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Tony Lorenzi: Raised by Jay

Artist Profile

Tony Lorenzi: Raised by Jay

victoria brandt

On October 17th Tony Lorenzi is opening a pop-up exhibition titled "Raised by Jay". This one day only Williamsburg exhibit features images from the artist's childhood that have been edited to create a feeling of Jay-Z's presence. The Unlimited asked Lorenzi some questions to find out why he had an "Empire State of Mind" growing up on a different continent.

In Sweden is there a large hip-hop scene, and how influenced is it by the American hip-hop scene?

Absolutely. I’d say that it started off with influence from the states, to claim anything else would be a lie. I believe the same goes for the entire world. And of course it still is inspired by America…I mean its easy to see how Swedish MCs style wise mimic Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar or whoever is hot right now…even though they would never admit it of course. But a big difference comparing now and then is that the English-language was frequently used in the beginning of Swedish hip-hop while most rappers now use Swedish in their songs.

And even though there was a rap scene early on it didn’t evolve to become great until the mid 90’s (according to me). And today it its really bigger and better than ever before…a lot more commercially accepted…and, depending on taste of course, I’d say that Sweden has one of the best graffiti-scenes in the world. But that might be another difference between America and Sweden, how we define hip-hop. I think of it the traditional KRS-way, with the four elements (including graffiti) while in America hip-hop as a definition seems to have become more
limited to the music-genre. Nevertheless, writers often talk about the time when national television in Sweden aired Style Wars as the starting point for the graffiti scene in Sweden. We have always been looking to USA on how to do it.

How did you first come into contact with American hip-hop, and Jay-Z specifically?

Well, it started with skateboarding and even if it is not officially a part of hip-hop I’ve always seen it as closely related to it. My kid sister and me had a favorite movie called Thrashin’ which starred Josh Brolin amongst others which we watched over and over after our parents recorded it from TV. But maybe that is off topic since you are probably referring to music and not the culture…

A group called Looptroop Rockers is from my hometown Västerås (which recently released a single produced by Lord Finesse btw) and they did a lot of gigs, which I think made me interested in the musical part of hip-hop since I was already into graff. I then started listening a lot to NWA, Ice T, Cypress Hill, 2 Live Crew, Wu Tang and Outkast amongst others. So when I found hip-hop I also found friends and one of my friends introduced me to Jay Z’s music. I think it was when he featured Big L’s Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous when I heard him for the first time…but it wasn’t until Reasonable Doubt I really got hooked.

Where do you find the common ground between you and Jay-Z? You have such different backgrounds and yet you feel connected enough to say he "raised" you, what makes you feel this way?

I’ve thought a lot about this…and you are absolutely right that we have nothing in common really. The clash between hip-hop culture and Sweden don’t rhyme at all (no pun intended) and that’s why I think I focus so much on this in my art where I kind of question how I fell in love with
hip-hop from the beginning. If I look at it from a distance I would say that hip-hop is a part of America, I mean it belongs to American culture while Swedish culture has nothing at all that compares to hip-hop. And maybe it is just that, the feeling of being raised in a country which
creative culture doesn’t interest you which makes you search for something else. My grandparents are from Italy and Denmark, and my grandmothers husband was from the Czech Republic so their influence also gave me a feeling of belonging to the world rather then to just Sweden. Also I remember how I loved to draw but I seemed like a dorky thing to draw horses or whatever while graffiti seemed more exciting to the younger me. In the same way writing rhymes seemed cooler than having a diary or writing poetry.

But back to the question, when you feel this way, in love with a culture that doesn’t really belong to you, you look for someone to guide you in it so that you can (from the other side of the Atlantic) understand it fully. This is where Jay Z plays a big part since he seemed to embody
the personal traits which I didn’t have…he seemed so confident as a person and at the same time he wrote texts that to me was and still is brilliant in so many levels that the common person cant even grasp it. I mean, the general non-believer in hip-hop thinks it is only about the
material things mentioned in there, or the violence or whatever else negative aspects that you might find in it. Even when it comes to understanding his lyrics, I’m confident I understand them to a deeper level then ANY Jay Z-fan out there. To me, it has always been about listening to a man talking about his life, his surroundings, his thoughts and feelings. I mean, when Drake became the Drake we know today people labeled it as some sort of emo-rap but to me Jay was just that way earlier, you just have to listen more carefully.

I could go on forever but to keep it short, his music raised me in the way that he gave me confidence, different hands-on or more metaphorical ways of how to act in different situations, the hustling game over there seemed to resemble the relation I as a graffiti-writer had to cops over here, an idea about how you have to commit to stuff in order to succeed, a greater interest in literature which no teacher could ever give me and all these quotes or lines I know by heart from different songs pop up in my head in situations as some sort of advice when I need it the most. He gave comfort when feeling down, attitude before a basketball game, inspiration when I needed it. In short, he has been like an extra parent.

What is your favorite Jay-Z song?

Song cry. Easiest question so far. I have a lot of memories connected to that song. Thats a great example of him being emotional but still keeping I cocky as if he has to because of the expectations on you. But no matter what you can still understand that he is a great person beneath that cocky surface and harsh words, so even if he can’t see tears coming from his eyes, just the thought of sheading tears is admitting your vulnerable self.

Did this bond with American hip-hop music ever alienate you from people in Sweden?

Yes. And it still does. People (and I can only speak about Sweden) and mostly older generations don’t get rap, graffiti, breakdance or Dj-ing. At the most, it is stuff you do when you are young, as if it is a joke. To me it is life and a way of thinking. The same goes for people you grew up with which was into hip-hop but has left it because they think it is impossible to work in a bank and listen to rap or write graffiti. So to some extent it is like it is okay if you are a certain age to be involved with hip-hop, but if you don’t “fit in” when getting older you are being looked upon as someone strange. Of course it is easier in for example Stockholm than in smaller cities in Sweden. But at the same time hip-hop gave me my best friends. So I never had a problem with feeling alienated, it has built my character and the person I am today.

photgraphed by Daniel Lindqvist

photgraphed by Daniel Lindqvist

Who are some other rappers you connect with?

I love Lil Wayne, Common, Pusha…and Kanye…other than that I mostly listen to 90’s hip-hop and Swedish hip-hop. When I find a good record it is on repeat for years, I’ve been that way with all Drake-records for an example. That dude is a genius.

Do you think the fact that you living in Sweden came into contact with Jay-Z a Brooklyn based rapper and were able to feel such a bond with him is an example of American globalization?

Definitely. I’m raised with Disney, Coca-Cola, Hip-Hop, Skateboarding and other typical American traits. So of course the American globalization plays a big part in me getting so into Jay Z. I still think it is strange though, how I can feel so much for a country and a culture which I have never experienced for real more than on vacations. Even more than the culture I’m supposed to love as much. But I love that I have the possibility to feel that way of something that isn’t sprung from the country I was born in.

Maybe that is why I also have a hard time understanding the nationalistic thoughts growing in Europe right now. We should all hold hands and love each other instead of hating each other for various stupid reasons because this is mine or that is yours or whatever. The world is ours to take care of. 

Rebelution Ink, 560 Grand street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn