The gentrification of New York and the subsequent demise of its culture has been a topic of discussion since the Twin Towers fell. One man from the Planet of Brooklyn is taking it upon himself to preserve that culture one Instagram post at a time. Albeesquare87 is no longer the hood's best-kept secret. The account functions as a digital archive filled with war stories, knowledge darts (shouts to Kid Mero), and photos you can't find anywhere else. Back in January, we picked some of our favorite posts, so this time we decided to ask Q. Douglas, the account's curator, about some of his favorites and why he decided to start posting while we were attending the Albee Square art exhibit in Brooklyn.
From now through Sunday, June 28, the Bishop Gallery is hosting an installation, produced by the Shadow League, that presents Albeesquare87's IG posts as art. It's like a mini-museum, but instead of paintings by Rembrandt, there are photos from hip-hop's golden era. You'll find everyone from legendary dope boys to legendary rappers on those walls. Check out our interview with Q and the Shadow League's Rhett Butler below.
Angel Diaz is a staff writer for Complex. Follow him @ADiaz456.
The Instagram account kind of came out of nowhere. What made you want to start it?
Q: I was living in D.C. for 15 years. I had a lot of little homies that was from Brooklyn that was living out there too getting into all kinds of silly stuff. They’d argue with me every night when we were chilling on A Street, chilling on K Street, chilling on U Street. Big up to everybody, all my people in D.C. We’ll be arguing till 4 a.m. that you all ain’t from my New York. So they're like, "Hey, man, what you talking about? I’m from New York. I said, "Alright, yo, check it out, my New York is a completely different New York from what you all experienced." See we going to talk and they say, "Alright, well show us." I said, "I got a couple pictures." They said, "We want to see your pictures, show us."
I had a homegirl that challenged me. She was like, "Yo, you wack, you ain’t got no Instagram, you don’t got no Facebook." I said, "You know, I’ll put two and two together." My little homies want to know what my New York was, my homegirl is calling me a clown because I don’t have no social media, fine, let me start one. I started throwing some flicks up. My man Post told me, "Yo, Yams loves what you’re doing, Yams reached out. Build with Yams." Shit started bubbling. Everybody started showing love.
How were you involved?
Rhett: Me and his brother used to go to college together, [Q] put this together just on the love. We both have a kinship and understanding of the past, but at the end of the day he more or less was saying, "You know P"—they all call me P—"what can we do to make this not just an Instagram?" Everybody understands that Instagram kind of takes your situation, it’s not yours, and we wanted people to understand we’re not just some dudes in the hood posting old flicks. It’s actually a movement basically talking about the gentrified state of NYC. Alright, so we're going to give you back that nostalgia so that you understand what was and what is. He came at me more or less because I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve been doing different things. So we created this idea, and we have a few more things coming down the pipeline, but my goal is to help Q take his vision and structure it and push it past what he even thought he could do.
Are you from New York, or are you from D.C.?
R: I’m from Harlem. I’m from uptown New York, but I went to Howard like him. We just kind of stayed a little longer than we thought, and then we came back. I live between here and Las Vegas.
I think people appreciate my interpretation of what’s going on in the world right now and just trying to enlighten the youth and come at them different. —Q. Douglas
Where do you get these pictures from?
Q: The ghosts of NYC. The first 800 or so a couple homies up north sent me flicks, then you got family and old flicks that I like. I was like, "Can I have that?" "What you want this picture for? You can have the whole fricken album." Alright, cool, and I just started stocking them. These are images that to me preserve my childhood, preserve my favorite memories from growing up. So the first couple hundred, it was just a shoebox, and now the ghosts are giving them to me.
The best thing about this account are the captions. Who writes them?
Q: Yeah, it’s all me.
These are stories from your life? Do people give you a photo and tell you the back story?
Q: Some of these are just my reflections on the things that I experienced or people that I know and just mixed them with a couple gems people say. I think people appreciate my interpretation of what’s going on in the world right now and just trying to enlighten the youth and come at them different. I don’t really say names, I don’t really say who did what. If you really care to know, go look. I’m going to throw up some people tomorrow and I want them to go see who these people were. I’m not going to tell you who it is. I want you to go to the horse's mouth and the horse ain’t Wikipedia.
R: To coast on that, those who don’t know Q. Douglas, they don’t understand how he is and how he speaks, but what you’re getting in that rhetoric right there is a testimony of who he is. It’s all real, he’s not creating a character that speaks consciously toward the youth, that’s who he is. So if you don’t know him, he’s just trying to translate, and the only reason it seems rare is because that’s not happening now. It’s the only reason why it seems so unique.
This IG is a collection of war stories and shit like that.
R: Absolutely, it’s nostalgia, it’s preserving our culture. We started with New York. Every hood has a story, every city has a culture that’s being eroded, we’re here to preserve it. Q is the curator. Q has the vision. Q understands that it’s important to archive everything, and we’re not stopping till we hit the Smithsonian.
When you first started it, did you expect for this shit to blow up?
Q: Never, and there’s moments where I kind of regret it. I have to be honest with you, I’m not into none of this. I wish I had 20 followers, real talk, but I understand what this is and when I link with my partner Rhett over here, this is what he does, and we want to take it to the films and take it to different dimensions. I reached out to certain people, certain rappers and whatever, trying to help me take it to another level. I appreciate the help, but part of me loves the fact when this was organic and I could say crazy things because the people that’s been rocking with me from the first two months knew I was getting crazy on the first couple posts. I had to delete some of them because I was saying some craziness, but with 40,000 or whatever it is now, I got to be mindful of everything that I put out.
They feel like you’re dry snitching?
Q: No, they don’t feel like that, but now it’s like everything is magnified, so it just kind of switches up the dynamic and everything. I try to stay neutral with a lot of conflicts or what have you, popular things that are the trending topics. I don’t indulge in a lot of what everybody else on Instagram is doing. When I put a post up, I’m still talking to them 30 little homies that I started the page for.
I see you're doing something a little different now. You’ll post a pic with a little music behind it.
Q: Exactly, the music is just something to set the backdrop to, kind of paint a picture, and somewhat of a prequel to what we're trying to do. We’re trying to take this to next level.
Going back to what you were saying about trying to be low-key. It was kind of cool assuming you were the Albee Square game room manager.
Q: A lot of people thought that. A lot of people thought I was a 55-year-old man in a wheelchair in Attica. I’m just low-key Q. I’m in this business staying low, avoiding drama, keeping it righteous, telling the kids to go to school and don’t do drugs.
So what are you guys coming up with next, man?
Q: Website launch. I don’t even want to disclose much yet. I just want to do the sneak attack.
Let these kids enjoy the new Brooklyn. It’s a great thing for them. Go to school, play video games, come home, get on your iPad. I don’t want to see you in the streets. —Q. Douglas
One of the best things besides the captions are the hashtags. Talk about the hashtags.
Q: Just the things that we miss, man. The things that the average local New Yorker is like, "Damn, we don’t got nothing from back in the days left." Just trying to relate.
What do you miss the most?
Q: There was originality. I think fashion was something that people took more pride in. I miss seeing kids playing outside. Music, obviously. I think we're playing catch-up [in terms of music]. That’s a whole different topic. There’s a lot of things, man. Brooklyn is always going to have the core essence of what it is, it’s just it ain’t what it was. It ain’t what it was. It’s a different monster, but still Brooklyn. I think it’s going to be a good 20 years before they get all the local people out of there, for real. It’s just different.
Some people might get the misconception that the page is saying, "This is that old New York, fuck the new New York. It’s not about that, right?
Q: Not at all. I embrace gentrification because honestly the dope thing about it is, and we’re going to touch on this in some of the future projects that we're doing on film, it’s basically like a wakeup call to the dudes that were making the most money. Legit or not. What they could have done with this money would’ve prevented some of this gentrification.
The gentrification makes it a little safer.
Q: It’s a lot safer. People could get away with things. It’s a beautiful thing. Let these kids enjoy the new Brooklyn. It’s a great thing for them. Go to school, play video games, come home, get on your iPad. I don’t want to see you in the streets. I don’t want to see you doing stupid stuff. Go to school, get an education. Like Slick Rick said, “Hey young world, the world is yours.” I wouldn’t wish the ’80s on none of these little boys, but I wish some of the lessons were still there.
What are five of your favorite posts, and why?
Wise, smh. BQE love till the casket drop see my man Black Jus was loved in every borough and was well connected from west Mecca to the Desert and is truly missed. La I'm trying to tell em ygz not just anybody could post up here back then 7...#Albee87 #Unification #Hoodlove #Blockhistory #Blackie #La
A video posted by @albeesquare87 on Jun 10, 2015 at 5:12pm PDT
Q: Met Jus at the barbershop on Jamaica Ave in the '90s and homie was a standup dude. I mean as a shorty rock you hear stories, but some of the most popular street figures were the most humble, genuine, righteous individuals you would ever meet in your life.
Q: Pablo by the White House is a funny pic because many know that he was once good friends with Uncle Sam, and before conservatives tear down the ghetto youth for their involvement in the trade they should point those figures at the mob and gentlemen like this if we keeping it a buck.
Q: Larry is one of the most creative and innovative humans that walked the streets of New York City that paved the way for all of your favorite DJs.