From its humble beginnings, hip-hop was always more than just a genre of music. It’s a movement that encompasses social upheaval, cultural identity, creative expression, and catharsis. Rappers express themselves through verses much like painters pour their essence into every brush stroke. Hip-hop and artistry are inextricably linked. While many hip-hop listeners emulate their favorite rappers, Los Angeles painter Mariella Angela encapsulates them. As a lifelong hip-hop fan and self-taught artist, she synthesizes her love of hip-hop and painting to produce prolific portraiture of prominent rappers.
Angela started painting in 2013 after she took a semester off from college due to medical reasons. She spent most of her time in solitude and needed a creative outlet. In high school Angela dabbled in art, and fortunately she held on to some leftover paint and canvas panels. As soon as she started painting, Angela had an epiphany; this was her life’s calling. “I spammed everyone with work in progress pictures and after I completed my first painting, I realized how much I enjoyed it,” Angela told OC Art Walk, an arts and entertainment community organization based in Santa Ana, California. “I started making plans about going to art school, having my own show one day, and that’s exactly what I needed in my life. I needed a reason to look forward to tomorrow instead of focusing on things I had no control over.”
When Angela started creating artwork, she immediately gravitated to oil painting. Since oil paints dry slowly, she has the latitude to meticulously work on pieces as opposed to using watercolors and acrylic paint. As a self-taught painter, Angela relies on her instinctive skills and experimentation. She’s grown up with hip-hop, so fittingly the majority of her paintings depict notable rappers. Collectively, her works are like a museum of MC’s. Angela captures the visages of veteran rappers such as Jay-Z, Nas, Common, André 3000, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Raekwon, Ice Cube and millennial rappers such as Drake, A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, and Fetty Wap.
At first glance, most people would not mistake the 21-year old for a hip-hop fan. Angela is of Filipino and Chinese descent and grew up in a traditional Asian household. She describes herself as a nerd which is part of the reason why people have repudiated her love of hip-hop. In an interview with Los Angeles radio station Power 106, Angela discussed how other people have perceived her. “Once I started painting and started getting more into hip-hop, that’s when a lot of people started questioning me […]and then once I started to pursue it as a career, so I do consider it a career now, a lot of people took it as, ‘why are you doing that to yourself, and why are you doing that to your parents?’ To quote everyone, they’re asking me, not even ‘why do you paint hip-hop artists?’ it’s directly, ‘why do you paint black people?’”
In spite of the backlash from naysayers, Angela remains undeterred and continues to thrive as an artist. She’s even been praised by a rapper that she painted. Angela’s first portrait was of California rapper Tyler the Creator. She decided to paint his portrait and deliver it to him as a birthday present. The day before his birthday, Angela dropped off the portrait at the Odd Future clothing store in Los Angeles. The next week Tyler posted a picture of the portrait on his Instagram profile and even personally thanked her. As she explained to Power 106, “He was just like, ‘Look, you’re really talented. You should continue it. If you had fun, just keep doing it.’”
Angela’s immersion in hip-hop facilitates her creative process. It’s her favorite genre, and it inspires her to create. Before painting a portrait, Angela shuffles through iTunes and decides on her next subject based on the song selection. When she painted Tyler the Creator’s portrait, she listened to his first two albums, Goblin and Wolf. Angela didn’t initially plan on painting rappers, but her passion for hip-hop manifested as portraiture. It was an instinctive urge that needed to be fulfilled.
Angela has stated that her favorite painting is a portrait of Lauryn Hill. She painted the portrait for her close friend and it holds a special place in her heart. Surprisingly, Angela normally doesn’t paint female artists, but she made an exception because Lauryn Hill is her friend’s favorite artist. The textures of Lauryn Hill’s dreadlocks, face, and skin are well-detailed. Tears stream down her closed eyelids evoking the melancholy of “Ex-Factor” from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Although this portrait pays homage to Lauryn Hill, it’s also reflective of Angela’s emotional state. As she explained to OC Art Walk, “When I look at it, what I see is my gratitude & appreciation for a friend who has made a serious impact in my life. What a lot of people don’t realize is the emotions in this painting aren’t actually Ms. Hill’s, but really my own.” Angela’s heartfelt gift to a friend embodies her purpose as an artist. She imbues all of her portraits with zeal and creativity.
While Angela displays most of her works on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/itsmariel/, she’s also extended her influence to other platforms. In December 2015, Angela collaborated with L.A. clothing store De La Barracuda to organize an art exhibition called Gift Rap. The exhibition featured Angela’s paintings along with works from other local artists who’ve been influenced by hip-hop.
Mariella Angela is a very talented artist and her paintings are high-quality. Even though she’s a self-taught painter, Angela is well on her way to a successful career. As a person, she has an unwavering focus that enables her to defy people’s preconceived notions. Her appreciation for rappers, along with her artistic prowess, proves that hip-hop is alive and breathing.