If you’ve been to Yankee Stadium lately, you’ve likely noticed the larger than life mural of former shortstop Derek Jeter, painted by street artist Jeff Henriquez. Although many of Henriquez’s most recognizable works now adorn the city of New York, the street artist’s 25-year tenure began back during his high school days in Lynn, Massachusetts.
The now New York-based artist’s portfolio is widely populated with portrait-centric murals, although his inspiration and aesthetic interests swerve into different directions. “Chor Boogie is one of my favorite artists right now. The piece he did for The Bushwick Collective is one of my favorites,” shares Henriquez. The outdoor street gallery in Brooklyn displays an internationally curated selection of artists, including Henriquez’s own work. Yet, while art has always resonated with the Massachusetts native, his love for hip hop is just as strong.
It was saddening news then to Henriquez when MC Prodigy of Mobb Deep passed away due to complications related to sickle-cell anemia. As hip-hop fans around the world collectively mourned, graffiti artists Jeff Henriquez and Eli “Eli Eos” Lazare paid homage to the rapper’s legacy with a mural in Prodigy’s hometown of Queens, New York.
Henriquez first connected with Mobb Deep in high school, around the same time he took up street art and was exploring new creative outlets. “Mobb Deep was able to convey my teenage angst and emotions,” recalls Henriquez.
Over two decades later, Henriquez was taking steps towards working on a collaboration piece with Lazare depicting the Queensborough Bridge when news broke of Prodigy’s passing. The untimely death inspired Henriquez and Lazare to shift the direction of the mural, choosing to instead paint a portrait of the late Prodigy.
It’s understandable then that Henriquez was overcome with immense sadness when he learned the mural had been vandalized. “It’s important for me to uphold respect and an artistic standard when creating murals, an unwritten rule most street artists abide by,” explained Henriquez. “I wanted to maintain the portrait and repair it just as fast as it was tarnished. Not only in the name of my work, but as a response to those responsible in the first place,” he continued.
Not long after the work was repaired, another round of vandalism struck. “The second vandalism didn’t come as a shock. I knew it would happen again since the first act was specifically targeted,” said Henriquez. As for the culprits behind the defamation, their identity remains unknown, but the beef seemingly lies with Prodigy and not the artwork itself.
In response to the vandalism, Henriquez received thousands of messages and comments from fans and people close to Prodigy alike in support of the piece. Displaying the power of art, the mural has become not only about the subject itself but has transcended to reflect the integrity of the community that formed the rapper.
Following the first incident, waves of people showed their support by standing in front of the mural as Henriquez and Lazare worked into the eaerly morning on its restoration. Among the crowd of onlookers was producer DJ Hotday shining his car’s high beams for lighting.
“That’s hood love. It’s a feeling of positivity that will remain with me for the rest of my life,”concludes Henriquez.
Celebrate the life of Prodigy by listening to the 50 best Prodigy/Mobb Deep songs ever recorded and read the responses Henriquez received on the piece and vandal.
Image CreditRaphael Conelly