Where many stumble, OHYESLORD soars. Peep the interview with a graphic designer who allows his love for Hip Hop to steer his career and illustrations.
Ham, formally known as Hamilton Thindisa, plays a key role in this beef-filled, meme-crazy, yet extremely and undeniably lovable Hip Hop community: He captures the core of the culture, the people, and portrays them in a way that could only be conceived by the unique kaleidoscope of ideas floating through his active mind. It’s his creative approach to illustrating the most basic items and some of the most appreciated Hip Hop figures – from Biggie Smalls and Tumi Molekane to Tyler the Creator and Stilo Magolide – that sets Ham apart.
How many times have you found yourself at the receiving end of a “Well, who’s going to do it?” decision followed by the awkward silence as ten stares land on you? More often than not, being placed in this position ends unfavorably. For Ham, being amidst a similar situation only led to a new-found passion that would soon be the tool that he’d use in beginning to build his long-lasting impact on the South African Hip Hop scene. “I was actually 16 years old”, a now 24-year old Ham explains as he reflects on his 8 year journey. “Me and my friends in high school decided that we wanted to start a t-shirt brand and the option that we had was to pay someone to do the graphic work. My friends were like ‘Fuck that, one of us has to do it’ and so I decided that I’m going to learn. I actually ended up just really liking it and I stuck to it.”
This past Saturday, we met up with the OHYESLORD mastermind in Johannesburg’s creative hub, Braamfontein. A cool and easy-going character dressed in full black, highlighting the black sweater he was donning with OHYESLORD printed in white on the left. As we get into discussion, he explains the brand’s inception, name (he’s an admitted Travis Scott fan), and initial plan to be the umbrella under which an art collective would fall – a plan that gradually began to change over time. “I was very anti-social. So at some point, people could only associate OHYESLORD with me, and not as a group of people,” he explains. Now a marketing intern, Ham uses his acquired skills gained from studying marketing in varsity to advance OHYESLORD’s development and strength in a very competitive industry. Getting his doses of inspiration from small Braam cafés, murals in townships and the music that he listens to has played a role in how he looks at this artform and his possible approaches to it. He deviates from creating what people expect but rather sticks to creating what’s natural and comfortable for him. “I think a lot of people just internally really want to be cool. Well, not cool but we want to fit in. It’s horrible standing out; it’s the worst thing ever. So you’re trying to fit in but you’re trying to fit in with people that are cool, so you’re trying to be cool, so you’re going to do whatever you need to do in order to be cool. It makes sense to me but it’s a little sad. You need to know yourself and know the things that you’re interested in. That’s the easiest way. It needs to start off with a passion. From there, the money and fame will come. If you’re yourself, everybody‘s going to want to be like you just because of the talent, so if you focus on the talent and the passion, then you’re going to build a following. Don’t ever, ever sleep on yourself.”
Why the decision to mainly focus on Hip Hop figures in your artwork?
HAM I just illustrated what I liked; it started off with that. Around the time when the South African hip-hop scene started picking up, I just illustrated them because I liked them – I liked Hip Hop, I still like Hip Hop. So, I just put up the illustrations about it and people started feeling them. That’s how I eventually drew attention.
What is it about the Hip Hop culture that inspires you so much?
HAM I think the culture is just beautiful, man. You think about Hip Hop and it has a sound, it has an image, it has a fashion sense, it has a language – it’s just attractive, it’s really attractive. You think of Hip Hop and you think Nike, you think Adidas, you think Drake, you think Kanye West, you think samples, you think 808s and syncs and all that shit. There’s just so much in it that I like. It’s a whole culture on its own.
How did HYPE happen? I was familiar with your work from before your HYPE features, so it was exciting buying an issue and seeing your stuff in the magazine. Is it now a regular thing?
HAM What HYPE Magazine did is I think they collaborated with a specific company. I don’t know. But that company then said “Listen, any graphic designers/illustrators, send through your work and we’re going to use it and you might end up in HYPE.” I saw that and that second I actually sent through a lot of the work that I have. They saw it, they replied and said, ‘this is dope, can you send some more?’ and I sent a whole lot more. I didn’t think it was actually going to happen but then the August issue came out and they put it in, but they only put in two. They got a good response from the artwork in the magazine; a lot of people were showing love so the lady hit me up again and I sent some more and she decided to put in five that time, the second issue – September/October. She put in five because of the response that the magazine got. After that it just stopped. I’m not working regularly with them, I just got two features.
Recently I featured OMG Wear on the blog and when I interviewed them they mentioned their collaboration with you being one of their really big things last year. How important would you say collaborations are in the creative space?
HAM I think they’re very important. You’re only going to have a limited amount of creative juice inside of you. So brainstorming, sharing ideas, mixing resources is very important because in that way you actually build each other. Everybody gets a piece of the pie but you also benefit mutually. I’m very proud a lot of the young creatives are trying to do that.
Did you ever fear entering this industry?
HAM Yeah. Yeah. I did. There’s a lot of competition. I just feared judgment, but I never feared if people would like my stuff because I was doing it for myself. That’s what’s very important. I was like “I’ll do an illustration and I’ll put it out” and if people liked it I was like “Oh, that’s nice.” For me, it was just because I wanted to do it. I spent a lot of time learning it in just that bubble of illustration and creativity that I was doing. I need to make money but I’d rather be happy. I’d rather put out things that make me happy and whoever responds, I know that its people that respond to my stuff. I don’t want to make something that’s more for the masses and then have that be one of the main reasons that people like my stuff – because it’s a trend right now.
Do you think a lot people do that: base their work, not necessarily on what they like but more on what they think will get a good response?
HAM Musically, graphically a lot of people do it. A simple example is baseball caps. They’re now in fashion. How easy is it to get a baseball cap? Think about it. A lot of people follow trends. Anyone whose got brand is going to get the items that are trendiest right now. A lot of people, I feel, do things for reasons other than actually loving the art of it. So a person isn’t into graphics and clothing but I mean, if you can make money, if you can be famous, if you can get a few girls, then [they’re] going to get into. It honestly is like that.
What advice would you give to any other young illustrators that want to enter this field but aren’t really sure about it?
HAM It starts off with a passion. If you like doing it, then that’s pretty much a big indicator that you should do it. If you’re trying to get into the industry, learn how to do everything, Google qualifications that you can study for, Google places that you can go to to study.
For OHYESLORD as whole and for you personally what is the ultimate plan? What impact do you want to leave?
HAM The ultimate plan is to make one of the biggest brands in this country. That’s the ultimate plan. Just to broaden the spectrum, I want to be one of the biggest contributors locally to the Hip Hop culture. One of the biggest, like an Okmalum’. When they think Hip Hop, they think OHYESLORD; they think a certain style, they think OHYESLORD; they see a certain trend, they think OHYESLORD. The main thing for me is to just inspire. That’s the main thing for me. If I can get people to just look at my shit and be like “I’m actually just trying to do something like you” or “Wow this dude can do this and get to this level, I probably could do the same”, then I’ve done my job. That’s all I actually want to do as my part on society.
What are your plans for this year? I see you’ve been posting a lot about a “small collection.”
HAM My small collection! I’m actually wearing this sweater now; it’s just a few items of clothing that I’m going to be putting out – sweaters and caps. I’m still young, I can do what I need to do or what I want to do and I like clothing as well so I’m deciding to go into that. I even changed up my logo. I changed up my logo because now I’m deviating from the illustration because, like you said: is there any money in this? And I was like “Look, I want to make money, but I also need to have an interest in it.” So I decided I’m just going to focus on clothing from now on.
To cop some of the caps and threads, email OHYESLORDSA@gmail.com or call 0825124765