“I’m the R to the A-F-A-E-L, I thrift all my clothes but they fresh as hell!” Rafael Newman shouted from the stage at the Willamette Valley Music Festival. “Raf,” as his friends shortened it to, considers himself a b-boy. According to google, a b-boy is “a young man involved with hip-hop culture” but according to Newman, it’s a job.
Newman is a junior at the University of Oregon studying general social science. He is a member of the UO Hip-Hop Dance Club and is also the hype man for the Illaquips, the UO hip-hop ensemble. “I get people jumpin’ and movin.’ It’s more of a state of mind,” he said.
On most days, Newman rocks Converse High-Tops with his laces wrapped around his ankles. His pants are cuffed and his socks match the rest of his outfit that would put every storefront mannequin to shame. He greets everyone with a smile that captures his kindness; he walks like a dancer who can’t help but move in style.
I first met Newman when he was freestyling with my roommate after class one day. He had an Arizona Iced Tea in one hand and held an imaginary microphone in the other. His fluid style and passionate voice boomed from deep inside him. His whole body swayed as he spoke; his hands shook, his eyebrows jumped up and down and he never stopped smiling.
Whenever music is playing, Newman is likely moving. Whether he is twitching his foot or nodding his head, he is bound to a rhythmic beat like a wind-up toy that never slows. Newman’s love for hip-hop and dance started at a young age. He grew up watching his mother, Dora, a Brazilian dancer from Salvador Bahia, dance. “She’s my main influence,” he said.
When asked why he dances, Newman simply said, “I just love to dance. And by dancing I was always around DJs and musicians, and I just got wrapped up in the hip-hop community.”
Dora has her own dance group called Dancing with Dora. She has danced with a wide variety of other groups in the past. Through her dance experiences she met Jeromeskee, a member of the dance group Massive Monkees, who exposed Newman to old school hip-hop and funk styles of dancing.
“Just being around [Jeromeskee] when I was younger, and later on taking dance classes in middle school, my love for hip-hop just grew,” Newman said.
Newman not only learned to dance from his mom, but she also taught him how to make his own clothing. Dora created all the costumes for her performances by hand, including extravagant traditional Brazilian dresses with vivid colors and layers of materials.
“The only reason I really got into sewing was my desire to make clothes,” Newman said. “I love fashion designers and all that but I’m not gonna buy their $300 thing that I could just make myself.”
I recently fell while skateboarding home from school, and I profoundly ripped my pants when I landed in the splits. Newman was cracking a 40 ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon in the kitchen preparing to make music with my roommate, so I showed him the tear and he said he would “see what he could do.” A few weeks later he had patched the tears with some fabric he had found at a thrift store, and adding some of his style — which I desperately needed — to my pants.
Newman typically finds clothes at thrift shops around Eugene and adds to them by sewing on patches or different pieces of fabric that he acquires. He also takes large pieces of fabric and creates various clothing items, such as tank tops or shirts, both for himself and for others.
“I got a new-school ’90s theme going,” Newman said of his clothing style. “I have elements of the ’90s that I wear, but I’m not a kid who’s stuck in the ’90s. I like to mix it up — never plain.”
Newman can commonly be found whistling while he works in the Craft Center at the EMU with loud hip-hop music playing in the background. He’ll carefully go through all the fabric he has in his backpack, pulling out strands of material with care and laying them on the table. After some careful selection, he picks his favorite piece and patches it on to whatever clothing item calls to him.
Newman’s style is captivating — whether he’s dancing, singing, rapping, sewing or simply talking, it’s hard not to watch and listen.