Last week, I noticed graffers Donut and Bogus had tagged the hell out of artist Michael Owen's mural, 'One Day At a Time.' Scrawled across the bottom of Owen's 35-foot tall mural on Maryland Avenue and 26th Street, the word "DONUT" four times, with "BOGUS CYAH" and "REAL STREET ART!" sandwiching the third signature. It's a dick move for sure, but it's also an exhilarating piece of protest art against gentrification, tastefulness, and appropriation.
To explain: Michael Owen is best known for the Baltimore Love Project* and perhaps most famously for a mural on St. Paul Street and Lafayette Avenue that declares, "Greetings From Charles North." He is also something of a shamelessly capitalistic self-promoter (he recently teamed up with bougie-creepy yoga chain Lululemon) and infamously told City Paper's own Baynard Woods back in March of last year, in a story on the Brookshire Suites hotel, that he pretty much ripped off local graffiti writers' hand styles. He phrased it as "look[ing] at and reference[ing] hand styles and tags around town," and "collect[ing] the information from a design standpoint and kind of compose the imagery together," but come on.
Owen's 'Greetings From Charles North' mural is frequently tagged, so what happened to 'One Day At a Time' isn't anything new, but the anthemic qualities of these tags is telling: "REAL STREET ART!" That Donut and Bogus* use Owen's own mural, a polite piece of legal street art that's hard to miss, to call attention to Owen's appropriation is a Tony Soprano move. "You take our hand styles? We fuck up your murals," it seems to be saying (it's telling that it's really only Owen's murals that keep getting tagged). That very few of us know about Donut or Bogus, let alone who they are, also makes this work the opposite of Owen's work, which he always stamps with the obnoxious, insecure, "MichaelOwenArt.com."
I think the visual virus that is Angry Kevin is on the same sick-of-it-all protest spectrum as Donut and Bogus. Angry Kevin, by putting their name, along with an image (usually cribbed from the '90s Nickelodeon cartoon "Hey Arnold") all over the fucking place, makes the arts district, which too many people hope to cash in on by cleaning up, a little uglier. Angry Kevin's work is an obnoxious unsubtle announcement that enough is enough, delivered so urgently that who cares whether it is "good" or "creative" or anything. It doesn't matter who Angry Kevin is, just that they are everywhere: on road signs, on walls, in bathroom stalls.
OCDJ's performance at The Crown last Saturday also sought to destroy the deliverer of the art and cult of personality. When his set began, that unmistakable mix of gulping electronica over top clipped, slurred, and distorted Southern rap vocals began its ascent, but OCDJ was nowhere to be found. The stage was empty. A roccoco refix or two in, I noticed a bearded dude patiently but fervidly fucking with a tablet and wandering around The Crown. It was OCDJ mixing his set remotely from the crowd. He took himself out of the party-starting equation which made his set, paradoxically, more intimate. People danced without having to be half-assedly polite and direct their attention to a guy with a laptop at the front of the room. It was a playful dance-floor experiment.
And OCDJ is totally an appropriator, by the way. His songs are candy-colored remixes of Southern rap's immediate past (my favorites: an endless, The Cars-ian take on Soulja Boy 'Crank Dat'; a version of D4L's 'Laffy Taffy' that sounds like the song's dissolving in sulphuric acid). But he is a master appropriator, not a lazy one like Michael Owen who uses the no-limits ethos of postmodernism as a way to critique-proof his wack-as-hell art. OCDJ puts in the work. His remixes are artfully built around rap a cappellas, which explains why he remains steeped in mid-2000s rap. These were some of the last rap singles to come out on 12-inch and as a result, the last time a cappellas, always a fixture on rap singles, along with the instrumental, were easily available. And so, his work hits multiple nostalgic pleasure centers all at once, reminding you of the crunk era (the last time rugged rap would rule the radio) and the early, especially spazzy days of Wham City (which helped pave the way for this thing called Station North, for better and worse).
After OCDJ's set, I went to check out my favorite Angry Kevin in the men's bathroom of The Crown. This Angry Kevin, in the middle stall, is a slightly tweaked quote from Coolio's 1995 hit 'Gangsta's Paradise' ("As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take a look at my life and realize Angry Kevin is the best!") hilariously misattributed to 2Pac, making it a funny comment on clueless white hipsterism and misremembered nostalgia. At least I think so. Maybe Angry Kevin's just a dumbass who can't tell Coolio from Tupac, or maybe this one isn't even done by the "real" Angry Kevin, which would just make them even more of a local scorched-earth hero of not giving a fuck, now wouldn't it?
Corrections: An earlier version of this column said Michael Owen was involved with the Open Walls project. He did not participate. Additionally, the tags were incorrectly attributed solely to street artist Donut. Bogus was also involved. City Paper regrets the errors.