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We Talked to the Nine Year Old Hip-Hop Illustrator Wunderkind Yung Lenox

This kid started sketching off-kilter images of Biggie, E-40, Cam'ron and others for Instagram and now there's a doc all about his art, we talked to the directors and Yung Lenox.
August 26, 2015, 3:57pm

All pictures lifted from Yung Lenox's Instagram.

What were you doing when you were seven years old? Yung Lenox was drawing rappers and hanging out with Raekwon, eating Tic-Tacs with Action Bronson, and sneaking into clubs with E-40. I’m pretty sure at the same period in my life I was talking in a voice like Zazu from The Lion King all the time because I thought he seemed sensible and trying to teach my teddy bears to do math. I was a special child. Seattle based Lenox is special too, but in a much, much cooler way. Which is while directors Stacey Lee and Anthony Mathilde made a documentary, Live Fast, Draw Yung about the miniature virtuoso (watch the teaser below and the full trailer here).

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The young hip-hop portraitist is now nine years old, and Live Fast, Draw Yung is making its way around the world, from the Tribeca Film Festival (last April) in New York to Melbourne International Film Festival in Australia a few weeks back. Lenox has drawn rappers from 2 Pac to Gucci Mane, Cam’ron and Biggie, and I talked to Stacey and Lenox about rap, the short film, and the unexpected story of a father and son friendship that found a foundation in a shared creativity…

Noisey: How did you discover Lenox?
Stacey: We discovered Lenox via his instagram account @yunglenox, the kid had a gallery feed full of magic marker interpretations of some of the biggest icons in rap music. There was Mac Dre with his wonky elbows, Biggie Smalls with eyes that were more than just a little bit off, and, on occasion we would see the kid behind the art; a be-speckled Seattle second-grader who represented everything rap music was not. This unexpected juxtaposition was both hilarious and endearing and it was pretty clear with us that this kid had taste (or someone behind the scenes did).

How did you approach him and his dad about doing the movie?
Initially we had an hour long conversation with his Dad, Skip [the other half of the Yung Lenox moniker]. That phone call was never a pitch for a movie, it was more like a creative conversation, :Hey we think what you’re doing is rad, can we come out there and hang with you guys for a few days, maybe film a bit, and see what happens?" And that’s the way we’ve rolled throughout the project. Doing it in chunks, and being there for the significant highs and lows that have transformed this project from a hobby into a business.

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What was their response?
Skip, Anthony, and I are all a similar age, with similar taste and interests, so to be honest it wasn’t a challenging conversation at all. As long as Lenox was cool with it, he was cool with it, and we just went out there with no expectations aside from hanging out. At the end of the day you are dealing with a kid, and his family, and these are real things you can’t just force your way into. There was mutual respect and trust from both sides from the get-go, and I think that is super important when you do the kind of immersive work that we do.

What did you discover that you weren't expecting?
We were definitely floored the first time we saw Lenox draw an album. He was all business, “Dad, can you get me some reds?”, “Should I draw the outline first or the inside?”, “What color should I do the skull?” When he’s in it, he’s in it, and then 15 mins later he is done, back off in the other room playing Minecraft or building Legos.

What was filming Lennox and his dad like?
The connection between Lenox and Skip is super cool to witness. They both share a passion for art, Skip is teaching Lenox about shading, coloring and the heroes of his youth, and Lenox is hanging with his Dad doing the hobbies he is most passionate about. To see a Dad connecting with his kid in a real and relevant way was just super cool to us. It definitely made us think a lot about our own relationships with our parents, and what kind of parents we want to be?

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Were there any challenges in working with a kid?
Ha yeah, of course. We took a lot of breaks. Like every 10 mins. It was a slow process, sometimes we would be floored by what would come out of his mouth, other times he just wasn’t down to talk, so that was the day done. The upside is there are no canned answers. Lenox is so nonchalant what he says is what he thinks and most of the time it makes for good material. We always missed him after we flew home.

What's your favorite Lennox piece?
My favorite is one of the originals he drew when he was five, Biggie Smalls in the Coogie sweater.

Biggie

Mac Dre
ODB

Eazy-E

What are the challenges of having a 7-year-old associating so freely with rap music (which obviously uses swears and can be openly homophobic, misogynistic, violent)? Did you ever feel like certain things from that world needed to be censored/was there a policing/explanation of these elements of the genre and Lennox's relationship to it?
Yeah for sure that was one of our first curiosities going into this project and it’s a question we get asked a lot (and I know Skip does too). There is a definite curation to the music Skip lets him listen to, but it would be naive to think he doesn't hear the naughty stuff, cos he definitely does. It just doesn't stick with him. Or influence who is as a person. Skip is around when they listen to the music, so he can contextualize it if Lenox has questions. But to be honest most of the content is too complex for Lenox, or just not interesting to him. The stuff he picks up on is the playground kid stuff. One day he was working on (and listening to) Dr Octagonecologyst, because we were going to meet with Kool Keith later that day. It was his favorite album at the time and a record that resonated with him on a completely different level than it did us listening to us as teenagers growing up. Hearing it through his ears, was a completely different experience. Lenox was fixated upon things like doo-doo pistols and moosebumps and is his number really PP5001DoDo? Anything else just wasn’t interesting to him, and went right over his head. Later that day, Lenox and Kool Keith had a pretty funny conversation about making toilet paper spitballs at school.

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Tell us about the release—what has the reception been like in the US?
The premiere at Tribeca was incredible, a sold out theater, a New York Times photographer following us around—it was intense on so many levels. As a filmmaker it is nerve wracking to have our work evaluated in front of a live audience, but for Lenox and his family whose whole lives and little Seattle bubble being exposed to the world it was next-level intense for them. It went as well as it possibly could, and to feel the love in the room and the positive feedback afterwards, it’s an understatement to say we were massively relieved. Since then we've played in Lenox's hometown; Seattle, Palm Springs, DocAviv, NZIFF, Rhode Island and MIFF in Melbourne.

What does it mean to you to be able to take this kid's story to an international stage?
We are humbled by all of it to be honest. We never set out to make a film of this scale, the whole process has been organic, no expectations, no pressure. So everything that has happened beyond the first premiere has been a bonus. Every time we get accepted into a new festival we are all stoked. Melbourne in particular is a big deal for us, because the festival has such a great reputation, but also because Lenox has a lot of fans down under and we are happy that get a solid screening there, and playing alongside other great films that we are respect and admire. If only it wasn’t so far away. Continues below.

E-40

And now, a word with Yung Lennox… totally uncensored, of course.

How did you feel when you found out Stacey and Anthony wanted to make a movie about you?
Yung Lennox: Excited. It was kkeeeewwwwwlllllll. [He really rolled out the cool then took a sip of his seltzer water.]

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What is it that you love so much about rap music?
I didn't listen to it much. My dad inspired me to listen to it.

Who is your favorite rapper?
Action Bronson.

What was it like having your life filmed? Were there challenges? Things you really enjoyed about it?
Hard to do. Billion different reasons. Sort of. Doing the Legos. Yeah. Being able to jump on the bed. Probably shooting Anthony with a Nerf gun.

For more on Live Fast, Draw Yung click here!

Ask Kat George to do the voice of Zazu today! She's on Twitter.