By KRISSI HUMBARD — In 1994, two high school kids got into graffiti writing in Hyattsville and started the Double Down Kings. Twenty-two years later, the crew, which has grown to be the largest hip-hop crew in the tri-state area, brought it back to where it all started with the Double Down: 22 Years of the 2DK LAB gallery event.
On Sept. 10, The 2 Dope Kings – Leave All Burned (2DK LAB), also known as Double Down Kings (DDK), kicked off its 22nd anniversary with a week-long gallery event. Double Down Kings has evolved into a crew of graffiti writers, musicians, and creative artists that was established by Eon2 and Alone.
“We just started writing our names next to wherever else we saw graffiti,” said Cory Stowers aka Eon2, one of the founding members. “For me, it never went away.”
Over the past two decades, the crew has grown from its graffiti roots and has expanded to more than 300 members, some of whom still live in the community. Stowers said many of the artists who wanted to join the crew were younger than he was, so he tried to guide them with his graffiti workshops. “Their job when joining the Double Down Kings is to not only practice it themselves, but also to preserve [the culture] and pass it on to future generations.”
It’s clear Stowers is a mentor. At any given point during the show, there were artists gathered around a table, sketching in notepads, perfecting their names or working out their next piece. During the week, Stowers could often be seen walking around the table, offering tips here and there or stopping to help an artist get something just right.
“It’s out of the ‘each one, teach one’ philosophy,” Stowers said.
For Stowers, acknowledging and remembering the origins of his graffiti seems like a cornerstone of his current work.
“Being able to come back 22 years later and showcase work [that early on wouldn’t have had an audience] … for me, it’s really important to be able to come back and touch back on our origins,” Stowers said.
The week-long gallery event featured new works of art from many of the Maryland, DC and Virginia areas’ most notable graffiti artists, ephemera and retrospective works, documentary screenings, graffiti workshops, and live musical performances. Studio SoHy, Artists & Craftsman Supply, and Pyramid Atlantic helped to make the show possible.
Bronwyn King, co-founder of Studio SoHy, said the event came about earlier this year when Stowers approached the studio about bringing the show to Hyattsville.
“Since a couple of the artists involved in the DDK are from Hyattsville, Cory thought it might be interesting to host the show where some of those artists got their start,” King said. “Daniel Simon [founder of Studio SoHy], who owns space in Hyattsville, offered Cory the opportunity to host his week-long anniversary show in the Arts District Building on Baltimore Avenue. From there, the show just evolved, and Cory managed to put together a great lineup of artists!”
Several pieces in the show were from the private collection of a graffiti writer known as Kelt, who passed away about 15 years ago. The pieces had been in storage until a family member found them in a garage and contacted Stowers. The works hadn’t been seen in years. Stowers felt it was important to show the pieces, he said, because “some of the folks … aren’t with us anymore. Some of them don’t even paint graffiti anymore. But for the younger generation, who have never seen [some of these artists’] work on canvas, we’re hoping it will help push and inspire them to take the next step forward in their art.”
As the crew has grown, so has the art form. Graffiti is no longer restricted to out-of-sight walls or along train tracks. Cities like Hyattsville are embracing graffiti artists and muralists and hiring them to create public art.
“The climate has changed, people’s opinion has changed. … I think the whole idea behind what graffiti is and what it means — and the aesthetic value of it — I think it has all changed,” Stowers said.
The gallery show ended Sept. 17 with an all-day celebration featuring graffiti workshops in the afternoon, and later a DJ set by DJ Rachi and musical performances. Artists were gathered around the table, laughing and sketching until the end of the night. People strolled in and out, admiring the art and pausing to hear the music and watch the performers drop rhymes. The show was as much a celebration of the history of Double Down Kings as it was of the thriving Hyattsville art scene.
“It feels really great to be able to come back to where we started so many years ago and show these kinds of work,” Stowers said. “Because at that time, when we were starting, people wouldn’t really imagine going to a gallery show that showcases graffiti work.”