A new mural dedicated to New York City hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest is nearing completion in St. Alban's, Queens. Painted by artist Vincent Ballentine in the Afrocentric red, green, and black colors that comprised so many of Tribe's album covers, the piece covers the entire back wall of the Nu Clear Dry Cleaners on Linden Boulevard and 192nd Street where the group filmed portions of their 1991 video for "Check The Rhyme."
Ballentine grew up with A Tribe Called Quest's records. "They were in the car with me on excursions, date nights with Bonita, and hopefully they will be with me on an award tour," he said, referencing the group's catalog of classics. For Ballentine, the music represents a time in the past when hip-hop was more thoughtfully-crafted, clever, and diverse. "I hope this mural bridges some of the gap," he said.
Nu Clear's manager, Iris Wilcox, told NY1 that die-hard fans are often spotted taking photos of the laundromat. Wilcox was easily won over by the mural plans and gave Ballentine permission to paint over the long brick wall.
A month of planning and three days of painting have already gone into the mural. Vallentine had hoped to share it with all four of Tribe's founding members, but that hope vanished when Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor died this spring. "I want legends to get the roses while they can still smell them," he said, lamenting the fact that Phife, who grew up near the site of the mural, won't be around to see it.
The piece also features lettering work from Nick Gamma, the original graphic artist for Tribe's Midnight Marauders and Low End Theory albums. Slated for full completion in early July, it will ultimately feature portraits of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White, and Phife Dawg.
"Phife came from the golden era when hip-hop was something to be cherished. Him passing leaves another gap that will never be filled again. He earned a place in history," Vallentine said. "As an artist, it's my job to never let that memory die and represent, represent."