«I was kicking the verse along with him, «Shelowitz said the other day», and he calls out his comer: On 1-3-9 and Lenox Ave. there’s a big park. «I just thought, I want to mark that somehow, his words in that physical place». The following weekend, he rented a car and installed the sign, and twenty-six others, on posts in four boroughs and a few Westchester suburbs. «At first, I felt a little uncomfortable, especially with some of the more gruesome lyrics», Shelowitz said. «I’m this schmuck artist sneaking into these neighborhoods, and I just imagined people being, like, We actually live here, homie. So far, though, everyone seems to dig it».
One Sunday morning, Shelowitz drove to Clinton Hill, in Brooklyn, with Aymann Ismail, a photographer from the Web site Animal New York. «We have to document each sign» Ismail said, «because they usually get stolen within a day or two» Shelowitz, who wore a black hoodie and untied Nike Dunks, pulled out the first sign of the day. «People will still steal it», he said. «But they’ll at least have to get a wrench first». As he headed back to the car, a woman walking three dachshunds squinted up at the sign, grinned, and took a picture with her phone.
In Fort Greene (Ladybug: «Meet me at the corner, Myrtle and Adelphi»), a woman unlocking her green Jaguar waved Ismail and his camera away. «Don’t you point that at me», she said. «I do not have my hair done». On Eastern Parkway (Thirstin Howl III: «Rock-away 3 train, transfer at Utica»), a police car passed slowly but did not stop.
«Now we’re schlepping», Shelowitz said, setting his iPhone navigation system for Flushing. In 2008, the meta-rap group Das Racist recorded a song that was, in part, a parody of the hip-hop tradition of alluding to specific locations. The song consisted largely of variations on the phrase «I’m at the Pizza Hut/Iʼm at the Taco Bell». (Later in the song, the group clarifies: «The combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell on Jamaica Avenue!») Shelowitz parked outside the restaurant. While he installed the sign, a man in a sweatsuit looked on. «Sign’s a little cockeyed», he said. «I guess that’s how the kids wear their hats anyway». Ismail went inside, ordered a cheese pizza and a Mexican pizza, and attempted to eat both at once. «I call it the DREAM Act sandwich», he said.
Phife Dawg, a rapper from A Tribe Called Quest, grew up in St. Albans, Queens, a neighborhood of driveways and lawn angels. «This might be the most non urban place we’ve been», Shelowitz said. «I don’t even see any signs». He found one eventually a stop sign and got to work From a nearby yard, a woman with graying hair asked what he was doing. «We’re commemorating rappers who are part of our city’s history», Shelowitz said. «Oh», the woman said. «Cool» «This one’s for Phife Dawg», Shelowitz continued. «Why you putting it there, then?» the woman said. «That’s the house he lived in». She nodded in the direction of a two-story clapboard house half a block farther south, which had a «For Sale» sign in the window.