On Saturday February 28th, veteran artist Mel L. conducted a free workshop where he taught basic rhyming skills and writing techniques. The NVAM teen council was in full attendance along with some fellow veterans. To get things started, Mel had the whole group engaged in exercises that activated the abdomen which helped with our enunciation. We then did a stream of consciousness writing activity to generate ideas for our rhymes. After refining our thoughts through a cappella writing, Mel played some beats and we adapted our rhymes to become amateur hip hop artists!
The teen council had some questions for Mel and he ever so graciously replied:
How can I improve my graffiti skills?
Practice, practice, practice. Figure out the best way for you to hold the can to get the results you want.
What inspired your technique for your style in graffiti?
I was inspired by the culture. I remember watch old Hip Hop videos and movies back in the day, like Wild Style, and wanting to be a painter. Because I was self taught (I didn’t really know any other graffiti writers in my town) I would say my technique was inspired by what made me the person I was/am today.
What is the name of your crew? The Microphone Misfitz
Do you like doing workshops? I love it. Its a good feeling getting to work with people from so many different ages, cultures and backgrounds. I get to create art while I’m teaching and I like building and feeding off of the people involved.Plus, its cool to know that something I’ve said or done may inspire the group of people to step up in the arts.
What led you to pursuing teaching the youth?
My first job in education came from me being hired as an actor/interpreter at a local museum teaching classes about the exhibits. At the time I had just started my theater company and I was approached by someone who was working there who said I kinda looked like someone the museum wanted portray. I loved working there and since then I have grown to love education as much as the arts.
What inspired or led you to go into the music industry from acting?
I been singing all my life even though acting was my first love. I would sing all the time and even started break dancing and rapping as a kid at school dances. At a lot of my shows we would sing and have competitions to see who was best. When I was sophomore in high school when I was cast a musical, Fiddler on the Roof, when i figured that could do both. because Hip Hop allowed more freedom of speech to say what I felt, how I felt it and me growing up in and embracing the culture as a whole it just kinda took over.
As a veteran, do you find a lot of inspiration from your time serving in the Marines?
Yes, it has influenced my life as a whole and I draw inspiration from my life in general. I did a lot of writing during my time in service. Plus it made making songs, like Ready for War, easier to write.
What inspires you? My family, life, politics, comedy, silly things I see people do on the train, my students, education, things I’m passionate about, books (I read a lot esp. biographies and comic books), people.
Who is your favorite rapper? My two favorite rappers (I’m a Misfit I can’t name just one) would be Scarface and E40.
How do your words flow so naturally? Practice, even the most naturally talented/gifted people have to work at it.
What do you do in your free time?
Hanging out with family, listening to music, and occasionally play video games(Madden, Batman, or war games the don’t remind me of personal experiences).
Is making music your career? Have you gone on tour before?
My career is a mix of arts and education that some people refer to as Edutainment. I make a living a Site Manager for an After School program as well as teaching and performing across the country. I have been blessed to apart of several tours over the years from Comic Con to The Cross State Connection Tours. I usually tour a couple times a year and since my evenings, weekends and sometimes summers are free it really helps.
Did you always like music or did you just pick up on it?
Always, from listening to the blues and in Mississippi with my grandfather, to listening to soul and funk with my mothers aunts and uncle, to picking up country music in the south, classical and jazz in the theatre and Hip Hop in the neighborhood. Music has always been with me.
How do you get yourself to focus on writing a song?
Its never the same. Sometimes I lock myself in a room with the music, a pen, and paper until I have what I want. Sometimes it just comes to me and I have to drop what I’m doing to get the thoughts on the paper. I do a lot of free writing when I’m writing songs as well.
What should I do to sound better?
Speak clearly and enunciate. Your voice is yours, play with it until you find one that you are comfortable with. The tone, inflection and intensity of my voice changes depending on my mood and what message I’m looking to get across.
What should I do to flow when reading out loud?
The more you read over something the more comfortable you become with it so before you read it aloud in front of others read it to yourself a few times and if possible read it out loud to yourself a few times.
For more information about Mel’s work, visit http://themicrophonemisfitz.bandcamp.com/
Mel is back at the National Veterans Art Museum as a part of the NVAM’s Creative Community workshop series and Chicago Artist Month! Mel L. is a hip hop artist with The Microphone Misfitz and Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. Mel L. created “Evolution of War,” a graffiti mural installation, at the National Veterans Art Museum in 2011 and hosted “Identity and Representation,” a graffiti arts workshop in February 2014.
Why the Art of Self-Definition?
Most graffiti artists are self-taught. They came to the medium for self-expression, self-discovery, and the challenge and thrill of publicly expressing themselves as artists. We invite you to join us in this workshop and to claim your own identity as an artist. No prior experience needed; all artists must begin somewhere. Being an artist is a choice: come learn techniques of spray paint art and learn to see yourself as an artist.