King Von never got to see his 27th birthday. On Nov. 6, it will be exactly one year since the Chicago rapper was shot and killed in Atlanta. 

Even though he’s gone, his presence lives on, and one of the ways his legacy is being etched in stone is a new mural that was completed just days before his Aug. 9 birthday. It’s located across the street from where he grew up in a Chicago apartment building called Parkway Gardens. 

Standing over 40 feet tall, the mural was painted by Chris Devins and commissioned by Delilah Martinez, CEO of the Mural Movement. The artwork is less than a month old, and the Chicago police are already asking for it to be taken down. Delilah says the police began asking for its removal within a day of its completion, citing fears that it would incite gang-affiliated violence. 

This is not the first time the Chicago police have stepped in and interfered with the city’s hip-hop community. Local government and police have a well-documented history of attempting to force drill music out of the city, repeatedly shutting down shows. Former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel didn’t even want a hologram of Chief Keef in the city, and Lil Durk was unable to perform in his city for years (until this summer).

To better understand the unfolding situation involving King Von’s mural, we spoke with Delilah Martinez about all the work that went into creating it, why it’s so important, and her fight to keep it in place. (You can sign a petition to help keep the mural up here).

Delilah Martinez
Image via Delilah Martinez

What was the vision for bringing a mural of King Von to his old neighborhood in Chicago?
Originally, someone from his team reached out to me, because I’m the founder of the Mural Movement. They saw my work, and they had an idea to do a tribute to King Von. My idea was: If it’s going to be put in a specific area, it should be put where he’s from. 

It didn’t just happen overnight. It was actually a three month process. We were looking in various places and we finally asked the store owner across the street at Parkway Supermarket, and he said yes. The reason why the store owner said yes is because he saw [King Von] grow up. Von went to the store all the time, and the store owner said he really loved him and cared about his family. So, to me, it was the perfect place.

Then I started to look for an artist to do the mural and found Chris Devins, who is known mostly for doing the Juice WRLD mural here in Chicago. I reached out to him to see if he wanted to be a part of the King Von mural, and he said yes.

What went into the painting of the mural?
King Von’s team actually gave us a folder full of photos he took right before he passed, so we were able to choose several different photos we thought best fit him. We created three different concepts before we finally got approval for the one you see today.

Did you think that the mural would bring so much attention? It’s only been up since his birthday, right?
It was a couple days before his birthday. So it’s been what, like, 10 days? I did know it would grab attention, but not to this caliber. It feels like 90 percent of people like it, but the small percent that don’t, have a voice. 

Von’s team, who hired me to do this, reached out to me, like, “We have a problem, the police keep going into the store and asking the store owner to take it down.” This was before his birthday. The very first day, the [police] were already going into the store, because they didn’t like the [O Block] chain. The police were asking us to remove the chain, and I was like, “No, this mural is already completed, we’re not removing this.” 

It did stress me out, because the first response I got was, “We want to remove it.” I didn’t hear from the community yet, but then I went over there and saw how many people were taking photos. People from all over have been traveling to see this mural, but what I mostly noticed is people from across the street were showing so much love. 

And that’s Parkway Gardens, his old apartment building on ‘O Block’?
Yes, all those people were showing me and my team so much love. That’s what empowers me—the people. So, I just went on my IG Story and went on this rant. That’s when everything changed because someone recorded it and put it on YouTube. At first, it kind of freaked me out, but then I was like, “This might help me keep the mural.” It put me in meetings with the right people I needed to talk to, who could help me keep the mural up.

What is the main thing the police are complaining about? 
I had a meeting with Alderwoman Jeanette B. Taylor, and it included residents, community leaders, pastors, and the police. The police spoke first, and their complaints were that the mural would promote gang retaliation: people coming to shoot up the mural. And they were worried about people in that area. After they said all that, they were like, “This has been going on for years.” And I’m like yes! That has nothing to do with the mural! 

To me, it’s like we’re complaining about the area. We’re saying, “There’s gangs, there’s shootings, it’s bad, there’s some bad people.” But, what are we doing to help with that? What are we going to say? “Well, we’re not going to put up any art, and we’re not going to do anything, because we shouldn’t go into that area?” No! What can we do to fix that? We’re sitting here complaining about this, but what is the solution? 

The only thing I can do is do what I normally do: organize art in Black and Brown communities. 

I know you started a petition to keep the mural up, and have people support it. What’s going to happen? What was the conclusion of the meeting? 
Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor was like, “Look, the police are not going to dictate what kind of art will go up in the community, but the community can dictate what they want in their own community.” So she started this number [312-981-9901] and the community can text yes if they want to keep it, and no if they want it to come down. I already know people love it, so I’m very confident. 

Right now, it’s looking good. I’m fully confident the mural will stay up, but I just want the police to leave the store owner alone. 

You can go to The Mural Movement website to sign the petition now.