The act of creation takes on a multiplicity of forms. In our ongoing artist interview series, we illuminate the distinctive artistic practices, influences, and creative challenges of our Pew Fellows, who represent a diversity of perspectives and creative disciplines.
In this installment, 2021 Pew Fellow, DJ, and interdisciplinary artist Rich Medina discusses his journey to define himself as an artist, the critical element of Black joy in his work, and the creative community he found in Philadelphia. Medina approaches his DJ practice as an archivist, storyteller, educator, and “ambassador for Black excellence.” His childhood, immersed in both the Baptist church and hip-hop culture, influenced him to imbue his work with a sense of tradition, history, and community. Medina’s live and online performances and programs—such as the “African American Culture and Music” lecture series for The Barnes Foundation and livestream “Monday Meditations” programs—combine entertainment and education, amplifying Black diasporic ingenuity and musical heritage.
When did you know you were an artist? Was there a moment when you began to identify yourself as an artist?
I believe that I’ve been an artist since early childhood. I believe that wholeheartedly, whether via creative expression, personal style, or manner of communication.
The moment I began to truly identify as an artist was once I moved to Philadelphia in 1992. Music and art had always been enormous parts of my life, but once I began crafting as a writer and DJ with intent, I felt worthy to claim “artist” as who I am in life. Soon, I began to monetize my creativity to the degree that I felt confident in exiting the 9-to-5 workforce in full. That is when I believe my identification as an artist became law to me.
What does Black joy mean to you? How do you express it in your work?
Black joy is everything to me. As a Black and native man, it’s the lifeblood of my happiness, via the bounty that my culture brings to the table when left unencumbered by societal norms and whiteness at large. Blackness and Black happiness strike fear and disdain in the heart of colonial power. It’s my ability to have a unique clarity about the fact that the world as we know it has always been dictated via the white man’s eyes and design. So, though I find joys in being American, human, and of the earth, my experience in all those instances is distinctly different than it would be were I of another ethnic or national constitution. Ensuring one’s own positive outlook as a Black person is uniquely arduous, and the joy that we present comes from existing as a descendant of slaves, natives, and the indentured.
I express Black joy in my work simply by the fact that I exist. It’s that simple for me. I am Black joy, tail to snout.
Why do you choose to work and live in Philadelphia? In your experience, what makes this arts scene distinctive?
Philadelphia became my home as of the end of my basketball career. It was a reluctant entry, to be honest. I wanted to continue pursuing basketball as a profession, as well as be in New York City pursuing my creative and social currency. But in short order, Philadelphia took my heart and forced me to rethink that stance. Philadelphia is an enormous city with a provincial feeling about it. In that fact is where I fell in love with the city. I’m from a blue-collar town in New Jersey originally. I have a hankering for focused, hard-working people. Philadelphia represents that disposition like no other city in America, and quite possibly the world. Within six months of arrival, I reunited with an old friend, Mike Celestin, a.k.a. DJ Mike Nyce, who used to play basketball and DJ local parties with me throughout our time in high school.
With the two of us now in Philadelphia, still sharing a love for the craft of DJing and cutting our teeth in the house party circuit, this city gave me hope. I applied those aspirations to Philadelphia in full, and it gave me a community of people who believed in my craft without bias. Developing relationships with Philadelphia living icons like [Pew Fellow] King Britt, Vikter Duplaix, James Poyser, Jazzy Jeff, Cash Money, [Pew Fellow] Ursula Rucker, Jill Scott, The Roots, and countless other creative spirits gave me a community to call my friends and associates. Those relationships manifested in many a mind-expanding conversation, many indelible bodies of work, and countless time in the woodshed trying to get better at whatever it is that each of us do. To have a gym like that to work out in is a creative fairy tale come true. I found that fairy tale in Philadelphia, praise God.
What music are you listening to and/or which books are on your bedside table?
I listen to far too much to itemize here, but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Khruangbin, MF Doom, Anderson .Paak, and Masters at Work.
As for reading, I've been bouncing back and forth between Dan Charnas’ Dilla Time and Talib Kweli’s Vibrate Higher.