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Chicago murals: Humboldt Park artist Stef Skills loves Public Enemy and paid tribute to the hip hop icons with a mural

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The Humboldt Park artist who goes by Stef Skills is a big fan of Public Enemy, the influential hip hop group. She says she “listened to them as a teenager and they baptized me into hip-hop music and culture.”

With lyrics and themes on such topics as racism and oppression and pushing back against authority, their music helped instill in her “the spirit of activism and being able to question things that I’ve been taught,” she says. That’s “carried over to all aspects of my life, beyond hip-hop or music. I think that’s something Public Enemy gave to a lot of people.”

She says she wanted to give something back to Public Enemy with a mural in the group’s honor that she painted on a viaduct wall under the Chicago Skyway on Commercial Avenue not far from 93rd Street on the Southeast Side.

She painted it in September — not long after seeing Public Enemy perform in the Bronx as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — for an annual graffiti art event called “Meeting of Styles.”

“Seeing them perform” and “how relevant their songs are still, it made me want to do a tribute,” she says.

A wider look at the wall where Stef Skills painted her mural on the Southeast Side.

A wider look at the wall where Stef Skills painted her mural on the Southeast Side.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

The mural includes ”elements of their music video” for the song “Fight the Power.”

It also offers a re-imagination of Public Enemy’s album cover for the 1988 release “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” featuring members Chuck D and Flavor Flav behind bars. In Stef Skills’ painting, they have broken free, and barbed wire is behind them.

Stef Skills shown working on her mural.

Stef Skills shown working on her mural.

Flavor Flav is wearing his clock necklace as usual, but he’s portrayed as a cat, painted by Stef Skills’ artist-friend Lily Cursed, who lives in Mexico City but was in Chicago. The cat is one of her signature characters, as is the woman Stef Skills painted in Chuck D’s place, with her name reflected in the sunglasses.

“It’s a tribute to them but also a lady and her cat,” she says. “It’s also the idea of the thrown-away woman. After a certain age, you’re thrown away or a spinster. But, no, we’re powerful, too. Just a woman and her cat — that’s fine. They’re happy.

“It’s kind of like a tip of the hat to womanism. We’re here to ‘fight the power,’ too, for the Black struggle, for the immigrant struggle, all the struggles.”

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals



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