August is officially National Black Business Month and PAPER is showing love to some of our favorite Black-owned businesses throughout the entire month. Our dedicated series, Booked x Busy, is all about shining a light on the entrepreneurs and brands that embody Black excellence.
Meet the modern-day Angela Davis of the art world, Tenbeete Solomon.
Chances are, you've probably used one of Solomon's GIFs in an Instagram Story or in a group chat. Having worked with famous names like Missy Elliott and Senator Elizabeth Warren, she's even been recognized by Beyoncé for flexing her girl power.
Better known as "Trap Bob," Solomon has been on the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter movement with a paint brush as her means of protesting. A famed illustrator and designer, Trap Bob has managed to be a visual force while becoming a brand all her own, using the world as her canvas.
Trap Bob's award-winning work lives through different mediums, including digital animations and murals installed throughout the country. With her vibrant, bold and dynamic take on pop culture, she is empowering the next generation through a colorful lens of feminism, hip-hop and social justice.
PAPER kicked it with Trap Bob to find out how she's managed to use her art as a form of activism, what it takes to realize your potential and why it's important to embrace your inner trap goddess.
Tell me how the brand, Trap Bob, got started. What inspired the name?
I was finishing up my undergraduate studies in Marketing and couldn't figure out what I wanted to do. I started drawing to relieve stress and immediately fell in love. I had felt like I was living a lie until I discovered art. I committed to teaching myself and practicing until I was able to go freelance full-time and start my company. The name came from a childhood nickname (Bob) mixed with me paying homage to my idol, Gucci Mane, who dropped his mixtape, Trap God, when I first started getting into art.
Out of all of your extraordinary work, which project has meant the most to you?
Though I love all my projects, I think my Giphy stickers are pretty special. People can use them in IG stories, iMessage and even FaceTime, just by searching "Trap Bob." I look at them as a form of communication I made for my audience, to express themselves without needing words. I love that they can support a movement or share their values just by using my art, and in a fun way. I've gotten to highlight topics and powerful women I admire.
It's also given me opportunities for my work to show up in the political realm. My sticker for US Representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was her most used social asset and I worked with the Elizabeth Warren campaign last year to create stickers for them which is still hard to believe. I never thought I'd see someone like me working with a presidential candidate, let alone one that truly believed in what I do and wanted to truly collaborate. My Giphy page and stickers have billions of views, it's the craziest thing to me.
What does it mean to be a Black-owned business, especially when the Black Lives Matter movement is getting so much attention?
Everything we do [as Black people] is a form of representation and an opportunity to have our voices heard. While it can be bittersweet to suddenly get attention from audiences that have overlooked us for so long, it's also beautiful to see and receive the recognition and support we deserve. Regardless of current events, we continue to be Black, successful and in support of our communities.
As a Black-owned brand and entrepreneur, are there any challenges that you face?
I used to worry about being overlooked for opportunities or by certain platforms, but I worked to make a name for myself so that I was the one in demand. Getting started is always hard, but the lessons you learn with each "no" or rejection, builds you up to be prepared for opportunities when they come. I've learned to stay ready so I can handle whatever comes my way.
Who and what from Black culture influences your work?
Music is a huge influence for me and keeps me motivated through everything. Listening to Black artists reminds me why I'm doing what I do and reminds me how far we can go. Black culture in general provides endless inspiration to me, and I get most of my ideas from everyday life situations or things I see on Twitter. Most of all, being in DC is very important for me. The energy and inspiration I get being in the city is the reason I can create like I do, and I'm so proud to be a part of such a creative and powerful community.
If you could have your art hanging on the walls of any celebrity, who would they be and why?
Definitely Gucci Mane. He's been my inspiration since before I got into art, and his music and journey motivated me to go for it. I'll always look up to him and would be overjoyed to have my work in his home.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business at all? How have you used the time to tap into your creativity?
It definitely slowed things down in the beginning, but thankfully I work in a lot of mediums and a majority of them are digital, so I was able to keep working and have time to work on personal projects. Surprisingly I've ended up doing a lot more mural work recently, which has been so rewarding. Being out in the city engaging with people while doing what I love helped me deal with everything going on in these crazy times.
What's it like being a Black woman not simply having a seat at the table, but building her own?
It's the only way I see it really. I've never wanted what was not for me, or craved validation from those who don't believe in me. Art is my everything, so I can never compromise my work or integrity for any amount of money or recognition. I pride myself on only creating and working with those whose values and messages align with my own. As Black women, we are more than enough.
You're also the Creative Director of GIRLAAA. What's it like to be a part of a collective of like-minded women of color creatives?
I'm so thankful for my GIRLAAA family, we've grown so close and I really look at them like sisters. When DJ Domo approached me about founding it, we really didn't know exactly what it would be but knew it was necessary. I'd never been a part of a group or collective, and I was at a point where I needed to be a part of something bigger than me and be surrounded by like-minded individuals. We quickly saw how important what we were doing was, representing for Black women in the creative fields and beyond, and providing resources and support to our community.
Everyone involved in GIRLAAA is successful in their own respects and coming together only elevated us. We've partnered with local and national organizations and taken up spaces we never imagined. I'm beyond proud of what we've been able to accomplish.
What advice would you give Black entrepreneurs who are trying to get into a creative industry like visual arts?
Self-awareness is key, especially in the beginning. Learning about yourself and what you want, so you can translate that into your work and manifest. This will also prevent you from possibly being taken advantage of or pushed into something that isn't for you. Do your research, study those you admire and carry yourself like the people you look up to. Don't downplay your work or wait to get to a certain level to be professional and consistent. And above all stay true to yourself, create what excites you and explore as much as possible. You never know what you want to do until you do it.
If you won the lottery tomorrow, how would you use the money to elevate Trapbob as a brand?
First thing I would do is buy a gallery space in DC, where I can go crazy with ideas and concepts and create space for local artists to display and put on events. In all my work, I strive to represent for the DMV and for me the next step is owning property.
Fill in the blank: My Black is...
The world is more colorful thanks to you. What's up next for Trapbob?
I've got a bunch of exciting projects coming up, and also working on some new merch and other goodies. Can't wait to share!
Photo courtesy of Omatseye Ajagbawa