Recently EGO TRIP and COMPLEX both featured the amazing work of illustrator DAN LISH, or DAN "DUCE" as he is known to the Hip Hop community. His recent portraits of various hip hop pioneers/producers/emcees have been globally acknowledged as the work of a gifted illustrator with a talent for concept art. In fact the likeness of his work is so uncanny that I do not even have to list the names of the subjects as they're all instantly recognisable. However DAN is no new jack in the city, an has been demonstrating his artistic skills within the hip hop scene for years. It was DUCE who designed the BREAK DJ LEACY "Breaksploitation" LP covers which Q-BERT recently showed off in his Crate Diggers interview, as well as the many LEACYBROTHERS
mixtape covers. And we haven't even mentioned his "Block Party" illustration which has been one of the most "stolen" hip hop images of late on social media. His daytime job sees him designing digital characters for a computer game manufacturer and he has worked on top titles such as DJ HERO. I could go on for days listing this man's contributions, but let's find out a little more about the man himself.
DAN DUCE is no stranger to the hip hop community, and has been an avid follower of the culture for over 25 years. He has also worked and lived in NYC where he was able indulge his passion for hip hop with even more vigour than in his native UK. I first met him back in 1994/5 during a coach trip from the UK to Germany for the Battle of the Year event in Hannover (if my memory serves me correctly). He was a mutual good friend of DJ LEACY, and was sporting a black v-stitch leather goose jacket on the journey which made him alright with me on first impressions. (In fact DUCE was with LEACY the time they found the now infamous stash of deadstock Goose jackets in the Bronx in the late 90s - see photo below). This dude could DJ, write graffiti and get down on the floor - he seemed to have all bases covered. So what else can we find out about the man behind the pen? I caught up with DUCE himself and delved a bit deeper into what makes him tick...
Firstly, who you be and what you do?
I'm a Human being from planet earth named Daniel Lish, better know as Dan Lish, also Dan Duce or just Duce.
I'm very grateful to be able to support my family through my Artwork. For a regular occupation I am a Senior Concept Artist for the Video Game industry, and have been so for the past 14 years. Games I've worked on have been GTA 3, The Warriors and DJ Hero to name a few. I love to design characters and environments but rarely play Video Games.
I also Freelance as an illustrator and am in the middle of Book 2 of my Graphic Novel 'Cartigan' published in France. I also occasionally design Vinyl Toys for Unboxed industries and generally enjoy working with other creative folks.
You've been down from very early on, please elaborate on how you discovered Hip Hop and your journey since then. (e.g. your move to the States etc.)
Well this is a very stripped down version; So my Father is from Brooklyn NYC, so I have dual nationality. Being brought up in deepest, darkest Suffolk, my Dad used to take me to the American airbases, where I'd see random Hip Hop/funk things happen.
I was too young to really put the puzzle together, just intrigued. This was about 1981/82. By 1983 I started to see snippets on the TV, i.e. Old Grey whistle test, Top of the pops etc. One of my best friends had cousins from London who'd come down, who inspired me with their tapes of Pirate Radio shows and Mike Allen etc. I started Dancing first, as a B-Boy. A huge influence was the Arena special with Gary Byrd, also Style Wars and Wild Style. There was next to no Hip Hop around for me in those days, so anything I could get my hands on was precious.
So as I grew older, earned some money (Newspaper rounds, Butcher boy etc) I could start to pic up Tapes and Vinyl. I would spend all my summer holidays practising windmills, turtles and head-spins, writing my toy tags and hanging with my boys. I was 15 when I went to UK Fresh 86, which made a huge impact on me. I started seriously writing (graff) in 1986 to 87. Pretty late really, as I was still at home with a strict step mum.
I left home at 17 to go to college, and with that came more exposure, meeting like minded folks (still very few and far between). My vinyl collection steadily grew, which progressed onto Hip Hop Pirate radio for about 6 to 7 years, then based in the south coast. I became great friends with Adam from the legendary BBOY crew STN (second to none) and practiced with Adam 3 times a week for a couple of years. Then I met Aidan and Jim Leacy at Battle of the year in Germany in 95. We became best mates from then until he passed. Jim inspired me to dig deeper into my Break Beat obsession and also introduced me to the Miami B-Boy Pro Am jams of 98 and 99.
Before I left Portsmouth, I started a night called the 'Go-Off' (1997), Portsmouth's first total Hip Hop night, embracing all the elements. I then finally moved to New York in 1999. That's where I dug deeper into the cultural aspect of Hip Hop. I got deeper into the dance, focusing on B-Boying and Brooklyn Rocking, as well as DJ'ing in clubs, Park Jams and Battles. My Wife and I where put down in Brooklyn's Dynasty Rockers by RC, better known as King Uprock. I became great friends with the Late Buddy ESQ, having met him whilst selling my artwork at NYC's comic convention.
I was still writing (with James TOP/CIA. Duro, OUI etc) and hanging with a lot of old timer writers, the first generation like Stay High and Roger. I was still deep into the DJ'ing and the Dancing aspects, but due to knee injuries I ended up in permanent semi retirement. Myself and King Uprock hosted a monthly event called the Dollar Jam, where folks would come from all over NYC, even upstate and Philly. Special K, Cosmo D, Rock steady Crew, Bambaataa, Ken Swift and Bobbito would regularly come to the jam. Also original Latino Biker gangs (who rocked) like the Devil's Rebels and many O.G. Rockers and B-Boys would regularly support. Our Jam would have B-Boy, Rocking and Popping battles. You'd have 3 generation of folks there, ageing between 8 to 50 yrs old. Great times. I would go up to the Bronx every week to hang with Buddy or I'd be DJ'ing at a B-Boy Battle, as well as doing my artwork, so I was kept pretty busy.
I don't really put my photos up online, but you can view a snippet of my NYC flics here; https://myspace.com/danduce/photos
When did you first realise you had artistic flair? How does this flair collide with the hip hop world?
I was always drawing and painting from as far back as I can remember. It helped to have encouraging parents who gave me pens, paints and paper.
Once I caught the Hip Hop bug, it was a natural progression to get into Graffiti Art and Comic books. I always loved to experiment in different mediums too, including Ink and wash (watercolour), Acrylics and oils. I've always had an affinity with the black line of an ink pen, and sketched almost everyday.
I also became known for adding Hip Hop styled B-Boy animal characters into my artwork, especially for Jim Leacy aka Break DJ Leacy's projects. The Battle Royal, The UK B-Boy champs and my own personal Hip Hop art would feature animals. I guess at the time, I was working for as an Artist for a Pet Book company, drawing and painting animals all day. From about 1987 to 2006 my Graffiti and illustration styles would morph in and out of each other. Only over the last couple of years am I starting to find, not my true voice, but a more honest and personal approach to what I create. In the past I often felt I had to 'represent' instead of creating something which was more honest to me, instead of subconsciously pleasing others.
I understand you sketch a lot whilst commuting - what motivates you to draw and does it come easy to you (as it seems from the hip hop illustrations)
I've been commuting on and off for the past four years, and in that time sitting on the train I draw in my sketch books. Being the Father of two young daughters, this is a time my mind can wonder and creative things happen. I work directly in ink pen to paper. The main challenge comes from the wobbly train journey, often packed with stressed out commuters. It's a stream of consciousness with most of my illustrations, where there's none to very little planning for each piece.
The response to your illustrations of Pete Rock, Premo, Rakim, Bam etc.. has been far reaching (please elaborate). What are your plans with this series?
I have to back up a little to explain. Over ten years ago, I created the LP cover for the late Break DJ Leacy, entitled 'Breaksplotation'. The illustration featured a snap shot/fly on the wall view of a late 70's, early 80's New York City park jam. So after receiving appreciation and praise from many Hip Hop legends (thanks to Christie Z Pabon from Tools of War), including Biz Markie, Rakim, Pete Rock, X-Clan and Grand Wizard Theodore to name a few, I embarked on a 'thank you' illustration back to these individuals. I started with Paradise Gray (X-Clan), Rakim and then Pete Rock. I created a portrait of the artist/individual in an honest un-egotistic interpretation, shedding the B-Boy bravado. This is why this ongoing series is titled 'Ego Strip', a shedding of the ego, catching these folks in a moment of thought.
Where can we find out more about Dan Duce?
For my artwork;
BTW: Shameless art promotion... The Block Party archival prints and Litho-prints are now available to buy as well as J-Dilla, KRS1, DOOM and Bambaataa.
All info is available on my website, Twitter feed and Tumblr, and you can check out and order the prints for sale right HERE
What does Hip Hop mean to you right now? And do you still get the same buzz out of it as years gone by.
I have changed over the past 5/6 years, as any human being should. You grow, you (hopefully) get wiser. So my priorities, focus and consciousness has also changed.
I still get a 'buzz' from many aspects of the Hip Hop culture, and still like being involved, but not from a battle perspective. Too much drama for me. I like to focus on creativity, nurture and Community. I still love to dance, I still love to DJ, but these happen now and then because my perception and consciousness have changed in my life. My main focus is on my immediate family and being able to Create Artwork for my personal growth and to support my Family.
So my perspective and priorities are different from the Dan Lish of 25 years old. I have to change... it's Natural Law. A good analogy is 'the Onion'. Like us all, we have many layers to our Onion....Actually I'll stop there, I'm getting too cosmic.
: Please name 3 of your favourite Hip Hop experiences?
When I first DJ'd in the Bronx (with DJ Rockin Rob/Chuck City)
My First Park Jam in the Bronx (Disco King Mario at Rose-dale Park)
When I first watched Style Wars.
Sorry but I cant stop at 3...
When Bambattaa DJ'd for free at our Dollar Jam,
Painting with Duro.
Practicing with Ken Swift.
Hanging out at the Devils Rebels club house in Bushwick and rocking in their Apache line. Very intense.
Hanging out at the Bronx River houses with Buddy.
For shits and giggles, I'll also name my worst (but still cool) Hip Hop experiences.You'll see a running theme here....
My first B-Boy battle in Manhattan - I was so nervous I almost froze solid.
When I was asked to dance in Rikers Island for the prisons inmates. I almost shit myself.
Getting badly burnt in a Rocking battle in Harlem. Nako slid through my legs, making everyone piss themselves laughing....
Dan Duce also rocks the 1s and 2s - please gimme 3 b-boy sureshots you're feeling right now?
All the beats on Aidan Orange's latest mix tapes.
No Names will be called - Road Runners, Impuls - Didier's Sound Spectrum
On heavy rotation at the moment is Porter chops Glasper - Mr Porter
Props and shout-outs to my Wife Karyn and daughters Ellsa and Abigail, Aiden Orange, Graham, Fast Break, Foots, Cold Chris, Numbers, Eke, Mr.ip, Dan Willett, IBZ, Ziggy Ramone/OUI, James Top, Biz Markie, DJ Just 1, PJ Born Kings, Ewan at Rarekind, Dexter, Lord Bongson, Waxer, DJ Skam Rock, Mark Madina, Dan Flan, Dan the Beatman, Mr. Fingers, King Uprock, Kwon, DJ DP One, DJ Rockin Rob, Break EZ & B.I.S, Rob Life, Macca and the Vinyl veterans crew, DJ Format, Dynasty Rockers, Bret Downroc Syfert, Ready to Rock, STN and UZN.