collection of oil paintings depicting rappers as medieval noblemen is getting a lot of attention. So much so that the piece he created of Eminem as a monastic saint has already been purchased by Slim Shady himself.

On display as a solo exhibit opening Friday, May 4th, at the Guetta Gallery in West Hollywood, there are 26 paintings in all. And a quick scan of the gallery during the interview showed some of hip-hop's most revered faces: Tupac, Jay-Z, Kanye West, even a Drake piece.

Read on for a glimpse of what inspires one of the southland's youngest (a quick Google search lists him as 21 years old, although he refuses to state his age for the record) crusader of positivity in the L.A. art scene.

OC WEEKLY: When did you start doing street art and what were your first images?

I first started doing street art a little more than three years ago. And my first image was "Morons," an anti-smoking campaign. That was my first. And my second was "Boundberry," which was against the use of cell phones in everyday life because your life becomes more virtual than livable and you start to live your life on your phone or your computer, than you do with actually interacting with people.

That's pretty insightful for someone so young. I read somewhere that you're 21, how old are you?

I would rather keep my age unknown.

Ok then. What prompted your anti-smoking/drinking message?

Well, my father was a smoker growing up and I was very uncomfortable with the idea of him smoking. So, I had asked him to stop many times before and it just didn't register to him. And he's the one who taught me about art and how to create it, so I found the best way to communicate to him was by making an art piece about it. So, "Morons" was inspired by him and it was made for him. And then as people started to see it, it became a little bit more of a success, so I decided to bring it to the streets and have it speak to a broader audience, and help people out. And as I helped people out, I realized I could help people in other ways, so I started making more work with a strong message.

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