© 2009 TATU, XMEN Prez and founder, 1979-2009, Old School Kings.
Photos graciously provided by XMEN photographer, Bianca Henriquez
Okay, sit down and enjoy the story you're about to read. As a young child I went to school in Brooklyn Heights NYC. I attended a Catholic school filled with 99% Caucasian kids, myself and a handful were Latino or Black. At that time I never even noticed graffiti. In 1979 I started to attend Brooklyn Technical HS. In the beginning of my freshman year, I was a kid who felt out of place - never having had to go to public school before - so I just kinda laid in the cut and observed.
My cousin (later to be known RES1), who also attended the same Catholic school as I did, was also going through the same ordeal. He was attending Aviation HS in Queens. Well, one day he comes over to my house and has a Pilot marker with him and is was boasting how he is a graffiti writer now.
Being uneducated and always being sheltered from the streets by my mother, I was in awe and wanted to be one also. I just wanted to be down - typical teenage emotions. So we called our boy (later to be known as RAZE XMEN) and invited him to come with us to the art store to get a marker and become official writers. He was okay sounds like fun.
When we got to the art store I picked up a Pilot and went to pay for it. My cousin stopped me and said, "NO! Real writers don't pay for markers, you have to steal it!" I got nervous and said (LOL, I remember this so clearly) "I'm not a real writer yet so this one I'm paying for." And RAZE did the same. As it turned out my cousin had hooked up with 2BAD, a very skilled and known writer from Queens, and this is where he got the urge to be a writer and all his education on what a real graffiti writer is and does.
Well now I had a marker, now I needed a tag. My first tag was RAP1. These are my initials, and the one because my cousin told me That I needed a number after my tag to make it official. I hit the streets in my area with that for a few weeks and then my cousin told me that that tag was already being used and that I should find another tag, so I tagged ROID1. ROID was short for Asteroids (a hot arcade game at the time), in which I was the neighborhood reigning champ down at the pizzeria.
Well the summer came and I was hitting up ROID around the way and doing motion tags with RAZE and RES. I also found myself sitting on the Nevins Street platform checking out trains and trying to learn different styles and who was who. I would sit there for hours sometimes by myself, observing, literally taking notes on a pad. I bought a small blackbook and started to do pieces and practice my tag.
One day I saw this dark-skinned girl on Fulton St (the Albee Square Mall), and I was gaga for her. Being a little nervous I followed her trying to get up the nerve to say hello. I followed her all the way to Wykoff projects, where I chickened out and walked home taking tags.
Every day I would walk down to the projects to look for her and say hello and ask her out on a date. For like two weeks I did this, and every day I would take a different route and hit the streets with my marker. Finally, one day I see her, and I go up to her and tell her how I've been trying to meet up with her and ask her out. She was flattered, I guess, but declined my advances due to the fact that she had a boyfriend, who was staring me down from like 15 feet away unbeknownst to me. He then approached me and it was on.
We had a quick scrap in which neither one of us got a punch off, just a wrestling match. His boys broke it up and were like, "Shorty didn't do anything wrong, he was just trying to kick it and didn't know she was taken." The lil beef was squashed and a friendship was born.
I was introduced to the projects (the place my mother warned me never to go to), and the guys who would one day be some of my best friends - the guy I fought with over the lil dark-skinned Puerto Rican girl - wrote "SWAN 1," and his boys wrote "BALE 1, TORO 2, DIZ 1, CRATE and PHM" all later to be known as original XMEN and my best friends.
At the time of the incident these guys didn't know that I was an aspiring writer and that I was ROID. Like I said earlier I was hitting the streets hard in the area - so they had seen my tag.
Well every day I would go back to the projects and hang for an hour or two, and one day CRATE pulls out a marker and starts taking a tag in the elevator. I was like, "That's you?" I had seen him up in the streets and around the PJs. He was like, "Why?" And I told him what I wrote and the guys all fell out laughing and were like, "Thats you!!" They called me "toy" and said that I needed some help with my style and a new name, 'cause ROID was corny and sounded like "hemorrhoid." LOL.
Then they all pulled out markers (an array of tools, from Magnums to Minis to Unis and Pilots) and asked to see mine. Well my trusty Pilot, which I loved, turned out to be wack. It was dry and still had the original tip. I once again was laughed at.
We went to DIZ's house and we gave my Pilot a makeover. When we were done and they had shown me how to improve my marker and hand styles, my marker was now a flooded killing machine, and I was feeling great. Now all I needed was a better tag - one that wasn't corny and that was unique. I tried Rhino170 and then Scrap1 (short for Scrappy Doo, Scooby Doo's nephew, LOL), and then one day, while chilling out in front of the projects, one of the bochincheras of the PJs said, "Mira este pareses TATTOO - de Fantasy Island" (a bochinchera is a gossiping old lady, and all PJs have them).
Well my new friends fell out laughing and started yelling, "De plane boss, de plane!" We all fell out laughing and it hit me - that was it, "TATTOO," being that I'm a short fella and dark skinned. This a perfect tag, but it was too long. I tried TAT2, TATOO, TA2 and then CRATE says try "TATU" and that was it. I had found my tag, and it was mine and no one else's. It didn't sound like anyone else's and it was unique and described me. So now I had to start all over again - and I did - but now with a vengeance. And I don't know how to describe it, but it was like I had a mission to accomplish.
I started off motion tagging in '79 with RES and RAZE. It was fun, but I remember not being able to get a crisp tag due to the train bouncing all over the tracks. My first layup was Kingston and Utica. 2BAD took me there with RES. It was a new world, and a place I fell in love with and would visit a lot, the tunnels. Any tunnel was a fun place for me, and I was never scared. We would walk the tunnels just for fun from station to station.
My first yard was New Lots. I went alone - no one was down that night. It was fall and a little nippy, but by this time all I wanted to do was bomb. That night I met DONDI (RIP), a true legend and someone whom I looked up to. He was cool with me that night and didn't look down on me. He thought I was a little kid 'cause I was so short. He did his thing and I bombed. We never met up again after that night, but it was an honor to meet him. This was all in '79.
In 1980 I started destroying anything on steel wheels that I could get to. I went to as many different layups as I could and as many yards as I could. As for my writing partners (as you know RAZE and RES were my original partners and childhood friends - then I hooked up with CRATE, BALE, TORO2, DIZ and PH from Wykoff PJs), these guys bombed but weren't obsessed like I was. We did bomb, but at the end of the day I wanted to go back. But they showed me layups and hatches and showed me about and gave me my first train keys and 600 keys. (A 600 is a universal lock that the MTA at the time used all over the system, and having that key was essential as a writer. This key was a rare key and if caught, you would get locked up for possession of a criminal tool.)
I then started writing heavily with OB1 (RIP). We bombed together a lot and became like brothers. Then there was TES and DJ NO - true killing machines when it came to bombing. TES went to Aviation HS with RES (get it: RES AND TES). RES did his thing early on but stopped after a close call where he almost got caught. This was in early 1981.
Needless to say I bombed heavily with TES and DJ NO. I also did a lot of bombing with KOOL AD (RIP), and SEE1 AD, who was killed in Queens over a dispute. Only real old-school writers will remember ANGEL DUSTER - one funny guy, and he was mad cool, as the name states. It was a shame that he died, and it was a big blow to all of us in the crew. We were like brothers. And last but not least, SOE - one of my best writing partners and eventually my second in command.
As you read earlier, I started writing in 1979. Those first few months were a learning experience. One day, mid-1979, it was myself, RES, RAZE and 2BAD. We were in my room piecing in blackbooks and talking crap. 2BAD and RES were talking about crews and who they were down with and who they would like to get down with. Well. I was one who never really liked having to ask anyone for anything, and I started yapping off at the mouth on how I'm going to start my own crew and writers are going to want be down with me.
RES and 2BAD were like, "Yeah okay!!" and started laughing at me, so that got me pissed off. I sat there and started to think of names for my crew. 99% of the crews out had initials for their crew. OTB = Out To Bomb, UA = United Artists etc., etc., etc. I wanted to stand out - a name to be noticed. I collected a lot of comic books as a kid, and right on my desk was the newest issue of THE UNCANNY XMEN ... Bam!! That was it. The XMEN were the baddest and coolest super heroes out there (at least to me) and they were my favorite. I felt it would be a bad ass name for a crew, so I stated right there to RES and 2BAD, I'm starting my crew today and it's called the "XMEN."
They chuckled and I even offered 2BAD to be my vice. It should have been RES or RAZE, but I figured since 2BAD was already an accomplished writer and had more credibility than myself, he would be the smarter choice in order for the crew to get recognition. RES and RAZE didn't mind and were down with me regardless.
2BAD on the other hand never took me seriously, I believe, and really didn't rep it like a vice should have. I feel since I was just an up-and-coming writer maybe he felt that he shouldn't be a vice and that I wasn't serious. Nevertheless, I bombed and repped my crew. I bombed hard. Myself and RAZE bombed hard. Like I wrote earlier, RES started off and even introduced me to graffiti, but he fell off from writing and never made the impact he really could have.
Well, needless to say we were making an impact and getting noticed. I was repping my crew hard and so were my boys in Wykoff. The XMEN were getting known in all the graffiti circles and it was great. It felt like it happened overnight.
That same year in the cafeteria of Brooklyn Tech HS, I met this kid, an MC from the South Side (the Lindsey projects). He was cool and he called himself SIDDY SID. I told him that I wrote graffiti and he was like, "Word that's you? I heard of you and the XMEN." He introduced me to a lot of guys in the school and told me that SOE went to our school. I never knew that SOE went to Brooklyn Tech. Like myself he didn't bomb the school (never shit where you eat).
I wanted to meet him. I wanted to pick his brain and learn from him. He had been writing for a long time and I could definitely learn from him. SOE was pointed out to me and I approached him. I said "What's up, you write SOE?" At first he was on the defense and was like, "Who's asking?" I guess he thought I was a writer looking for some beef with him. I introduced myself and we kicked it.
He told me he had seen my tag and crew and that we were doing damage. I was proud of myself right there and then. We started a friendship that day and eventually, soon after that, I asked him to be my vice to the XMEN. He accepted the responsibility the right way and we started history.
Once again, RAZE should have been the vice, he actually even went to Brooklyn Tech also, but RAZE, still repping XMEN, was doing a lot of moving and running and was, you can say, under the wing of T-KID for a minute. He was learning from one of the best and doing his thing. RAZE is a very underrated writer. He could piece, DJ and break dance - true XMEN and one of my oldest friends.
The XMEN was a big crew. We hailed from every borough of NY. We were based out of Brooklyn but were spread out. We were very popular in all circles and had a big following. We really took NYC by storm.
Once myself and SOE hooked up, we bombed whatever was in our path - never being without a marker or paint can, never looking like some of the typical writers you would encounter. What I mean by that is that if you didn't know us you wouldn't know we were writers. Even after bombing a whole layup, we would come out clean as a whistle and not a spot of ink, paint or dirt on us. And whomever we decided was going to go bomb with us had to follow the same strict codes.
At one point the XMEN was over 100 deep. To sit here and type all the XMEN would take a long time. Here are a few names: SOE, RES, RAZE, KEO, OB1, PREZone, Scot La Roc, KOOL AD, SEE1, DEEN, SID, BALE, TORO2, KEO, DIZ, TES, DJ NO, BRIAN, 2BAD, WEST1, DASH, SEIK1, RON1 and all the TVS from Staten Island, NICK2 and CRAZY EDDIE and all the STARLIGHT ROLLERS, TONY MORAN (original XMEN DJ before making music with the freestyle group "THE LATIN RASCALS" and MTV fame), EPIC and CHIBA from GOWANUS PJs, MACE and the whole BROOKLYN TECH CREW, the whole WYKOFF CREW, the Chicago XMEN: HECKLE, KEP, FACT, TRUE, JARE; THE BERLIN XMEN: STUE, DASK, MS.X; and MISI (England), SAL (Netherlands) SILKY, LADY LEI, RISK, RIST, 2 SMART, DEZO, ENUE, SYE, TOTEM, DOC, BURNER1, BES7, FUME, GANO, SALO, and there are many more XMEN not mentioned. They know who they are - and they all get props - 'cause without each one of them the XMEN crew wouldn't have been whole.
I hit every line during my extended run, and the XMEN went all city from the end of 1982-1985. There wasn't a line or car that you wouldn't at least see one XMEN tag in it or on it. During this period not only were the XMEN all city but we were literally a household name - in all the hoods in NYC. Not only did we bomb the MTA, but we also hit the streets.
Myself and my crew made a rule to hit only perm spots. )A perm spot is short for permanent, this is a spot made of concrete. The concrete would soak up the paint and the only real way to buff it was to paint over it or knock it down. We used ultra flat black 'cause that was the most effective.) To this day throughout NYC you can still see XMEN tags here and there on these perm spots.
Also to add to this, TESS and DJ NO completely crushed NYC with a sticker and poster campaign. This was at least a decade before COST and REVS. In no way am I trying to discredit the efforts of COST and REVS. These guys put in a lot of work and I believe still do. I just want to set the history books straight. TESS and DJ NO are the original kings of this kind of movement, and this is just another chapter in the XMEN history.
When I say we were household, I'm not lying. Here are some examples. In BKLYN TECH HS, 1981, myself and SOE made an agreement with the principal, deans and security that we would not be bothered as long as we didn't bomb the school. We were given free rein of the center section of the cafeteria to do with what we wanted. They even gave us paint to do a piece in the lunchroom.
Roseanne Madella once visited the school, 'cause there was a robbery attempt in the school and a few of us chased the guy down. We didn't catch him, but nevertheless the school recognized our efforts and pointed the cameras in our direction. I was interviewed as TATU XMEN, the leader of the XMEN CREW. (Thinking back now this was dumb on my behalf. I could have set myself up with the vandal squad. Luckily that didn't happen. I was just a kid looking for fame.)
If you were an avid comic book reader, then you would have noticed that at this point in time MARVEL COMICS started using drawings of XMEN tags and XMEN stickers in a few of their comic books - mostly FF4 and SPIDERMAN. These super heroes were based out of NYC and in quite a few issues. If you paid attention, you would see XMEN tags and stickers in their drawings of the streets. This was crazy to us, but it just said that we were being noticed.
Also TESS and DJ NO with their sticker and poster bombing made headlines a couple of times in the Daily News, NY Times and the New Yorker Magazine. We had the city on lock, and every teenager in the city had heard of us in one way or another. At times it was like we were celebs. Back then writers, rappers and break dancers were really the in thing, and the XMEN were a big part of that era.
Another good aspect about us was that 99% of the masses really loved us. Anywhere we went we would receive love. We never looked for beef and we always kept allies in high places. This all may sound weird but it's true. All this from graffiti? Yes. Those were the times that we lived in. Kids just wanted to be heard, and those who really wanted to be heard put in work and received accolades for it.
I treated everyone in my crew with respect and in return got respect. I showed everyone love and in return got love. I Know what it is for crew members to show up at my house in the middle of the night 'cause they got into trouble at home or were going through problems with parents or the law, and I would open my door to them and let them stay. May it be a night or a couple of days, this happened on many occasions. Give love, get love - that was my motto.
The XMEN were more than a graffiti crew. We were a hip hop crew, a party crew. It started off as a graff-only crew, and as we grew in numbers and in stature, we mutated into an elite organization of writers, b-boys, DJs, dancers, roller skaters and more. Once we grew a rep for getting up, kids from all over flocked to us wanting to be down.
It started with us just hanging out in the park with a couple of boom boxes - myself, SOE, OB1, my boys from Wykoff and a few friends - or whomever was gonna bomb with us that night. We would party a lil bit before going to bomb the trains. It was like a ritual of some sort. At first it was just a few of us, and then more people would come, and they would bring more people, and so on and so on. Before you knew it we had around 30-40 people having a full-blown party in front of the PJs.
Needless to say the police would come and break us up, so we needed a new spot. We found a park in Brooklyn that was out of the way and well hidden. It was actually 30 feet below street level, and you had to walk down two ramps to get to it. "XMEN Park" we dubbed it, and we would have serious hangouts there with at least 50-100 people at times. It became an every Friday night ritual, and people from all over would come to our secret spot, but they had to come with one of our members.
This was crazy. It was like out of a video. Just picture this in your mind: an abandoned park down in a ditch under the highway in the shadow of one of the most majestic bridges in the world, old rusty monkey bars, broken swings (only two operational), an old sprinkler section that now had grass, weeds and bushes growing out of the cracked pavement, a bunch of old ass benches and one big street lamp hanging over the park giving it a shadowy affect. Then every Friday at sundown, slowly but surely children of the night would start to appear. Guys and girls from their early teens to their mid 20s, from all races and from all over NYC - just wanting to have fun without any beef, and some of them just needing to be a part of something bigger than them.
Then a select few would pull out the original ghetto blasters, the suitcase with sounds, the old-school "BOOM BOXES." They would hook them up to each other and pop in an original mix tape, and then boom! In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge a grand celebration would begin, a celebration of life and youthfulness, a celebration of rebellion. "FUCK THE SYSTEM." A celebration of the "X." Pieces being done, tags being taken, dancing, dancing and more dancing, singing and laughing, and all the while chants of "XMEN! XMEN! XMEN!" could be heard.
When the seasons changed we would take our parties indoors. We would rent spaces and charge a small cover fee. We had to pay for the space somehow. No one would mind cause they knew for a few dollars they were gonna have a ball and be with their crew. They knew the music was gonna be great and that it was exclusive to the "X" only.
If you wanted to go to one of our parties you had to go with someone who was down. Every once in awhile a stranger would slip by our security - nine times out of ten it would be handled peacefully. We also would hit the clubs. We would be in the clubs 20-40 deep. We knew all the DJs and bouncers. We knew everyone, or vise versa - everyone knew us. From Gothams West, The Funhouse, Roxy's, Broadway Int'l, Broadway 96, Northmore High, Fresh 14 - wherever we went - we had some kind of pull and we had a crowd with us.
Now you're asking yourself, these guys partied like crazy, when did they bomb???? Well I can't tell you all of our secrets, but the proof is in the pudding. As much as we got up, we partied just as hard. I think that one of the main reasons we got so popular was we like to have fun. Later for beefing with writers and toys over some nonsense. Life was too short, so we decided to party instead. I can truly say we were a fun-loving group. Beefs were minimal. I know to some graff was a way of life and this was their only channel of respect.
At first in the beginning I lived for the bomb. Then the XMEN grew and turned more into a society than a crew - a subculture somewhat. It was just more than bombing now, but my motto was give love and get love. We embraced a lot of guys that others would have turned away and when they were a part of it, they came out of their shells and became either good writers, dancers, DJs, or just got a better hold of themselves 'cause now they felt part of something.
We never really had many graffiti-based beefs. Of course we had situations and they were handled. Bringing up names and instances at this point would be a waste of energy. Our crew was large and respected but most of all looked upon as cool individuals.
In closing, I would like to say graff brought me a lot of joy as a youth on the streets of NYC. The memories are endless. The game was different then. The lifestyle was different, the kids were different. Personally I feel it was better. Our era was a great one. The birth of hip hop, break dancing, and the era when graffiti really started to get recognition from the masses. How I miss those days. If I could just do it all over again, I would do it so much bigger and smarter.
The game today has changed a whole lot. The graff is different, the styles are crazy and the skills some of these kids have are amazing.
I personally don't like the lettering that's being used nowadays. A lot of it looks like craziness, and undecipherable. The artwork and paint control behind it is absolutely great, but the lettering is painful. I come from the old-school way of thinking: if it's not somewhat legible, then it's bad marketing. And bad marketing = bad business. The pieces now are too wild, and isn't the purpose of this so the masses can say, "Wow there goes that guy again, he's really good?" Not "Ummmmmm, well the art and the pretty colors are great!! I wish I knew what it was though." It also doesn't have any soul.
Hitting the steel had heart and soul. May it be a burner or smashing the insides - we put our heart and soul into it. Then to sit back and watch your shit go from borough to borough was a trip and a satisfying thing. We knew what it was to be children of the night - to wreck a whole yard and look back from atop a fence and say "Fuck you, I'll be back." To sweat ink and bleed paint, just for the sake of getting up. Those were the days, and it's sad to say graff will never see those days again.
But we have the New Skool. We have permission walls and have a plethora of galleries all over the world recognizing this thing that we call ours. Myself and the XMEN have been doing a lot of work with the youth and new school. That's where I'm at right now, and I feel that it is more important than just trying to paint everywhere and anywhere. I feel we must teach the youth about true graffiti.
Yes, graffiti is art, but not all art is graffiti. Have some pride in your lettering and style. There are a zillion people in the world that can draw. But out of that zillion, there's only a handful of writers - and real writers know and understand what I'm saying.
I would like to give thanks to Susan Farrell and Art Crimes for giving the XMEN a chance to shine, and a BIG thanks to all the XMEN through out the world for repping hard and keep the "X" alive.
|Art Crimes Front Page