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Kez The Dude: A Moment In Time.

To Capture the man. To Capture the artist. In memory. In a moment. Can’t be done. but damnit ill try.

What constitutes an artist?

In attempting to find out who Kez The Dude actually is, well I mean the closest I could come considering it was just one day in biting downtown Chicago, and a man deserves a little more than one day to be considered defined, I found myself exploring and answering some of the constructs that surround the extremely vague term “artist” in the 21st century.

The artist is an individual that exists as both a reality and an idealized figure in our society. Society’s preconceived notions may influence the majority to quickly categorize and dismiss the artistic as the raggedly dressed bourgeois or the tight turtle neck and tweed blazer, and in many cases it is true, well in derivations of course. But Kez, no. Like most that truly create there lies an originality that washes away any association with society’s simple notions. Sure Kez wears vintage clothes. Sure Kez wears skinny jeans and is willing to drag on a cigarette. But those objects were chosen out of a unique fascination with pop culture, history and creation (the future). The question though might be, why does it even matter? Who cares what makes an individual an artist? Many would say no one should. There are lots of people who think art is an intellectual monolith that exists outside of the normal banalities of everyday life, inaccessible to those who haven’t been through the dregs of art school and carried the heavy weight of talking about aesthetics with people who only talk….and artists, they are a whole other world.

I would insist those people to talk to Nathan Barksdale, aka Kez the Dude.


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Nathan represents the artist as a conscious reflection of humanity. He has been a Chicagoan his whole life, specifically living in the neighborhood of Beverly. He grew up there amongst the literal racial dividing lines that exist across the city. In Beverly the dividing line was the tracks, which on one side the poorer and predominantly black population reside and on the other, a hill where the well off live, a shockingly ironic manifestation of the historical adage that the have’s live on the hill. Kez, though, has lived on both sides of the tracks; the good and the bad. In the same way, inasmuch as he is a child of the city, living with the gold and street-dirt of urban life, he has both the intellectual capability and appreciation to relish in the “refined” side as well.

Everything. Is. Interesting.

It can easily be argued that music of “the street” is art but as it stands in society there is a considerable socially and educationally based ideological separation between the music that blasts from car stereos filling the street and the art that hangs on museum walls. Kez though, bridges the gap between the culture of hiphop/rap and “high art” in the same way the truly thoughtful and well spoken artists like Saul Williams, Lupe Fiasco (one his favorites), and Mos Def do.

The key to their success (The Dude included) is their examination of the street life with the keen eye and wicked tongue that only come out of delightfully intelligent examination from considerable height above. The words of the thinker./././.mmm people murmur “this song says it for us.”.

The way Kez does this…. is as simple as he has a hell of a good brain.

On the park bench Nathan was just as excited to talk about the reality show The Real World and as he was it’s social implications. Our conversation began strolling down Michigan Ave. on a cold cloudy day, and immediately the depth of Kez’s recognition of the facets of life became steadily more apparent .To Barksdale, Chicago, the first thing we talked about, like life, is a cabinet of curiosities, a wunderkammer, with each section of the city having its own individual idiosyncrasies and wonders. For starters he is fascinated by the different dialects that exist across the city. This linguistic aspect of the city appeals to his auditory fascination and perhaps his own language of expression, as he was once, and now as has resumed being a rapper. I stop to point out that for Barksdale audio is key. He proclaims he doesn’t read because he doesn’t find it conducive to learning. He learns auditorily and visually, which one would never guess by the size of his vocabulary, which is much beyond many of his peers, who do in fact, read their textbooks. His choice to avoid texts and embrace sound has cost him in the classroom as he points out, but in creation it allows him to access his art at greater depth. Just like the unique sounds each corner of the city produces, each neighborhood exudes its own culture. Nathan is open to and fascinated by them all.  He says he hasn’t gone to a rap show in a long time and has been frequenting the strikingly obverse DIY scene, but if one looks into the history of influences Barksdale has drawn from to produce his art  it is not surprising he would end up an electronic producer, who used to rap, standing at a rock-and-roll-basement show.

Kez is an avid lover of media of all forms. We began discussing children’s shows, which fascinate him in their writing, animation, and effect on his current mind, and later found ourselves talking about The Following (he thinks it is better than Memento, which he asserts is just a simplified version of the The Following), Michael Jackson, and the history of the punk movement in the U.S. What surprised me all afternoon  is the fact that many people have been indoctrinated into the belief that there is a difference between “high art” and “low art” that necessitates an indifference towards or distance from the second, but Barksdale gets as much influence from the television as he does from the sunset.

Because, He sees equality in all expression.

Staring into snow covered Grant Park he tells me that art is fundamentally just expression, a universal mode of sharing. Through this view he has put himself in a position where his exploration of expression is not self censoring in the way it used to be, when he thought that his art had finite, measurable qualities. When it had to be something that lived up to external standards. When it defined him. Now he has found a place where he is in control without trying to be, where art is an extension of his exploration of life.

He’s a freeman. Now, his art is better than ever.


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Artist Information: Kez the Dude is attending the UIC art school. He is a producer of electronic music, a rapper, a visual artist, and a Chicagoan. He will be releasing a rap album that I have had the pleasure of hearing a demo of  (f***ing great) in june, but his other music and art is available at:

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