Kimberly Drew On Making Art Radically Accessible For All Writer, art activist and cultural curator Kimberly Drew joins Stretch & Bobbito to discuss her earliest art memories, how she found inspiration in Kehinde Wiley's paintings and why working for The Metropolitan Museum of Art was great, but "exhausting."
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Kimberly Drew On Making Art Radically Accessible For All

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Kimberly Drew On Making Art Radically Accessible For All

Kimberly Drew On Making Art Radically Accessible For All

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  • Transcript

ADRIAN BARTOS, HOST:

Hey, everybody. Just to let you know, this podcast may contain some adult or possibly offensive language.

ROBERT GARCIA, HOST:

No nudity, though (laughter).

BARTOS: (Laughter) Unless you're thinking about naked people.

GARCIA: Do you plan to return to an art museum, or do you just move forward as a freelance creative?

KIMBERLY DREW: Friday was my last day. It's Monday (laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Big question - my bad.

DREW: Did my dad plant you?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOS: What's up, everybody? This is Stretch Armstrong.

GARCIA: My name's Bobbito Garcia. We are together the hosts of WHAT'S GOOD WITH STRETCH & BOBBITO.

BARTOS: And today we're going to be sitting with Kimberly Drew.

GARCIA: No doubt. She is an activist. She is a writer. She is a curator. She recently left the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That institution...

BARTOS: I've heard of the Met.

GARCIA: Yeah (laughter). You grew up right down the block, right?

BARTOS: Pretty close - stone's throw.

GARCIA: Yeah. Yeah.

BARTOS: At the Met, she was in charge of all their social media platforms and did a lot of really dynamic things on their platforms to try to diversify the audience. And...

GARCIA: Well, I wouldn't even say try. She did. She did it.

BARTOS: She tried and succeeded.

GARCIA: Yeah. And she also has a black contemporary art blog on Tumblr, which I think is the single thing that's really catapulted her beyond her individual Instagram and Twitter handles. She's got an immense following. And I'll tell you, like, I didn't even know who she was prior to NPR - our production (laughter) crew pitching the idea of interviewing her. And since, I feel like a big dummy (laughter)...

BARTOS: (Laughter).

GARCIA: ...Because, like, every progressive person I know in this city is like, oh, my God - particularly women are like, I'm inspired by Kimberly Drew. I follow her. And we, now, do too.

BARTOS: Please stick around. Coming right up is Kimberly Drew.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOS: We are back in the studio with Kimberly Drew. Welcome to WHAT'S GOOD.

GARCIA: Woo-ee (ph).

DREW: Thank you.

BARTOS: (Laughter).

GARCIA: You going to kick a rhyme out?

DREW: Oh, my God, I wish.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

BARTOS: You wish you could? You can.

DREW: I wish I could. I wish I could. It would make me so much cooler, but I have no skills.

BARTOS: (Laughter) You can borrow someone else's rhymes.

DREW: I could.

BARTOS: Yeah.

DREW: It's very popular these days.

BARTOS: Well, you walked in with headphones on.

DREW: I did.

BARTOS: What's playing?

DREW: There's this amazing Spotify playlist.

GARCIA: Stretch and Bobbito.

BARTOS: (Laughter).

DREW: Just - I know, I know, I know.

GARCIA: Hint, hint.

DREW: Just another Spotify plug before you guys do the ads. They have a playlist called Black Girl Magic, which sounds like trash, but it's actually amazing.

GARCIA: Word.

DREW: And there's an artist, Theresa Chromati, who did the cover artwork for it. So, like, end to end, it's really thoughtful. It's a mix of spoken word and everyone from, like, City Girls to Aretha Franklin. So that's what I've been - kind of had on heavy rotation.

BARTOS: So let's take it back to your first encounters with art. Does this come from home, family life, parents?

DREW: Yeah. So I grew up in Jersey - in Orange, N.J., which is 15 minutes outside of Newark, N.J. And in the '70s, the Black Arts Movement was there. And so in many ways, I feel like the soil was ripe with art from before I came around and came into being. My aunt is an artist and worked with the city doing arts programming. And even in her office when I was growing up, she had posters from galleries in Newark. But it took me until I got to college to really realize that it was a career path that I wanted to take. But I feel very fortunate that in my family, art and creativity were always important. Like, I didn't have the parents who were like, you need to be a doctor or a lawyer. They were like, you need to get in this car because we're going to a museum.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: And that very much kind of was the framework.

BARTOS: So would that mean you'd - would take trips to New York City?

DREW: Yeah.

BARTOS: As a kid? Yeah.

DREW: Yeah. And everything from, you know, like, Liberty Science Center up to the Met. It was really important for, I think, especially my dad's side of the family. Him and his sisters were really invested in us learning in many different forms and going to institutions of learning as much as possible. My dad - he's more of a music guy, so he's going to freak out when he hears this. I didn't even tell him I was coming in. But he's like - he was, like, a big cassette dude and, like, you know, has his - like, is handing me down his ticket from when he saw Michael Jackson.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

DREW: And so he grew - he steeped me in this very supreme kind of respect of culture and cultural objects. And my mother is very much a collector of objects as well. And so for them, the reverence is something that I feel like I inherited very much. But they weren't, like, oh, my God, let's look at this Warhol. Like, I took my mom to the Whitney Museum and was trying to show her all these artists I thought she knew, and she didn't. And it was the most incredible process because it really helped me realize, like, OK, I've been taught that these people are important. But if they're not important to my mom, how can I think about, like, what value really means? And how can I also use that as a tool for bridging, you know, that gap?

BARTOS: So what was the epiphany for you? Now this is something that completely makes sense to me, and I'd like to sink my teeth into.

DREW: Yeah. There's a couple of different experiences that I can point to. Going to the Brooklyn Museum, and at the time, they had this installation of works by Kehinde Wiley that were kind of set up in, like, a chapel-like formation. And that was, for me, the moment where I realized that there was - especially because - also, it's like, I'm a digital kid. Like, I've been - we got our first computer in '96. I was 5. So my entire life has been framed around the Internet and sharing. And I think that that Kehinde Wiley experience is one of the first ones where I thought, OK, I want to be able to share this experience with other people because I was so impacted.

And seeing a black artist and seeing representation of black figures, especially in the way that he paints and in the way that it was hung, was this aha moment for me in terms of kind of a life path because when I was in college, I didn't think I was going to study art. I was studying math, and I was studying engineering because I thought I wanted to be a civil engineer. And it wasn't until I went from civil engineering to architecture because it allowed for a little bit more private study - architecture took me to art history. And so that was this, like, moment.

But for all intents and purposes, it sounds ridiculous because when I did go home to visit and was like, I'm going to study art, my aunt was like, duh. You know, like, of course you are.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: We've been, like, you know, kneading this for - you know, kneading this into you your entire life. But I thought I was coming back with some new shit. Like, I thought I was, like, reinventing the wheel.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: And I was like, it's so risque. Like, you guys are not ready. I finally figured out my life path. And my Aunt Donna (ph) was just like, sure.

BARTOS: That's interesting - how you describe that experience at the Kehinde Wiley show because it sounds like you had this very visceral reaction, which I think is something that we all tend to get from music and much earlier in our lives, right? It's so much more - we're just moved by music so easily. And I'm just wondering if prior to that, if you had already had that kind of - that relationship with music prior to the visual arts?

DREW: Yeah. I mean, that's something I'm super passionate about - is figuring out the math to make art more like music because I think if we played any song in here, I think we could say, I don't like it. But if someone were to put up a da Vinci or, like, that da Vinci that sold for all that money, people wouldn't feel comfortable making commentary on it or liking it or disliking it, which is why I loved bringing my mom to this Warhol moment. And she's like, I don't know what the fuck that is, you know? Or it's like, oh, yeah, like, we all have...

GARCIA: Yeah.

DREW: ...Our own right to what we value, what we hold dear. Like, I took her through the Met. And she saw a painting of Jesus, and she's like, I know him, you know? And it's like that kind of connection is incredibly more valuable than her just liking Warhol because he's a famous dude, you know? And so I'm always trying to figure out a way to make art its most democratic, but it's a hard work. It's a really hard work.

BARTOS: You went to Smith College.

DREW: I did.

BARTOS: An all-women's school in Massachusetts. So I'm just curious if your out-of-class experience had any influence on your career path?

DREW: Yeah, for sure.

BARTOS: Or how it influenced your career path?

DREW: Yeah. What's dope about going to Smith and being in Northampton, which is two hours outside of Boston, is that when people - especially from a musical perspective, when people have Boston gigs, they also come out. So I remember, like, seeing - and this is because I graduated from college in 2012. So these are not, like, long ago.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: I was, like, going to go on my nostalgia tip, but I was like, let me preface it with the fact that I am 28. But I just remember, like, finishing papers to go see Wale when he was, like, just first really blowing up, and how important and significant that was. And he was terrible live, but I was so stoked to be able to see him. And Janelle Monae came to visit our campus.

So it was - it was the small college town, but it still had a connection to culture. We had a museum on campus. I could be home in three hours. And so those things really deeply shaped me, especially as a person who works in culture. I'd never felt super out of the loop.

And additionally, a lot of graduates from Smith College are in the art world - kind of the New York art world. And so there was very much kind of a line to that. And so it felt like you were - as you were studying art, it felt like a professionalized kind of track, as opposed to some other campuses where it's this - you know, it can be very hoity-toity.

GARCIA: I don't know if you're still at Smith, but you land an internship for Thelma Golden, the curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem, which represents art by people of African descent. What did it provide you - that experience, also, of being under someone like her - like Thelma?

DREW: Yeah. Yeah. So Thelma was the director of the museum and chief curator, and she also went to Smith. So my first kind of intern day...

GARCIA: Bong, bong.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: Yeah, I was feeling myself. Like, I sat in a meeting next to her, and we all went around. And people were saying where they were in school and what they were studying. And she was like, I went to Smith, and I studied African-American studies and art history. And then I was like, I go to Smith, and I study African-American studies and art history, you know? So she is a person that I always wanted to be like as soon as I knew that she existed. And I think that happens for a lot of us in the art world and - because she's just - she's a titan among us.

And so when I was an intern in that office, it was a real crash course into what it meant to show up for artists. I think she's a person that I, like, always hope people would ask better questions because she's just been around through so many different things. But being in her office and being able to have - you know, I organized her library at one point. And, like, there's this amazing set of interviews. And, like, being able to read her over time - like, there's this great interview magazine from, like, the early 2000s - Destiny's Child on the cover. And she's in that, you know?

And so it's interesting that someone is - like, her legacy almost hides in plain sight. And I think in this moment, we are coming into contact with art and black artists in a really powerful way that's, I think, bigger and broader than it's been in the past. But it's amazing to look at someone like Thelma or Lowery Stokes Sims or Deborah Willis or Sarah Lewis, who have been doing this work for some time. But I would say that Thelma's probably got the most pop culture appeal, which is cool.

GARCIA: While you were there, did you, like, automatically sense a widening of your knowledge of emerging and established black artists as well as just art, period?

DREW: Yeah. When I got there, I immediately realized I didn't know anything. And in my first week there, I learned about Trenton Doyle Hancock, who's an artist based out of Houston who is amazing - kind of Afro-surrealist artist. And I learned about Basquiat. I was like, how the fuck didn't I know who this person was? Like, I literally didn't know, you know?

And it's kind of incredible that there are many people who can go through - I think less and less now, hopefully. But there's a possibility to have taken art history classes and not learn about these super significant figures because, also, art history as a discourse isn't taught that way. Like, it's not built around celebrity necessarily. It's very much built through time or through themes.

And it was amazing to come into an institution where I could learn the names really intentionally. And so that first summer, my knowledge of black artists went from, basically, like, zero to 100.

BARTOS: So the idea of a black museum - do you think that's the ideal? Or is the ideal to get more black artists into the mainstream institutional fold?

GARCIA: Or both?

DREW: Yeah, I think that's a great question. I think the big-picture goal is that artists have - artists and arts professionals have the resources to be as successful as they want to be. I think that - when I think about that, I think about tons of different black art organizations, everything from, like, CAAM in LA, Project Row Houses in Houston or Art + Practice in LA. There's many different modalities for what an arts institution looks like.

And so I think more about the shape of an arts institution much less than things that happen thematically sometimes because I think for some artists, a more community-based arts institution lends better to their practice. In terms of priorities, when I look at the field, what's most important is that there's resources. And unfortunately, some of the black institutions have less resources than others.

GARCIA: What would you change about museums' culture to make it more inviting and less like, ah, nah, that's for the - you know, that's for the Fifth Avenue crew?

DREW: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: Well, I think it's a mix of things - right? - because I think a lot of the change that I'm particularly obsessed with right now is especially along the lines of accessibility, in terms of making sure that people of all levels of ability feel like they can come into a museum. So that's not just socio-economic. That's not just racial. That's physical ability as well.

And so I think it's - one thing is a marketing issue. And I'm also, like, an ex-marketing professional as of Friday. But I do think that there is a way that museums don't have the tools for talking about themselves really well. A lot of press releases are like, we're the first and the best. And it's like, no one cares, you know? Like, what do you have, and how do I get there? Just looking at the lack of information for real people, for a curious audience, I don't think that there's always that extension in a way that is necessary.

An invitation, like open houses, make a world of difference. Like, the last week I was at the Met, we had an open house for conservators. And they were showing us the things that they were basically bringing back to life. And I just thought, like, what it would've been like. My friend's teenage nephew came by to visit. And I was like, I wish I could've brought him to this because it would've blown his mind, and maybe he would grow up to be a conservator.

BARTOS: Have you had any specific interactions with people that you may know that aren't a part of that about this very issue, and how, maybe, you have turned someone on to something in a museum that made them realize, oh, there's a whole world here that I can dive into that I've been deprived of?

DREW: Yeah, that's what I try to do all the time. Like, one thing that's really fun about the art world is you usually get a plus-one to most stuff. And so I'm always, like, begging somebody to come to some opening with me, or some dinner with me, or some fair.

I was at EXPO Chicago, which is Chicago's art fair, and was leaving and ran into this college student who was like, I follow you on Instagram. Me and my friends are trying to get in. And I just gave her my VIP card.

BARTOS: Nice. I love it.

DREW: I'm like, take it. Run with it. Like, I think you'll find extreme value in this. And so I'm always trying to create as many invitations as possible for people. But I think the language thing is one that I'm always kind of curious about because it is kind of - it's irritating as hell, you know? Because I love museums. You know, I love them, and I feel protective over them. And I want them to do better, right?

And so the language thing is always one that I'm constantly returning to where people - it's like, I don't want anyone to feel like they're not intelligent enough to learn. What is that? You know, like, how is that possible? It's really about curiosity much more than what you know when you're going in.

BARTOS: So I guess that's a good segue into your highly-trafficked Tumblr blog, Black Contemporary Art.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

DREW: I was just going to start talking about it, and then I was like, I feel like there's probably a question.

(LAUGHTER)

BARTOS: Thanks for trying to make us look good.

DREW: (Laughter).

BARTOS: I appreciate that. Yeah, so you started that when you were how old?

DREW: I was - it was right after my internship at The Studio Museum.

BARTOS: So that was, like, hand in hand with this new kind of excitement about...

DREW: Yeah.

BARTOS: ...About all the...

GARCIA: So you started the blog, and you're still at Smith?

DREW: Yeah.

GARCIA: Nice.

DREW: Yeah, I was lucky because I got - I got switched from doing cafeteria work-study...

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: ...To work-study in the student government office. And Sharon Fagan, who was my supervisor at the time, she knows it now, but she changed my life when hiring me because it gave me an opportunity to be at a desk. And I started it in that office, at that job. Yeah.

GARCIA: On your lunch break, of course.

DREW: No, during.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: Sharon - I mean, we had our discontents. But yeah, I was - I mean, I was, like, dispatching vans for students who would borrow them to do - you know, like, it wasn't, like, you know, arduous work. I wasn't doing brain surgery. So I started working on it. Just posted artworks, their title, the person who made it and the year they were made.

Because when I started the blog, I didn't think that there was an art historical rhetoric that supported black artists. Because I hadn't learned any black - I mean, I hadn't learned of any scholars who wrote about black art, so I just didn't think there were any, like a dumbass 20-year-old. And so I created, as kind of a - what I like to call - a primary source, or just a primary stop for people. So if you see something you like, you can learn more, right? I didn't want to tell anybody what to think about them. And so I've been doing that for the last few years.

BARTOS: Were the comments open? Are the comments...

DREW: No comments.

BARTOS: No (laughter).

DREW: No comments, no writing, which was awesome and also funny because I have friends who are in kind of like philanthropy and grant-making world, and they're like, if you literally wrote anything, I could give you so much money.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: But I was like, I don't want - and after years of doing that, I was like, I think that was the biggest success of it. It wasn't that - it wasn't the artworks because you could find those anywhere. It was that people didn't feel like they had to be told how to look at them. You know, I liked the idea that, you know, you could go on the Tumblr app and open and learn something. Because that's what Tumblr was for me before I started the blog.

GARCIA: You land the social media manager position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What's your immediate and long-term goal once you land foot there? Because you already have your own individual goals, clearly.

DREW: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I think what's dope about the Met is that it's an encyclopedic collection. And so one of the things that I came in from the gate really strategic about was trying to push out more types of art from more cultures, but trying to really show the breadth of the collection and highlight, especially, as well, the different voices from throughout the museum.

In my first year, we also tried to utilize the platforms to tell more stories from within the museum. Because I grew up around art but didn't know it was a career path, was because I didn't know about different jobs. Like, I knew curators existed vaguely, but I didn't know about - you could be an art lawyer. I didn't know about conservators. I didn't know about the role of museum guards. I didn't know about any of that stuff. Just to show kind of - just some multiplicity. Because I think a lot of times people just think of it as this huge block of cement.

BARTOS: I imagine you got to know the museum intimately well.

DREW: Yeah.

BARTOS: In terms of all the spaces, and the nooks and crannies, and - What's your favorite part of the Met? Do you have a favorite room? Favorite gallery?

DREW: Yeah. Well, my favorite department's the Arms and Armor Department, hands down, because I just love that the labels have the weight of the objects. It's so strange.

BARTOS: (Laughter).

DREW: I don't think that there's other galleries that have that. And then, additionally, it's one of the instances in the museum where multiple world cultures are in the same room, and I love that. I love that you can walk from, like, samurai swords to, like, pearled Tiffany pistol.

I love the steps. I always took the steps as a challenge. In terms of thinking about accessibility, it's like, what happens when your institution is known by its steps? How can you inform people about other points of entry? How many points of entry can you make? And then there's the people. I mean, I love the people. It's about the people.

BARTOS: You just left the Met.

DREW: Yeah.

BARTOS: On Twitter you wrote, it's also a great time to share that my outgoing pay is still less than that of the white man who previously held my role. Museums, you got to do better... I just have to say I loved working at the Met, but honey, being a woman, a black woman in museums, is just as exhausting as it looks. So other than being paid less, which isn't right, what was exhausting about it?

DREW: From a human perspective, we have 7 million visitors a year. And so just moving through the galleries on a day-to-day is a lot. I spent a lot of time away from my desk, very strategically, especially because I was saying I was 25 when I got there. And I think I had all of these thoughts about what it meant to be a young person managing a new medium.

And so I wanted to spend as much face-to-face time with people as possible. I wanted them to hear my voice. I wanted them to hear the passion that I have for the work that I was doing because I felt like that's the only way I'm going to get them to listen. But I do think that moving through that institution and, like, all of the energies of people was a lot. And even like it being a space where it's super popular and really populated, and some mornings I would walk in, and there's, like, police outside. It's, like, that's - I mean, as a black woman, that's just not - it doesn't soothe you.

GARCIA: Your handle - your social media handle is @museummammy, a term that in certain eras was derogatory. How did you come up with that name, and what were people's reaction when you made it public?

DREW: Yeah. I did a takeover for Prada, and trying to, like, talk to an Italian audience about what the word mammy meant was like, ergh (ph). So I - when I was in school, at the time my Twitter handle was MaudMommy - or MaudMammy, excuse me. Some people say museum mommy.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: So the Maud came from Gwendolyn Brooks' book "Maud Martha," which is a book that I actually stole from our bookstore when I was in school because I had no money, but I needed to read it for a class. And I always loved that book because it was about - it was a very interior experience of a black woman's life. So I loved Maud. And then I always have loved the phonetics of the word mammy and what it meant and what it stood for because I've always seen the mammy figure as deeply, deeply powerful.

For me, I've always thought about the mammy figure as one of the superheroes within the canon of how we understand black women. And I always see it with this, like, supreme respect. And so I chose that name because I always think of a mammy figure as a person of care, and a person of particular excellence, and a person who is, in many ways, within an institution and in some ways a leader of an institution. And so that's why I chose the name.

BARTOS: Can you explain what - I think much of our audience actually won't know the history of the word mammy.

DREW: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BARTOS: If you could get into that a little bit, that would be helpful.

DREW: Yeah. So mammy is a term that - for what I know, originated in antebellum South and was a word to describe a black woman in the domestic space, and usually a woman who was enslaved. And it also was a character that appeared in a lot of racist propaganda in that time period. Yeah.

BARTOS: Art, particularly in the last 15 years, has become more of a commodity than it ever has. I mean, sure, art and money have always been intertwined, but particularly in the last 15 years, it's a lot of money. What gets deemed as blue chip that ends up on the walls of institutions is intertwined with money, and the people that have the money often control that narrative. I'm just curious if this is something that you think about, and is it important to you that that dynamic changes?

DREW: Everyone thinks about it, and anyone who says they're not is lying. It's just the reality of creative industries, you know? In art, it just looks very different than other industries. Like, fashion needs big money. Food needs big money. This needs big money. So it is definitely a reality of the industry. In terms of the commodification of it, it's something that I'm always - I don't know. I don't work in an auction house. I think if I worked closer to, like, the bigger monies, I would have a more informed opinion about it.

But for me, I think more about, what does it mean to have a really good relationship between a collector and an artist? Because I think some of those relationships can be really generative and beautiful. I think about a collector like Pamela Joyner, who has an incredible collection of black abstractionists and also runs an artist residency. So she's equal parts doing, you know, the owning, but also providing resources to artists. And so - or even, like, I got to interview Tina Knowles. And, like, she has an amazing collection of work and has a lot of artists that she loves and does a lot of philanthropy.

I think for me, I'm more kind of focused on what the good money in art is, which is just optimistic and maybe ignorant to some. But for me, that's where my mental energy goes because, like, taking down Sotheby's or Christie's is like - that's not - that's not where I'm putting my energy. I'm sure that some people are, and I support them in that. But for me, I'm like, OK, how can we highlight the history, especially for black artists really specifically. What is it meant for us to have support? And what does that look like? And who is that coming from? Like, the Harlem Renaissance - it's like, there were patrons in that era who helped support that work. We don't have to have a totally antagonistic relationship to that truth.

GARCIA: Yeah, word. So former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama have amazing portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald. They were the first African-American artists to paint official portraits, and they're in the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. When it first went up, there was - there was much buzz heralding this moment. How did it impact you? And where do you see its importance?

DREW: Yeah, I haven't been yet, which is sad. I think that especially Amy as an artist is - Amy painted my portrait before she painted Michelle's.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Word.

DREW: Just kidding. I'll never be that important.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: But she did. Honestly, she did. I was talking to my roommate about it this morning. She came to my apartment and shot me for a portrait.

BARTOS: Where is that portrait right now?

DREW: I think it's in the National Museum of Women, so it's also in D.C.

BARTOS: Nice.

DREW: But, yeah, Amy is a person who I've had interactions - I mean, Kehinde as well. They are just two incredible artists who are givers. And Amy's, like, one of the most resilient humans ever. And so I think them choosing - because there are so many artists they could have chosen. I think those - them choosing those two was incredibly smart and powerful choices. I can't wait to see them.

GARCIA: Who are your favorite artists that are, like, no one knows about?

DREW: People I'm genuinely excited about - like, it runs the whole gamut. I really love this artist that I met in Chicago, and it's totally biased because we're from the same place. But Bisa Butler is an amazing artist who works within the context of, like, portraiture and fabric and makes these really beautiful portraits that are kind of knit. And I just got a work of hers - a print of hers in support of an organization called Groundswell. They just did a benefit. And Groundswell brings art into schools in New York City. Shout out to them. They're amazing. But I got one of her works at their recent auction. But Bisa is a person who I don't think a lot of people know yet, but she's an artist that I'm truly excited about.

BARTOS: For a little while now, you've been working on a project with New York Times writer Jenna Wortham called Black Futures. What can you tell us about that?

DREW: Yeah. Well, Jenna was just texting me about it. I can tell you that the book's intention is to give a look at black cultural production over the last five or six years, kind of when social media really took off and became a part of our kind of day-to-day life - and thinking about what would happen if Twitter closed tomorrow or if Facebook close tomorrow and where that ephemera would go. And so we're trying to take things that happen kind of - some things that happen in the digital sphere and put them into a more concrete, kind of analog format in the interest of preservation. Because very many pieces of black culture have faced a particular erasure. And so what responsibility can we take on to retain these stories? And the book - and a book format feels like the best for us.

GARCIA: Do you plan to return to an art museum, or do you just move forward as a freelance creative?

DREW: Friday was my last day. It's Monday (laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Big question. My bad.

DREW: Did my dad plant you?

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: So for right now, it's all steams ahead to finishing the book, which feels like a great privilege just to be able to zero in on that and execute things on a to-do list that's about three years old now. So that, for me, is the area. And I think for myself too, it's like, I feel better writing as a writer than writing as a social media manager at this stage. And luckily, the ends are meeting. So for me, moving forward, it's like, OK, how do I really add author to that roster of names?

GARCIA: All right. Well, I say we take a quick break. And when we come back, it might be your most favorite part of this entire interview.

BARTOS: Most favorite?

GARCIA: Most favorite.

BARTOS: Favorite.

GARCIA: Favorite?

BARTOS: Yeah, I don't think it would be most favorite (laughter).

GARCIA: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOS: And we're back. Oh, it's the sound of the drums, which means it's time for the Impression Session.

GARCIA: To set you up...

DREW: Yes.

GARCIA: ...We're going to play you two songs, one song each. And basically you just react however the song makes you feel or makes you think. Cool?

DREW: Yeah.

GARCIA: Yeah?

DREW: I'm ready.

GARCIA: All right. She's ready.

BARTOS: All right. Drop it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAT BOP")

K-ROB: (Rapping) Get funky in the place. It’s pathetic dope addicts have to be abused. It’s a shame what a day to be a prostitute. Life is given to us just to do the right thing. Instead of that, became a ho or a big dope fiend. Make you feel real bad every time I see another bum or brother sleeping on the street in the corner, in the morning, every night and day. It’s a pity so many people try to act gay. Everybody’s turning crazy so you’d better believe to do the right things or soon you’ll see life ain't a moral joke. It's a serious thing.

BARTOS: That is K-Rob and Rammellzee. "Beat Bop." 1983. Came out on Tartown Records and then was licensed by Profile Records. Take it away, Kimberly.

DREW: Well, it makes me think of this new writer named Donovan Ramsey - Donovan X. Ramsey, who is working on a book called "When Crack Was King." And that's what that song made me think. And he actually has this really beautiful research Instagram that he's been building called @whencrackwasking. And so I feel like I've heard that song because it's something that he shared, but I might just be making that up. But he's a person who has been articulating the epidemic through culture, actively as a part of his research strategy for the book he's building.

BARTOS: Well, so that record was produced and put out by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

DREW: Oh, really?

BARTOS: Yeah. He and Rammellzee, they were friends, but they kind of had a feud. Of course, Jean-Michel was, you know, a darling of the art world, and Rammellzee was much more...

GARCIA: Renegade graff writer.

BARTOS: Just outsider...

GARCIA: Subways.

BARTOS: Just a bugged-out dude. So they were friends, but they also had sort of a competition. And they decided that they were going to go into the studio and actually battle it out and make a record.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

BARTOS: Rammellzee told Jean-Michel that he could rap better, paint better, DJ better, do everything better. So he said, fine, we're going to settle this in the studio.

GARCIA: It's like the hip-hop Olympics of 1983 (laughter).

DREW: Oh, my God.

BARTOS: Because Jean-Michel was a DJ.

DREW: Yeah.

BARTOS: He was always playing records, and he actually DJ'd Area. And...

GARCIA: The club Area?

BARTOS: Yeah, yeah.

GARCIA: Really?

BARTOS: Excuse me, the club. Yeah, yeah. So they went into the studio, and somehow, K-Rob, who was 15 years old, he came in, and they decided that Jean-Michel had no business rapping on a record because he was trash.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

BARTOS: So it ended up being K-Rob and Rammellzee rhyming.

DREW: OK.

BARTOS: The album cover is pretty iconic, at least in terms of vinyl collectors. There were only 500 copies pressed of it. And in some ways it's become a collectible work of art. It's the most expensive hip-hop single. It's been resold for $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 $8,000.

GARCIA: Oof (ph).

BARTOS: Anyway. But I'm glad you didn't know what it was.

DREW: Not at all.

BARTOS: Right on.

GARCIA: All right. So we're going to play another song. And it's my selection.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOTHING EVEN MATTERS")

LAURYN HILL: (Singing) Now the skies could fall, not even if my boss should call. The world it seems so very small, 'cause nothing even matters at all. See nothing even matters. See nothing even matters at all. Nothing even matters. Nothing even matters at all.

D'ANGELO: (Singing) See, I don't need no alcohol. Your love makes me feel 10 feet tall. Without it, I'd go through withdrawal...

GARCIA: I have the sense that you know that record.

DREW: I do.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: That's Lauryn Hill, D'Angelo - "Nothing Even Matters."

DREW: Yes, yes.

GARCIA: I selected it for you because she is from the same area that you came from.

DREW: Yes.

GARCIA: So I'm imagining you might remember where you were and - when you first heard that song. Or do you have any memories of being an appreciator of her music or maybe of pride because she was local?

DREW: Yeah. It's funny because Jersey gets a lot of shit, but I always am like - Lauryn Hill, Cicely Tyson, Whitney Houston, Queen Latifah.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

DREW: Like, that was always my, like, constant refrain when I was in high school.

GARCIA: Nice.

BARTOS: Redman.

DREW: And Redman. I mean...

GARCIA: Artifacts.

DREW: Best - but also best "MTV Cribs" of all time.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: I used to see him all the time, like, in the park in Newark. But yeah, Lauryn Hill holds a special place in every Jersey girl's heart. Like, that's just the rules.

BARTOS: (Laughter).

DREW: That's how it's broken down. And I've been very fortunate to see her perform three or four times.

GARCIA: Recent or back in the day?

DREW: I just saw her in September. And before that, I saw her two years ago. She did - she performed at Kehinde Wiley's fish fry in Miami. So Kehinde Wiley does a party at the end of Art Basel for everyone who's been working all week, and it's a really big fiesta. And I was going to - I had never been invited. I wasn't cool enough. And then this was the year I was finally cool enough.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: And I changed my little, like, Spirit Airlines flight so I could stay. And I was like, if she doesn't show, I'm going to be so mad. I'm going to be so angry.

(LAUGHTER)

DREW: And then she did. She was on time. She did the Afrobeat Flex. It was so good. It was really, really cosmic experience. But yeah, Lauryn Hill, all day.

GARCIA: Word.

BARTOS: (Laughter).

GARCIA: Beautiful. Kim, it's been wonderful and educational building with you because I...

BARTOS: We call that edutainment.

DREW: Edutainment.

GARCIA: Yeah, honestly - you mentioned...

DREW: The mis-edutainment of Stretch and Bobbito.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: ...At least 10, 15, like, programs and people who I have no idea who they are.

(LAUGHTER)

BARTOS: Schooling.

DREW: But you guys should really look into Groundswell. You guys should go speak to those kids.

GARCIA: OK.

DREW: That's my plug.

BARTOS: Kimberly Drew, everyone. Thank you.

GARCIA: Applauso.

DREW: Yay, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOS: That is our show. This podcast was produced by Michelle Lanz, edited by Alexander McCall, Jordana Hochman and N'Jeri Eaton. And our executive producer is Abby O'Neill.

GARCIA: If you like the show, you can hear more at npr.org, and please go to Apple Podcasts to rate, review and (singing) subscribe. That's how we know you are listening.

BARTOS: And if you want to follow us, you can do so on Instagram @stretchandbobbito and Twitter-er-er-er (ph) @stretchandbob.

GARCIA: Peace.

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