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Paean to An Artist: Joseph Lauron

He was a hustler and a perfectionist. A Tagalog-speaking homeboy on the down-low who liked to spin hip-hop and spray paint subway cars and sides of buildings. Most of all, he liked to entertain people.

His alma mater was the streets of Queens, the school of hard knocks. Punk gangs, drug dealers, petty thieves—these weren't just characters out of a De Niro film, but fixtures in his life.

Raze was his tag name on the streets. Later on, he kept it as his industry name when he worked as freelance graphic designer. He attended New York City's Art and Design High School. From then on, he continued his art studies in college at the School of Visual Art.

His restlessness brought him to the edge of one form of expression to another—dabbling in the written word, the spoken word—a flair for comic timing, script writing, and comic book writing. He took to performing in stand-up comedy routines. His was a cheeky, soft-spoken style easily winning rapport with audiences.

But he found an avenue of expression through mixing, blending and scratching beats that involved his whole being: translating and manipulating the sounds he heard in his head to elicit a response from a generation making up and waking up to the intricacies of hip hop culture. By the time he was in his mid-twenties he was "DJ-ing" full-time in Manhattan—at Limelight, Speed, the Tunnel, and Madame X. He chose the Lower East Side's Bob Bar where he stayed on for the next 4 years as DJ Joey TY, holding down the underground hip hop party scene every Thursday night.

At age 30, rapping DJ Joey TY walked the streets of Manhattan with the certainty that his form of colon cancer would claim him at the start of his new life: marriage and the arrival of his son. Rounding out the year, he died leaving a legacy of music and art. Many mix CDs of soul classics, hip hop, rap, R&B, and old school house music are still floating around and will never leave the hands of his fans and friends.

He was fond of saying—when confronted by setbacks—"Stick to one thing and be good at it. Don't do too many things at once. You've got to choose one." This from a New York hustler who picked up so many skills in life without being taught them in the traditional manner—survival on the street, survival in New York City, survival in the music scene, survival in the art scene.

"Joseph would stand at the peak of an evening's best work when the music was thumping and people were grinding, when the crowd was hyped and smoke and sweat mingled in the air blanketing the dancers, the minglers, the smokers, the drinkers, the dealers, the crack-heads, the punks and the chicken-heads. All of them owed their fleeting moments of heady ecstasy to the Filipino DJ, Joey TY, spinning on the 1 and 2.."

So his fans would say. And his friends remember.

An epitaph could just as well read: "Here lies Joseph Lauron, street artist and music connoisseur. Always looking for the catch." At 31, he let go, perhaps unwillingly. Perhaps trustingly. As much as he trusted his creative bliss in the zany art of disc jockey—an ephemeral art form housed only in his listeners.

"Every letter had a purpose, every color had to have meaning, every snare and every hook had the perfect time to be blended, scratched, mixed—whatever! That was Joseph."

© Jennifer Escano Lauron

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