Written by | Jamilia Fortune Photography | George Clarence
Styling | Rasheed Crawford Make-Up Artistry | Natalie Nicole Johnson
We met at Ria’s Bluebird, a small café in Atlanta, GA. He looked exactly like what I’d seen online from my research, but way more laid back and almost timid. We went inside where he was met with hugs and excitement. It turns out that I was with a celebrity and I suddenly forgot everything that I wanted to ask!
Once seated, I threw out my icebreaker.
Jamilia (J): Where are you from?
Fahamu (F): I was born in Brooklyn, raised in South Carolina, and I’ve been in Atlanta for over 20 years.
He explained that he’d lost his mom at four years old and was raised by her aunt. Aside from his grandfather, positive men were void in his upbringing. His community urged him to be everything but what he really dreamed of… “You should be playing sports!” they would say; but who were they to talk him out of his dream?
Fahamu was a natural born artist, and art was the only thing he wanted to do.
He shared a story with me about how he’d read the World Book Encyclopedia C-Ch and looked up cartoonist, Charles Schultz, the late “Charlie Brown” artist. He read that cartoonists could make $1000/week and that’s when he decided that no one would persuade him to be anything else.
In 1993, at 18, he graduated from high school, gathered his belongings, $40, and moved to Atlanta where he enrolled as a freshman at The Atlanta College of Art. He said leaving there was about college but also about survival. He is now a PhD candidate at Emory University, a prestigious university in Atlanta.
Next, I wanted to delve into his creative process.
J: What does your creative process look like?
F: It’s natural. I’m always on. I might see a car passing by and get an idea from it. I have a long list of notes/ideas on my phone so I don’t forget or in case I need a new idea or name for a piece, I can refer to the list.
J: What are you saying with your art? Who are you speaking to?
F: I’m speaking to the masses but my focus is on black masculinity. People always have an idea of what it is but I’m saying that it’s so much more. Black masculinity, our feelings, and struggles have to be humanized.
The birth of his son prompted him to focus on this reality. He knew he wanted to be the type of parent who’d tell his children that it’s okay to be exactly who they are, especially his son.
F: It’s easier for girls to express their feelings, but boys are taught to swallow theirs. It’s as if their feelings don’t matter and they’re often times not even asked about them.
“Black masculinity, our feelings, and struggles have to be humanized.”
It’s with this in mind that Fahamu partnered up with Atlanta Public Schools to form (ad)Vantage Point,a community of black, male students from Maynard Jackson High in Atlanta. They create an environment for the boys in which they are encouraged to tell their stories through art. It empowers them to feel and to share. It also shows them that they are not alone. In the future, he hopes to expand this program into a nonprofit targeting young men who have been exposed to any sort of trauma.
We had to talk about the presence of hip hop in his work. Being Brooklyn born gave him an upfront view of the genre’s unfolding. He likens it to the blues, in which it was not well received but later embraced. He’s obsessed with the storytelling aspect of it, as well as the story that the music tells. He’s hugely inspired by Andre 3000 of Outkast due to his complexity in verse and style. Some of his favorites also include, Special Ed, Big Daddy Kane, “for making chocolate men in again,” The Roots, and Goodie Mob. He also has respect for up and coming artists such as Rich Homie Quan and the Migos because they’ve created a new wave of music that’s not relying on sampling and instead uses their voices as the instrument. Hip hop is so important because it tells the realities of being a black man in this world. He agrees that perhaps there are some stories, that many rappers tell that could be rewritten a bit more positively, but respects it nonetheless.
Understanding his outlook on hip-hop and consciousness, I needed to ask who he prefers, J.Cole or Kendrick Lamar, two very conscious and at times, controversial artists.
The answer, an overwhelming Kendrick Lamar! He’d written an article, entitled, “Are You Not Entertained? Kendrick Lamar and Black Resistance” documenting how the rapper took aim at white priveledge during his 2016 Grammy Award Performance, effectively addressing misrepresentation of the black experience in this country’s history.
J: What is it in Kendrick’s art that you connect with the most?
F: I really appreciate the fact that he is a “writer” first. The art of rap has become really pedestrian, in that everybody’s doing it. Kendrick goes beyond rapping into literature. His albums are reviewed in literary journals and compared to the canon of great American authors. Beyond that, he also literally transforms into an instrument. He works his vocals, improvising and deconstructing rhythms and patterns the way Coltrane would with his sax or Miles does with his trumpet. As a visual artist, his writing and musicality are all very visual and visceral. It’s really avant garde and frankly refreshing.
From Brooklyn to small town South Carolina, and now a living legend in the art world, Fahamu Pecou is creating a voice for the voiceless and letting them know that it’s okay to emerge from the shadows and tell their story. It’s okay to be themselves, unapologetically, and empowering men to not accept the narrative about who they are, but become what they are meant to be.
For all of these reasons, I can undoubtedly declare, “Fahamu Pecou is Indeed The Shit!”