Camoflauge Monk, ToneyBoi, Jae Skeese and other local hip-hop artists share their craft with the Buffalo community from behind a plexiglass window
Buffalo hip-hop collective Art Dealer, with the help of UB Arts Collaboratory, performs inside the storefront windows of Buffalo Center for the Arts and Technology
Local music venues, artists and UB’s art programs have been hit hardest amid the COVID pandemic. But Buffalo creatives and the UB Arts Collaboratory are finding creative ways to perform and showcase their art — all while staying safe.
Last weekend and this upcoming Saturday, Sept. 19, Buffalo hip-hop collective Art Dealer along with the UB Arts Collaboratory, a program that focuses on promoting local artists, are hosting a four-hour showcase of local hip-hop artists and talent inside a storefront window at the Buffalo Center for the Arts and Technology. It’s part of Art Play/Ground, an event that focuses on multiple outdoor public art installations throughout Buffalo and the surrounding region.
Bronwyn Keenan, the director of UB Arts Collaboratory, hopes that events like this will help bring people together.
“My background is in the arts but it’s also very much in social justice and progressive politics and I don’t see any of this as being separate. Artists are the best messengers of and usually propelled change in the country,” Keenan said. “Art Dealer, to me, is probably the best example in Buffalo of what happens when artists across disciplines get together and collaborate. It sparks innovation and new ways of working. It builds bridges, and it shows people a path forward in times of trouble like the time we are living in now.”
Art Dealer, created in 2015 by producer Camo Monk, aims to create and share hip-hop/rap music, art, and talent with everyone—in and outside of the 716.
“[Art Dealer] is the vision that I literally had one day after creating my first vinyl record. … I sold my first record and I felt like an art dealer from then on and it just kept making me want to do it more and more,” Monk said. “Then I got to thinking, ‘How can I do this for my friends as well?’ When I created Art Dealer, I never wanted to sign artists or put anybody in some type of contract position to work. It was always partnering.”
The collective’s first showcase during Art Play/Ground was on Sept. 12—where Monk kicked things off with a DJ set followed by local artist ToneyBoi (Bryant Toney), who hosted a live showing of his popular IGTV show “Outside Influence” where he interviews other hip-hop artists about their life and influences outside of the music.
“I feel like every other rap interview is always addressing a project that they just released or a song they just released, and I’m around these guys so much that I know their music, and I know that sometimes we don’t want to talk about music,” ToneyBoi said.
ToneyBoi called Art Dealer the “perfect platform” for rap artists to make their visions a reality. He believes it is a “culture push” for physical and tangible hip-hop because it’s more than just putting out merchandise, it’s also about turning the merchandise into art.
“We make sure that our music is from the heart. It is really a brotherhood. We all have the same vision in mind and Art Dealer was just a way to work the way we wanted to work,” ToneyBoi said.
The event also features Jae Skeese, another local artist and one of the newest additions to Art Dealer, who does live action painting at the event. Skeese also performs live with another local artist, Lamont J. Musiq, for the final hour of that day.
“Being around some of my other friends like $eeing $ounds and seeing the way they move and the way they’ve been able to express themselves through art, painting, drawing and sketching different things, it just kind of put me in a space where I was like ‘I’m just gonna get some canvases and see what comes out,’” Skeese said. “My main passion is definitely music, but drawing and painting is something that is on the come up because I love doing that as well.”
The upcoming showcase will run from 12pm-4pm featuring Art Dealer along with local artist $eeing $ounds, who will join the show with live action painting, along with a display of Skeese’s hand-painted fashion line, “Brown Not Black || Live Your Creed” (BNBLYC).
“[The brand name] is basically to inspire conversation between people because it’s a very general statement,” Skeese said. “It’s not made just for black people. It’s not made just for brown people. It’s not made for any specific person. It’s made for all people.”
ToneyBoi will host another live episode of “Outside Influence” and end with a live performance featuring Billie Esco and Gaine$. To make sure that people can hear what’s going on behind the plexiglass during the performance, ToneyBoi connects an outside speaker to a mixing board inside. The plexiglass allows the local community to be able to safely experience the event—which is what Keenan, who became the director of UB Arts Collaboratory in January 2019, has been working hard to achieve: connecting UB to the local community.
“One of my biggest goals was to build this bridge between UB and the community. [To communicate] that that was essential, [and] that you can’t bring the arts together and leave the community behind,” Keenan said. “[Instead of universities] being a spaceship that plops down in cities and small communities, they are very much a part of the community.”
Art Play/Ground began in 2018 as a weekend-long art event at the former Medina, NY high school. This year’s Art Play/Ground runs from Sept. 11-20.
Anastasia Wilds is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @AnastasiaWilds