I think of letters as faces.
You want that E to look like it’s uppercutting somebody.
Back in the day in Chicago, gangs used to have gang cards—almost like a business card—and there were all sorts of dope logos and images and especially lettering.
By the way a person writes, you can tell how they were brought up.
I started writing in 1977. I was around 8 years old. I wasn’t writing with spray paint or nothing. Just chalk on the floor, whatever I could find. There was an empty lot next to my building, and there was a broken Santería statue. I broke it some more and used the broken pieces to write with.
And that’s the way it is in Philly—it’s like jazz.
Boston’s a lot angrier than any other city. I’ve always liked Boston handstyles. They look fun but not friendly.
Look at the royal families of the world, they always use really killer Olde English. So, I guess the older guys, back in the ’50s and ’60s, they were emulating that calligraphy and just put their own little dap to it. Olde English letters look sinister. There’s nothing happy about them.
I don’t know. I’m only guessing. The only thing that seems to make sense is jail systems, which connect people better than schools or interstate bus lines. They had these toasts that were long, epic poems that were passed around jails. I think handwriting went hand in hand with toasts and card games and all this other hidden knowledge that nobody gave a shit about.
We’re gonna take the regular alphabet, take the gang alphabet, hybridize them, throw a little hip hop bubble in there and see what we come up with. I didn’t even know where the style came from or anything. I just was taught it as a little kid. It took me a long time to figure out where all that stuff came from. I was picking it up from a guy named CAVE, and he got it from TRIXTER, ORCO, and SLANG. FACTS got it from me. It’s just a torch that’s been passed down from generation to generation.
All these cats coming up now have too much information being flooded into their heads. You don’t even have to leave your house to figure it out. You don’t have to walk the tracks.
In other words, he was like Godfather of Broadway style. If you wanted to learn it, you had to learn it from him.
So much of the actual history is buffed and gone.
At those times, coming in was the kung fu, and all this oriental mentality, and Taoism, and the sacred writings and all that. It was real hippy, but it made me look deeper and try to make connections from abstract images and abstract letters. And I said, you know, what they are trying to do here is the same thing that the Cholos are trying to do. Empower the letter shapes that didn’t only represent the community but also represent strength and history and tradition. I wondered how you convey pride through your letters.
When I went to Mexico City and saw all that stuff in the museums or at the pyramids—look at some of the characters in the glyphs—it just made me want to start popping and locking. The lines made my body start to contort and tic. And it translates to the writing itself too.
I purposely did a little vintage treatment to the S. The way it tucks in and curls under. I’m referencing 1970s there. And that was the feel of the ’70s. Things were kinda groovy and laid back.
The letter E would be sitting on its back, facing upwards. Every letter was resting on the letter before. But you don’t see those at all on the streets anymore. I haven’t seen those in 20 years.
My tag style, in the very beginning was really influenced by SS and CHIC, and they were both females who tagged insides. You can’t really say they got up for girls, they just got up, period. The two of them destroyed.
My J remained the introduction from my past to my present.
After writing the same letter thousands and thousands of times, strange things start happening.
“Mock” style is somewhat dark and evil yet natural and organic, inspired by reptiles, insects and animals. This ain’t no happy commercial style, more like we’re at war and those are the minions in our arsenal.
What could you do with an “O,” but make it a peace sign?
When I look at his style, I hear circus music.
Now when I see that E, it makes me think about stealing my mother’s car to go check out graff spots on Sunday mornings.
It speaks a lot for a neighborhood when you see good writing on the walls.
Flatbush flow is speed and precision. You’re literally on the busiest avenue in Brooklyn. You have no time to think, and the window of opportunity is minimal; you gotta be fast.
In high school I was introduced to the quintessential ’90s Chicago handstyle. It was swift, energetic and started from a small point exponentially growing as you moved through the tag. That explosion was what it was all about. What’s beautiful about that style is it’s hard to fake without a lot of practice because you need to move the tool fast to get organic, dynamic marks that identify the style. Ultimately, my letters are a mash up of influences, but there’s still some Chi roots to the way my hand instinctually flows.
POPCORN had what was called a West Philly style. It was plain and simple, but it was tall and skinny.
Sometimes I would really Brooklyn it out by going like this…bringing back the old curlicue.
SF was like a big bowl of soup.
The S probably comes from Alex Toth’s lettering. He was a comic artist from the 1940s and 1950s.
Sometimes there is a Ralph Steadman feel to some of my stuff. You can’t control the bleed.
I was really influenced by Hassan Massoudy, an Iraqi calligrapher based out of France.
Architecture was definitely one of the first things that I started to look to for ideas and inspiration, and the penmanship architects have is incredible.
The square styles have a lot to do with scribing, like in jail, scribing into metal. You have to go one way or the other; there isn’t a lot of room for curves.
I’m more into the negative space of things, where I can fit things into those circles, like sayings or years.
My letters change depending on where they are placed.
I never mix lowercases with uppercases—it offends me.
At first when you’re doing letters, you want them to look mean, like you’re a mean little rebel. Through the years, as your personality becomes more three dimensional, you add more character to your letters, a little humor, while still being tough and mean because this was a world still about toughness.
I’m living by the rules that were created years and years before me.
I’m a Style Wars baby.
They were the kings when we were coming up, and we were obviously young, dumb, disrespectful bombers.
As those stars faded, we became the new stars.
To me, one is a beginning and two is another step. Two means forever, spelled another way.
The quotes above were adapted from interviews with graffiti writers that was published in Christian P. Acker’s groundbreaking book Flip the Script: A Guidebook for Aspiring Vandals & Typographers. Below are the sources for each quote used in this essay.
1 – MESH ONE AOK
2 – SEYCE
3 – AMUSE
4 – ADER
5 – HORNS
6 – ESPO
7 – CLARK
8 – SIVEL
9 – ESPO
10 – SIVEL
11 – CAYPE
12 – STAN 153
13 – SEYCE
14 – Chaz Bojorquez
15 – SPIE
16 – MESH ONE AOK
17 – Chaz Bojorquez
18 – CHINO
19 – JAMES TOP
20 – SEYCE
21 – SIVEL
22 – MALTA
23 – RYZE
24 – RYZE
25 – MOUSE
26 – GOUCH
27 – TEST
28 – NB
29 – KEO
30 – SIBLER
31 – FREEDOM
32 – SLICK
33 – SABE
34 – JOKER
35 – GREY
36 – SIBLER
37 – DUEL
38 – LEAD
39 – MESH ONE AOK
40 – ESPO
41 – RAGE
42 – POSE
43 – JAMES TOP
44 – PHASE 2