Meet five local creatives bringing new energy to the city’s cultural landscape
Sometimes he raps about sweets; sometimes he raps about the streets
When Tyreek Jarman, aka Chop808, released his single “Nobody’s Safe” in May, it came with an unusual label: the word “EXPLICIT.” But something else was different, too. The wholesome and upbeat Jarman, known for hamming it up and dancing with fans at shows, was gone. Here was a menacing beast firing machine-gun bars over a bass-heavy trap beat. You don’t wanna go to war with me, I grew up with apes, he warns on the track.
“I got put in this box of the happy-go-lucky, quirky rapper,” says the 25-year-old artist. Which is understandable: He once made a song about an alien falling in love with a chocolate bar. Since high school, Jarman has cultivated a unique brand of groovy, positive hip-hop. Songs such as “Candy Lane” and “Ms. Good Stuff” — lighthearted songs that pair his love of women and confections — showed just how pure he was. That sweet guy is still there, he assures, but it’s time for him to get back to his roots.
Born in Las Vegas, he moved to Memphis when he was 5. He spent his formative years there, raised on the sounds of the dirty South, before returning to Las Vegas at 14, where he attended Las Vegas Academy. While his Southern drawl never left, his breezy music felt more like palm trees and neon than box Chevys and cough syrup. But just after he nailed his niche on 2018’s Feels Like Yesterday, he switched gears.
Part of the lane change was inspired by a cousin from Memphis who called Jarman’s music “trash.” His cousin told him that his music wouldn’t get any play in the South, which favors harder street tales to space-age romance. Jarman took it as a challenge: “I can show you I can do both styles without bringing myself down.”
The result is a hungrier, grittier sound inspired by Jarman’s Tennessee influences: Three 6 Mafia, OG Boo Dirty, and Yo Gotti. And it’s coming in a barrage. Four-track EP Drippin’ is slated for this month, followed by his Young N—a Energy EP in October, and LP Boys Don’t Cry shortly after. It turns out “Nobody’s Safe” was a warning shot. “This has always been me,” Jarman says. “I’ve just never showed you this side.” Zoneil Maharaj
Aundrea Frahm, multidisciplinary artist
With her multisensory work, this performance artist is leaning into the future
“These are the box heads,” she says, lifting one, “and you can actually put them on,” which she does. Meet Aundrea Frahm, UNLV art instructor and multidisciplinary artist. The mirrored box now on her head was used in Event Horizon, an event she co-created back in April. A second ago, it was on the floor of her studio in a warehouse near I-15.
Quick, while she still has it on, let’s examine this moment and its metadata for useful hints about Frahm’s work: a petite human figure topped by a futuristic head-cube — well, that has to mean something, right, but what? Not knowing makes you a little disoriented, which is cool, she can work with that. You’re reflected in the box, meaning you’re a part of whatever this means. And now that she’s removed it, the experience exists only in your mutating memory, so good luck making sense of it in humankind’s typical A + B = C fashion.
“What,” Frahm asks, “if there is no C?”
Okay, yes, that’s true of a lot of art — elusive meaning isn’t exactly unheard of in modern galleries — but what gives Frahm’s stuff its just-ahead-of-the-zeitgeist whoosh is that it’s multifaceted, visceral, insistently collaborative. During a piece like Event Horizon (her first big Vegas project after arriving from teaching at BYU), a dreamscape of billowing fabric, dancers, light and shadow, live music, and audience participation, you absorb its meanings through several limbic inputs at once. Maybe your brain’s logic center tries to DJ it all into a “message,” but you should probably just let it unfurl on a nonverbal level. Either way, Frahm’s giving you something not only to interpret but also to complete. “My work requires the audience to physically participate,” she says, and, among other upsides, this places her amid a growing vanguard of inventive norm-bending as local performance artists and immersive theater directors amp up the interplay between artist and viewer.
During a TEDxBYU talk she gave last year, Frahm had the audience beam their phone flashlights into a fog generated above them, filling the chamber with aqueous blue undulations. It was luminous, communal, soothing, and wholly dependent on the crowd. A painting doesn’t change if no one’s in the gallery, but this wouldn’t have worked in an empty auditorium.
“I want to give people these experiences where maybe they’re unsure,” Frahm says, “where they’re able to wonder: What was that thing, and how did I feel, and am I changed? Because it’s the questions that change people.” They just have to think outside the mirrored box.
Frahm and co-director Ari Williams will present a new iteration of Event Horizon during UNLV’s Art Walk on October 11
Danny Chandia, videographer + filmmaker
His playful music videos belie serious film chops (on a shoestring, no less)
Danny Chandia’s music videos are rollicking, jaunty, and kinetic, filled with Technicolor cowboys, gog-eyed sea monsters, and screaming cacti. Chandia, on the other hand, is pensive and deliberate when he talks about his craft. It seems paradoxical — until you realize it’s because it takes major brainpower to tell fantastic visual stories on time crunches, tight budgets, and other real-world limitations. Consider Chandia’s video for musical artist Sonia Barcelona’s “Violent Water,” a vampy, stylized homage to silent films that casts Barcelona as a shiny mermaid who rescues a hapless sailor from the clutches of a writhing sea creature. Its assured whimsy becomes all the more impressive when you learn that Chandia achieved it on a $1,000 budget. “I didn’t even have the budget to build sets, but I knew the visual effects to be able to composite multiple people in the same shot, for instance,” he says. (His wife, Rachel Johnson, created the costumes.) “My ace in the hole has always been editing. It’s always helped give lower-budget projects some nice polish.” Now he’s aiming higher. With a healthy raft of music vids, commercials, and reality shows on his résumé, Chandia is currently at work on a serious feature film. “It’s about sex workers. It was originally supposed to be a short, but the rough draft was 50 pages.” The music video maker decided it was time to level up. “We’re, like, okay, to talk about what we want to talk about and do this topic justice, we can’t cut it down.” Keep an eye out as this master of the short form goes long. Andrew Kiraly
Zully Mejia, painter
Her portraits have already spoken volumes — and she’s just getting started
Looking at Zully Mejia’s richly colored and textured portraits, one senses that they’re the natural vehicle for her feminist message. “I never get tired of painting portraits,” she says, “because there is so much to be said about the way that our culture views and treats women, and the way I want to change that.” But this realization didn’t come overnight. Mejia’s kindergarten teacher noticed her talent and alerted her mother; she won her first art competition soon after. At only 21, Mejia has been an artist longer than some people twice her age. She experienced her first bout of burnout in late middle and early high school, letting other people’s positive feedback bog her down in black-and-white drawings that she didn’t enjoy. But her passion was reawakened in her sophomore year, when she went to Las Vegas Academy and discovered painting. She immersed herself in color theory, intrigued by its ability to express specific emotions, and especially loved painting faces. Her worry that she’d never make a living doing portraits was allayed when UNLV art professor Tim Bavington gave her examples of other people doing it and encouraged her to follow her vision.
A provocative example of that vision is Mejia’s painting “America,” a portrait of her mother. The subject wears a bold blue jacket over a white ruffled blouse and red slacks. Her mouth is agape and her head thrown back slightly in a hearty laugh. “I did this when I got back from studying in Italy,” Mejia says. “I hadn’t been immersed in what was happening here politically, with the Trump administration. And my practice had changed, too; I wasn’t painting real people (she’d been experimenting, instead, with tronies, iconic fictional busts). So I wanted to make a statement about what it means to be an immigrant but still be American. My mom was born in Peru, but she has lived here many years and embodies American ideals because of all she’s gone through and overcome. I don’t often paint people laughing. It’s mocking the things being said about immigrants. The U.S. was built on immigration, so to say that’s a negative now doesn’t make sense.” Heidi Kyser
Mejia’s exhibit Women & Politics opens November 21 in the East Las
Vegas Library (lvccld.org)
Frank Johnson, poet
His driving force: life in the city where he grew up
Frank Johnson’s writing desk is his white Mercedes SUV. His creative ritual is to drive around, let his mind wander, and then park and write.
“There’s this thing I’ve read several essays about, about how repetitive motion tasks are a way of generating creative thought, because you’re thinking but you’re not thinking,” says the 26-year-old Vegas native. “And one of the beautiful things is that when we’re driving — hopefully we’re being attentive — but if we’re not being super-attentive, our eyes are still open, and all that is data input.” He adds, “Though I will say it’s also because I didn’t have a car for, like, two years.” As we talk on a recent Friday morning, we cruise ever-changing Maryland Parkway, loop UNLV, and bump around east Downtown’s number streets with the nicer houses. “There’s a street in (Downtown neighborhood) Marycrest called Bonita, and I love to park on that street. The people probably think I’m so weird.”
Johnson’s poetry mirrors his process: It’s fluid and freeform but purposeful, and keenly attuned to sense of place — in many cases, his stomping grounds of East Las Vegas, where any definition of place has to include its gritty social realities. From his poem “Wednesday Night Interlude”: “like how one time I saw a body/ rotted by a glock/ like fruit left in the sun/ my homie said that could’ve been either of us/ & how i’ve been exfoliating my skin & poking at my bruises ever since/ rubbing all that blood up to the surface/ trying to imagine/ my body become/ a painful myth.”
Johnson’s tools, platforms, and inspirations make him a decidedly 21st-century poet. His formal influences come as much from HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and trap music as they do from his MFA studies at UNLV, where he’s the inaugural Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute’s Donald Barlow fellow. He publishes poems on Instagram, and has also teamed up with videographers to create film adaptations of his work. But Johnson’s not so cutting-edge that he’s forgoing some of the young poet’s classic rites of passage: His first print collection of poems, Literal Dope, is forthcoming. As he juggles several promising projects, it’s not hard to imagine Johnson’s drive resulting in a grand arrival — at several places at once.