How ‘Art, Beats + Lyrics’ Transformed From Touring Art Show To Cultural Phenomenon

Dwayne “Dubelyoo” White and Jabari Graham. Photo Credit: Kat Goduco

For 20 years, Art, Beats + Lyrics has captivated audiences nationwide by amplifying the voices of both renowned and emerging visual artists. To celebrate this milestone, its primary figures—Jabari Graham and Dwayne “Dubelyoo” Wright—hosted a special weekend in its home city of Atlanta, and also released the highly-anticipated film that documents the brand’s journey from day one.

Directed by independent filmmaker Bill Horace, the documentary shares an intimate look at AB+L’s two-decade-long commitment to artistic innovation and cultural diversity, highlighting the transformative power of art, music, and community. It also chronicles the respective journeys of Graham and White, and how they connected after Jabari’s first Art, Beats + Lyrics showcase at The Five Spot in Little Five Points.

How ‘Art, Beats + Lyrics’ Transformed From Touring Art Show To Cultural Phenomenon
Photo Credit: Jorge Sigala

A few months later, the two increased the cultural reach of Art, Beats + Lyrics in an unprecedented event at the city’s High Museum of Art. What began as an exhibition for and by creatives birthed from hip-hop culture, turned into a yearly event that has sold out venues across the country.

“We’re still working, man,” Graham says regarding the success of his traveling art show. “We’re still doing this thing. We’re still active. So it is still an everyday hustle, and we’ve still got some more shows to do and we want to try to go to 25 or even 30 years.”

“Like what Jabari’s saying, we’re in the middle—actually the first third of a tour,” White adds. “So in the midst of all the celebration, we’re like, ‘Hey, we still got a show on Saturday.’ But it is cool to see some of the people that were around when we started when they were younger. Now they’re older, more mature; they have kids—People that had kids back then, now their kids can go to the show. So it’s cool to see everything sort of come full circle on that end, because our show has become a multi-generational thing.”

How ‘Art, Beats + Lyrics’ Transformed From Touring Art Show To Cultural Phenomenon
© Kat Goduco Photo

Horace, who is an enthusiast for counterculture documentaries, was tapped by Vox Creative and came up with a pitch that wowed the two AB+L leads immediately. As a young Black filmmaker, being able to helm this project was a microcosm of the prime initiative of Art Beats + Lyrics itself—to provide opportunities for creatives of color that may have been overlooked for reasons oftentimes outside of their control. 

“They open doors for artists who are in a lot of cases underrepresented in galleries and in these ‘high art’ spaces, museums, etcetera,” Horace says of the brand’s impact. “They give these people, whose art in a lot of cases only exists on the streets, only exists in public forums, a platform and a gallery that’s going to travel the country. A lot of times it gets eyes on their work and gets them exposure, and a lot of times, it’s tangible.”

The director adds, “I think they really are helping to give artists a chance and opening doors for people. Creating an avenue for people, helping them out.” In addition to AB + L’s story, the film focuses on three artists—Shawn Stewart, Sydney James, and Lisette “Arrrtaddict” Correa—as they prepared for the 20th anniversary tour. These stories provided audiences with a look into the drive that the show’s artists possess, and the perseverance that it takes to succeed.

How ‘Art, Beats + Lyrics’ Transformed From Touring Art Show To Cultural Phenomenon
Courtesy of Art, Beats + Lyrics

“The creative community here is one that is thriving and people are continuously working,” Graham explains. “That’s something we just wanted to show and say, ‘Hey, the creatives out here, they’re out there helping navigate their own path, whether it’s in the gallery world or outside of the gallery world or commercial or doing murals or whatever. They’re out there working, and that’s the kind of artists we have in our show.’”

During their decades-long journey, Graham and White transformed a national exhibition into so much more. Attendees can enjoy art, dance the night away, and witness performances from the seminal artists of the time, along with legendary musicians building upon their legacy. Most importantly, an AB+L show fosters community like none other. The Hulu documentary–which was released on March 29—perfectly encapsulates how the brand has evolved throughout the years, and how its producer and curator are laying the foundation for the future.

How ‘Art, Beats + Lyrics’ Transformed From Touring Art Show To Cultural Phenomenon
©Kat Goduco Photography

Amongst all the messaging that Art, Beats + Lyrics has to offer, its poignant, perhaps, isn’t about art at all. Applying to any walk of life, that with hard work and focused dedication, one can craft the life they want to live.

“You can make your own,” White tells ESSENCE. “Jabari says it all the time, ‘You can take a risk on yourself and have your own career.’ And that’s one of the things we want to make sure people come away with, that you don’t have to subscribe to what people tell you a career in the arts is. You can make your own career.”

Art, Beats + Lyrics is now streaming on Hulu.

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