CUSTOM PIECES BY CAMDEN DUO THE SUPER POOR KIDS
“We’re just trying to use art to crack the glass ceiling and get up out of our current situation.”
BY: MIKE STEYELS
What’s in a name? Well, if you have a name like The Super Poor Kids, a lot. The art duo, bothers Lu and Jay Reyes, come from Camden, New Jersey, and it’s this environment that inspired it. “I don’t think there’s a decent part of Camden. There’s drugs, gangs, a bunch of bullshit,” says Lu. “That’s where the name came from, because all there is are super poor kids. It sucks though because there’s a ton of good people here, but they just get overshadowed.” The South Jersey city faces enormous problems, consistently ranking among the most dangerous and the poorest in the country. In 2013, it was the subject of Rolling Stone feature headlined, “Apocalypse, New Jersey.”
Coming from a background like that, a name that embodies it can tell a story of its own. Creatives aren’t usually heard from out there, so when the Camden rapper Mir Fontane started making noise, they were definitely on each other’s radars. In the new video for his plush “Frank Ocean” single, Mir can be seen rocking Super Poor Kids’ custom pieces: a leather jacket with white paint on it and a brown and black shirt featuring the Southside logo, which is how Mir is repping his city. “When he started doing his thing, we were like, ‘Oh shit, there’s another one!’” Lu explains. “So we gravitated towards him and now we’re working on some designs for his upcoming tour as well.”
The brothers got their start in art through fashion, working with neighboring Philly brand Miskeen, which actually means “poor” in Arabic. Miskeen Originals was popular in the mid-2000s and responsible for Jeezy’s infamous snowman tee, but got its start as a line of hand-painted, customized clothing. Super Poor Kids carries on that tradition, thrifting frequently for unique pieces they can customize and flip on the internet. Some of their work includes a Chicago Bulls jersey and a long jean jacket with meaningful phrases written in a scratchy hand style.
They also do paintings on canvas and create digital works, the most notable of which is their Black Lives Matter series. They created an entire series that reworked the Dr. Seuss style to capture important moments, like the killing of Mike Brown and the removal of the Confederate flag in South Carolina. Treating such sensitive matters in a light way was intentional; they sought to make the issue approachable. And it’s proven effective. They’ve had teachers reach out to ask if they could use the series to help teach their elementary school students. “We actually held onto the series for about a year,” Lu says. “It wasn’t until the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings that we released it. That lit a fire under our asses.”
Although they’re Latino, the Reyes brothers relate to the threat felt from police. Lu says they’re minorities who’ve lived in the hood their entire lives, so they understand where the sentiment is coming from. They also want to amplify the voices of their friends. While Camden has recently enacted some significant police reforms, there’s a long-standing mistrust of officers.
Obviously, the duo want to rise above their roots as poor kids, and it’s their hope that creativity is the way out: “We’re just trying to use art to crack the glass ceiling and get up out of our current situation.”