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The Compound’s current storefront (image courtesy The Compound)

The South Bronx is set to welcome a new gallery venue this summer, The Compound, which was founded by entrepreneur and former emcee, Set Free Richardson. The project is supported by Richardson’s colleague Yasiin Bey, the legendary rapper and activist more commonly known by his stage name, Mos Def. The pair is opening the Bronx gallery to highlight the fusion of visual art and hip-hop, hoping to usher in underrepresented artists from marginalized backgrounds and under-appreciated mediums, like graffiti.

Free Richardson (image courtesy The Compound)

The Compound gallery space intends to open its doors in late August, Richardson told Hyperallergic, with a series of Compound Conversations, a partnership with Brooklyn-based advertising agency HUGE. The inaugural exhibition will feature work of the legendary hip-hop photographer Jonathan Mannion, who has captured some of the genre’s most iconic editorial portraits of musicians like Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls, 50 Cent, and Aaliyah, and is the eye behind over 100 of the genre’s most recognizable album covers.

With blue-chip galleries often relegated to sections of the city with minimal economic and racial diversity, The Compound’s South Bronx front immediately sets it apart.

“There was no question on the location of The Compound Gallery in NYC,” says Richardson, citing the Bronx as the birthplace of hip-hop, an integral facet of the gallery’s identity. He says The Compound fully intends to incorporate the surrounding community into its operations.

“We must and have to showcase the legacy of the Bronx, from art to music,” he adds. “We are currently in the stages of planning activations we want to execute to focus on the rich history of these art forms in the Bronx.”

Richardson founded The Compound in 2008 as a creative marketing agency and space for artistic production across genres. The location hosted a recording studio utilized by hip-hop industry heavy hitters like Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys, Jadakiss, and of course, Mos Def. The enterprise existed as a site for artistic cross-production, where musicians, graphic designers, photographers, and other artists could work and collaborate in a creative environment — decked out with Star Wars paraphernalia and vinyl KAWS figurines. An art collector himself, Richardson began working on expanding the company into a gallery to celebrate the synthesis of art and music.

“Once the developmental stages of building The Compound Gallery started, Yasiin expressed interest on being a partner. I could not have asked for a better person to partner up with,” he explains. Bey has been involved in The Compound since its inception as a creative agency almost a decade ago.

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Jasmine Weber

Jasmine Weber is Hyperallergic's news editor. She is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, particularly interested in Black art histories and visual culture....

16 replies on “Two Hip-Hop Personalities, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Free Richardson, Open South Bronx Gallery”

  1. We will definitely be following this story closely but they do not go for the obvious talents in the field (or the bold-faced names) so I personally think we should see what they do. Fashion Moda was in the Bronx and they did some amazing programming when they were around in the 1970s and 80s, and that project also intersected with fashion, art, graff, etc. We will wait and see. But you’re right to point this out. Thanks.

      1. Mannion is to hip-hop what Martha Cooper is to graffiti. Only bigger. Over 300 album covers. Maybe the Richard Avedon of hip-hop. Not exactly unknown.

    1. Comparing this to Fashion Moda is a bit of a stretch. This is an ad agency masquerading as a gallery. I’m willing to go to their parties and drink their booze, but for you to adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude about this gentrification move is quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen on this website.

      1. We have criticized the activities in the South Bronx but it doesn’t look reasonable to criticize them before they do something. They are talking a good game about showing under represented and I know you mention Martha Cooper but I can tell you that until the last decade or so hardly anyone outside of her small field knew who she was.

        1. But Martha Cooper IS well-known as is Mannion, who’s been doing his thing for over 20 years. Additionally, you mention Fashion Moda-that’s been gone for decades. Kinda weird to compare the two in any way. I just don’t remember you giving the Swizz Beatz event the same benefit of the doubt and it makes me wonder why you’re being so circumspect here.

          1. So you could say, “we are not being circumspect, we just don’t have all the facts yet.” But you went for the personal attack. And it’s your game-pick up your marbles and go home if you like.

  2. Actually this area of the Bronx, which I’m assuming is Port Morris/Mott Haven, is heavily gentrifying as we speak, and has been for a year or two (or more). “Relatively inexpensive” real estate perhaps, but probably double, triple, or even higher over the last few years. I’m also surprised that this website would promo this place without even mentioning one word about the economic fallout this venture will create for the poor and displaced.

  3. I understand the comments regarding gentrification, however, what about allowing people usually left out to access art spaces? Isn’t that a positive thing? Shouldn’t there be art galleries in these neighborhoods instead of a starbucks? I believe art can empower people and bring them together more so than guns or drugs (although I’m not sure about that last one).

    1. “…art can empower people and bring them together more so than guns or drugs…” But are those really the only alternatives? Is this gallery replacing a gang hideout/crack den? Or is that just a misread of the South Bronx in general, and this neighborhood in particular?

  4. The art space and message this gallery sends to the community is fantastic, however my concern is for the artwork…it seems the guests are leaning on the works, touching them, and causing potential harm. What protections are in place for liabilities againsts the artists’ works?

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