An Open Letter to Thug Heaven Artists
Image: @atomly/Twitter

An Open Letter to Thug Heaven Artists

Your paintings are monstrosities — and they’re just what I need…

Dear Thug Heaven Artists,

I just have to thank you for your contribution to my Zoom background game. It’s been a very long nine months, and I’m completely sick of video meetings — but if there’s one thing that’s gotten me by, it’s the sheer ridiculousness of y’all’s craft.

Listen, I’ll be the last one screaming on the hilltops about the disservice 21st-century skinfolk have done to General Harriet thee Tubman. Everyone from Nicki Minaj — who compared herself to Tubman a couple of years back — to OneUnited Bank dropping its Harriet Tubman debit card with a Skeletor-lookin’ Tubman throwing up the “Wakanda forever” salute just before Covid struck. Needless to say, we’ve done that woman no favors recently. She has known no peace.

That being said, I have found few greater joys than waking up early in the mornings and, while my morning coffee percolates, mining tweets and Instagram for Thug Heaven collages. You know the ones: The cartoonish, obnoxious, sometimes disrespectful memorials featuring Tubman or other Black History icons sharing divine grace with, like, Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Nipsey Hussle or (a fave among Thug Heaven painters) Tupac Shakur.

I’m embarrassed by it myself. This is a terrible look. I can’t stop — but why should I? We’re complicated people! I contain multitudes.

I get it. Over the past few months, there’s been no shortage of moments where I pop up in a work meeting and my head is floating next to a watercolor of XXXTentacion — in heaven, strangely — coldcocking Satan while Biggie, A$AP Yams, and Martin Luther King Jr. cheer him on. Or a terrible Photoshop of RBG and Chadwick Boseman throwing up the “Ruthkanda” sign in front of the pearly gates. Or a surprisingly realistic Alex Trebek hosting Jeopardy!, with Kobe, RBG, and Chadwick as the contestants.

I’m embarrassed by it myself. This is a terrible look. I can’t stop — but why should I? We’re complicated people! I contain multitudes. Do you know how fucked I’d be if I couldn’t laugh at the batshit spirit of our moment? We’re living in some utterly terrible times, and this weird-ass Black art phenomenon is just the serotonin burst I need to help get through the days.

Know this, Thug Heaven artists — and it’s coming from me, one of your biggest fans on Al Gore’s burning space rock — y’all will not see the heavens from which you’ve drawn so much inspiration! You’ve sold your soul for the sake of Black enjoyment and Black shock. You’ve muddled our legacy, burned our crops, and set fire to our homes. The divine will show no such favor upon you!

But also know this: You are not alone. You may be on the expressway to hell for this, but I’m gonna be sliding right down alongside you.

’Til then, keep at it,