An Interview with Chris “Heezy” Hurtt of my8bithiphop.com

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Retro styling meets new school ethos.

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Bodye | April 14, 2017

via theheezylife.com

Evoking the gaming technology of yesteryear, Bronx-born multidisciplinarian Chris “Heezy” Hurtt has been getting traction for his rendering of today’s most celebrated hip hop artists into 8-bit avatars, found on his website my8bithiphop.com. Currently based in San Francisco, he discusses some of his favorite media, the artist community he thrives in and what pushes him forward as an independent creator.
Looking through your design portfolio, it appears that your work at my8bithiphop.com shares some DNA with a series of infographics you created in examination of Kanye West’s career. Is this indeed where you birthed the concept or was there another source of inspiration?

That’s actually spot on. I started 8BitHipHop from a school project during college where I designed a statistical poster based off things that have happened throughout Kanye West’s career. How the pixel style came into play was that I designed the 6 iconic looks Kanye was known for during each year he released those albums. The goal for it was to grab people’s attention and it certainly served that purpose.

Where in New York are you originally from? What compelled you to attend San Francisco State University? What’s your experience been like with that campus community, and do you still attend?

I was actually born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in Queens. I ended up moving out to Southern California right after my freshman year of high school and moved to San Francisco for college to study graphic design. I was never really a part of any clubs on campus per se, I kind of did my own thing, but I made sure that I was a familiar face around campus as I liked engaging with my classmates and finding cool projects to work on along the way. I graduated a little over a year ago and I’ve been paying off my student loans ever since.

Did you have an affinity for video games as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite systems and/or games? Are there any in particular that bear influence on 8BitHipHop?

I absolutely loved video games growing up, I always felt there was something special about video games from how they looked & how things played out that just couldn’t happen in movies, TV show, books, and in some cases real life…it was a lot more interactive and creative. I would play Pokemon, Kingdom Hearts, NBA Street, Call of Duty, etc. Growing up I actually had dreams of becoming a video game designer, I think it was because I’ve always had an affinity for imagining my own characters and storylines. 8BitHipHop actually bears some influences to my favorite games like Pokemon & Mario on the Gameboy, along with other classics like Street Fighter and Sonic the Hedgehog.

It looks like your first gallery event in October went really successfully, due in part to how quickly “word of mouth” spread. How important is it to you as an artist to congregate with a community in a real-world setting? How conducive has been San Francisco and the Bay Area at large been to connecting with other artists and establishing community? Who are some other artists in that community you find inspiring?

Yea absolutely, it was incredible that without posting on social media we had nearly 400 people in attendance and everyone had a great time. I believe as anyone involved in the arts its extremely important to be able to create an environment that people can congregate in because art is about making you feel something and that feeling is amplified when you could share with other people. Going back to my influence from video games, I think it’s vital to have an interactive aspect to your art. My galleries that I’ve had and I plan to have are never just static pieces on the wall, I make sure that the gallery is engaging and provides different stimuli for the senses. Our art needs to evolve and provide a new experience especially in our age of short attention spans.

I’d say San Francisco & the Bay Area is THE most accepting place if you live outside the box. As a result we have some of the most amazing talent in such a small radius. I’ve been inspired by artists, galleries, rappers, and really anyone who’s out there hustlin’. Recently I’ve been drawing inspiration from locals like IG: @nehahalol, @effulgencesf, @1amsf, @rexxliferaj, @frankwilder, and my girl @barbarajayy.

What role does Jordan Hicks play in 8BitHipHop? How long have you two known one another and have you collaborated on any other projects? Is there anyone else that plays an integral role to its operations?

So I’ve known Jordan for over 5 years now, he’s a real good guy. We went to school and worked in retail together. I’ve always been focused on design & art while his primary focus has been on producing music and being a great writer. We came together through our love of Hip Hop and as a result he’s helped write over 100 spotlight articles on the site. This year he’ll be our guy building relationships with boutiques and handling retail inventory for physical stores that carry 8BitHipHop merch. Exciting times! My friend Niko helps out with videography, like the recap video that we did for our October event, and my girlfriend Barbara also helps with some of our photography and making sure I don’t go crazy. These are some of my closest friends and although we will generally work on our own separate projects, they are always willing to help myself and the brand when I need ‘em.

With album covers, for example, like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” and Common “Electric Circus”, and countless photographs and magazine covers, hip hop has forged a long history with the group avatar. I see a parallel in the 100 Faces of 8BitHipHop (Vol. 1) poster available on your website. What are some of your favorite avatars, both individual and group, in hip hop?

Hands down my favorite hip hop logo is the Wutang symbol, there’s no hip hop avatar more timeless than that. But I also love the cover for Midnight Marauder and De La’s 3 Feet High and Rising. What’s dope about these covers is a blend between different styles and media (i.e. photography and painting) and often they shed light on the fact that Hip Hop has many faces, its not just the people you see rapping but the beatmakers, the dancers, the stage crew, the fans, its everyone that wants to be part of the culture. Our 100 Faces of 8BitHipHop (Vol. 1) poster is just the first in a much larger series that will allow people to collect some of their favorite artists and have a talking point with any friends that look at the artwork in their crib.

For the majority of its existence, hip hop has relied on itself to document and venerate the full gamut of contributors. Referring back to the poster, it’s cool to see legends like The Notorious B.I.G. alongside newcomers like Madeintyo. Who are some of your favorite underground hip hop artists right now and who do you project will have further success in the next few years?

Between myself and Jordan, we always stay in tune with what’s new along with diving back into the classics on the daily. What’s important to understand about hip-hop is that its always evolving so something that was considered great music in 1999 is vastly different than what might be considered a hit now and that’s perfectly fine. I could be vibing out to D’Angelo in the rain, then once the sun comes out start bumpin’ 21 Savage. That’s part of the beauty in Hip Hop that should be appreciated instead of shamed for not being a “real fan”. Some new artists that I’ve been listening to are Caleborate, Elujay, Rexxlife Raj…all from the Bay Area. Along with Dave East, Goldlink, Masego, and the artists on Soulection. I’m thankful to say many of these names are friends I know they’re on to some major moves within the next few years. 

I see that you are also a photographer, graphic designer and fine artist. Do you prefer to work in a specific type of media? Was your interest in multimedia born out of curiosity or necessity?

I’m a very creative person and sometimes my ideas are best expressed through a black & white photo from Chinatown, other times its expressed thru designing a graphic for the album I’m currently listening to, or even directing a short animated video. I try not to limit myself to one type of expression especially since I always am willing to try something new and learn from those experiences. My interest in multimedia came from my necessity to be curious. I’m always wanting to push boundaries but I also need that because doing one thing for too long will have you in a slump sometimes. It’s good to draw inspirations from all types of art.

What have been your most popular stickers? Have any of the artists reached out to you directly? Have you been commissioned by any of them prior to rendering them for 8BitHipHop?

Our most popular stickers have been Tupac, Kanye, and Chance 100%. I find that extremely fascinating because from those artists it seems like people are not only interested in what’s popular in the now but across the entire spectrum of the genre. What’s been really dope is that I’ve been able to work alongside some artists that I find inspiring like BJ the Chicago Kid, DJ Jazzy Jeff, CJ Fly, and Bryson Tiller. I’ve been able to share my work with some of the artists I’ve rendered and they’ve loved it, I remember I was super hyped when Pete Rock made it his profile picture for a while. Stuff like that lets me know I’m doing something right.

Do you feel the role of multimedia in hip hop gaining strength moving forward? For instance, do you feel like quality photography, graphic design, etc., are being taken more seriously (and appropriately compensated) within the industry? Are we reaching a point where creators and their audience can forge their own identities and relationships to one another without the industry-at-large? Is it still important to be connected in both realms, as an independent artist and as talent for a larger entity or project?

Of all genres, Hip Hop has always had the strongest visual components because Hip Hop is extremely organic as its a reflection of the people and the community. Our triumphs and our struggles are documented through our music. I’ve seen several projects within the past year that have had amazing visuals like CJ Fly’s cover, Pusha T’s release, and even the viral nature of Kanye’s Life of Pablo merch. On the other hand, because of the internet, art is just out there and some rappers have stolen/copied work without properly crediting or compensating the originator. One thing that we can’t ignore is how vital the Internet is to the success of many music artists and creators so we need to find a way to use this tool to our advantage and foster a positive working relationship. The problem needs to be addressed from both ends. Music artists have the power to help launch a designer’s career if they give proper credit and respect the creator’s process. Creators have the power to shape an identity for a public figure so long as they don’t lose their values in the process (being properly paid, developing a contract, being original, etc.). Really our best tool is communication and giving projects the time it deserves to manifest.

Looking at artists like Chance the Rapper, you can be an artist in 2017 without a label backing you and own your own lane. You can release a stream-only album and be nominated for seven Grammy’s. The game is changing so we need to adapt with it. Designers and photographers can have huge success freelancing without being stuck at a 9 to 5. They can learn how to design through tutorials online without necessarily having to graduate college. It all comes down to our discipline and desire to make an impact. With our changing political and social climate I think now more than ever we need each and every artist to put their best work forward.

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