Vic Rivera Rockford hip hop icons
Artists, DJ and hip hop historian Vic Rivera created portraits of 50 Rockford hip hop icons in honor of Hip Hop History Month. He’s pictured in front of a display at RPL Nordlof Center, 118 N. Main St., on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in downtown Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — A local artist and hip hop historian has created a portrait series that pays homage to 50 Rockford hip hop icons.

Vic Rivera’s digitally drawn portraits are a blend of cartoonish aspects and realistic characteristics that portray some of the city’s most recognizable rappers, breakdancers, DJs and graffiti artists. His series includes globally influential artists such as the late Virgil Abloh, an internationally known fashion designer who grew up in Rockford and was a part of the local hip hop scene, and early local hip hop pioneers and others from across multiple generations of music and art.

“It features the whole spectrum of hip hop for the last 50 years,” Rivera said.

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The portraits are now on display in the front entrance window of the RPL Nordlof Center, 118 N. Main St., in downtown. They were placed there in recognition of Hip Hop History Month, which is held in November, and will remain up through the end of the week.

“Vic is truly leading the charge in terms of making sure the next generation really knows the legacy, and it’s beautiful,” said James Ford, an educator who grew up in Rockford and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m super proud of him the way he’s become this ambassador, culturally, within the city.”

Ford was among the 50 honorees for his contributions as Judah the Lyrical Rev. He met Rivera in 2005 during a competition hosted by Harlan Jefferson, aka DJ Hype, another of the 50 icons Rivera selected. That’s when Ford debuted “Rockford Files,” a bleak and blunt look at the city that became a standout track on his first album “It Is What it Is” in 2006.

“I grew up in the golden era,” said Ford, a 43-year-old Auburn High School graduate who left the city more than dozen years ago to teach in Charlotte. He was named North Carolina’s teacher of the year in 2014.

Vic Rivera created this portrait of Judah the Lyrical Rev, aka James Ford, for his series honoring 50 Rockford hip hop icons. (Image provided by Vic Rivera)

“To still be in the collective memory as one of the noteworthy emcees, that’s special.”

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Ford said that Rivera is helping ensure that hip hop artists are recognized as part of the local art scene. That was one of Rivera’s goals with the project, too, as well as to showcase the range of aspects of hip hop outside of music.

“Hip hop is not just the music part that we hear on the radio. There’s so much more to it that often gets overlooked,” Rivera said. “I think its important for the general public to know that we’re artists, but its also important for us to recognize that we’re artists.”

The self-taught artist created the portraits using the Procreate app and a Stylus pen. Rivera, a breakdancer and DJ, selected the artists he featured based on his first-hand knowledge of the local scene and feedback from other emcees, DJs, breakdancers and artists.

“What really drove it home was recommendations and stories from other people,” he said.

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Jefferson, who was a rapper as a teenager and then a DJ, is now known more for his work on the saxophone. He also directs the Live at Levings showcase in west Rockford. The 53-year-old was influenced by people like Ray the Rapper and DJ Groove in his early years before he later became a source of knowledge for a younger generation.

“There were people before me that influenced me when I was coming up,” Jefferson said, “and then I became one of those people when a lot of other people came up under me.”

He said Rivera’s project, which was shared on social media throughout the month, helped people learn about multiple generations of hip hop artists here.

“It’s opening up different eyes, teaching a lot of people who didn’t know all this stuff even existed,” Jefferson said.

Vic Rivera created this portrait of Alberto Lara, aka DJ Loko, as part of his series of 50 Rockford Hip Hop icons. (Image provided by Vic Rivera)

Alberto Lara, 54, is the founder of The House Brotherhood, the longest-running DJ crew in Rockford. He started breakdancing in the early 1980s with a group called the Rocksteady Breakers, and was introduced to the art of mixing and DJing at a breakdance competition in Chicago. He’s still active in the scene today.

“I have no words to express how honored I am to share that spotlight with the rest of the 50 of those guys,” Lara said. “It’s amazing people, amazing talent.”

Lara said he found inspiration from a friend and fellow honoree in the portrait project Alex Perez, who was among the first people to form a breakdancing crew in the city. Perez died in December 2021 at age 50.

“I’ve known him since I was 13 years old. He was the one who asked me to join the Rocksteady Breakers,” Lara said. “He’s the guy who inspired me to breakdance even better.”

Lara said that Perez is just one example of the plethora of talent in Rockford, which continues to have a strong hip hop scene.

“The culture is here,” Lara said. “It’s been here and it will always be here.”

50 Rockford hip hop icons

Here’s the breakdancers, DJs, rappers and artists featured in Vic Rivera’s portrait project for Hip Hop History Month.

DJ Hype, Kid Jungle, Jes One, Sonny Crudup, Carlos Cuttur, Pairadice, Gangsta Haiji, Judah the Lyrical Rev, Stuk, DJ Roc Noizy, Bizeone, Loko, Meaty Ogre, H-Wood, Seko, DJ Neal, Rapides, Dustyface, Mic-Check, Rated AG, Big V, Blazo, Fresco, Dotcom, Xen, DJ Acid, Ric Monsta, Mark8, Tree, H-Fresh, Big Juice, Alex Perez, Ken da Kid, Terrible T, DJ Groove, Jersey, Gabe Gizz, Universoulove, DJ Woddy, Bobby G, Swad, B-Ware, Flaco, Geebus, KV-Finn, Lee Major, Deuce Jibri, Nooney B, Midi da Mistress, Virgil Abloh
Vic Rivera created this portrait of Virgil Abloh as part of his portrait series honoring local hip hop icons. (Image provided by Vic Rivera)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

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