In this interactive series, ON+OFF is an ongoing visual narrative about the every day experiences of performing/recording artists and their perspective of life outside the booth and stage. For the summer, black congo will accompany MoRuf on tour to document the developments of L.O.E. on the road and provide fans with a closer look of how the movement came to be before Shades.of.Moo.
Today is the first day of July and I’m doing 85 on the Turnpike heading north to Irvington, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Newark, the air ablaze with dry humidity and clouded skies. Today is also the first day of the LOE Be Water Tour, organized by MoRuf and Samuel Grenada, curated by Regina Nelson, set to launch in Bedstuy, Brooklyn later tonight. This is some legendary shit, first stopping off at “The Mecca,” MoRuf’s dark and trippy enclave for a bedroom, a place where many of the golden moments in Shades.of.Moo have transpired. I had only been to his home a few times, mostly incidentally and accompanied by my girlfriend, Billlzegypt, but today was different.
He was in his (literal) zone, manifesting good energy, surrounded by a host of christmas lights and a wicked collection of vinyl records that could make any hip-hop head drown in envy. We’re talking about how good it feels to watch hard work manifest into real things, making an impact, improving the lives of people and the communities we care about with art. The community’s been dying for this, unfortunately in some literal sense, for an artist to speak to the times we live in. I had a feeling MoRuf’s new record was going to be nothing but flames. In my head I’m comparing this moment to a story my mentor once told me about when he first photographed Mos Def in the early stages of his career. I’m not gassing myself nor Moo, though, it feels pretty real to me. So I’m here, photographing this young legend in the intimate spaces of his room and he expresses his deep gratitude and appreciation for me being here in multiples of thank you’s and bless god’s. I smile from behind my camera and feel grateful simply to be able to witness the whole thing with a front row seat.
A few hours later, we stop by QBG, a barber shop he use to work in and now patronizes as a regular customer, to show love before heading out and starting our day together.
I’m introduced to his folks and his childhood friend Chidi, and a man getting his hair cut begs me to take a picture of him. Right after, we’re on the road to Byron’s, 1/3 of the LOEFOREVER brand, picking up a few shirts for later. New Meek Mill is playing the background and Moo is waiting for the screen printing iron to heat to 300 celsius. I’m now recognizing how strong the language of LOE is, how it transcends boundaries like genre in music or race in humanity, spoken fluently by its vast community members, all of which is learned and shared through gesture, interaction, and vibes. Like a ripple in water, LOE has managed to reach and root itself worldwide, planting deep into all kinds of communities and built a nation (not even a network, a nation) of folks who love the movement for what it is.
Today was no different. From kicking it with King Texas, a phenomenal photographer and visual storyteller from Brooklyn, to Iman Omari, the eclectic DJ/musician/composer Compton native, I learned more about MoRuf being around his creative friends than watching him perform or listening to his records on repeat.
It’s 7pm EST. The Bishop is filled to the brim with good vibes. Located in the heart of Bedstuy, the gallery’s walls display select photographs by Sam from The HER Project, a mini documentary series that explores the multifaceted meanings of womanhood from the perspectives of every day women. Iman is spinning a dope set during sound check and folks are floating in and around the space, some discover the back porch where men are fervently playing dominos and drinking brew, others are lost in the music.
Wellz has The Grey Market set up on one end of the gallery, vending vintage goods from out-of-print books to racks of rare shirts and collectible hats. The night proceeds with the good energy it began with, the room filled with new and familiar faces, lights low lit, anticipation rocket skyhigh. MoRuf’s band plays on cue and we’re all locked into the wave of sing alongs and fresh lyrics, our bodies all intertwined and become one, like water.
It’s been about a year since I’ve known MoRuf. From the time I saw him transform the local hip-hop scene at Coffee Cave to rocking with Pete Rock at the Heineken Green Room last October, I’ve watched him grow into this powerful, moving, positive force that infectiously spreads from listener to listener – like oxygen flowing to the brain. “LOE – that’s that love over everything” is not just a chant his audiences echo in call-and-response – it’s a culture. A countercultural response to the commercialization of rap music and an all-encompassing movement to reclaim artist integrity and creativity. I couldn’t be any more proud of this man and can’t wait for him to share his journey this summer on tour with his friends, family and fans.
Check out my recap reel below from our day’s adventures and be sure to keep up to date with MoRuf’s movements on and off tour here.
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