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Posted under: News Culture

André Leroy Davis Is The Artist Who Crafted Classic Images For Source Magazine's Legendary 'Last Word' Series

He's a hip hop artist literally.

Point 'Em Out is an editorial series where Blavity explores the latest and the greatest in Black art. Thanks to modern-day technology, we get to be virtual consumers of yesterday's icons and today’s most innovative Black artwork, and — if we're lucky — the Black geniuses who produce them.

The name André Leroy Davis may escape you, but neither he or his work should. He is a consummate art professional since the early 1990s and still cranks out drawings that speak to the cultural and social climate almost 30 years later. Davis, the art hand behind Source magazine’s “Last Word,” has blessed generations of Hip Hop fans with visual commentary on rappers, entertainers and public figures of their time. While many were eager to snatch fresh copies of the respected publication from newstands to read up on the dopest albums, artist, culture and mixtapes out, the special treat was Source’s final page. Therein Davis’s iconic artwork made its mark in hip hop culture. Not only did Davis draw caricature portraits of cultural figures, he also mortalized characters we’ve only imagined from hip hop lyrics. His most notable is “Dave the dopefiend” from Slick Rick’s popular 80’s track “Children’s Story”:

“Dave, the dope fiend shootin' dope /
Who don't know the meaning of water nor soap …”


Andre Leroy Davis
Andre Leroy Davis

(Andre Leroy Davis)

Blavity caught up with the legendary artist to get all up in his business about his creative history and what he’s up to these days.

Blavity: What’s your background in art? How and when did A.L. Dre get in the paints?

André Davis: My background in art is as a lover and appreciator first, then as an artist and a participator. My older brother is an artist, so I grew up watching him create something out of nothing and wanting to be just like him, so I gave drawing a try. I soon learned that I actually was kinda good at it myself and thus an artist was born maybe at the age of 4 or 5 or it could even be earlier.

Blavity: When did you get on board with The Source magazine?

Dré: I got on board as you say, before the Source was actually, “The Source.” I had already been putting in the work to establish myself as a viable freelance artist straight out of college in 1987. I first came across a Source magazine at a small newsstand in Manhattan in the summer of 1990. I called the number that was located inside the magazine to inquire about showing someone my portfolio for possible work. The editor in chief told me to come on over. I met him inside their then-small one room office, he looked at my work and on the spot asked if I could come up with a visual representing Eazy-E and the F.B.I? That one illustration led to them calling me back the following month and so on and the rest as they say is history. 

(Andre Leroy Davis)

Blavity: Who came up with the “Last Word” concepts?

Dré: My job was to visually encapsulate the cover story each month. I was told who was going to be the cover story and then I was left to my own resources to come up with ideas, concepts, jokes and whatever I thought was necessary for the mandatory artistic punch to the face at the end of the mag. In other words, I wrote and illustrated “The Last Word” every month after submitting at least two ideas to the editor and then getting the approval to proceed forward.  


(Andre Leroy Davis)

Blavity: I know readers, myself for one, thoroughly enjoyed the satire and visual takes you shared. But how did the rappers and entertainers receive them?

Dré: Ya gotta remember, at the time that no one with an authentic Hip-Hop aesthetic was lampooning M.C’s. You had white folks not associated with Hip-Hop who were non-authorities, clowning Brothas and music that they did not understand, but then you had a respected magazine come along that was growing in readership and notoriety satirizing and reporting on the Hip-Hop community. I think it was a shock to the system for some and so some heads were angry and they lashed out in my direction, but in time appearing in “The Last Word” became like a badge of honor.


(Andre Leroy Davis)

Blavity: What was your most controversial piece?

Dre: Hmmmm for me nothing was controversial. I just brought people’s words and actions to visual life. It was never anything personal for me so I’d have to leave it up to those who appreciated what I did, and for those who live and breath the culture like I did to express their opinions on the subject of what they deem controversial.

Blavity: Any beefs stem from a piece you created? Which one? What happened?

Dré: Beefs. Well as I said some folks were just salty, and they would just call the Source offices to address their dissatisfaction with my illustration. In the early days, I remember coming up to the office and one month being told that Professor X wasn’t happy with my illustration, and then another month being told that DJ Quik wasn’t pleased either and that I was warned not to ever go to California. Most of the time being young and from Brooklyn, I would just tell them to give whomever my number and I’d just address it with them one-on-one, head on. I did that with the Professor X situation ‘cause living in Flatbush, I’d bump into members of Blackwatch on the regular. No need to always have to check my back on the daily so I had a conversation with the Professor. He felt that through the illustration that I had crafted that I was trying to tell him that he talked to much or that he should shut up! I told him ‘nah, I was just showing the obvious… that you wear a lot of beads.’ Silence on the other end of the phone for some seconds and then laughter. After that convo we were cool afterwords for years until he sadly passed away.


(Andre Leroy Davis)

Blavity: The end of the Source, as we knew it, marked the end of an era for hip hop. Was it the end for “Last Word,” too?                                                                             

Dré: Well as far as I know the Source is still around. I think they publish 1 [print] issue a year, but are living and breathing somewhere online. I exited stage left from the Source in December of 2006 and my last original “The Last Word” appeared in the January 2007 issue. Today via reruns and new work that I create, “The Last Word” is still living, breathing and as legendary as ever.

Blavity: What is your absolute favorite piece?

Dré: I don’t think I have a forever, “favorite piece.” Like, I don’t have a favorite song. It depends on when you ask me, how I’m feeling and if I’ve looked at some of my work lately -- while taking a trip down memory lane. Right now, at this very second, two images come to mind: The classic KRS1/PM Dawn piece and the first Biggie piece that I created, “Who Da Fu*k is This.”


(Andre Leroy Davis)

(Andre Leroy Davis)

Blavity: How many “Last Word” pieces have you completed?

Dré: From the Sept. 1990 issue of the Source to the Jan. 2007 issue, I wrote and illustrated close to 200 pieces. After leaving the Source in 2007, I took a creative break, but in 2012, I started writing and illustrating “The Last Word” once again. This time completely on my own terms, self syndicated while drawing whenever and whatever I want and since then I’ve written and illustrated over 50 original pieces.

Blavity: Have you sold any?

Dré: No, I own all of the original artwork that I created for the Source. I do sell and have sold more than a few prints of my work.


(Andre Leroy Davis)

Blavity: What are you doing these days?

I’m still drawing, creating, lampooning and visually speaking on the world of Hip-Hop and politics. I was commisioned to create 3 variant comic book covers for Marvel which are out in the universe and I am currently a teacher and the head of the art department at a High School in Brownsville Brooklyn.

Blavity: When’s your next show?

Dré: I’m always doing something or appearing somewhere lately. You can find me at a Con or a Black Comic festival. I’ll be in D.C. at Tee-Con and then in Philly at East Coast Black Age of Comic Convention (ECBACC) in May. I just had a show opening last night at the Stay Up Gallery in Manhattan. It’s a collaboration with fellow Source art alumni Tramp artist of A View from Da Underground. Later this month, I’ll have six pieces hanging in a show at The Fullerton Center in California.

Blavity: If you could imagine a piece tied to the current news cycle who or what situation would it be?

Dre: Over the last 2 years with the current president, “The Last Words” that I have created have provided political commentary and in your face views on my take of the madness that is Trump. I believe that when you have a platform to say something, especially within the current climate, you’d be a fool not to do so. I believe that I have executed them with deadly precision.


(Andre Leroy Davis)

You can peep Davis’ extensive catalogue and purchase work below:

Andreleroydavis.com
The Source Magazine's The Last Word
17: The Revolution Will Be Visualized 

Now, check these out:

Viral Painter Alim Smith Directs His Visual Talents To Create A Stunning Portrait Of Nipsey Hussle

13 Incredible Black Artists, Past And Present, Everybody Should Know

How Photographer Kwame Brathwaite Made 'Black Is Beautiful' A Powerful Visual Movement


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Ida Harris is a current News Editor for Blavity. She is a native New Yorker, sowing seeds in Atlanta. She is savvy with standard English, but poetic with Black Vernacular. She's been known to f*ck up some Oxford commas. When she is not reciting Trap music quotables, she’s writing for The Root, Elle, USA TODAY, DAME magazine and MyBrownBaby. Follow her Twitter, Instagram, and Word2MUVA column.