Who is Hip-Hop's Michelangelo aka Askem? - The Hype Magazine


Published on July 4th, 2016 | by Dr. Jerry Doby


Who is Hip-Hop’s Michelangelo aka Askem?

ass11From ancient drawings in the caves to some of the most celebrated Graff work on the streets, imagery has been an integral party of story telling. Capturing the essence of one’s subject and bringing it to life on a canvass or other medium, is an art form that like singing soul music…either you have it or you don’t. Artist Askem (@A5KEM) has delivered some of the most exciting original Hip-Hop portraits in the biz…from Chuck D to Cool Herc and Mellow Man Ace to GRAMMY winner Kendrick Lamar and on and on…he’s become the go-to guy for real to life paint strokes! He’s kicked off a new variation with a video series called Art You Can Hear, a series of video spots with the living foundation of the Hip-Hop culture…Glad to introduce you to Askem!!!



One of the 4 pillars of Hip-Hop is Graffiti art and you’ve nailed the essence of that with your portrait work. Why the subject of Hip-Hop for your art?

I have always loved hip-hop, it was something that at a young age of around 11 I started listening to, the sounds were unique and the lyrics told stories of places far away from London, stories that resonated with my own social situation but also captured my imagination. Following a period of being a surrealist creator I decided to use my talent to immortalise the artists that I had listened to for over 25 years and chronicle the blueprints of hip-hop

Tell us what motivated you to begin the “Art You Can Hear” series, the clips include bytes from the likes of Chuck D, Mellow Man Ace, and more…

I believe visual should be something that tells each person a story, invites each person to immerse themselves within the visual depiction. Visual art is very similar to music in that it can take you back in time to a memory of a life event, or a place or a person. Art is something you not only see but you hear. When someone looks at a PE piece of mine they hear the unique sound of Chuck D’s voice and the cutting edge sound of the bomb squad. Art you can hear.


As Hip-Hop’s “go-to-guy” for dynamic cover art, what is the most fun for you?

I love doing cover art, it is where my art you can hear concept really connects. I aim to have the work reflect every aspect of the particular track or album. For me it is something lacking in the record industry since the demise of the LP and indeed CD. Artwork for artists such as Stevie Wonder or Pink Floyd invited the listener’s imagination before pressing play or dropping the needle.

What do you want to learn from the artist as the process begins for their cover art?

Their intention, their passion, what they wish to convey with their craft..

What is your outlook on the imagery of Hip-Hop, what’s strongest visually and what is missing currently?

For me hip-hop is not about promoting negativity or glamourizing bad elements in society. there is far too much of that in the world. Creating artwork for that makes you a visual pimp

Visually there is too much emphasis on the portrayal on possessions or gang mentality. That is destructive in its nature, as it manifests into false stereotypes and creates poor aspirations for the youth of today. Art is powerful, for me the days of having art covers like De La Soul are what is missing. Like I say art you can hear.

Tell us about Askem the visual artist, as you see yourself.

I see myself as a very small part of such a huge and powerful art form in hip hop. I hope my work provides a visual journey that uplifts and entertains people.

Is there a series of table-top books coming from you soon, showcasing your collections?

I am working on a book project with Chuck D and collective of artists that should be available late 2016. I also would like to translate my work into a book format that could form part of a learning tool of the history of Hip Hop.


What does Hip-Hop mean to you, how do you perceive the culture today?

The major corporations today have ravaged the culture. In the beginning hip-hop was seen as a passing trend, then it became a threat, now it is a major money-spinner. Everything you see on TV is influenced by hip hop. which is great and demonstrates its reach as an art form, but its all about intention. I believe hip hop is missing the core elements of which it was born from, elements which were about culture, inclusion and the uplifting and empowerment of people.

You are the official artist for the internationally acclaimed and Emmy nominated Hip-Hop contest, “Take Back the Mic” which highlights the culture in multiple countries…what effects your visuals as you create from an multi-national palette?

The sheer differences in cultures itself, the history and the story each artist tells from their region are so different and delivered uniquely. And their passion the passion seen from artists outside the USA is stark, truly on another level and is a great motivator for me and I try to reflect that.

What’s your dream composition? Are you working on it now?

That’s a big question, being a creative you’re never satisfied, I have been very fortunate to work with and indeed forge friendships with artists that had a major influence on my for decades but it still is never enough. I think that is the beauty and indeed essence of any art form and is key to its continued evolution.

Last but not lease, The Hype Magazine wants to know what has been your craziest “Where They that at?!” moment…

I’d say being approached by Chuck D to work with him on some projects. Chuck’s sheer ethos always resonated with me so to have that opportunity was kind of surreal.

Get the full picture of Askem’s work via his official web gallery!

Image Credits: All images by Askem and used with permission

About the Author

Journalist, Editor-in-Chief of The Hype Magazine, and Media Consultant. Ph.D. and retired military. Member of ForbesBLK, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, and the United States Press Agency. Partner at THM Media Group. Connect with Jerry across social media @jerrydoby_

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