This Tuesday, the beloved Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda finally came home after serving nearly six years behind bars. And like his fellow GS9 member Rowdy Rebel, Bobby did it in style.
While Rebel stepped out with Off-White Air Jordans and iced out chains gifted from Young Thug, Shmurda upped the ante. Not only did Shmurda get picked up by Quavo in his own private jet, but he stepped off that plane with a fit that’s going down in history. An all-black ensemble of designer clothing that included a Prada hoodie, Prada joggers, Nike Air Maxes, and an intriguing Damier Louis Vuitton briefcase. However, it was no regular Louis briefcase, but one that was “vandalized” like a Stephen Sprouse bag from the early-2000s with a drippy “Shmurda” tag painted across it. Did Bobby Shmurda write his own name with a Krink marker on a $15,000 briefcase from Louis Vuitton while he was 20,000 feet in the air?
Turns out, the briefcases were painted by the Los Angeles-based artist Al-Baseer Holly, who some may know better as Boo-Bonic from The Neptunes-backed rap duo Philly’s Most Wanted—remember their single “Please Don’t Mind?” Since then, Holly has been working as a professional contemporary artist whose paintings touch upon pop culture, childhood memories, and current events. We spoke to Holly to learn more about his art and how it ended up in Bobby Shmurda’s hands this week.
How did you first start making art and how did you transition into becoming a painter later in your life?
Well, my dad, he can draw pretty good. A lot of the things that wound up happening in my life, as I found out, were things that my dad pursued but didn’t fulfill completely. I figured that I can like music and art and that’s always been a part of my life. But I was under the impression, even though I was in special charter schools for art, that you had to be dead to be a successful artist. So, from a very young age it was something that I knew how to do, but never wanted to do. Because I was like: “I don’t want to do nothing where you got to be dead to actually see the benefits.”
So, at the very young age of eight, I decided I wanted to be a rapper. That’s because of Big Daddy Kane, Run D.M.C., Rakim and certain people like that. Honestly, it was just really therapeutic to get back into the art. I never really planned on becoming a full time contemporary artist. The music stuff started to slow down and that was very depressing for me, because I love music. And the fact that things weren’t going the way we wanted them to go, I was in a weird space, so I just therapeutically got back into some of my art. It just started to pop out of nowhere. I didn’t pursue the art at all.
I read that you did something for Rita Ora and that kind of set you on this path you’re on today?
Yep, that’s what set it off. She’s a friend of mine and was dating my brother at the time, my best friend, Ricky Hil. She had a Birkin Bag and nobody had a Birkin painted at that point, nobody. And she was like ‘Can you paint on this bag?’ I do remember seeing Lady Gaga customize her own Birkin Bag with a ballpoint pen in Japanese and I thought that was dope. So that’s what sparked the idea. I painted it, she put my e-mail up, and the rest is history.
How’d you get in contact with Bobby Shmurda? Did you know him before he was locked up?
No, I’ve never met Bobby Shmurda even to this day. A good friend of mine named Karen Civil, somebody who I worked with before on the Lil Wayne cover for No Ceilings 3, hit me up. She works with Shmurda and she knows what I’m capable of. She’s seen what I did for the Wayne thing, knows my art, and knows me. So, she always keeps me in mind for those kinds of projects.
How did that Louis Vuitton briefcase come together?
She had it all set up already. It was more like something that Bobby really wanted. This all came from his brain. The way it looked, the way he wanted it, the bag, the exact briefcase he wanted, all that stuff. So that gave me an idea of what he wanted and I ended up doing two for him. But that was all his idea.
What did Bobby want, exactly? I could see the inspo from the logos he’s used on his single covers and music videos.
He was definitely still locked up at the time, so I don’t really know what he was exactly thinking. But I just know that those were the images, the ideas, and the imagery that came about. The look of it, it was just “splat,” you know what I mean? That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. It just looks like paint splatter or making a splash. I feel like that’s my take on it and I believe that’s obvious within it, which is how I get down.
It’s an actual Louis Vuitton briefcase, right?
Two of them, yeah.
How much do they cost alone?
At least $15,000.
$15,000 each? Damn, that’s crazy.
For me, it was kind of getting back to the Birkin thing. Honestly, I don’t really do stuff like that anymore. I only did that for Shmurda and Karen. I don’t paint on bags and stuff anymore. It’s too much work and people don’t want to pay the price so I don’t really do it anymore. But it felt like that because it was another expensive bag. And there’s no redos, you got to get it right and it’s very unforgiving. You can’t just erase it because it’s paint.
Do you have to use a special kind of paint for that?
I use leather paint. It’s all by hand and It was tricky. But like I said, you can’t have an accidental spill and you can’t accidentally put your hand on it. There’s just no room for error with that kind of thing, and I don’t think people really realize how complicated doing something like that is.
Are you planning to do any more work with Bobby and the GS9 crew by any chance?
I mean, I’m around. That’s strictly up to Karen and those guys. I’m around. I definitely respect their movement, how they did their thing, how they stayed down, and all that. So, I’m around.
Outside this work with the LV briefcase, I noticed that you’ve also painted jackets for rappers like EKT 40 and have your own brand called Tango Hotel. Tell me more about Tango Hotel.
Well, we have a manufacturing company that we partner with and it’s a cool experience. I’m not a huge fan of the fashion world. What I would tell any person that’s getting into the fashion world is, when you partner up with people, you should try not to. You should try to come into it and absorb the cost as much as possible. I’ll say that.
Aside from Bobby Shmurda, rappers like Pusha T and designers like Tommy Hilfiger own pieces you made. What’s your favorite memory of making a commissioned piece for a celebrity and what was the story behind that?
In the world of art, it’s very cool that I did a piece for Jorge Pérez. Jorge Pérez is a billionaire real estate developer from Miami and he runs the Pérez Art Museum, which is an art museum in Miami. He’s one of the biggest collectors in the world of art. So to be a part of his collection, that was very monumental for my career and my growth as an artist. It’s two worlds. It’s the urban, this world that we’re in right now, and social media. And then, it’s the real art world, that doesn’t have social media and all that stuff. It really makes me happy that I can exist in both.
Your art touches upon a lot of subjects. Personal memories, pop culture and just the state of the world today. What’s the message you’re trying to bring across with your work overall?
I think overall, the feeling I want to bring is to never grow up fully. Never take yourself too seriously. It’s hard to do, but I’m going to do my part in trying to send that message home. All my paintings are related to my childhood. I feel like nostalgia is our only form of time traveling. When I do these Art Basels and all these different art fairs, I notice how people react to it. It’s not so much “pop” as it looks, because there’s a way deeper meaning than just what meets the eye. But I like how people’s faces light up, because I know it connects them back to their childhood. No matter how hard or grown a person is, that brief moment when I see that, I know that they’re still in touch with that.
I’m sure you have an endless list, but who are the people that influence your art today?
My biggest influences are Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat and George Condo. The funny thing about those three artists is that the two of them derived from one, which is Picasso. Basquiat’s biggest influence artistically was Picasso. And I feel like Condo is very influenced by Picasso and Basquiat. And then for Picasso, all his art was influenced by African sculptures. So, I just think that’s a really cool line-up which offers a cool view on art and life.
What should we be looking for in the future?
Museum Three, which is a company established by me and my life partner, Cristina Martinez, who’s also an artist. We just had our first showing together in November. We’re launching this company and the ultimate goal is to build a museum filled with our personal art collections and pieces from both of us that’s free to the public. We want to let kids know you don’t have to just do this or do that. There’s a lot of different things you can be in life. Not just saying you don’t have to be a rapper, or a basketball player, or a drug dealer. You can become a doctor or a lawyer because all that stuff is cool. But you can also do art and be very successful. I’ve made more money from art than I ever made from music. And I made some money in music. We tried to establish Museum Three to send that message home. So people can look forward to us building out Museum Three, continuing to serve people, and showing our art all over the world.