BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — In 1985, LL Cool J's ode to his boombox, "I Can't Live Without My Radio," was a staple for hip-hop DJs across the country.
Almost 30 years later, a Bedford-Stuyvesant art gallery is offering up its own tribute to the classic 1970s and 80s accessory.
The House of Art Gallery is taking a look at how the boombox influenced fashion, music and politics in urban culture in The BoomBox Exhibition, running through June 9.
"This is history," said gallery owner Richard Beavers. "It's urban history, but it's still history."
The inspiration for the new exhibit comes from a book that Beavers read, "The BoomBox Project," by Lyle Owerko. The book features a series of photographs of vintage boomboxes, as well as interviews with hip-hop legends like Fab 5 Freddy and Kool Moe Dee on the importance of the machine.
Beavers said the book brought on a moment of inspiration.
"I grew up during the mid-80s, so it was very prevalent during my teenage years," Beavers said. "I just thought it would make the ideal exhibition."
So Beavers contacted Owerko and asked him to participate. The photographer came and viewed the space, ultimately agreeing to take part in the show.
To fill out the rest of the gallery, Beavers turned to artists he'd already worked with, including popular street photographer Jamel Shabazz, and urban contemporary artists Justin Bua and Frank Morrison.
There were even some contributors from outside the country, including Nina Bosch, an artist from Germany who used MetroCards to make collages related to the boombox, including a fake Beastie Boys mixtape, and a fake "no boomboxes" subway sign.
The work covers a range of styles, including more contemporary and realistic work to the abstract and the impressionistic. One collage by artist Najee Dorsey traces the history of American black culture from Southern slavery through the invention of blues and into the hip-hop era.
"The whole concept [is] to demonstrate the influence that the boombox has had on urban culture from the 70s to the mid 80s, and give each artist that theme and allow them to create original work based off of their personal experiences," Beavers said.
Beavers' interest in art started as a child, thanks to a protective mother who didn't want to see him fall in with the wrong crowd. She took him to different exhibitions and kept art in the house, always encouraging his growing interest.
Before opening House of Art Gallery, Beavers spent his time working in different art-related jobs, including selling posters at street fairs and traveling the country with the artist Leroy Campbell.
"I learned the ins-and-outs hands-on, I guess, some of the things you learn in school," Beavers said. "And it was really empowering because I became part of a community."
Beavers' House of Art Gallery opened in 2006 on Lewis Avenue and Macon Street in Bed-Stuy, before moving six months ago to its new location at 408 Marcus Garvey Blvd. From its inception the gallery was meant to showcase artwork with an urban focus, which Beavers said is underrepresented in the mainstream art world.
"It's the smaller galleries that are the ones that kind of set the trend," Beavers said. "At some point, the mainstream galleries and institutions pick up on it."
Until then, Beaver said, he'll continue to focus on bringing art like the BoomBox Exhibition to Bed-Stuy, which locals will hopefully relate to.
"At the time, the culture was just so strong it had an impact all over the world," Beavers said of the boombox. "I can identify and relate to it, and the community where this gallery is based can identify and relate to it."