The Mic One memorial mural, from up close
When local underground hip-hop mainstay Mike "Mic One" Malinowski died in late July
, you could see the grief online. On Twitter and Facebook, local rappers and producers—some active since the 90s, some with careers that began this decade—offered their condolences. Malinowski himself got started in the 90s as a member of the Noise Pollution crew, and he had roughly two decades of solo material under his belt—his first album as Mic One, Who's the Illest?
, came out in 1998. In those decades he built up enough goodwill to last a couple generations: as longtime collaborator Chad Sorenson (aka DJ Risky Bizness) told me over the summer, "Mike was loved by everyone, because Mike was the guy who would go to your show—even if there was ten people there, he would be there." Malinowski's friends and fans have continued to honor him since his death, and late last week a mural of his face appeared on the graffiti permission wall in Logan Square just southwest of the Blue Line tracks on Fullerton.
Jacob Parsons, a Chicago visual artist and hip-hop musician who goes by Dream (he styles it "Dr3am"), came up with the design for the mural shortly after Malinowski died. "We went to high school together back in '92, '93," Parsons says. "We came up in the same circles; we're both hip-hop artists. I had the pleasure of recording him many years ago. His first concert was my first concert."
Parsons wanted to get a mural up as soon as possible, but graffiti artist Flash ABC, who maintains the permission wall on behalf of the Artistic Bombing Crew, suggested holding off till November, when the piece could stay up for longer. The mural will greet Blue Line riders through March—if you take the train to O'Hare during the holidays, you'll be able to see Mic One's face flanked by angel wings against a sky-blue background.
Parsons drew inspiration from Malinowski's best-known track, "Welcome to Chicago," though his mural epitaph swaps out "Chicago" for "Heaven." He pored over Malinowski's Facebook for selfies to use for reference, and finally found one that fit. "It was the best of his facial features," Parsons says. "The five o'clock shadow, the perfect hair—it's just a classic Mic One facial expression." He hired Greg "Werm One" Gunter of Kustom Art Studios to spray-paint the portrait.
"I actually really froze, to the point where my fingers were so numb I couldn't spray," Gunter says. "It was kind of grueling for me to do it, but I know how much it meant to other people."
Gunter and Parsons completed the piece in three days. Parsons takes solace in the fact that Malinowski's fans and friends have begun sharing the image online. "I wasn't looking for large amounts of recognition—I did it for the family," Parsons says. "And to also show Chicago what an important individual he was. His loss was felt—it rippled through the hip-hop community."