By Jonathan Sperling
The audio, visual and spatial components of hip-hop combine to create a sculpture that honors Queens’ hip-hop heritage and memorializes three of its greatest legends. And now the piece has found a home in Jamaica.
“A Cypher in Queens,” created by Astoria-based sculptor Sherwin Banfield, will be on display at the Queens Public Library’s Central Library, located at 89-11 Merrick Blvd., beginning on Sept. 19.
In an interview with the Eagle, Banfield described the sculpture as honoring artists, “who helped bring hip-hop to the forefront.”
The sculpture features busts of Hollis native Jam Master Jay, DJ and member of Run-DMC; Phife Dawg, from St. Albans’ A Tribe Called Quest; and Prodigy, from the Queensbridge duo Mobb Deep. The three busts face each other atop a perch resembling speaker boxes, looking down at the viewer from nine feet in the air. Each sculpture features an acoustic enclosure that can stream the music of each artist, with playlists curated by Banfield.
“When I look at these three individuals who are different in their artistic expression, and having them pass away, it seemed like the obvious choice for me to choose to memorialize them,” said Banfield, a native of Trinidad, who told the Eagle that his home country inspired part of the work.
In Trinidad, clusters of stacked speaker boxes, similar to the platforms that support the three busts, blast calypso and reggae music during Carnival season. Banfield drew inspiration from the speaker boxes while designing the sculpture, and also cited hip-hop as a “pivotal inspiration” throughout his teenage years.
“Teenagers always have the world on their shoulders — very emotional and needing to identify with something that can help develop their self-esteem,” Banfield said. “Seeing these guys dressed a certain way and being able to be expressive and not care and have confidence is something that teenagers really get attracted to.”
Though he values the contributions of all three of the artists, Banfield noted that Phife Dawg was his favorite because of his Trinidadian background. Similar to how Banfield lived in the residential, suburban town of East Orange, New Jersey upon arriving in the United States, Phife Dawg lived in the residential neighborhood of St. Albans.
“When you are a bit of an outsider and you come across someone that has a similar experience as you, a similar language or culture, it’s an easy way of adapting or connecting to that individual,” he said.
Ralph McDaniels, the Queens Public Library’s hip-hop coordinator, will host the grand opening of the sculpture on Sept. 19 beginning at 6 pm. Also present will be Jason Mizell, Jr., Jam Master Jay’s son and the event’s deejay, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, a poet and Phife Dawg’s mother, who will read her work and talk about her son’s legacy, and Banfield.
The sculpture will be on display until February 2020.