We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

Sentrock: Behind the mask and through the bird’s eye view of hip-hop


Originally from Phoenix and better known as Sentrock, Joseph Anthony Perez, is a Chicago-based muralist who uses his work to inspire his community by reminding them to stay free and use their creativity to escape the realities of life.

When he was 24-years old, Perez decided to move to Chicago and enrolled at Columbia College Chicago to study art and design. Two semesters later, he realized he could follow his passions and achieve his goals without earning a college degree. Thanks to that decision, he was able to spread his wings to learn to fly.

In his murals and paintings, Sentrock uses a characteristic graphic element: a mask representing a red bird—supposed to be a cardinal—which he often places over the face of a Latino character. “It’s almost like an alter ego. You know, when this character puts on the bird mask, he is able to reach new heights and discover new limits and not be tied down to the circumstances of his life,” he said.

Throughout half of his life, Perez’s father was imprisoned. Because of this, for Perez the search for freedom is constant in his artistic production and the red mask plays an important role in his character’s backstory.

Perez feels that the people of Pilsen, where his studio is located, appreciate his work and that makes him feel at home.

“A lot of my work is street art, so something can stay for 10 years or sometimes disappear in a few weeks,” Perez said. “I have a lot of favorite murals, but sometimes they’re just not here anymore. So if I do something, I appreciate it in the moment.”

Chicago-based rapper Lupe Fiasco wrote a song about Sentrock. His initial reaction?

“Oh my God, there’s no way I’m going to write a whole song about myself and my art,” Perez said.

When they met in Los Angeles to brainstorm how they could collaborate, Perez told Fiasco: “It would be sick if you created a song, almost like a freestyle, and then I paint something about that song.”

Instead, Fiasco interpreted it differently: “I’m going to create a song about Sentrock’s work, which is crazy,” Perez said. The process took more than a year.

Oscar Sotelo is a fan of cultivating Latino-centered stories. Recently, to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, he hosted a community event with Sentrock at Diego, the new West Town bar and restaurant, of which Sotelo is a co-owner.

“Anytime I appreciate how an independent, Latino-owned small business can honor a special holiday and create a full event for the community, thats always a blessing,” Sotelo said.

Sotelo met Sentrock in his studio during an exhibition and identified with the artist’s story.

“It resonates a lot with people like me personally. He created this bird character. Many of the ideas arise around the idea of ​​freedom. For people like me who grew up in a difficult neighborhood, freedom is just an idea that you long for and admire from afar,” Sotelo said.

For the muralist, music and painting share elements in common.

“Hip-hop means the same thing that I want to convey with my art. Just taking your story and share it in a creative way so that people can enjoy it,” Perez said. “You can learn as you go and create, and people gravitate toward it and are inspired by that. When you listen to a hip-hop song, you hear stories from everywhere and you identify with that – that expression. The beautiful thing about hip-hop is that you don’t need a degree.”

Sara Cano, originally from Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, has recently settled in Chicago and confesses to having fallen in love with the street art of Sentrock.

“I have seen his art in person and in photographs,” she said. “The streets of Pilsen are lucky to have pieces of this type of art that perfectly express culture, stories, dedication and inspiration.”

But what does Cano think hip-hop and Sentrock have in common?

“Hip-hop has brought color to music for 50 years, just as Sentrock’s art brings color to streets and canvases, and I can’t wait to see what it will accomplish in 50 years. I’m a fan of the stories told in music and the stories behind the bird mask.”

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Citlalli Magali Sotelo, Bilingual Reporter
csotelo@columbiachronicle.com   Citlalli Magali Sotelo is a senior broadcast journalism major. She has reported on local businesses, student and faculty demographics and Mexican Independence Day in Chicago. She joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Addison Annis, Photojournalist
aannis@columbiachronicle.com   Addison Annis is a junior photojournalism major, minoring in video production. She has covered politics, cultural events and Chicago protests. Annis joined the Chronicle in August 2022.   Hometown: Plymouth, Minn.