Artist to Artist: From paper to can, talkin’ colour with KeepSix [Interview]
Surrey, BC – The story of the modern day Da Vinci is one seldom told, hip-hop in general has always had four elements in the blueprint including:
One of the illest and most vibrant ways to express the love for the hip-hop culture has always been graffiti. Recently Hellnback has taken the opportunity through our Artist to Artist series to shed light on some great talent across Canada, those who spread love and understanding and who also support the culture through there vision and basic blind faith in their craft.
In this Artist to Artist installment Hellnback catches up with arguably one of the best and most skilled artists on this planet (the man is amazing, trust us) – from paper to can.
Ladies and Gents may we introduce you to an original Stompdown Killa, KeepSix.
Interview conducted by Hellnback for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: Sup brudda, long time. Who are you, for the readers who don’t know and on a personal note?
KeepSix:Sup Helly, Killah KeepSix – co founder of The StompDownKillaz.
HipHopCanada: The elements of hip-hop have been a staple to those who chose to follow. What inspires you to keep going so hard as a visual artist? And as a youngin’, what drew you towards this culture?
KeepSix: The foundation of what hip-hop really is, will never die. Sure, along the way it’s been pulled apart and manipulated here and there but the real raw shit that attracted me in the beginning, that shit is forever. So I try to stay grounded and stay, for lack of better word ‘real’ with the culture. I believe in order to represent hip-hop or any one element of hip-hop, you need to give. The more you give to emceeing, graffiti writing, whatever, with the less expectation of receiving any benefits, the more you get out of it, feel me? Too many people come in and take from the culture, try to capitalize off others hard-ass work to make their rent money and that shit waters down the scene some. The shit that inspires me to keep giving is like I said ; The more I put into graffiti, strictly for the love, the more I’ve gotten back in respect and love from fellow writers. That’s all that matters to me. The same shit I wanted when I was a young kid. Just to feel apart of something. Today, I feel apart of.
HipHopCanada: Has music been a major influence on your style? If so, what speaks closest to your ear?
KeepSix: It’s kind of funny because it isn’t the first time someone has asked me what I listen to. When I’m asked though it’s usually, “so, what/who do you listen to while you paint or draw to vibe to?” But asking if it influenced my style, now that’s deeper. Yes, music has definitely had an influence on my style. Although I listen to a ton of hip-hop, I honestly listen to most other genres just as much. I grew up on classic rock/metal. A lot of blues as well. So depending on my mood or what I’m working on, I tend to tap into something that fits with it. In my eyes when it comes to my graffiti I see it as a very aggressive style. A lot of pent up aggression that I release through vicious, dangerous letter form. I prefer to paint more Wildstyle sharp pieces that look like if they were real they would destroy anything or anyone who tried to fuck with ‘em. To get that type of emotion out of me in the moment I listen to a lot of metal or underground hip-hop. A lot of early 90s rap. On the flip side tho, if I’m workin’ on say, some photo realism type drawing or something more laid back I tend to listen to the blues, classic rock or jazz. Some mellow shit. Old school Soul music has played a huge part of both lately. I don’t do country. Ever
HipHopCanada: You came over a crazy self destructive cycle, in which you’re not shy to tell share your story with others and how you overcame it. Has your growth influenced others? And has becoming a father had any influenced your progress or was there just a breaking point?
KeepSix: Yeah, you know, we all go through our bullshit in life, Helly. Some of it’s just the cards we’re dealt, some of it’s our self will, ego, pride, whatever. I reached a real low point and eventually hit my rock bottom. Then I slid along that rock bottom for some years and although there were brief moments of clarity so to speak, I could never break out of that vicious cycle of drug addiction. By the end I was consumed by it and I put a Molotov cocktail of drugs and alcohol in my body almost every day. I felt hopeless and just wanted out but I was too much of a coward to do it so I just kept shovelling drugs into my system hoping one day I wouldn’t wake up or I’d get taken away some place. I dunno, unless you been in that state of hell it’s hard to understand by simply reading words. Anyways, I had my son at the time, he was around four by the time I finally had enough and decided to change my life around. Although I had him that wasn’t enough to get or keep me clean. That took work. Hard work. I think in the back of my mind though he kept me alive long enough to reach a point where I wanted to change. Had I not had him I probably wouldn’t be here. That’s just the truth to how mentally, spiritually and physically broken I was from years of drug abuse. You know though, it’s been almost three and a half years since I touched booze or drugs. My life is better today than it ever was, even before I got into the party lifestyle. A lot of hard work and now giving back to people who are where I once was – In that hopeless state. My hand is always out because I can’t keep what I have unless I give back. Plain and simple. I hope my story inspires someone who may be struggling. There is hope. I’m living fuckin’ proof that the shit can be turned around. Just have to work up the courage to reach out and admit to yourself that you know what….I need help, and I can’t do this alone.
HipHopCanada: I have actually been watching your transformation via social media and you’re hitting the gym heavy it seems. What are some benefits you would be able to pass along to say someone who is just starting to work out?
KeepSix: Haha. The gym is just another outlet to release frustration. You know , I lived unhealthy all of my teens and adult life. Always been a malnourished lookin’ skinny kid so when I got clean, one thing we did at the rehab facility because we were on restrictions and shit, was running laps around the property, and fillin’ buckets with water an lifting rocks for weights. When I got home I started to go to an actual gym more and more and eventually, you know, it just became apart of my life. Now I just focus on eating healthier and learning about my body. I mean there are so many paths you can take when it comes to being active, my only advice or input would be, just to start with something. Anything. And make a conscious effort to see it through. The chips will fall in place
HipHopCanada: Did you notice any change from the old you art wise compared to the new you?
KeepSix: I gotta say, and I apologize if a lot of this seems to refer back to recovery, it’s just a major part of my life now, part of my story, but my entire ‘career’ or whatever you choose to call it, writing graffiti, I got fucked up. Whether it was drinking , smoking, hard drugs. You name it. If I painted I was drunk or high. Year after year after year, dude. I have to say lot of my shit wouldn’t exist had I not been in that state because being fuelled by drugs I didn’t rest. But it definitely took it’s toll on my progression and of course most of all, myself. I remember when I made the decision to get clean and sober, one thing that I battled with in the beginning was if I would be able to continue writing graffiti now that I didn’t have drugs or alcohol. I mean that literally almost took me back out to relapse. Graffiti had been my life. And I didn’t know how to paint without using, man. Thank God I toughed it out and stayed clean because after a short while I realized that I could, and, not only could I but I progressed huge. My drive came back and I had a clear mind. The shit I’ve painted since has been leaps and bounds past what I was doin’ fucked up.
HipHopCanada: You recently designed Snak The Ripper’s latest album cover, do you have plans to do more music based art and what was your experience with the Just Giver cover.
KeepSix: The opportunity to do Snak’s Just Giver album cover was a pretty big deal for me. Having known my dude for many years prior through graffiti, seeing how far he had taken his music career was really cool. For his first few albums he had homies do the cover art and I always wanted to do one. I just thought if I pushed for it it wouldn’t be the right timing or something and it wouldn’t happen so I left it alone and just chilled. I started doin’ a lot of realism style drawings and when he came up with the album Just Giver, he hit me up and pitched me his idea. As soon as he said it I saw the cover in my head. It was one of those moments that it just fit. Everything aligned properly and I was really excited to get started on it. I was nervous because the project was way bigger than anything I had taken on before it but I went in not trying to force anything on it and let it flow naturally. The cover art took me roughly 35-40 hours to complete over a couple weeks but when I finally had the final result, we were both hyped and that was a wrap. I’m very proud to have had that opportunity. Being able to collaborate with my brother on his projects means a lot. We share a lot of tha same values or work ethic when it comes to artistic projects. So ya, the future looks hype. We’re gonna be doin’ more collabs. It’s rare I do any other cover art. I mean I get hit up for artistic projects quite a bit and I just don’t have tha time these days. Between work, family, recovery, playin’ catch up on projects owed, I barely have time to paint for myself . So unless it’s something exciting and the money’s right, I can’t be bothered because time really is hard to find.
HipHopCanada: Who are some of your influences? Music or art wise.
KeepSix: I find inspiration almost anywhere these days. I mean, positivity is infectious and when I see someone going above and beyond, succeeding through hard work, that shit fuckin’ fires me up. Seein’ a crazy piece of art by someone, hearing a great song, even watchin’ someone killin’ it in the gym. All types of things inspire. There are those who’s attitude inspires and influences me. If you have a hobby or passion for something and are involved in, sports, music, art whatever, there’s bound to be people you look up to. Who came before us. In graffiti , history is huge. We’re at a point in time in graffiti now where a lot of the pioneers are still accessible. Social media has been huge for networking and coming into contact with people too. It’s always interesting meeting or speaking with the OGs who paved the way. I’ve had the honour of speaking with some writers who I look up to and for the most part, their humility has been influential. You know, if graffiti was hockey, and you meet who would be, like, Gretzky to you, and he shows you respect and says that you inspire him, that’s the most uplifting shit ever. Someone you idolize being humble like that is gonna rub off on you no matter who you are. I’m grateful for having spoken with cats who were just great people in graffiti and outside of graffiti.
HipHopCanada: I noticed most artists and designers love comics or cartoon characters. Do you have a favourite comic series and what draws you toward it?
KeepSix: I grew up on Marvel comics. Spider-Man, Venom. You know, the classic shit. When Image Comics came to be and McFarlane came out with Spawn. Everything else was out. It was crazy. The artwork was the illest hands down. And the story line was brutal. I was hooked from the jump. From like 1992-’96, before I wrote graffiti, I drew spawn and other image comic characters. I still have some old drawings from 95-96. Proud of ‘em.
HipHopCanada: Lets art geek out for a sec… what’s your fav colour combo and why?
KeepSix: Well, I really admire the soft, subtle juxtaposition of…bahaha, nah. You know what, I can’t say I have a favourite. But most def when it comes to colour combos I like to fuck with fiery tones. Red, orange, yellow and all that together is real aggressive. Also, another one I love is a black fill with some dark reds or purples in the fill with a slime green outline and 3D. It just looks mad evil and I’m with that. Goes well with my style I think. But ya, colour schemes change with the mood I’m in and sometimes when I try some out they work, other times not so much. It’s all a learning process. Them big chrome an black blockbusters are the shit too. Nothing says fuck you like those done properly.
HipHopCanada: Name the top 5 spots in your mind that a graff artist has to see before they leave earth?
Keep6: That’s a tough one for me ’cause I haven’t been able to travel to paint. Tied down with the fam life. I can give you 5 places I’d like to go paint:
1. New York. The Mecca. First and foremost.
2. Toronto/Montreal. I’d like to do that in one trip. Eastern Canada has some of my favourite graffiti writers in the world so I’d like to go paint with them.
3. Germany. France. England. I mean, a European trip would be proper. So many places to paint there.
4. Los Angeles. Crazy. Been down there once an I couldn’t get enough of SoCal lifestyle. I could see me down there in the future.
The 5th isn’t necessarily a place , but I’d like to hop a train coast to coast . That’s something I plan on doing in the future. Bucket list.
HipHopCanada: Do your kids have a certain character they love you to draw? Do they have a natural talent like dad?
Keep6: No I don’t think they have a favourite. My daughter is still at that age where everything is new and amazing to her. She likes to get down on what I’m working on though. I’ve come back a couple times after leaving something out and see that she added some squiggles and lines all over the place. My son loves any bad guys I do. It’s funny, even if I do a good guy he’s like, “where’s the bad guy?! No bad guy on this one? Ya I guess it’s ok dad. Needs a bad guy though.” He’s really got the creative big that I had when I was his age. Copying his favourite movie covers and drawing tons. One of the best things as an artist with kids is watching them start from scratch and seeing how they perceive and interpret things and transfer it to paper. It’s amazing really. I just hope to encourage it the best I can because it’s a healthy outlet.
HipHopCanada: Say one thing your average follower does not know about Keep6?
Keep6: I’m always appreciative that people take the time to watch what I’m doin’. Means a lot to me that I can inspire others. For those who know me, I’m a pretty open book. I guess some things that I might not put out there a lot is that I listen to a lot of radio style programs. I don’t even know what to call them. I guess now a days most things like that are podcasts but we got this ‘Lights Out’ program on a local radio station here Sunday nights at midnight. It’s all old radio shows from basically the 40s up until some recent ones. Shows like the Shadow. Old horror, suspense type shows. There’s something to say about a radio show that can transport you to the place or time and actually get into it an see the story unfold in your mind. I’m hella down with that. Canada also has some radio programs on our national station CBC that I’m really into. I listen to a lot of them like Q, The Vinyl Cafè, and the Age of Persuasion. The Ricky Gervais Show with Karl Pilkington is another podcast/radio show I’m into as well . YouTube Karl Pilkington an watch any of those questions for Karl videos. Priceless.
Something else people may or may not know is I’m big on animals. Ask Q about that. I’m like Ace Ventura when it comes to ‘em. Just got a connection and whenever I’m out and about something crazy happens involving animals. I’ve had some crazy pets over the years. Takin’ it a step further lately and I’m getting into carnivorous plants. Started growing some and plan on getting a lot more.
HipHopCanada: Any shout-outs or last words to the readers?
Keep6: Yeah, thanks to you, Helly. Been a minute homie. Congrats on the fam and I wish y’all the best. Many thanks to HipHopCanada for the shine. Peace to the crew and those apart of my life. A major shout-out to El Barto for keepin’ it thorough throughout the years. Stay creative, Peace.
Interview conducted by Hellnback for HipHopCanada
Photography provided by Keep6 & EI Photography
Twitter: @Stompdown | @gunktah