Please, introduce yourself…
Well I write NIC ONE and I’m the prez of the AEROSOL KINGS Crew. I’m 46 years old, and I was born and raised in the south Bronx section of New York. Straight up I’m an active aerosol artist/Graffiti photo documenter and Hip Hop Photographer.
How did you start painting?
I started tagging back in 1977. I was around 12 years old and writing and graffiti was still truly new to me at that time. A few years later on I started going out and painting doing throw ups around the Bronx. From 1980 to 1989 I was just having fun with it all. It wasn’t until 83 that I would really start taking writing a whole lot more seriously and in ’84 I would end up doing my first piece on a subway train. I had already invested a lot of my self into the various parts of the Hip Hop culture. Going from a writer to a B Boy to a MC to a DJ and then Back to a B Boy and then finally back to a writer. It really was like a calling of sorts.
That was where my heart truly was at but I was very young and I didn’t know it at the time. From 1972 to 1982 I was looking at the subway lines. Checking out what was on the trains and what the pieces on the trains would say. I was always very interested in the subways from a very early age.
The way that they would rumble along and the cool way that they would sway up and down the line, kind of like old maids hustling along the street all the wile trying to not get hit. I was just fascinated with them. The subways passing through my good old Bronx neighborhood as I played and watched them roll along was the greatest of treats. I would often sit at my window and watch them and on one of my many times train watching, I started drawing in my aunts note book a picture of subway train with letters on it. My uncle came into the room and asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was drawing a train. He took a look at what I did and noticed the letters on my train drawing and asked, “Who’s this?” As he pointed at a very crude piece that I had done and I quickly answered, “ME!” I said, “See that’s me over there,” at the same time pointing to the train that was passing along. And then my uncle went all crazy on me. He started yelling to me not to do that. It wasn’t a nice thing to do and that the people that do that end up in jail and he went on and on and on, like a good uncle that cares would. But when the word Graffiti came out of his mouth and that the people that did it were called Graffiti Writers. I couldn’t really listen too anything else that he had said to me because I had just been educated to what it is that I had all the wile been interested in.
I took on the name of NIC from that seminal day. Partly because, I liked it and man it just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Something inside of me said “Hey you belong their kid.” Plus I was just that, a kid, like um what else was I really not going to do. My uncle made his undying plea for me not to start writing on the walls and what not but it was too late for reasoning, specially with a wide eyed opened minded super fixated kid that I was. Maybe he should have just said good luck or break a leg. From that moment on I wanted to be a part of what I saw. The coins have been removed from my eyes and somewhere I could hear someone saying I now pronounce you man and Graffiti, cause that’s when I got married to the movement.
Do you remember how the city looked at those times?
Yeah I do remember how the city looked back in them days. Like very early on for me back in, 72-74. I remember cats driving big Cadillac cars rocking the big pimp hats and long coats complete with the crazy high platform shoes sometimes and uniquely colorful suite, standing on the corner or just simply walking by my block. Buses ran with graffiti all over their outsides and they had the crazy large windows so you could see everything, man even at the back of the buses too, something you will not see with any of the busses that are running today. I was living on 3rd Avenue and Bathgate Avenue. My school was right down the block and so was the library that I would spend time at after school. I hung out on my block and played in front of my building. More times than I could count back then, my block was always blocked off by the police and so me and my friends played in the street a lot. In fact if the street was open we lost our minds. We played in front of each other buildings back then and everybody knew of one another. We did back flips on mattress that were laid out in the garbage sometimes jumping off a high sides of the building.
If I did something wrong, someone would be like, “Boy I know you aunt I’ma tell her when I see her on ya little ass. It was like that back then in the Bronx everybody seemed to know everybody. Neighbor’s back then gave a dam about where they lived and well, one another. There was a very strong since of community with people back them.
So if I wasn’t playing in front of my building then I was right across the street playing in the park. There was graffiti on the rocks that had an awkward slant to them, guess that’s why they were all tagged up. I played a lot there didn’t take notice enough to the tags that was there. I just wanted to play ya know like any other kid. There were some girls from the black there playing and having fun as well. The other thing that I remember was that my block had red Cobblestones and none of the other blocks around there had that. So yeah I thought that my block was a really cool one. Some of the trains that I remember taking a special notice of were the black Coal Miner cars. I used to get angry when I would see them because there wasn’t anything on the out sides of them. If and when I did see anything on those trains it was from writers like FDT56 and CLYDE. It was what those cats were doing that would become the reason for my crazy interest in the subways.
The building that I lived in was a great building, at least it was in the beginning half of the 70’s and then like most other buildings in the city, it became an eye sore, another condemned sub dwelling or as I liked to call them fired out condominiums.
This was becoming evident of those times. By the late 70’s and into the early 80’s many blocks and many neighborhoods were looking like war zones straight out of World War 1 or some old black and white war movies. In the late 70’s my family had moved over to the 174th Street and Mount Eden part of the Bronx. By this time I was fast on my way into my preteen years.
I was starting to get around a bit more with the help of family members taking me to different parts of the Bronx. If it wasn’t for the sake of and purpose of other family members I might not have gotten to see much of the Bronx. Sometimes I was taking around to go shopping in a certain section of the Bronx like 170th St or 3rd Avenue or Sound View Ave and of course good old Fordham Road. I got to see a lot of the Bronx from time to time and always taking note of the graffiti that was up on the streets and everywhere else. I also carried a little marker and was writing my name in little spots, getting my ups here and there. I would love it whenever I got the chance to be taking on the buses or the subways because all I did was look at the graffiti. I remember seeing writers like SNAKE 1 and 2, CAY161, JUNIOR 161, BLADE, COMET, STITCH 1, TRACY168, BILLY167, STAYHIGH 149, PHASE2.
Where ever I went through out the mid to late 70’s there was graffiti and tags in the parks, on the walls on the buses and on the trains, Sometimes it was hard for me to take in because I was dealing with school and other family stuff and as I grew a bit older, just simply getting home on time was a problem at times because I’d want to walk around and check out some of the tags or just sit on the stoop. But from 1978 and 80 I was well into making my way around the city as much as I could. I’d get a few friends and we’d just wander around the Bronx checking out the stores and trying to get our racking on. Taking small stuff nothing crazy, a few candy bars, magazines sodas and my favorite, comic books. It was just young dumb kid type of things man. In doing that I would find myself uptown on the number 4 train line by Kingsbridge Road checking out the trains and seeing pieces from writers like TRACY168, MARK 162 KING2, BLADE, COMET, FREETOES, MITCH77, DONDI, NOC167, LEE, SEEN. PART.
You just had to be there to see it all man and take it all in. The way that the subway trains looked all done up with crazy colors and stuff. This gritty and broad yet ever changing art gallery that just rolled great artwork along the subway lines was for me my home away from home.
How did you develop your way of painting?
I develop my way of painting mostly through trial and a whole lot of era. Believe me when I say, I didn’t start out super fresh and all of that, not by a long shot. I picked up some style through out my early years. Took a lot of what I was seeing and put the good parts to use and tossed out the bad parts. As a result what I have now style wise is pretty much a fusion of old school flavors and some creative style aesthetics. The influences from writers like Tracy168, Phase2, Dondi and Mitch77, are somewhat evident in what I do today. When I’m painting it’s pretty easy to tell that it’s me and well, not any other writer that has the same name. My styles tend to have a lot of raw emotion to them and flow and fluidness to them as well as a nice touch of aggressiveness. My colors are a mixture of off and on tones, like Greens, yellows a nice touch of orange and a throw off of a bit of warm grey. Sometimes my colors seem to just form in side of my head and I will do slight modifications to it before I commit to using them.
The way that I paint is pretty simple and straight forward I just move about my piece in a fluid manor keeping mind of the simple things like the sharpness of my edges and the way that I’m laying my fill in on the wall. I have arrows that jump out and through and over and sometimes they do a double take in there. I like to play with my lines and make them appear as though they are doing one thing and yet their doing another. It’s fun for me to throw a little curve ball in there from time to time.
I think that it’s pretty easy to pick my piece out from other writers that I’d be painting with. My work just doesn’t really look like anybody else’s in New York, ok well, to me it don’t, ha ha ha. Seriously, I’m not just saying that but I’ve been told that more times than I could count. Yeah I do arrows and over lapping letters and color fills and blends, just like a lot of other cats in the city. But what makes my work have it’s own look is that I paint the way that I feel and I don’t follow anyone else out there. Haven’t had to follow a cat for style in a very long time now. The writers that I’ve mentioned that I was influenced by gave me enough to work with back in the days and through years of practice and hard work, I’ve managed to take it all and make it work for me.
I’d have to say that the things that make my pieces recognizable to other writers is how my style wips around the letter structures and the way that I add my shadows to the style to further show it’s emphasis of it’s fluidness.
I not only bend my arrows but at times I do a lot of miss directional use of them. Just to add a bit more exaggeration to the letters. My 3D’s are broad and not to big and not to small. I like for writers to see a tight 3D with a clean color fill. And my fill in tends to be whatever I feel. I can’t pin point it really. I know my colors well enough to know what will and will not work for me. I could start out with a very basic color scheme and then go, Na it needs something and then that’s when things get a bit crazy and then next thing that I know I’m like adding a little of this and a little of that and the end result is what I’m feeling and works well for what I’m doing. The only times that my color fills are subjected to being a certain way is when my crew or one of the crews that I’m down with have something a bit planed out. Then yeah I follow suit. Other than that, I’m a animal with it.
Not trying to be all funny style about it man. But what you see when you see me do a traditional piece is my version of old school. When you see me doing one of my more crazier styles, it’s just the evolutionist in me saying “I’m not afraid to think outside of the graffiti box!” We all have a certain way that we flow on a wall. What ever works for you, man go with it and if your happy with what your doing then that’s just great. For me, I’m just sticking to what works for me, I have found that what I’m working with I do well and I’m not about to make any changes to the formula. I’m happy and well so far so good.
Any particular spot or train you always planned to paint and maybe tried, and never succeded?
Yeah! I’ve never had not success in my subway train bombing quests. I knew where the lay ups were it was just a matter of getting in and pulling something off. There was a set of parked trains that would run between the elevated number 4line, from the Kingsbridge Road station to the Bedford park station. What I liked about that lay up spot was the fact that it was very quiet. The street below was somewhat busy and that was a plus because no one was looking up to check the lay up out, unless they were writers, of course. I would see pieces on the trains some new and some old looking ones. It was 1984 and I was hungry to get a hit up on those cars. I had planed on doing a piece on them and it took me a little wile to figure out just how I was going to get up there. I thought about just walking the catwalk down straight up to the spot. But it was a bit risky of a walk because on either side people could see you walking along. I then wanted to climb up the El Pole. Those are the steel pillars that hold up the elevated tracks and the trains that run on them. As I thought about doing that it felt even more of a risk. Cause I would have to climb up from the street and I would have to be quick about it. That would be pretty hard to do because all of the streetlights were on and I would most likely be seen.
So I chose the James Bond Rock way and made my way to the lay ups from the back of the subway station. I went to the back of the station, acting as if I was just catching the downtown train and when the train pulled into the station I’d just step back from the train as if I was passing on my ride. Then once the train left the station. I made a quick jump down onto the tracks and quickly headed towards the middle part of the lay up. Once I got there, it was on. That’s where I would do and did some of my early work at, there and the 6line lay ups over on the other side of the Bronx. My piece really weren’t much to look at or talk about. I was young and still a toy in the game. But I was out there trying to get my name up. Which is what it was all about.
You have been painting trains during mid 80s: the same years of Subway Art and Spraycan Art realeases. For all of us living outside the USA those books have been like Bibles, and for the featured-in-artists they probably quickly become a way to fame. How the publishing of the books have been accepted by the writers community?
I remember it very well because at that time in the late 80’s we really had nothing to pick up and read that was showing us the graffiti movement of the 80’s. There was only one book that came out on the subject of Graffiti. It was titled: “The Faith of Graffiti” by Norman Mailer with wonderful photos by John Naar Published in 1974. That book captured the early and as I like to call them pure years or the wonder years if you will of the movement. All of the photos in the book were of great quality and very large. You got to see what the graffiti movement was like in bits and pieces because the book wasn’t about the Subway graffiti movement it just gave you a few selected snaps of graffiti on the subways as well as graffiti on random places like bus stops, sides of buildings, playgrounds and my favorite shot, a cold riveted 70’s style bus with nicely painted gritty spray paint tags.
The thing about the graffiti movement in 1987 was that a whole lot had changed with in it. For starters: the writers them selves. There was a whole new set of writers that had emerged on to the seen most of whom had stated writing several years earlier and some that had started with in the last years of the late 70’s. All of them painting and getting their ups just like the writers of the 1970’s the decade before them. Gone were all of the earlier writers that paved the way for the next ones to follow. Most of the early writer set had quit the seen and took the bows. And in 1987 was the writer that was influenced from the Style Wars generation. I say that because until the Subway Art book and Spraycan art books came out we were on some Style Wars type of thing. Meaning lots of writers and their respected crews were out hitting the trains doing whole cars, Top To Bottoms, End to End’s, fly color panel pieces. Rocking graffiti Hip Hop type B-Boyish Character’s with in their productions or their pieces. What Style Wars did to the graffiti movement was help propel it forward in a strong way. At the end of the documentary, it looks like all was coming to an end. And what they the New York City Transit Authority didn’t know was that. That’s when shit really got crazy with in the graffiti movement. The trains were newly painted white and we took full advantage of it, all the way from late in 1982, until April of 1989 and a few years after that and so on. What the Subway Art book would do for me and many other writers in New York was to push us along.
Influence us a little more and well drove writers wild. Seeing a lot of the writers that you knew of and admired being featured in it was kool. Seeing those powerful images of the subway trains rolling along the south Bronx and the masterful connection shot’s of the SEEN, BLADE, DONDI cars blew a lot of us away. The book’s main focus was on the subway graffiti movement. And it did so in a way that The Faith of Graffiti book didn’t. Subway Art showed the writers and the elements in which they played and painted in. It showed what this thing of ours was about. It along with the Spraycan Art book were graffiti books for the 80’s. All of the writers in the city loved Subway Art it spoke to us, it motivated us, it influenced us to continue to be who we all were trying to be back then and that’s writers with in a strange but yet unique art movement. It even gave birth to a whole new lot of young aspiring writers, who looked to it as there own sort of bible.
The Spraycan Art book was a great book and a lot of writers liked it. But was somewhat met with mixed feelings about it. I’ve heard some writers taking about how come there wasn’t more New York walls in it? Then some others would say that they like the fact that Graffiti is being loved in so many other places and that it was a great thing for graffiti. Either way the Spraycan art book was a good book. We didn’t have anything to look at that was for us the writers of the 80’s. If we wanted to get a graffiti buzz on, ya know a little something to keep our graff loving brains going, there was only Style Wars. Or you’d go out and check out the trains or hangout with other writers that you knew of and talk about graffiti all dam day, maybe do a few black books to get that style monkey off of ya back. You did what you could to keep that flow inside of you going. It wasn’t until late 87 into 88 that Phase2 and Dave Schmidlapp would come out with the first graffiti zine folded nicely to look like the subway maps of the day but featured with loads of graffiti, subway images and real writers. After that other graff mags would come out and even a video featuring lots of real writers doing real things and train photos. The video was titled Videograf which I was a part of. In a way Henry and Martha’s book was the preset of what was needed with in the movement. Writers weren’t going to do books so the moved on to the next best thing that would keep the movement alive, magazines and Video magazines.
What is it the “magic moment” in hip hop history you would have died to document?
The Magic Moment wow! I know that there have been many a moment in Hip Hop that I’ve truly missed. Some before my photo time had begun. But I guess that I would have to pick the very first time that I ever saw Public Enemy performing. It was PE, Leaders of the New School, MC Lyte, Milk D, Queen Latiefa and Naught By Nature, all performing at the world famous APOLLO Theater in Harlem. The year was 1992 and I was a total Public Enemy fan. I wanted to go see them perform but I didn’t want to go by myself so I asked my friend and Videograf Productions partner Carl Weston, if he was down to check them out with me. He said yeah and so I went and got tickets. We went and the show started. First came out Leaders of the new school doing there then famous song “Case of the P.T.A. as well as many other songs. Then MC Lyte came out dropped a few of her joints and Milk D and Positive K came out and rocked things up a bit. Then Queen Latiefa came out along with Monie Love and they put it down and then Queen La introduced a new group of MC’s roughly dressed with lots of rugged swag and went by the name of Naught By Nature. They crushed the stage hard And left it smoking. Than last but not least was Public Enemy. And they came on stage louder than a bomb! It was at that moment that I wanted to be down there by the stage photographing them. They were all over the place and the energy was over the top. The music was, man, the best way that I could put it is, the music rocked you out of your mother fucking seat. lol. The whole theater was shaking from the steady Bass bumping. I just wanted to be there, photographing what was taking place. It was also on that famous and memorable night that I wanted to get into Hip Hop photojournalism. And just a short time later I did.
Imagine of being a film-maker with a Hollywood budget to spend on the story of the life of a Graffiti Writer, which one would you choose?
The one that I would pick to do a movie of would be BLADE. Now first off I have to say that, I’m not just saying his name because I know him on a personal level. I know that his life has been a very interesting one and a long and for filling one and he’s still around today doing his thing. His life and who he is and all that he represents with in the Graffiti movement just makes for a great story to tell. His time in the Graffiti movement has had a very early start. He was painting trains when this country was at war with Vietnam. All the wile chilling in the lay ups with the radio blasting playing rock and roll jams and listing to the news on the Vietnam war objectives. He’s one of the early pioneers of the movement and he’s a black man that was painting trains and hanging out with a lot of cool white cats that was passionate about doing the same thing. He was a part of one of the most famous crew titles that ever came into the movement called TC5, the originals. He moved from the Subways to the galley seen and didn’t look back all the wile staying cool and true to himself. Today he does high end art shows over in the Uk and he’s got a whole lot of people that love him and his work. To me he was cool in a way that the Fonz wasn’t and he had a lot of swagger than most ever knew of. Like I said his life would just be a great story to tell. It’s a real person that’s done real and wonderful things. Check out his book if ya can. Titled Blade King of Kings.
What was the moment you said to yourself: yes, lets try to live on this?
The first moment that I had the notion that, hey maybe I can make some money off my talent was back in 1983. I started doing Lee and Levis suits, jacket tops and paints. I was charging $50.00 for the jacket and $40.00 for the paints. I also painted sneakers as well. I charged $30.00 for the pair. I was making some good money and I often would wear a graffiti suit to drum up busyness. I had a lot of the old Hip Hop heads around my way and in other parts of the Bronx hitting me up for a Jacket or their kicks done up and all that. I remember one day I had went downtown at visit my aunt at work and it was close to her lunch hour and she was like I’m going to the lunch room to eat so meet me there. I was like ok. I got there and she was on line paying for her food and I got on line and was like “Hi Aunty” I grabbed a sandwich and a soda and some chips and pulled out a $50.00 bill and my aunts reaction was like “Boy where you get money from, you ain’t working?” I was like dam! She went on and on telling me to not be out there selling drugs and stuff. I kept laughing and it just annoyed her. I tried to tell her that I’m not out there selling drugs and that I’m painting clothes for money. No matter how much I talked it just went in one ear and out the other. She couldn’t grasp that I was really out there pulling in good money and not doing something bad for it. I took my lunch and left. What started out as me paying a family member a visit turned into a waste of my time. From that moment on every opportunity that presented itself to me artistically and Photographically I took it and ran with it. I knew from way back that I had some sort of talent and I always tried to make my talent work for me. My philosophy is simply like this: God gave me this talent and my best way of thanking him is to use it. What benefits that I get from it are all blessing from him.
Is out there any Graffiti artist that people would need to rediscover?
Hmmm. Who do I think people need to rediscover. That’s a bit of a tricky one to simply answer. There’s quite a few but I’d have to say SLAVE TF5 (The Fabulous Five). He starting back in the early to mid 70’s and he’s one of the Original members of the now famous and legendary crew. Yeah we all know of LEE TF5 and him being in the famous movie Wild Style. But for quite sometime there’s not been much talk of or interest in Slave Tf5. He’s a very important part of that outfit as well. He’s put in a lot of work back in the 70’s and he’s still putting in work today. Known for his smooth style flows and great color work Slave’s work still doesn’t miss a beat. He’s actively painting with some of today’s well known writers and old school cats like, COMIT, PESO, KING2, KEY ONE, CHAIN3, SIEN, SAK, SHAME125, REBEL, KIT17 MG-BOYS, PART, ALIVE5, EASY, SYE and FARGO and many, many others.
The reason that I mention Slave is because he’s another person that’s a real part of the history of the graffiti movement and he’s still living up to his own artistic dreams. He’s one of the writers that I heard and read about coming up in the game. And when I see him these days out there putting in work it makes me feel good. He ain’t got nothing to prove to anybody, don’t have to bomb the city to make a name for himself, he’s done all of that many moons ago. So to see that brother painting, your watching a true legendary original pioneer, something like a rare tiger on the move. It’s guys like him that people need to see and learn a thing or two from. I know I am.
If you could say a person that really turned your life better?
Naaa. I can’t say that there was anybody that turned my life to the better side of things. I did a whole lot of crazy shit when I was in my teens.
A lot of things that when I often reflect back makes my head shake. I didn’t have anyone to look up to. Most of my heroes were fucked up themselves. No one in my family served any sort of mentor or influential status for me. I learned about dumb shit from them making a lot of dumb mistakes. The things that they did taught me a whole lot for a lifetime. I was always told by my grandmother to be your self and not like anyone else out there. Follow you and no one other than you. It’s better to be yourself than be like some fool that doesn’t know themselves. It wasn’t until I went into the military that I got put on the right track of life. I had a lot of growing up to do and the stern training and discipline was what did it. It wasn’t one person that snapped me in line but several people that were training us all. When I got back home I didn’t hang out with none of the old heads from the neighborhood. I just wanted to stay away from trouble and anyone that was what I’d call, “bad for my health”. Then I started drawing pieces again and reconnecting myself with that which I loved the most graffiti.
I guess that’s why graffiti always felt sort of one in the same for me. Being an artist with in the graffiti movement has taught me a whole lot. I’ve pushed myself style wise through out the last 30 years to become this artist that I am today. To me you’ve gotta push your self artistically at every turn of your life. If you don’t then you are not being true to you as an artist and as a real person. I don’t care what you think you gotta stay on your game if you intend to play the game, other wise step off and shut the fuck up and don’t hate the players, you can just hate the game cause you can’t play it.
The moment you told yourself: hey, I’ve done it!
The moment that I told myself that I’ve done it was at one of my recent Graffiti art shows. The show was called COMNGRAF 3: Breaking Boarders. The show was an art and photo showcase that featured Comic Book and Graffiti Artist and showed their artistic connection to one another. Simply stated: It is the fusion of the two cultures and celebrating the influence each has on the other. I was the featured artist and I was treated as such. But for all that was being provided to me and for me and all of the people that I met and had talked to and shared story’s with.
The moment that was the all time standout in my life was when the city’s mayor paid a visit to my show to take things in and he was told about me and I was rushed over to meet him and talk and even take photos with. That’s when I said. “Whoa I believe I’ve done it. There’s been many a moment in my life where I felt a great since of accomplishment from being honored for my contributions to graffiti on VH1’s Hip Hop honors (1st Season) to having my artwork featured in the first ever graffiti video game called Getting Up by Mark Echo. But having a city’s mayor come out and take in your show and ask to meet you. Well that doesn’t happen to the well famous of graff writers. So yeah I know what it feels like to be liked and appreciated for your talents. And it feels good.
Most admired photographers?
My most admired photographers are first and for most Frank Capa. I studied him back when I first was getting into my music industry photography. He was a combat photographer and photojournalist who covered five different wars trough out the late 1930’s till the early part of the 1950’s. His most famous photo work was from the D Day landings on Omaha Beach in 1944. He was armed with two Contax II cameras mounted with 50 mm lenses and several rolls of spare film. Capa took 106 pictures in the first couple of hours of the invasion. However, a staff member at Life magazine in London made a mistake in the darkroom; he set the dryer too high and melted the emulsion in the negatives in three complete rolls and over half of a fourth roll. Only eight frames in total were recovered. To me that’s pretty impressive to run into a war time situation armed with only a 35mm camera and shoot your heart out. Some shots were lost but that which were not tell a great story.
From him I’ve learned to get out there and put your self in the mix of the action. Whenever I’m photographing a Hip Hop event I treat it like a sort of war situation where I gotta get in close so that I can tell the story of that event. One of his quotes was: If your photographs aren’t good enough, then your not close enough. If you look at my music industry photos you will see that I try to live up to that. I have a great eye for action and emotion and a great since of timing. All of which are reflected in my photos. On the other side of the game are other photographers of the Graffiti and Hip Hop backgrounds. The first is Ernie Paniccioli. He was the first photographer that I saw photographing rappers of the Hip Hop game. He was also the first real photographer that I felt a connection with and that I could relate with through photography. I saw the way that he worked and the way that other people in the music industry, rappers and others would vibe with him and he with them. He was the real deal in the field as I like to say. His Hip Hop photo work was first seen in Hip Hop magazines from the late 80’s and early 90’s called, Right On and Word Up magazines. Everyone that I knew that loved Hip Hop back then had something or another of his photo work hanging on their walls at home. Those magazines always had great posters in them featuring the rappers from that time. There were also a lot of photo cats of the early 90’s that I would meet but he was the realest and the most professional of them all.
I also admired Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper. Both of them for their subway documentations of the graffiti movement, Henry’s photos gave you the subway artwork up close and in your face with his fresh and bold panel shots and connection images that showed writers artwork on a huge colorful stage. As a writer I automatically connected with Henry’s photo’s of the subways, to me they were like large metal giant colorful rolling dinosaurs. And in a lot of ways I still feel like that when I see his images today. Henry had a real connection with a lot of the early 80’s writers and the B Boys as well. His early networking with writers led him to be able to capture a lot of great subway artwork. I’ve known him since 1988 and he is the real deal. He has shown so much passion about the movement over the last few decades although he may have stopped documenting the movement back in the early to mid 80’s he’s never stopped showing the world his work and speaking at events and venues in the US and over in the UK. I’ve learned a great deal from him back when I was out there chasing the subways. I’ve worked with him here and there as well. He’s a really great guy and a great friend, ya can’t get any better than that.
Martha’s subway images gave me some of the same feelings that Henry’s photos did but there was a little more that I got from her images that spoke to the writer, B Boy and image lover in me. Martha’s images always told a story or showed a certain scenery that was a real reflection of the times with in the graffiti movement. She was a Photojournalist early on covering all sorts of stories for the New York Post from 1977- 1980. But she would meet up with the Graffiti element by meeting the famous DONDI in 1979 and a few years later she would photograph the Hip Hop movement photographing Rocksteady crew and many other early B Boys. She has one of the greatest bodies of photo work that you ever would want to see man. I love her photos of the writers in their own elements doing real things, like her blackbook session shot and her shots of Lady Pink and Mare chilling in the Art and Design schools restroom, Skeme running on the top of a subway train, writers chilling out in between the trains and crossing the tracks and just hanging out on the subway platform. Hey’ those Dondi shots are fabulous and her whole car shots of the trains rolling through the Bronx are iconic. It’s her photo eye that’s what I think I love the most. I studied that sort of shooting style on my own and when I see her images I’m always blown away by them. They’re just so powerful and striking in their overall look.
I also admire Joe Conzo and Jamel Shabazz. Both of them have done some of the greatest Hip Hop documentation photography you ever would see. Both go back to Hip Hop’s early days, but Joe Conzo goes back to the early pioneering days of hip hop with his wonderful and unique photos of the rappers and the people of the times, the late 70’s. His photos of rappers like, The Cold Crush Four, Kool Herc, The Fantastic Five and The Treacherous Three are some of the most iconic photos ever. Joe was a guy that was a lover of the early Hip Hop movement. He knew a lot of the people that would become a part of the early Pioneering Hip Hop set. He was a great friend of the Cold Crush and he would become their photographer. To me Joe Conzo was in the right place at the right time. There was no Hip Hop on the radio, no rappers with the wonderful record deals. It was all just a pure and creative time to be around all of what was going on back then. He was at the front edge of the foundation of it all, camera in hand and getting the shots. It was his early Hip Hop shots that made me take notice of him. I was around back it those days. I went to a lot of those places and shows and to see Joe’s photos of those days, takes me back to the beginning of me. Photo wise a lot of that look that Joe shot back then can be seen today in photos by photographers and myself today. He was ahead of the game the first guy to be out there photographing rappers rocking on the Mic (mike) and the Dj Spining the jams and even the crowds reaction to the exciting antics taking place. When they say photos tell a story, his does.
What I have always admired about Jamal Shabazz’s photo work was his straight forward approach to his subjects and the way that he would capture them in a basic and normal and raw settings. Shots of people on the streets or in front of an obscure looking wall or on the subway train chilling out, all of them looking freshly dipped sporting their jewels and fresh kicks and of course the fresh Cazel glasses. All the wile looking youthfully vibrant. Back then ya had to have those on or you just wasn’t down. To me that was some really great classic imagery. The other thing that I love is that none of his photo work looks pretentious in nature. They’re all real people living with in those real times dressing and being themselves. His photos take you to a place and time that no longer exist. There wonderful snaps of a time long gone but an important time with in the hip hop culture. The people is his photos all have lot of swagger, my favorite images are the people sitting in side the subway trains and the guys chilling out with their radios. That was something that you would always see back then, heck I even used to chill out on the train with my radio blasting music. You just had to have your radio back in them days, like that you kept Hip Hop with you in a major way.
These are the people that I’ve admired from one instance to the other. I was out there when these photographers were doing what they’ve come to be best known for. I’ve seen the graffiti and Hip Hop movements grow and have become a part of it as well. I became a graffiti artist and Hip Hop Photographer and I’ve been blessed to have met them and have been in the same company with them. When you have people that have done things that have affected you and moved or touched you or have motivated you to become that which you always wanted to be over time it’s a great thing. When you come to meet them and share a bit of time with them and get to know them, that’s the next greatest thing in life. I’m glad that I have gotten to meet some of my heroes in the photo game, having conversations with them and seeing them out there still doing their thing and at times being in the same place doing my photo thing along side of them is a great thing. I know that I’m a part of a movement I’m a part of something big and beautiful and wonderful. I’m even recognized at times by them as well. Yeah I’ve come a long way and I’m here and there’s much more to come. I thank them all for all that they have brought to my photographic life. That is what I’m truly thankful for.
If not NYC, where would you live?
Hmmm, I really don’t know, Canada maybe or maybe Miami or Los Angeles. Canada has some serious winters but the painting out there is nice specially when the weathers right and the people are nice out there. Miami has become a lil favorite spot of mine. Warm and there’s a lot going on out there. Weather’s right up my ally and there’s lots to do. As far as painting goes, well It all depends on who ya know to get a wall spot and then your cool. Then there’s LA. I know a lot of people out there and they’ve got so many things going out there as well. Man that’s somewhat of a hard one. All depending where your at out there it can be cool or crazy, then again that goes for most other places right?..lol. The weather is crazy nice most of the year and there’s much to do out there. I’ve always gotten mad love from writers and people out there, can’t say that I had a bad time either. Man, it’s a little hard to answer that question cause I’ve been a New York cat for most of my life and wile I’ve gone here and there I’ve always kept my self grounded here. But I guess I’d have to pick Miami. There’s just so much for me to be able to get into down there. Then again anywhere that I go I’d find something to get into.
Democrats or Republicans or… ?!?
I’ve never shared my political views guess you could say that I’m something of a liberal/ democrat. Not a fan of the republicans and that’s all the story that’s fit to print.
Which camera do you use?
I’m currently using the Canon EOS 5D (Non HD version). It’s still a wonderful camera and it’s a full sensor camera that I’m greatly taking advantage of with my L series pro lens. I have not done the upgrade of sorts like most other photographers that I know. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got, plus cameras can be expensive so I just wait a bit till things come with in striking range. I do photo editing and photo tweaking of whatever photo work that I maybe doing. I’m always photo editing something that’s just the way of this new age that we live in. Digital photography today will undoubtedly require you to gain some sort of digital photo editing skills. So with that said, I live in Photoshop. It’s my home, image after image after image.
Things you really hate to do and you still have to do…
There are a lot of things that I still have to do that I hate. To name them all would be a bit to much besides I don’t really think that most people want to hear me or anyone else ranting on about things that they hate to do but they still gotta do. So I’ll try and keep it down to a few joints as appose to my top five hundred, lol.
I really hate to clean my sneakers after I wear them; but I clean them because if I don’t then they’ll end up looking all beat up and dogged out. That’s part of the sneaker game man, keeping your kicks clean and tight. I’ve amassed a nice amount of kicks over the last five years. Some were through art jobs, hook ups and others where through my own sneaker hustle game. I like that fact that when I wear them cats be like, “Hey man where’d you get those at?” I’ve had a few rap artist come up to me and try and check me on my kicks. The funny thing is when I was a kid I didn’t have a whole lot of sneakers it was one pair of shoes for school and one pair of sneakers for the streets. My Grandmother RIP, wasn’t into any of that type of thing like getting me several types of kicks, she kept it real and simple. She was old school ya know. When I got in my teens and the subject of sneakers would come up she’d simply say, “Baby get a job and you can get what ever you want to.” Fare enough was my thought. I mean hey what else was I going to say. In my teens I had about five pairs of sneakers that I tried to keep as clean as I possibly could. Problem for me was I just wasn’t focused on that part of the game. And so I wore them out like an old witch on her broom. I spilled ink on them and got paint on them and I danced in them, ya know B Boy stuff, I ran in them played in the park in them. Yeah it was very hard to be a teenager and have fresh kicks. And the funny thing was I wasn’t the only one on the block that had scuffed up kicks. Most of my friends did to, guess you could say that it was the way of the streets or just the way that I had neglected to clean my kicks back then, either way it ain’t happening now. Word to big bird.
I hate that I have to get up early in the mornings when it’s time to go out to paint; Part of the whole painting game for us (Aerosol Kings) is that we all have to be at the wall early. Mostly so we can take advantage of a full days worth of painting. I still hate to get up early but I do it anyway.
I can’t let my crew down and neither myself. So until the walls start coming to me I guess I’ll be getting up and at em.
My sleep has always been a questionable issue with me. I tend to be up all night mostly on my days off. But it wasn’t always like that. I used to be up all night even on work nights. If you wanna know what I’m doing, well that’s simple. Drawing. Sometimes ideas flow about and I get all crazy inside my mind and I’ve gotta start drawing. I tend to pick the craziest times at night to start a project and once I start, I’m up until the sun is coming up through my window. These days I’m on my job drawing in the daytime hours, trying to get some art jobs done. I’ll knock out a couple of pieces but I still can end up on some nighttime drawing mission.
I guess like most New Yorkers I can say that I hate going to work; But I do it anyway. Well obviously if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to provided for my self or be as independent as I am. It’s just something that most New Yorkers tend to say from time to time. The true fact is that I don’t know how not to go to work. Even when I’m not feeling well I still go to work. When I’m tired and slow moving I still go to work. When I’ve had a crazy night out on the town, the next day I still go to work. Going to work has become the one thing that I tend to say that I hate to do but yet I pop right out of my bed like a fresh pop tart and fly off to do so. Funny how that works and all that, you can’t get away from that which you need to help you to survive. Living in the city ain’t easy and we all gotta have some means of supporting our selves. But there’s times when I feel like Danny Glover in Leathal Weapon when he say’s, “Rig’s I’m getting to old for this shit.” The metaphor meaning; I want to give it all up. Sometimes I feel like that but my body just won’t let me. Good thing for me.
Last but least; I hate to look for photo images, doesn’t matter who or what there for, it’s just a crazy process. I have a bunch of CD and DVD disks that I have backed ups of many photos on. Things like my Music industry images, graffiti walls in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, photo’s of old subway trains, my wall stuff, ect, ect. The more that I have the deeper my searches tend to get. I have a 1tera Bite hard drive and I might have to buy one or two more. Dam when will the backing up of things ever end. These days you have to back up your back ups, especially if you have photos that are very important to you. When it comes to my stuff right now I’m all over the place. But the good news is that one day very soon I won’t be. Then we’ll see what else I’ll end up hating.
What are you expecting for 2012?
I’m kind of expecting a few things but I’m to busy trying to make things work out so I can’t really talk about them all to much, plus when your busy moving forward it’s good practice not to put to much thought into finial outcomes. I seem to find that the journey alone is a real thrill. I could say that I’m expecting more spray painting to take place for next year with my crew. More artwork and some new canvas and a few art shows. Lots more personal artwork on my own art book and photo book projects. Photo projects, music and art related as well. There’s a few things that I will be dropping next year that I think will be cool so your going to have to keep on checking my blog for those things. Man there’s so many things that I’m expecting to take place for 2012 my mind spins like a gyro. It’s so cool being this creative animal that I am, sometimes there’s things that I do that make me go, “Wow, like I really did that.” There’s a rollercoaster inside my mind and I just can’t get off of it, so just stay tooned yall.
My last words are; stay true to yourself and all that you love to do in life. Don’t let other’s tell you anything different about what you like to do, some people like to knock you for what your about or what your doing.
If it’s something positive in your life and it’s for the better meant of you. Don’t let others sway your mind. Except criticism because in doing so it will only make you stronger, you will always have someone somewhere with there own opinion of things. There will be critics towards what you do, they don’t really matter, its what you do and what you like that’s important. If you have a passion about something then be about it. Don’t just talk about it; in fact don’t talk at all just go do it. It’s better to be the person that’s out and about creating and doing things, than being the person that’s around talking about what there going to do and yet has not. Don’t talk about others in a negative fashion, you only blacken your own soul. Hate is not a good attribute it throws a person off balance and they tend to never think clearly they end up going nowhere.
Also last and most importantly; Never call or tittle yourself something that you are not or have not truly earned. Too many people go around doing so and when you take a really close look at them they’re really not all that they present themselves to be. Be yourself at all times and let it flow. If you don’t people will just see right through you as a fraud of fake or phony. Have fun in what ever you do and don’t over do things, sometimes less is more and overkill can just lose the sprit of things. Peace to you all and peace to my crew AEROSOL KINGS, UMXS, ICR, RTW, YNN. And thanks to the Wildstylers web site for this interview.
Nic One website HERE