Hip Hop
Online Auction: 18–25 July 2023 • 12:00 PM EDT • New York

Hip Hop 18–25 July 2023 • 12:00 PM EDT • New York

S otheby’s is thrilled to present our third annual Hip Hop sale, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop. The sale spans art, fashion, sneakers, jewelry, photography, hand-written documents, historic studio equipment, important artifacts, and more, representing key moments from the late 1970s through the present, with the majority of the auction being consigned directly by the people who created the culture.

This year's sale is once again curated and organized in collaboration with Monica Lynch, former president of Tommy Boy Records (1981-1998), who helped launch the careers of legends Queen Latifah, De La Soul, Digital Underground, Naughty by Nature, and House of Pain, among many others. Lynch is widely recognized as a leading voice on the history of the culture, and has appeared in numerous documentaries and podcasts.

“Hip Hop, to me, is life,” Pos says simply. “It’s literally life. It is something that was given to me, and it was something where once you heard it, you knew you were a part of it immediately. It is life, and it became my life.”

Expert Voices: Yaasmyn Fula & Cassandra Hatton on Tupac's Gold Crown Ring

  • Mo’Wax & UNKLE founder James Lavelle
  • Chris Tang's profile
Mo’Wax & UNKLE founder James Lavelle

James Lavelle (b.1974) - Biography

For the past 30 years, James Lavelle has been at the forefront of global street culture. The founder of both the iconic Mo’Wax label and the production alias UNKLE, he has been lauded as a highly influential tastemaker and curator in the world’s of art, music and fashion for over three decades.

He began DJing in Oxford aged only 15, where he started his first night, Mo’Wax Please. Relocating to London to start the record label of the same name, Lavelle took up residencies at some of the city’s most iconic clubs.

Artistic collaboration was always at the core of the Mo’Wax ethos, and the label soon began forging connections with visual artists from around the world. The early years of the label saw works being commissioned from artists such as Haze, 3D, Stash, LEE, Req1 and Nick Walker and Rammellzee, amongst many others. The spirit of collaboration soon extended beyond simply providing a visual language for the music they were releasing, and Lavelle began to curate exhibitions around the world, showcasing the artist’s work, and often taking them on DJ tours.

One artist in particular, Futura, became synonymous with both the label and Lavelle’s UNKLE project after they met in the early ‘90s.

‘I first met Lenny on a trip to Germany in August 1993. He was over there for the Cycle Messenger World Championships, an event at which he was also doing some live painting alongside Stash. Stash and I were friends from New York, so Lenny and I had mutual connections already and I was a big fan of his work, having seen it in Subway Art and record sleeves for Celluloid and The Clash. At the time I was trying to collaborate with a lot of those classic New York graffiti artists. I was particularly into his work because of his references to science fiction, and it seemed like the perfect visual language for the label, fitting nicely what I was doing with UNKLE and Mo’Wax.’

Having created iconic artwork for Mo’Wax releases by artists such as Rob Dougan and DJ Krush, Lavelle enlisted Futura to create artwork for his fledgling production project, UNKLE. Utilising his Pointman characters, he created a world around the group that soon transcended the record sleeves. Futura’s work with UNKLE, particularly the artwork created around the ‘Psyence Fiction’ album, brought the Pointman to a global audience.

Lavelle’s ongoing cultural exchange with the figureheads of Japanese street culture led to close collaborations with Nigo and his Bathing Ape brand, and later Medicom. Futura’s artwork and characters often played a central role in the products they created together, which ranged from action figures and toys through to sneakers and clothing collections. Meanwhile, Lavelle continued to establish further connections within the graffiti world, becoming friends with KAWS, becoming one of the first collectors of his work.

‘We had been hanging out together in New York, London and Japan, where he was one of the initial crew of people to be working and out there with Nigo and Oka. I’d become friends with him and we’d been talking about working together on something at Mo’Wax for a while. We ended up doing a show together at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms in October 2002 (#@!*$ : RECENT WORKS), along with Fraser Cooke and Michael Kopelman’.

The turn of the millennium saw these collaborations grow ever more ambitious, and in 2004, Lavelle was asked to collaborate with Nike on a Dunk. The resulting sneaker, colloquially known as the DUNKLE, utilised Futura’s artwork and was one of the very first music collaborations Nike had done, since taking on a legendary status, regularly featuring in lists of Nike’s greatest collabs.

Lavelle continues to produce albums under his UNKLE moniker, working with a myriad cast of musical collaborators including Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft, Brian Eno and Josh Homme. In 2014, Lavelle was asked to curate the iconic Meltdown on London’s South Bank, joining a long list of musical luminaries such as David Bowie, Yoko Ono and Nick Cave, amongst others.

Still a mainstay in the streetwear world, Lavelle has recently collaborated with brands such as Supreme, Undercover and Hysteric Glamour, and provided the soundtrack for Virgil Abloh’s final Off-White runway show. He was the cover star for a recent issue of Hypebeast magazine, and worked closely on the recent Style in Revolt show in Beijing.

The scope of his art exhibitions has grown in recent years, with 2016’s Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick, a blockbuster exhibition at London's Somerset House that featured contributions from artists such as Anish Kapoor, Sarah Lucas and Gavin Turk, and 2019’s Beyond The Road, a ground-breaking immersive exhibition at London's Saatchi Gallery, produced in collaboration with Punchdrunk creatives Colin Nightingale and Stephen Dobbie, and featuring works by Danny Boyle, Alfonso Cuarón and many others.

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