Phoenix hip-hop artist Tony Watts put a new spin on Donald Trump’s MAGA slogan by using an anti-Trump billboard located on Grand Avenue near downtown Phoenix in his "MAGA" music video. The video features Watts and several other artists performing underneath the billboard, wearing MAGA hats and waving American flags.
But it’s not a tribute to Trump. Instead, it’s an indictment of his politics, and the larger context of racism in American life. “I’m speaking from an angry urban man’s perspective,” Watts says. “This is my point of view of America.”
The video has garnered more than 8,000 views since Watts posted it online last spring, around the time Childish Gambino dropped his "This is America" video. Watts shot the video on May 3, 2018, according to producer Jack London, who also made the beat for the song. Watts released it less than a week later.
Now, its reach is growing, thanks to a Facebook post by Beatrice Moore.
She’s an artist and preservation activist who spearheads the Grand Avenue Billboard Project. The billboard towers over one of many properties Moore owns along Grand Avenue with fellow artist and partner Tony Zahn. Through the years, it’s been painted with various images and messages.
Moore commissioned California artist Karen Fiorito to paint the anti-Trump billboard, which measures 40 feet across, after Trump was elected president. It went up on March 17, 2017, and Moore intends to keep it there until Trump leaves office.
The billboard features Trump’s face flanked by not only the swastika-like symbols, but also nuclear mushroom clouds that incorporate clown imagery. The swastika/dollar sign hybrids originated with New York artist Hugh Gran, who granted Fiorito permission to use them. On Trump's label, there's a small Russian flag pin.
At first, Watts used the billboard as part of a publicity stunt. “We posted a video on the internet, and everyone was wearing MAGA hats,” he recalls. “We got a lot of black-lash for that, because people thought we were supporting Trump.”
But that was just a way to tease the full music video, which is part of an album titled Rebel that Watts plans to release on June 11. “Once people saw the full video, they understood what I was saying,” he says. “I’m coming from a black activist point of view.”
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The music video features Watts performing on top of a black SUV, standing beneath the anti-Trump billboard. He’s wearing the red MAGA baseball cap that that’s popular with Trump supporters, singing about black power as he appropriates the gear that some associate with white supremacists.
Viewers also see red MAGA hats hanging on a strip of chain-link fence, in front of The Chocolate Factory building where Luster Kaboom’s blue ooze mural makes it into the shot. Near the end of the video, performers stomp on several of the MAGA hats – and one of the hats goes up in flames.
Expect a similar tone for Rebel, which blends Watts’ take on both politics and relationships. London calls it "a concept album on racism in America," but Watts says there's another dimension to it as well.
“This is really my introduction to people, of letting them know how I think."