'Morgan Street Monsters' mural gets a makeover starring J. Cole, Nina Simone and NC music greats

North Carolina music is coming to the "Morgan Monsters" wall of Trophy Brewing Co., courtesy of a new mural by New York artist Kevin Lyons.

The mural replaces a black and white mural Lyons painted in 2015 — also with his trademark whimsically cartoonish monsters — on the east-facing exterior wall of Trophy Brewing, a craft beer and pizza joint on Morgan Street near downtown.

It's expected to be unveiled Saturday afternoon, weather permitting.

The monsters will cover the wall again, this time bigger, bolder and in color, as Lyons pays homage to some of the state's most iconic musicians in "Morgan Street Jazz Monsters: A Tribute to the Jazz Giants of North Carolina."

Kevin Lyons, an artist based in Brooklyn, works on his latest mural "Morgan Street Jazz Monsters: A Tribute to the Jazz Giants of North Carolina" on the east wall of Trophy Brewing Co. in Raleigh under a tarp as it rains Wednesday, May 16, 2018. It replaces a black and white mural Lyons painted on this same wall in 2015. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Nina Simone is here, and so are former James Brown sideman Maceo Parker, Rocky Mount-born pianist Thelonious Monk, Fayetteville rapper J. Cole, hip-hop producer/academic 9th Wonder and his protege Rapsody, Petey "Raise Up" Pablo and more.

These and other artists from the mural are also featured in an accompanying Spotify playlist, put together by Raleigh Murals Project founder Jedidiah Gant.

"I'm a huge jazz fan and got into it through hip-hop samples," Lyons said. "And in doing some research, I discovered that a lot of my favorite artists were born and bred in North Carolina. So I decided to come back and revamp this to my color style, and also make it more local-focused."

To that end, the mural is colored in various shades of red and blue to recognize NC State, UNC, Duke and Shaw University basketball.

"I usually do a series of doughnuts, but it's basketballs this time," Lyons said. "It seems like a weird thing to do a jazz piece with athletic colors, but that seems very Raleigh to me — this cool kind of hipster place, but also rooted in sports."

Lyons, a longtime commercial artist, has worked for years designing campaigns and products for companies including Urban Outfitters, Vans shoes, Girl Skateboards and others. The earliest monsters he drew were for fun, doodling while on the phone.

Lyons began to do more elaborate monster drawings to entertain his daughters after they were born, and he started getting requests to do monster illustrations professionally.

"The monster thing has only been about the last eight or nine years out of a 25- or 30-year career, and it's given me a second life," Lyons said. "I was more of an illustrator and art director before that. Now my work winds up on a lot of stuff like sneakers and cups."

Trophy mural can.jpeg
Kevin Lyons has painted "Morgan Street Jazz Monsters: A Tribute to the Jazz Giants of North Carolina," a mural with his signature monsters on the side of Trophy Brewing. Trophy has brewed up a "Morgan Monsters" New England IPA to go with the mural. Lyons designed the label. Courtesy of Jedidiah Gant

In addition to the "Truth Kevin Lyons Authentic" Vans footwear, there's also a Lyons-designed cup currently available at Sonic Drive-In restaurants. And Trophy has brewed up a "Morgan Monsters" beer to go with the mural, available starting Saturday.

"It's a New England IPA," said Trophy co-owner David Meeker. "It should be delicious on a warm May Saturday. And Kevin designed the label, of course."

Lyons did his first Trophy mural on this same wall in late 2015, painting a black-and-white monster mural for the anti-teen-smoking campaign TRUTH. The project was something of an ordeal, thanks to bad weather — "around 40 degrees with rain falling sideways," Lyons said.

The mural subsequently has become a popular backdrop for selfie photographs on social media, often enough that Lyons has been able to track its deterioration from afar. With his original mural fading, Lyons proposed a return to update the mural by painting a more specifically North Carolina theme. It also reflects how his monsters have evolved stylistically, he said.

Morgan West Mural
Graphic artist Kevin Lyons, in partnership with the Truth campaign and Vans shoes, put the finishing touches on a mural on the side of the Morgan West building, home to Trophy Brewing, on Thursday, December 3, 2015. Tobacco-free messages are worked into the painting. With about 100 of his signature monster faces, the 15’x40’ mural on brick took 2.5 days to complete. Inspired by his 2 daughters, Lyons used to leave his now signature faces as fun surprises in their school lunches. Corey Lowenstein clowenst@newsobserver.com

Lyons and two assistants, Noelle Martinez and Jenny Smith, have been in Raleigh working since Tuesday. It's not as cold this time but they've had plenty of rain to contend with, anxiously keeping an eye on the weather.

"This is saying 'light rain' that will stop in five minutes," Lyons said in the midst of a downpour while checking an app on his phone. "But that's off. This is not 'light.'"

Struggling to adjust a tarp to keep the rain off the mural wall, Martinez laughed. She has worked on a half-dozen murals with Lyons, and battling the elements is part of the gig.

"There's always something," she said from atop a ladder. "These never go completely smooth."

A sketch of Brooklyn artist Kevin Lyons' latest mural "Morgan Street Jazz Monsters: A Tribute to the Jazz Giants of North Carolina." Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com
David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi


What: Unveiling party for "Morgan Street Jazz Monsters: A Tribute to the Jazz Giants of North Carolina"

When: 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Trophy Brewing Co., 827 W. Morgan St.

Cost: Free

Info: 919-803-4849 or TrophyBrewing.com.

The artist: For more on Kevin Lyons, go to naturalborn.com or follow him on Instagram at instagram.com/klyonsnatborn.

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