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Kien Quan is a New York based action and street photographer. Shooting for brands such as the Pro Breaking Tour, Silverback Bboy Events, and NFL he seeks to create work that sparks inspiration. Starting as a B-Boy himself, Kien knows best how to shoot dancers in the best way possible. Recently, Instagram reached out to Kien, which resulted in his photo being placed as header for a full day. We caught up with him to see how he got to this point in his art and what goals he has next for himself.
How did you get involved into photography?
Originally I started off as a B-Boy from 5 Crew Dynasty, in New York City. We would constantly battle around and we made a name for ourselves in New York. Eventually, we started traveling around the United States and occasionally to other countries. Because we started touring, it was natural for me to buy a small pocket camera to record our adventures on and off the floor. I have an inner curiosity to learn, so it was only a matter of time before I completely understood how to use how to use a pocket camera.
I took photography seriously when I went back to college. I was part of the yearbook club and I started getting assignments to run around documenting various clubs on campus. An idea hit me. Why don’t I just document the B-Boy culture that I am so passionate about? At that time, photography and videography wasn’t really developed inside the USA scene. Budgets for B-Boy events were non-existent without major sponsorships. That’s pretty much how it started.
You started as dancer correct, are you still involved in dancing and if so how?
These days, it’s hard for me to find time to dance. I’m currently studying art direction at the top advertising school worldwide (Miami Ad School). Trying to do this on top of photography consumes all of my time. I’ll still throw down when I need a break.
You did a project called “Smoke Bombs” this summer. Where did the idea come from and how did that turn out?
Lately, urban street photographers on social media have heavily influenced me. There’s something genuinely dope about the fact that a teenager can pick up a simple iPhone or a cheap camera and create amazing work with only an eye and almost no technical knowledge. I’ve seen a lot of generic smoke bomb photos in the field of street photography, so I wanted to create with my own twist to this prop.
The smoke bombs were homemade. With the help of tutorials and after a bit of experimenting, I was able to get different colors from them. The “Above the Clouds” project I recently did was a follow up on the Smoke Bombs project.
Recently, you got picked up by Instagram and you were featured with a header photo for a day. How was that arranged?
They sent me an email and asked me to help them out on curating an article for the B-Boy community. It was an immediate yes. I saw an instant result of a lot of new followers as well as a few small and large inquiries.
What’s next for you?
This year I was successful at doing what I love and being able to connect with the world through my work. I would like to keep that going next year.
Photos by Kien Quan
Red Bull BC One 2015 Recap by The Legits Studios
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Denver-born, but LA breaking-bred B-Girl Asia One is a name who needs little introduction in the global breaking community. The pint-sized Hip Hop powerhouse and avid community activist got her start in in the early 90s as a graffiti writer, but quickly laced up her shoes and started breaking when she began training with both Rock Steady Crew and Air Force (who were rivals at the time) on the West Coast in 1994. From there, she took her naturally eloquent skills of oration to the streets and preached both Hip Hop and community support on the streets of Southern California. With the collaboration of Easy Roc, J-Love and the Zulu Nation, she co-created B-Boy Summit in San Diego and then started her own production company, No Easy Props, in 1997. Now, more than 20 years later, Asia continues to dance, teach, support, nurture and love the scene, and recently moved back to her native Denver to finish her college degree. There, she also teaches programs, like BGirlism and Hip Hop 101, and works with Denver’s the Bboy Factory.
Asia freezes in front of a Part piece TDS at Rock Steady Anniversary, 2002
She literally can’t stop, won’t stop and literally doesn’t stop moving, from workshops, writing graffiti and painting murals, to speaking, dancing and teaching around the world. We were lucky enough to catch her for a moment over breakfast to learn about her entry point into the culture, how it developed during her time in the 90s through the 00s and what she thinks is vital to keeping Hip Hop alive for the future. Read on, as the one-and-only Asia One discusses Hip Hop’s core values, the 90s Golden Era, breaking’s role in the East Coast-West Coast divide and how all Hip Hop mentors must be on mission to combat the Internet.
What was your entry point into Hip Hop?
Well, I consider it to be when I opened my Hip Hop store in Denver called La Casa Del Funk after I graduated from high school in 1991. Having the shop was pivotal to me, because I had it in a section of town that was considered “no claims.” No gangs claimed it, as the city was and is still heavily gang related– in terms of the side of town from which you hail. If you’re from the east side, you didn’t go hang in the north side. The part of town I had my shop in wasn’t anyone’s turf, so people started coming around the store that wouldn’t normally get together. I got to connect with people who were interested in Hip Hop and the skills of DJing, breaking, writing graffiti and MCing, and we became a little collective and the shop became a warehouse out of which to create, chill and get together. It also afforded me trips to the 432F Show, an underground trade show in San Diego, to get the gear to sell in it every year.
Asia at Heart Break Hotel, The Notorious IBE 2015
At that point in time, it was the Golden Era– a rebirth of Hip Hop culture, in a different way– that served as more of a renaissance of intellect, awareness and skills. It was a way that was updated and more natural for those times. The synergy between artists there was incredible. This trade show was so intimate, and it was just for Hip Hop lines– it was really the birth of Hip Hop streetwear. It was when Marc Ecko had just started. He had maybe 12 t-shirt designs at the time, and everybody’s lines were just getting off the ground. In LA, you had Fat Cat and Gypsies & Thieves. In NYC, you had GFS, Triple5Soul and PNB Nation. When I’d go to the show, we’d all talk and chill. It wasn’t an elitist mentality with rappers over here, and DJs over there, everyone just came together. At that time, there was a lot of emphasis around wisdom and culture. It was an exciting time. I was writing graffiti at the time, but not yet dancing.
"It’s kind of amazing that 40 years later that people either don’t know what Hip Hop is, or that they don’t know it’s a culture, or that they don’t know it’s an American phenomenon, just like jazz."
I was doing my shop, going to college and chilling, but my breakthrough moment was when some of the guys from Rock Steady and Rhythm Technicians came to Denver and Boulder to work on a show that would eventually become Jam on the Groove. At the time it was called, So What Happens Now. When I saw the show, it changed my life and I wanted to do that. I was 20 at the time, and I was going down the wrong path, hanging around with some gang members and dating a lead dude in a gang. I had an epiphany that I needed to change my life, so I closed my shop and set off to re-create myself into the person I wanted to be. I never looked back. I started training then, with West Coast Rock Steady and Air Force Crew, which is kind of funny since they were huge rivals. I just clicked with them both and knew them both, and it just worked out like that. I took to the classic, or archetypal B-Boy/ B-Girl style, more but that just became my thing, and eventually I got down with Rock Steady Crew. I had a great time practicing with Air Force though, before that.
How did your community activism parlay into starting B-Boy Summit?
I wanted to do something for the B-Boys and B-Girls at that time. We really didn’t have any respect. Freestyle dance had taken over in the 90s and pushed breaking aside. The music of the Golden Era was slower and more grimey, with groups like Mobb Deep and Nas alongside Native Tongues. Freestyle dance was really born out of the Golden Era. It was a point in time where people were embarrassed to still break, or dress in a classic B-Boy way. People were really into rocking Tommy Hilfiger and Polo and Nautica, as well as underground Hip Hop lines. So that’s the inspiration behind Bboy Summit. It was my idea and concept. J-Love and Easy Roc helped me do it with the help of the Universal Zulu Nation San Diego Chapter. That’s how it got off the ground and it just kept going ever since. The idea was to have a Hip Hop event that was in homage to the B-Boys and B-Girls, so everybody could get together to pay tribute to this element. The name, The Bboy Summit, put it on a platform that was creating the highest standards for it in terms as far as preservation and authenticity goes. It was also for the new generation. It was really underground at that time, not many people in the USA was really doing it anymore. It was a pivotal time.
Rock Steady Crew, 1996
What was the American Golden Era, to you, about?
The Golden Era wasn’t like the 80s, it was a different synergy. It was a renaissance. The music that was coming out was strong, it had a message, it was militant, you had everything from West Coast gangster rap and then you had the whole Native Tongues vibe that really pushed Zulu up too. There was so much diversity in the music, but everyone had something to really SAY. You had a big Five-Percent Nation push with Poor Righteous Teachers and Brand Nubian and what they were kicking. It was just a mentally stimulating time. But the dance, B-Boying as a whole, was really not included in this movement and how people felt. Freestyle dance was, but we weren’t welcome in their circle and we weren’t welcome in the clubs. So that’s really why we took it back to the streets and the parks– we had nowhere else to go. So that’s what Summit really was, it was a park jam.
When and why did you start No Easy Props?
It didn’t start off as a non-profit organization. It started in 1997 as a movement, an idea, a mental state, of pushing a concept to get people to remember what Hip Hop is about. It’s not gender, race, or anything related, it’s just about taking people for their skills. If you’re going to give them props, it’s because they earned them. It was about absolutely not creating one-hit-wonder situations, especially with women. We weren’t just going to blow them up so quickly that they were going to fall off because they didn't put the work in. It became a vehicle I used to produce the B-Boy Summit and it became a group of people who shared the same mindstate. Then I turned it into a non-profit in 2010 in which to preserve Hip-Hop through and to house the HipHop101 Program and the Summit. In Europe, I allowed a friend of mine– Miss Nicc, from Switzerland– to use the name in Europe to produce events and workshops there too.
How did being a B-Girl intersect with your organizational activities?
No Easy Props wasn’t about B-Girls, but I was dancing with a few other B-Girls. We were chilling and battling together in the early 00s, and that was cool. I was mentoring them in Los Angeles. It was a little time in my life, and I just put people down here and there that fit with my mentality. After a while, those specific girls wanted to stop breaking for personal reasons and I realized that they didn’t really embody what No Easy Props was about on a larger level. When I put people down in the future, it wasn’t like I was looking to recruit a crew. I was just looking for a synergy within like-minded people in a sense of representing Hip Hop.
But it’s bigger than just Hip Hop, when listening to your workshops. It’s about a set of core values within the culture that are universally human.
It is. It’s about a level of devotion, about a level of caring, integrity, energy and quite simply showing up. We need to do more work to give these core values of Hip Hop more visibility. Hip Hop organizations need to really work on that cultural aspect on a larger level, getting our culture established in the history books and in peoples’ minds they way jazz did. It’s kind of amazing that 40 years later that people either don’t know what Hip Hop is, or that they don’t know it’s a culture, or that they don’t know it’s an American phenomenon, just like jazz. The issue is that, if people outside our international circle would become aware of it, that we could really create stability for it and an environment where it could always thrive and exist– just like jazz. I don’t meant to constantly come back to jazz, but it’s the same case.
And how does breaking specifically play a role in the stability of Hip Hop today?
When you look at B-Boying, it’s really the only the element that was never able to cash in. It still hasn’t, and I mean that in every sense of the world. It’s kind of strange, to be honest. We always thought that graffiti would have been the one that would have never been profitable, but that really didn’t turn out to be true at all. It’s crazy that it’s a socially acceptable medium now that’s exploited on many different levels. B-Boying has always been exploited by Hollywood, as any other type of extreme dance can be, but beyond that, never.
What were the coastal differentials in B-Boying between California and New York during the Golden Era?
In the 90s there was a big division between the idea of what a B-Boy was. The New York State of Mind wasn’t about to validate what was going on in LA. So there was then a division between, “I’m a B-Boy” and, “You’re a breakdancer.” It was of course fueled by the whole East- West Coast Rap war that was going on at the time. The mentality really jacked up the dance for a long time. A lot of young kids who were faced with the choice between getting into breaking or getting into a gang, they’d get into breaking and see that it had many of the elements of being in a gang and they were frustrated. They felt they could have just joined a gang. It was hard for me being on the West Coast yet belonging to an East Coast crew, and embodying a style of dance and dress that was considered East Coast. We were a minority for sure at that point. But the cool thing about the Golden Era was that people were really critical thinkers.
Asia in front of a Dez piece on the Wall of Fame during Rock Steady Crew Anniversary 2002
Do you feel that same spirit and mental level today?
People really questioned what was going on, and they got vocal about it, pulling people’s cards and whatnot. I really don’t see that anymore. People seem more willing to just buy into any baloney that anybody– any event promoter, corporate sponsor– wants to throw at them. A lot of people are like, “Oh this is a Hip Hop culture event,” and it’s like no, keep it real. This is a breaking contest event. Even the terms B-Boy and B-Girl are political. It doesn’t just mean you break– it means you’re affiliated with Hip Hop culture. A lot of people call themselves B-Boys and B-Girls but I personally don’t think they’re affiliated with Hip Hop culture at all. If they are going to call themselves a culture term, like “B-Boy” or “B-Girl,” and be practitioners, then they should learn and be a part of the culture. I think terminology is really important. The reason I called myself a B-Girl was that the other dancers didn’t even consider us dancers. I never said I was a dancer, I just said I was a B-Girl. The Internet of course plays a part in this, as it allows people all over the world to witness the culture remotely.
"The terms B-Boy and B-Girl are political. It doesn’t just mean you break– it means you’re affiliated with Hip Hop culture."
But it’s a mentor and apprentice-based culture, all the elements are. I am currently mentoring two younger girls, and that’s where we all need to be looking– how to keep that system alive. You can’t really fight technology and change, so if the studios is where the youth are learning the dance now, then the culture needs to be included as well. That should be in the minds of the mentors. If we can’t change it and make it street again, then we need to re-create that vibe. You need to share your experiences, which is something I learned from Shaba Doo. If kids can’t really go out and join a real crew, then you can bring your experiences as a mentor and stimulate that environment in a class, especially with the little kids.
Photos by Nika Kramer and courtesy of Asia One
What were your favorite moments from the Red Bull BC One Italy World Final 2015? The HUB? Les Twins on stage? Kazuki Roc's crazy footwork, Bruce Almighty's now-famous Red Bull can freeze, or Victor's rise to the throne? Check out this great recap from The Legits and let us know!