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Graffiti and tattoo artist Mister Cartoon gives us a lesson in how the oldies have influenced the art of the hood, particularly when it comes to airbrushing low riders. The LA native also shows his sensitive side with some rare soul selections in his Guest DJ set. His work will be featured as part of MOCA’s Art in the Streets exhibit opening April 17.
For More: http://www.mistercartoon.com
Raul Campos: It’s Raul Campos from KCRW and I’m here with L.A.-based graffiti and tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon. He’s inked some of the biggest names in music and his art will be part of the first major museum survey of street art at MOCA. Today, we’re going to be playing excerpts of tunes that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Cartoon, welcome man. How are you?
Mr. Cartoon: I’m good. Good to be here – grateful.
RC: You’re born and raised here in L.A., right?
MC: That’s right.
RC: I’m gonna guess that you’ve gone to parties and heard this tune quite a bit.
MC: A lot of people might associate this song, those listening to this station, to some type of club. You know – garage type of music. This is “White Horse” by Laid Back.
But in LA, it was in the hood. We all thought it was a bunch of black guys with afros and elevator shoes that drove big Cadillacs. Gangsters, you know what I mean, singing this song. And we found out it was two Swedish guys. [Laughs] I didn’t find that till later man, until computers came out. This song really influenced the street a lot – the low riders. You put this song on right now and you get fired up.
I have a picture with my hair long in the back and a pompadour in the front. The girl with the teased hair to the ceiling with Aquanet and a hickey on her net at the La Casa in downtown L.A. [Laughs] I still have a ’88 Nissan truck with a lifted bed and hydraulics and daytons and a big cell phone in it. Even my wife – she’s ten years younger than me – she can remember through her mother and father.
RC: So does she give you a hard time about the music?
MC: She loves it. She’s right there with me. That’s why I married her, man. I found a woman that was not only out of my league looks wise, but she dug the same type of music. When I tell my partners, ‘Hey homes, you’re looking for Mrs. Perfect.’ I go, ‘You ain’t perfect, you’re ugly, man. You better jump on that girl.’ But, she has good musical tastes – her mother collects 45s and all the oldies.
RC: Nice. Laid Back is the artist, “White Horse” is the tune, and lets check it out. Mr. Cartoon is just selecting the tunes here at KCRW.com.
RC: You next choice, we’re switching over to some classic rock. Led Zeppelin. How did this band enter your life?
MC: In the early 90s, when I started muraling cars at the Lifestyle Car Club in East L.A., Boyle Heights area, I had these images about East L.A. and low-riding. It was a bunch of old convicts with big handlebar mustaches, hair combed back, tattoos and multiple felonies. I show up to the parking lot and these guys are listening to Pink Floyd, man. They’re listening to Hendrix and Zeppelin, and all the cars are themed after these classic rock songs. There was a Pink Floyd car that was a pink Lincoln.
These guys were in car clubs in the ‘70s and never left – they just lived in the ghetto. So I had to be educated about it. That stuff really impacted my life – all that classic rock. So, if you see our car club and you see our low riders at a car show, you’ll hear nothing but Zeppelin playing.
They’d basically lock us up in the garage. They’d paint a car – the fumes from the lacquer paint and they’d be playing this music.
RC: I’m going to stop you real quick – you’re starting to talk cars. Talk about things like muraling a car and all that stuff.
MC: Doing a mural is actually tattooing the car. After the car is painted – preferably with a candy paint job -- I will put an image that reflects the owner’s personality. A lot of the time they just let me go – it’s a fantasy type of thing. I will mural this fantasy mural with a woman with her hair down to her calves, sharpie eyebrows, big lips, a wizard in the sky and he’s zapping down money. It’s a real Southern California thing.
RC: Well lets check it out, Led Zeppelin, “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” here on KCRW.com with our guest DJ Mr. Cartoon.
RC: Our guest DJ is Mr. Cartoon and we’re just going to go in the complete opposite world with some hip-hop, if you want to even call them that.
MC: The next song is Cypress Hill, “Real Estate.” I know every member of Cypress Hill owns a whole Led Zeppelin collection, and is influenced. Cypress Hill grew up in the same area as me – I grew up in the Harbor area, they grew up in the South Gate area. I eventually ended up doing album covers, stage design and tour merchandise for them.
MC: These guys, when they did that song, they really made their own type of sound and you can really feel it. You can feel that you’re in a Regal with primer spots and bullet holes in it driving down the street. You experience this stuff. You don’t even have to be a big rap fan to appreciate this song. Cypress Hill affected my life and I know everyone from my generation. It was like one of “us” made it.
RC: Well, I think you’ve all made it. And it’s family, its music, its work, its life, and it gives you something to aspire too.
MC: Thank you. It’s something that you do because you absolutely love it.
I’m an artist out of pure love. If I don’t draw, I get kinda nauseous in my stomach. Now it’s more of a business now – I went from homeboy to homeowner. But I gotta keep my head in the street because of the artwork I do. I have to stay 18 years old in my head. I just try and stay current as far as artwork goes. But this music really does influence you.
RC: That was Cypress Hill doing “Real Estate.” Mr. Cartoon is in the house, he’s our guest DJ right here at KCRW. Raul Campos your host. Introduce this next song…
MC: It’s by the Train Robbers, and the name of the song is “Tricky Dick.” The song was made in the ‘60s, and Nixon was a sicko and got caught. And everyone pretty much calls someone that is a liar a “tricky dick.” So this song is pretty negative for an oldie for that time.
RC: Yeah, because normally everything is about love, and hanging with your “baby.”
MC: ‘I’ll be your fool, I’ll die for you.’ This one’s like, ‘You know what? You haven’t made it yet, slow down. Kick back, pump your breaks.’ It tripped me out – this negative oldie. I liked it.
MC: This music influenced my life. Oldies are a big part of the way I draw. When I build cars, I have a car for different eras of the oldies. When your sitting in a car that was made in the ‘60s and you’re listening to that music, it just puts you in the whole frame.
RC: It’s “Tricky Dick” by the Train Robbers here on KCRW.com. Our guest DJ is Mr. Cartoon. This is going to be our final selection – by the Soul Generation, “Million Dollars.” Why this one?
MC: Soul Generation is out of control. They are one of the groups that just never really made it big. They were out at the same time as the Delphonics and Temptations. They were just on a smaller label and there songs were just for more the hardcore – more for the street.
If you listen to the song, this is kind of the opposite of the Train Robbers. Talking about ‘if I had a million dollars, I’d give it all away for you.’ It kind of goes back to a relationship where you gotta put all that stuff to the side and it’s just you and your babe until the hubcaps fall out.
RC: ‘Till the hubcaps fall out.’ “Million Dollars” by Soul Generation right here selected by Mr. Cartoon here on KCRW.com.
So Cartoon, I see you want to do a little roll call. Get that smooth DJ voice going – let’s hear it.
MC: That’s right. [DJ voice] This is your Senor Love Daddy Mr. C-Toons – its roll call y’all. The Temp Breeze, The Dynamic Superiors, The Whatnots, Soul Generation, War, The Escorts, Train Robbers, Malo and The Midnighters. Thanks for making our days just a little brighter. [Laughs]
RC: Love it. Cartoon thanks so much for coming through. This is a huge honor and a great pleasure to just chit-chat and talk about music. Thank you for coming through man.
MC: Grateful to be here.
RC: So for a complete track listing and to find these songs, go online to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject.