Friday, December 27, 2013

'Heaven Can Wait' documents perseverance behind the paintbrush

Posted By on Fri, Dec 27, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Will Feagins, Jr.
Will Feagins, Jr. still remembers when he fell in love with hip-hop. It was a Run-DMC concert at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. "I just remember it being crowded and loud and feeling a lot of energy," he says. Though he was only 14 or 15 at the time, he knew he had to be a part of it. A year later, DJ Rampage was born.

But by the time he moved from his hometown to Atlanta four years ago, he'd traded his turntables for a camera. Since then the self-taught digital videographer and hip-hop documentarian has directed and produced 48 music videos for about 26 different artists. Through his High Impact Multimedia graphics and video production company, he's become a mindful advocate for Atlanta's independent hip-hop community, with such locally acclaimed mini-docs as Underexposed (winner of CL's 2012 ATL Short Cuts contest) and Change in the Game to his credit.

His latest documentary, however, gives voice to a different aspect of the scene. In the newly released Heaven Can Wait: The Story Behind the Wall [full-length below], Feagins turns his lens toward the collaborative creation by established visual artists Craig "Flux" Singleton, Kevin "Mr. Soul" Harp, and Goldi Gold.

Their "Heaven Can Wait" installation, which was featured in October's edition of the long-running Art Beats + Lyrics showcase and the recent Hello Again event sponsored by Ford/Lincoln, was inspired in part by the youth-led gang violence ravaging Chicago, according to Mr. Soul.

Like Feagins' past documentary work, Heaven Can Wait shines light on a subculture often overshadowed by Atlanta's gaudier side. And it comes at a time when urban art in Atlanta is enjoying a surge in popularity reminiscent of hip-hop's wonder years.

In the following Q&A, Feagins talks about how the trio's brotherly bond and dedication to craft compelled him to document their work, and how his own contributions to the culture have matured with time.

You're known for directing music videos and documenting the underground Atlanta hip-hop scene in your mini-docs and performance footage. What made you shift your lens to focus on visual art with Heaven Can Wait?
Will Feagins, Jr.: This is something that was in the making for awhile, just from the personal relationship with Goldi and Flux. I had been wanting to do something to highlight them. We'd been talking about it, and them doing this wall and including Mr. Soul was the perfect opportunity to capture everyone.

I grew up with hip-hop and it's in me, but I have an appreciation for all sorts of creative outlets. I did work with people on the poetry scene when I first moved down here before I found the hip-hop scene. I just have an appreciation for art and I want to do things to help bring that to other people.

What was it about Flux, Goldi and Mr. Soul as artists, and Heaven Can Wait, that drew you in?
Flux and Goldi are some of the first people that I connected with when I moved down here [from Pittsburgh, Penn]. I met Goldi Gold and Flux through the music scene and met Mr. Soul through a monthly gathering we used to have called The Creatives Brunch [at the former Johnny Cakes restaurant in Castleberry Hill]. They're just genuine people, even aside from them being artists, as far as a lot of their values and ideals. And then I'm a big fan of their artwork. It's the same thing with a lot of the hip-hop artists I work with; I have this appreciation for them that I want to show other people. Rather than telling you, let me show you how great they are.

The creative process for visual artists, more so than musicians, is usually so mysterious. Was it your intention to kind of peel back some of those layers with Heaven Can Wait?
That was totally my intention, to show the work that they put in. Even when people see the detail and the finished product, I'm quite sure they don't realize how much painstaking detail and time they put into that.

And they completed it in one week, from one Friday to the next?
They started it the Friday before Art Beats + Lyrics and they finished it the day of. They were working in a warehouse until Thursday, and they took the walls down. And when they put them up at Compound, they went down there earlier in the day and put on the finishing touches.

Another thing that makes the timing of this project interesting is that it's coinciding with this rise in the prominence of visual art within Atlanta's ground-level hip-hop scene that's being talked about. What's your take on that, as someone who's been so dedicated to documenting the scene as a whole?
I would probably have to agree, as far as the momentum that's starting to build behind the arts scene. From my experience, the artists have been around and been doing things. But it seems like now, starting this year, it's been more noticed and people are gravitating towards it more.

What do you think is behind that?
I'm not really sure. I think that what City of Ink has been doing has been playing a role in it, because they have their art shows and it exposes that youthful, different crowd to the arts. I think that plays a big role in it.

How did you get into video production?
I was really just starting to get back into video production. Just before I moved, I'd just done a full-length documentary with my friend who's a hip-hop artist called The Art of Life. But before that, my interaction with the scene was different. I was a DJ and I used to produce as well, so people back home knew me more for that. And I was getting into graphic design and designing [album] covers for artists. When I moved down here, I'd finally gotten my own camera.

What was your DJ name?
My DJ name was DJ Rampage. When I got into DJing, I was DJing for a specific artist. When I was younger, I went to a RUN-DMC concert and I said that's what I want to do. But people were asking me about DJing parties so I ended up doing that, and DJing weddings. [My DJ sets] varied, but it was a lot of what was on the radio at that point. And that's probably a lot of the reason why I stopped DJing. Cause I just stopped liking it.

Do you still view yourself as a "hip-hop artist" in the broader sense of the word, being that you're contributing to the culture from behind the camera as opposed to using a mic or turntables or even a paintbrush?
I think at this point [my work is] pretty hip-hop specific, although I do motion graphics work for small businesses and film presentations/speeches. I also filmed some poetry slams and made some promos for those events. My personal projects are more hip-hop centered because it's what I know most and enjoy.

I like the idea of having the ability to present hip-hop in a non-hip-hop manner to people who wouldn't normally think about or take it seriously. I want to contribute to people having intelligent discussions about hip-hop and carrying on the musical genre I grew up with into the future. There are older hip-hop fans now; we should be able to have a mature discussion about the state of things.

Videographers often start working with underground/independent artists and eventually branch out to work with bigger artists that have bigger budgets. It seems like your work is more mission-oriented than that typical business model.
I definitely agree with you as far as the development for most people. For me, my goal with the people that I work with is to help them reach the point where they have the big budgets to do things, as opposed to working with them as a stepping-stone to get to national artists. My goal is to help them become national artists.

Obviously, you've worked with a lot of Atlanta artists. Who's really piquing your curiosity as we end 2013.
As far as music artists, I've actually done a couple of videos for Jack Preston. He has a new project coming out next year. I'm looking forward to seeing how that will be received. I think the project is pretty awesome. Another artist who's been in my documentaries, Phene, has a new project coming out. I'm looking forward to that.

As far as visual, most of the artists who are coming up right now, like Paper Frank and Corey Davis, watching them and seeing how things develop for them has been interesting. Naturally, I'm interested in seeing what 2014 holds in store for Mr. Soul, Flux and Goldi. They've shared some of their plans and I'm looking forward to them.

What else are you working on right now? What can we expect in 2014?
I'm starting to get together my next mini-documentary. It's going to be focusing on hip-hop artists who are fathers, and how they balance those two lives. I'm trying to get that going and I want to have it done by Father's Day.

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