Interview: 8-Year-Old Artist Yung Lenox Talks Drawing Rappers and His "Live Fast, Draw Yung" Documentary
We spoke to the child artist and the directors behind a new documentary about him.
Image via Complex Original
When Yung Lenox made his distinguished debut at New York’s Frieze Art Fair, he was happy to let his work speak for itself. Besides, the Seattle artist couldn’t have attended the opening even if he had wanted—it was way past his bedtime. He was only six.
Since that moment, the now-eight-year-old doodling fiend has become known as the child prodigy of rap portraiture. Lenox’s beautifully innocent reinterpretations of hip-hop’s most iconic images have earned the respect and appreciation of the very subjects he immortalizes in marker, gaining the yung god a slew of new “uncles” like Raekwon, Cam’ron, Action Bronson, and Kool Keith. When hanging with Dr. Octagon in the studio, his main objective was to get to the bottom of what a “space doo-doo pistol” actually is. As Lenox’s dad, Skip Class, explained to Keith, “He’s very concerned about if they kill people with smell or actual matter.”
This charming moment is captured by directors Anthony Mathile and Stacey Lee in their forthcoming short documentary, Live Fast, Draw Yung. What was originally meant to be a two-day shoot snowballed into a 6-month production, following the story of an exceptionally bright kid and his dad as they navigate adult territory while never forgetting their main objective of always having fun.
Up until this point Live Fast, Draw Yung has remained a self-funded passion project, and Mathile and Lee are now running a Kickstarter to help get the documentary onto the festival circuit along with a combined art and film tour. They wouldn’t mind getting the money back that they spent on 4,358 pieces of pink lego during the filming process, either.
We got in touch with Mathile, Lee, Skip, and of course Lenox himself to hear more about the project.
What was it about hanging out with Lenox and Skip for two days that made you feel like there was a much larger story to be told?
Stacey Lee: While we were shooting over those initial two days, Skip and Lenox had just found out about his first solo art show in L.A., and that was a huge deal for them. They'd done Frieze and other group shows, but flying to L.A. and filling an entire gallery with artwork was a massive leap for them. We witnessed the prep, the nervous excitement, and the reality of actually having to produce all that artwork in and around school, baseball practice, press, and just being a 7-year-old kid. As Skip put it: "It was where art meets the road." As filmmakers it felt like the perfect end to our short film. But the L.A. show changed a lot of things for Skip and Lenox—both good and bad—and as we watched them deal with the realities of it all, we knew our story was far from over.
With that in mind, what do you feel are the main takeaways from watching the documentary?
SL: I think one of the biggest things is that it presents an alternative approach to parenting—something that is relevant and real, but certainly uncharted territory. They are both learning as they go; Skip learning about the pitfalls of Internet fame and the pros and cons of putting your son into the public's eye. For Lenox, he's learning about about shading, shapes, coloring, and the heroes of his dad’s youth. It’s always relevant because it’s centered around what they’re both most passionate about, not what convention says a typical father-son should be doing. From marker drawing to LEGOs, Gucci Mane to Tommy Wright III, the project evolves as their interests do. And that kind of father-son connection is truly unique.
Anthony, it seems that you have a lot of experience in music and storytelling within this area. How did this affect your approach to making Live Fast, Draw Yung?
Anthony Mathile: I’ve done music documentaries for most of my career, but all of them on people older than 18. I think the rules kind of go out the window when you’re dealing with a kid, especially a 7-year-old. You know, like a donut break every 10 minutes of filming. If you’re lucky. There’s just no way you can control the situation when you’re filming with a kid. I’m used to having a certain amount of control when I’m making documentary work. I let the story tell itself, but I can sort of guide it to go in directions that I’m interested in pursuing—not so much with Lenox.
There could be a day where we just play FIFA 13 and he makes fun of my gray hair and TicTtac addiction, and that’s the whole day. But I do think that it forced a level of patience from Stacey and I both that in the end was quite worth it because we got to see Lenox over a longer period of time than we probably initially had thought necessary.
Skip, the Kickstarter says that at some point you are "forced to face your intentions and parenting skills." As Lenox's fame grows, no doubt these will be issues you have to continually address. How do you respond to the naysayers?
Skip Class: It's an on-going process. The bigger it gets, the more comment trolls come out. I don't directly respond to any comments on our social media as a rule. His mom and I have an agreement that as long as he's happy and it keeps continuing to be something that is fun then we'll keep at it. As soon as it ceases to be fun then we will move on.
I learned that people are going to have opinions about you whether you're successful or you're not. So if that is the case I'd rather us be successful while they offer their unsolicited opinions. Another good rule I use is: if they don't know you personally, then don't take it personally. No one has ever said anything in person, so that kind of tells you that it can't be that serious. If anyone would like to have a chat with me, they are more than welcome.
What are the highlights of this crazy Yung Lenox ride so far?
SC: Oh man. Off the top of my head I'd have to say E-40 sending us a case of his wine, which was one of the funniest things ever (shouts to Earl Stevens Selections by the way). Lenox casually offering Cam'ron some Tic Tacs. Taking Lenox to the Action Bronson show (his first concert), and Bronson body slamming a stage rusher and Lenox's jaw dropping. Seeing a line around the block on Melrose for his debut L.A. show. Having Raekwon give me advice about what markers Lenox should be using. Lenox's Max B drawing sort of becoming this bootleg image that is used for mixtapes. We've done two holiday toy drives and those aren't crazy, but it means a lot to our family, and it's surreal to watch your kid be that compassionate at a young age.
Yung Lenox, if you could eat donuts with one rapper, who would you choose?
YL: There are tons of rappers I would eat donuts with. A$AP Ferg, Bronson, Cam, and Dr. Octagon. (note from Skip: I asked him, “Why them?” He said, "Whatever.")
Having a documentary made about you at age 7 is pretty cool. What do your friends think about it?
YL: They haven't said anything to me. I don't think they know. (note from Skip: I asked him if he told them, and he said, "I don't think I will.")
How excited are you about seeing yourself on the big screen at the movies?
YL: Uhhhh very excited. (note from Skip: This was said in a very sarcastic tone. He can be a bit of a smart aleck. Sorry Complex :))