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Artist has Jamaica scene 'rapped' up

Monday, April 23rd 2007, NYDaily News

Artist Karlos Carcamo displays his artwork for the show 'A Jamaica, Queens Thing,' which will feature over 35 pieces depicting origins of the South Jamaica rap scene.

The late 1980s were a difficult time for South Jamaica. The crack cocaine era littered the streets with crime and violence, made residents live in fear and tarnished the community's image.

Flushing artist Herb Tam, however, sees the decade differently. In his mind, the community and its hardships helped to shape the rap culture as a poetic art form and helped it reach a whole new audience, including himself.

"One of the things that rappers lapse into is the whole era of the time. You really saw a shift in the rap world because it turned very dark [and] melancholic," Tam said.

Tam decided to celebrate the neighborhood's role in that musical revolution and, with the help of nine other artists, created a special exhibit now on display at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.

"A Jamaica, Queens Thing" will display more than 35 artworks that depict the origins of the South Jamaica rap scene. These pieces include sketches and paintings of famous Jamaica rappers - like 50 Cent, Young Buck and Supreme - stylized T-shirts and music samples of rap hits.

The 1,600 square-foot exhibit also will depict that traumatic environment that shaped these stars with pictures and dioramas of former crack houses, and sculptures of police and drug dealers that hang upside down from the ceiling. The exhibit's most quirky piece is a broken-down car that's sawed in half and adorned with purple neon lights that throb to the beat of rap tunes.

According to Tam, the unusual work symbolizes the decay of the inner city economically and socially, but at the same time represents its artistic rise.

"I wanted to do something for residents [which] for them tied in with something that [the neighborhood] came from," Tam said. "The crack epidemic, as damaging as it was, set the stage for the building and development that's going on now."

Although the crack era is still a touchy subject within the neighborhood, the center's administrators believe that the exhibit will be a positive learning tool for the community.

"It's not made to offend anyone; we're just trying to represent Jamaica in the past as it is and see the future," said Hen-Gal Han, the center's curator of visual arts.

Local community leaders agreed, because they know that the only way not to repeat history is to learn from it.

"The education of rap can be positive, because it can teach kids that this is what happens when you get involved with drugs," said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, which includes South Jamaica.

New York Daily News