Style Wars (1983) - full transcript

A documentary that exposes the rich growing subculture of hip-hop that was developing in New York City in the late '70s and early '80s, specifically focusing on graffiti art and breakdancing.

Brown and Walker,

bring the train out
from 16 track.

They call
themselves "writers"

because that's what they do.

They write their names, among
other things, everywhere--

names they've been given or
have chosen for themselves.

Most of all, they write
in and on subway trains

which carry their names from one
end of the city to the other.

It's called, “bombing,"
and it has equally assertive

counterparts in
rap music and break dancing.

- Graffiti writing in
New York is a vocation.

It's traditions are
handed down from one youthful

generation to the next.

To some, it's art.

To most people,
however, it is a plague

that never ends, a symbol
that we've lost control.

I'm Detective Bernie Jacobs.

I, in conjunction with my

partner Detective Jim McHugh,

are the crime
prevention coordinators

for the New York City
Transit Police Department.

Graffiti, as the name
itself, is not an art.

Graffiti is the application
of a medium to a surface.

I will show you graffiti,
such as the letters

on the end of that car
directly in back of me.

Is that an art form?

I don't know.

I'm not an art crim critic,
but I can sure as hell tell you

that that's a crime.

At the Grand Concourse 149th
Street station in the Bronx,

graffiti writers gather

at what they call,
"The Writers' Bench."

They're saying that
the kids run the subways,

that the system
is out of control,

that 15- or 16-year-old
kids are running the system

and that graffiti is
the symbol of that.

No, I ain't running the system,
I'm bombing the system.

They're trying to make it
look like graffiti writers

break windows and everything.

- It ain't even like that.

- You know who be doin' that?

Niggas who be high when
they come from school

are the ones who
break the windows.

- And it's in the graffiti
artists' favor to be as cool,

calm and collected about putting
his art on the train as he can.

You know, he wants to
get in and get out

without even being noticed,

except for the work that's
going to come out to the public,

you know, that Monday.

Yeah, we gotta start
to rock some straight letters.

- This one came out all right.

- Yeah, that's the first.

That's about the third "Skeme"
piece I did this year.

And that's the Tick-Tack
I did in Gun Hill.

- What'd you do last night?

- We did two whole cars.

It was me, Dez and Mean 3.

And in the first car,
in small letters, it said,

"All you see is"

and then big block
silver letters, it said,

"Crime in the city, "right?

- It took up the whole car?

Yeah, it was a whole car,
and shit, and then it was a

you know, one of them
scrolls? scroll-like,

In the next car it was a
Skeme that had a cop character.

You know, a police nigga with a
stick, you know, and a badge

- What designs you
put around the car?

should go down in the subway

and lock because they don't
have any business down there.

It is dangerous down there.

People that work down
there 25 and 30 years...

have accidents.

But his contention is
that he's immortal, I guess,

Like most 17 year olds
are immortal, right?

- It's a matter of getting a tag
on each line and each division.

You know, it's called
going all-city.

People see your tags in Queens,
Uptown, Downtown-- all over.

- Really, I can only laugh
to keep from crying,

because what happens
is that he really--

I don't really think he
knows how silly that sounds.

He's going all-city.

I mean, to what end?

And when I ask him,
he says to me,

"Well, just so people see it
and they know who I am."

Nobody knows who he is
and so they see it--

- No, it's not a matter of,
"So they know who I am."

- So they see it. And after
they see it, so what?

- It's a matter of bombing,
knowing that I can do it.

Every time I get into a train,
almost every day I see my name.

I say, "Yeah, you know it. I
was there, I bombed it."

It's for me.

It's not for nobody else to see.

I don't care-- I don't care
about nobody else seeing it,

or the fact if they
can read it or not.

It's for me and other graffiti
writers, that we can read it.

All these other people who don't
write, they're excluded.

I don't care about them,
you know?

They don't matter to me.

It's for us.

starboard bow.

Slow it down.

Slow it down.

What is it?

You tell me.

- Nice and slow.

This is it!

This is it!

This is it!

Here we go!

Here we go!

This is it!

This is it!

Give me that towel!

Give me that towel!

That "Cathy" came out nice.

That y wasn't wack.

- In the 1970's
New York graffiti,

rapping and breaking
became the prime expressions

of a new young people's
subculture called "hip-hop."

Graffiti is the written word.

There is the spoken word
of rap music...

and then there's the
acrobatic body language

of dances like"breaking."

It started in the
Bronx and part of Harlem.

It started in Freeze's house.

His mom used to break.

- Don't be talking
about my mother, now.

Just don't talk about my mother.

Boy, you're acting stupid now.

Breaking is when you
don't have nothing to do,

everybody just standing
around and getting high.

- You make up your own freezes.

- You got names for them.

You call em

- Like what?

- Like the baby.

That's the baby.

A dead freeze, like this.

That's one of
them old, ancient--

That ain't one of the old,
'cause I was the first

one to do it.

- How ancient can you get?

- The one when you go like this?

- It's called the hump.

- The headache.

- No, that's the headache.

And the other one is the hump.

- When you got a headache,
you go like that, you know?

When you hump, you go like that.

- Yo, man, this place is bombed.

This is the transit system.

They don't like it
to be defaced.

They will, at times, try and...

go to the extreme
in trying to apprehend you.

The subway system
is a very old one

and I've personally
explored some tunnels

and I've found rooms
with maps that were so old,

might have been like
the first train line

that New York City had.

Call it what you want,

it's just a lot of rock,
a lot of steel;

it's a tomb, a dungeon,
under the city.

A lot of trains, a lot of fun.

A lot of art.

Art that's going to be

a part of New York City's
history forever.

Oh, wow! Check it out,
a whole car!

Check it out, man! Sach, quick.

Look at that!

- A lot of writers have been
down here. You can tell.

Graffiti all over the place.

Years ago, it was
pretty much a secret.

It was secretly done.

People wondered and
wished they could do it.

Now, most people do it.

When all the toys are
like home sleeping...

cuddling to their pillows.

They usually have curfews.

Come down...

in the wee hours of the night
after the workers done

their job, the sweepers did
the sweeping they had to do...

I just take my time
and be creative.

I think it's something
you can never recapture again

once you experience it.

You have, like,
live third rails,

and like, crazy cops who
come and chase you out.

Even the smell you get when
you first smell trains

in a yard, it's like...
it's a good smell to, like,

a dedicated graffiti
writer, I guess.

When you're first against
a train, it's like

everything seems
so big, like... wow!

It's like you're in a yard
of metal giants, and like,

I mean, everything is so hard,
and so steel, you're just there.

You're like a little dude in
the midst of all this metal,

and like, you're here
to produce something.

Well, you're here to
try to produce something.

- Well, I've seen
comparable graffiti.

Not necessarily
these particular ones.

Each of these costs us
a million dollars, in a sense,

because others went out
and tried to copy.

It isn't worth it.

Well, it is one of the
quality-of-life offenses.

And you can't just take one of
those quality-of-life offenses;

it's like three-card-monte
and pick pocketing and

shoplifting and graffiti

defacing our public
and private walls.

They're all in the same area
of destroying our lifestyle

and making it difficult
to enjoy life.

And I think it has
to be responded to.

So I've told you the response
that I think a repeater,

three-time repeater, should get
would be five days in jail.

Now, obviously, a murderer,
if you believe in the

death penalty as I do,

you want to have the option of
executing a murderer.

You wouldn't do that
to a graffiti writer.

I saw you at work
over here and I just want to

find out what you're filming.

We're making a film
on subway graffiti in New York.

Why did you take this particular
neighborhood here?

What's unusual?

Is there more graffiti
here than other places?

I hope not.

- We're here because
one of the best

graffiti writers
lives around here.

He writes "Seen."

- What is it?

- S-E-E-N.

- That's his name?

- Yes, that's what he writes.

- Or is it a nom de plume?

- It is a nom de plume.

I see.

You wouldn't tell me
his real name?

- No.

- Why not?

Would he get in trouble, or
wouldn't he be glorified by it?

- Yeah, go ahead and go -

All right, there's about
four numerous reasons why...

I ain't painting right now.
To make a long story short,

I'm on what they call a
six-month probation.

I call it a six-month vacation,
never mind probation.

Now they got a graffiti
squad on this line,

which there really
was never, really.

Since they come on this line,
it's been harder to piece.

It ain't like the old days when
the train pulled into the yard

on a Friday night,

that train wouldn't pull
out until Monday morning.

Now, when you go
to piece a train,

you put an outline on the train
and you can say goodbye,

the train pulls out
10 minutes later.

Or, if you're ready
to put an outline,

you gotta chase
the train down the track

to put an outline on the piece.

It just ain't the same anymore.

They don't know what
they're doing no more.

Late, as usual.

But I'm here.

I show up, though.

I show up.

Let me see.

Well, why don't you
do this one on

that side of the wall?

- You know what I'm saying?

- These two?

- No. This one--

- It's going to be crowded.

- We're going to have
plenty of room.

- The bottom of the piece?

- The bottom of the piece,
I say, "The United Artists"

will go a little bit below
the top, about here.

'Cause you're going to have
it on a wave. Big letters.

I want you to start
from about here.

Maybe even here.

Start it from here.

Listen to me.

From here.

You understand what
I'm saying to you?

- I still think it's too big.

- Now, your first outline is
needed, always needed.

This way you know what
you're filling in.

No matter how good you are,
you can't just go on in

and just start filling in--
in the air.

You've got to have
your first outline.

Once your first outline
is done, then your fill-in,

that takes away
your first outline.

You don't need your
first because now you

got your fill-in.

From your fill-in, you put your
colors and then your 3-D.

If you want background,
you put your cloud or whatever.

How's this, Nick?

I'm throwing a few
connections here.

I'm going to make it
look like yours.

What do you think?

I'll make a few bits.

All right. Huh?

Bits. Bits.

I don't know.

Little doodads here and there.

Yeah, now it's shaping up.

I have about a hundred outlines,
but I've shaped it up.

Nicky, Nicky, come on!

You gonna save me room or what?

I didn't do that to yours.

Get out of there!

Go on!

He's making
a mess in this house.

He cannot sit down without,

you know, doing
graffiti on something.

- All right--

- He really can't.

- When you're talking
on the phone,

you don't doodle
on the paper?

- I don't doodle.

- Yes, you do.

- I do not doodle.

- You do doodle on the paper.

I don't doodle.

I just write my name while
I'm talking on the phone.

What's that?

I'm just writing something.

- You're telling me
that you write your name

while you're talking
on the phone.

In the meantime, you have
destroyed your room.

You have destroyed your room.

- Testing out my paints.

- You have no respect
for anything.

Don't tell me about
testing out your paints.

You have no respect
for anything anymore.

- Ain't we putting red, yellow,
or red, orange and yellow here?

- No, the brown's
got to be brown.

I ain't putting no browns there.

Ain't no way.

Red, orange and yellow.

You want it to stand out.

Boom The whole thing.

Around the whole works--
red, orange, yellow.

Remember how I did the
"Mad Seen" with the wall

and the color went all
around the thing?

The "Mad Seen,"
the one on the 5s?

With the walls all falling down.

The one I did myself.

- No. - All right.

Let me explain.

Yellow, orange and
a little bit of red--

yellow and orange around
the whole thing and then,

we'll put browns
and beiges in the 3-D.

Believe me.

I'll show you.

Not around the fade.

Fade into the yellow,
but a trim over it--

a cheap trim.

I'll show you after.

I'll show you after.

All right?

I'll never steer
you wrong, Nick.

Rustoleum, Krylon,
Wet-look, Epoxy, Red Devil...

When you hold a can
of Rustoleum in your hand,

it's like holding three other
shit brands in your hand.

It lasts, it covers,

and it's not aerosol
like Krylon.

It just comes out in a mist.

This comes out like paint.

The schools
have courses in art.

How about the mothers and
fathers of this city

saying to the kids, "That's
the wrong thing to do"?

- You listen to them talk,
they sound ridiculous.

He's king of the
yakkety-yak yard.

Who died and left him
king of any yard?

He owns nothing in
the subway, you know?

- I love robbing paint.

I know, you know, everybody
knows how you rob it.

He gets me suped up and
sometimes I'll go and get

15 cans at a time, you know.

Stuffing it in your coat,
in your shirt,

down the back of your pants.

It's mainly with the
big coat and like 15 cans,

you figure it out,
it's like over $50.

You're going into stores--
we could go one day

and get 100 cans at a time.

It's easy.

For me, anyway.

It's harder on black kids
or Spanish kids,

'cause like everybody
thinks a graffiti writer

is black and Puerto Rican,

and that's like, you know,
it's wrong, you know.

A lot of white people
are writin'.

- What you've got is a whole
miserable subculture.

I was raised on the
Upper East Side of Manhattan.

I went to a sort of strict prep
school in the Bronx, right?

Riverdale Country School.

In attending that school,
I had to walk past the 1 yard

on 242nd Street every day.

From where I stood, I'd watch
the trains pull in and out.

I thought,
"How could a human being

have his name on every car?"

You know, that these guys
must either live in there,

be allowed to live in there,

or just be... allowed
to go off like that, right?

They're trespassing it;
they're beating the system;

they're getting their
names up, right?

We've drenched the city
with our names, right?

We're trying our damndest.

- We caught...

a freshly painted...

and we spent about
three hours in it.

- That's impossible.

- No, it's not.

We were tagging with the Units,

then the "Minis,"
then the Marvies,

then the "Pilots,"
then the Flo-pens

and we were doing clouds

around the tags
and 3-Ds on the tags--

for the Double-Rs,
to have a clean car back then,

it was... we just had an orgasm.

1970-- the idea
of getting your name up,

not just in your
neighborhood, but everywhere,

was invented by
a kid named Taki,

who lived on 183rd Street
in Washington Heights.

Taki 183.

As soon as everybody
understood that it was a name,

they realized that
Taki was famous.

Taki 183 was
the first guy.

Even though they say
Julio 204 started before him.

But he was the one
who made it famous.

Then, after him, in them
times, it was Papo 184.

Then came out Junior 161,
Cay 161, they were bombing, too.

Stitch came out around 1971.
He was all-city, too.

Barbara, Eva 62,
they were girls.

Everybody was writing.

That was what everybody
was talking in them days.

- I got into graffiti,
just like riding the trains,

when I was younger.

You know, looking at the old
writers' shit, you know?

A lot of new writers around,

you talk to them about
a lot of old writers,

they don't know what
you're talking about.

- I started in 1973
or 1974, during very...

early years of initial bombing,
very important years

of graffiti bombing.

If it wasn't for those years,
I don't think we would

get where we are today.

That was the life back then.

That was happening.

Everybody was
pioneering back then.

That's when all your
developing happened--

your bubble letters,
all that kind of stuff.

Your wild styles.

The wild styles.

You don't have to do
straight letters to have style.

Anything that comes
in your imagination

adds onto your
own individual style.

The arrow.

Everybody's got their own arrow.

I like that, though.

Various arrow some guys have
on-the-letter arrow--

that was like connection.

Some people had
different arrows just going

right through their pieces.

- Colors, designs, style,
technical advanced...

- Get loose.

- Get loose.

Cartoons, everything.

And when they see you
got a vicious style,

they be wanting to
get loose about it,

and that's what
keep it going.

- That's what sparks graffiti.

- Keep sparkin' it.

- You know, I know
a lot of good writers,

and all the writers that I knew,
they used to get up,

so they used to tell me,

"Trap, why don't you get UP?"

And I started
getting up with them,

we started doing pieces.

Then I met Dez--

- One day, I came to the bench
and I seen him sitting there,

looking at the pieces.

You could tell a writer,
you know?

You go to the Bench
and you see him

as the trains go by,
he be going like this,

you know, he have
ink stains on his clothes.

- He gave me outlines
and stuff to practice--

I can't let him go
for at least five minutes,

or he'll destroy the piece.

You know? I turn around,
"Trap, what you doing?

I want to do my own piece."

I said, "Yeah, but, you
know, follow the outline."

- Russ, Russ!

What's up, man?

You know it.

Chillin', man!

Slick Rick!

Slick Rick!

And the Acey Base!

For about two and a half
years I was upstate

from like the beginning
of 1970 to '72.

What's up?

Hey, what's up?

When I came home, I ain't know
nothing about no writing,

no graffiti, 'cause
I wasn't about it.

All right, you know it.

What's up, man?

So, when I got home, I seen
writing on the train.

I said, "What's
this stuff here?

Those niggas doing
their names big."

Said, "Let me do
one at least."

'Cause I was down
with art already.

And I did me a piece
for people in general

to get to know who I am.

I said, "Oh,
that looks all right.

I'ma go every Sunday now."

Next thing I know, I started
getting better and better.

And as I realized, I knew to get
better, I said, "Oh, man,

I'm going to bring out the
computer rock."

And then that's when
I really got loose,

'cause then niggas was saying,
"Yo, who's that guy?"

Then one day,
these news reporters people

was on train station--

we was going by
and we seen them.

We seen them filming
our whole car.

We went up to them, and I
remember, I said,

Who you think probably done
that right there?"

Just to be curious
to see what they'd say.

And they say, "I don't
know whoever done it,

that's remarkable talent.

I ain't never seen
nothing like this before."

I said, "if I tol u I did
it, would you believe me?"

He say, "I don'.
I can't say,

but I believe so, 'cause
you don't know what you

can believe these days."

I said, "I did. then he
said, I don't believe that.

You ain't got one arm."

I said, "That
don't mean nothing.

I do things that people don't
realize I can do with this.

Being that I'm like this,
you know?"

And then he said,
"I hear you there y."

And I say, "I ain't no sonny.

I just was asking you a
question, sir,

that's all I wanted to know, to
see your feelings about it."

- Do you want to dance?

- What's up?

You getting some candy?

Ain't getting nothing?

Gimme some candy, man.

Ain't got no candy?

He)', Gigolo!

Whatcha know?


Where that nigga at?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can dig it.

- We goin' on the
other side, right?

- Word.

Wha-wha-wha-- gigolo.

- What happpenin'?

- The Beatmaster.

- Do you want to dance?

- Are you willing
to take a chance?

- Look at that eye.

- Word. Look at that eagle.


I said look at that eye.

You know where he
got that from, right?

From Vaughn Bode and who?

Frank Frazetta!

The Beatmaster.

The letters is breakin' out.

"The epic adventures
of a new kind of hero."

That's what we're going to be.
The extraterrestrial brothers.

You know what I'm saying?

Extra terrest!

Knowing we the best.

Know what I'm sayin'?

- It's a Dezzy Dez and a Kasey
Kase -

- And D-5, we're going
to rock the place -

- And if you're based
in the place -

- You will get disgraced,
because we are the crew -

- That we got the place -

- Rock-sock-it,
rock-it-in-a-pocket -

- A sock-sock-it,
rock-it-in-a-pocket -

- I say, pushed that girl in
front of the train -

- Took her to the doctor,
sewed her arm on again -

- Stabbed that man
right in his heart-

- Gave him a transplant
for a brand new start-

- Can't cut through the park -

- Ha-ha-ha! -

Well, I know one thing
about graffiti, man.

Niggas say it played out, niggas
say this, niggas say that.

But, it's going
to keep going on.

'Cause I might be old and quit,
but you coming up,

younger niggas is coming up,
it's going to keep going and

keep going, you know?

'Cause you going to be a king
soon, too, you know?

He's like a son to me,
in a way, you know.

I look out for him
and he looks out for me.

I won't let nothing
happen to him, you know?

He won't let nothing happen
to me if he could help it.

I know for his age,

he's 14 now, and I'm 16.

About the time
he get my age,

he be one of the
best people out.

If he continues to go
on in the years,

he can be another Picasso.

The idea of
style and competing

for the best style is the
key to all forms of rocking.

With the rap M.C.,
it's rocking the mic

for the B-boys, it's rocking
your body in break dancing.

Or for writers, rocking the city
with your name on a train.

Right now, he's
doing the footwork

when original breaking came out.

There he's doing
the baby and the turtle.

- The back bridge.

- Yeah.

- He did the head spin
and then just went up.

- I got a certain
backspin that I made up.

Want me to show you it?

I started off doing like this...

and landing like that.

So, then, I just...
decided not to do the freeze

and keep on spinning.

So it goes like this.

I put my arm right here
and it's easy.

And I push my arm
and swing my left leg--

my right leg--
both of 'em around.

- Other crews, they're
not as good as us,

'cause we have
the breaking form.

Original style.

- Yeah, original style.

Other crews like
"Dynamic Rockers,"

- they bite, usually--

- Yeah, they bite!

- Let me tell you about these
people, Dynamic Rockers.



Party people in the place!

Rock Steady against
Dynamic Rockers!

Rock on till the break of dawn!

Crazy Legs in the house!

This goes back...
when I used to go to the

roller-skating rink,

United Skates of America
in Queens, right?

I used to go over there
to break against all of them

and take them all out.

You know, burn 'em,
make 'em look stupid.

And they had no kind
of style at all.

They was beginners.

I been breaking way before them.

We started doing
better routines than they were.

They got to a point where
they got mad at us because

we was taking them
outwith our moves.

Then, that started
getting out of hand,

because they had
the crowd and we didn't.

Yo! Whoever ain't in
Rock Steady or Dynamic,

get behind the barriers!

Yo! Both rockin' crews,
can you please listen?

Nobody's listening to me.

We're not going to
start until you move.

Rockers, get ready.

is just like humiliating.

Doing things in peoples'
faces and all that.

And down-rocking, as you know,
is trying to see who

can compete against whose
moves on the floor.

So who won
the rocking contest?

Rock Steady!

Rock Steady!

Dynamic! Dynamic!

- You all know who
took them out right?

Put it this way, we're out
of sight and they bite.

- They bit my turtle
into a hop--

Oh, man. I could've
cried when I seen that.

- You know, that faggot
that was flying around there

with his funny legs and shit?

- He's in gymnastics.

- So what? So what?

That's not even breaking.

That's all fairy flying.

I call that fairy flying.

Who goes for Rock Steady?

Dynamic Rockers?

Hold it.

Hold it down.

It was a tie.

It was a tie.

- R D-L-Br-

--Tito! - -

-" Hey girl!

How do you fill up a
train like that?

You can't do it overnight.

Do you wait for the
same train coming back

into the same station?

- No, you get the parked train,
and you just---

- Oh, you mean you go to the
subway yard.

- Yeah.

- Does your mother
wonder why you come home

with that all over your face?

- No, she knows I
write the graffiti.

I told her, I say
I'm going up on the trains.

I'm gonna go
write some graffiti.

- Does she worry you
might get caught?

- Yeah.

She says "if the cops call,
don't come running to me."

- Um...

I never realized
it meant so much to them.

I just thought
they were writing...

just writing anything.

But I guess
it has a deep meaning.

- Huh?

- What kind of deep meaning?

- Well, like he Said...

he's writing his
girlfriends' name.

He's Dust,
whatever that means.

What is Dust supposed to mean?

It's just a name.

It's a word, you know.

See, it's a game.

It's like, They give you
a name, and they say,

"Here, take this name and do
something with it."

Like, he got the name Seen.

He can walk around, just say,
"My name is Seen,"

and say, "Yeah, I seen that
there. I seen it there."

It's a name. It's just like...

I'll give you a
name and you say,

"How big could you
get this name up?

How high?"

Trains are routinely washed,

but because of the
graffiti problem,

we have to use a
graffiti removal solution,

which, at best, is detrimental
to the physical make-up

of the train itself.

This is what I'm assigned.

The car wash.

8:00 a.m., Jamaica Yard.

Hold your nose.

We spend
a lot of money replacing broken

and damaged side windows.

We cannot use...
acrylic plastic windows

in the train, because the same
graffiti removal solution

fogs the windows.

The problem
often is, that often it

doesn't produce a sparkling
clean car, but rather,

a sort of vomitous color,

which some of the graffiti
artists argue is less

attractive than what they
consider to be their artwork.

So, it's altogether sort of an
unsatisfactory result.

Watch out.

You might get wet now.

Watch your shoes.

It's not the best smelling
stuff, but so far,

it hasn't hurt me.

You know, it hasn't bothered me.

Some fellows, it bothers.


my money that's being diverted
from providing me with good,

safe, secure, rapid transit.

Look at this junk.

Graffiti doesn't make
your life better;

it just makes your
neighborhood look worse.

You know how I made
something out of my life?

- By using my hands.

- But only in the ring.

Don't use them to mess up the
walls with graffiti.

- I've practiced all my life
to make moves like that.

- And I worked every day
to be a singer.

So, if you really want to make
something out of your life,

- Use your head.

- Or your voice.

But don't waste your
time making a mess.

Make your mark
in society, not on society.

This happens to be
a poster that is...

the first in a series.

It's going to be used in New
York City's subways and buses,

where we've used
Hector Camacho who's a boxer,

North American
lightweight champ,

and Alex Ramos, boxer,
leading middleweight contender.

"Take it from the champs,
graffiti is for chumps.

Make your mark in society,
not on society."

- It's really very clever.

"Put your mark on society,

in doing something in society."

I've screwed it up
a little bit,

but, nevertheless,
you got the message.

do you think it will work?

- You say realistically, I'm
hopeful that it will work.

Nobody thought that we would be
as successful as we were

in the campaign against the
drought and water conservation;

nevertheless, that worked.

I'm hopeful we will
have equal success here.

Time will tell.

Mr. Mayor, are those
posters graffiti-proof?

Time will tell.

What you doing, B?


- It's fresh.

- One of my little
signature series.

- Word.

Lord, you getting fresh
on a nigga, man.

That nigga's still
got the touch, boy.

with the tiger skills

- I see you did the "Kase"
with a "C" this time.

- Yeah, he know who I am,
though, anyway.

The king of what?

The king of style.

Sure, I got styles already
that's more complex

that nobody know about.

I mean, super-duty tough work.

See, this is just semi-like,
what I would call it.

But, if I really get into it
and start camouflaging it,

I don't think you even
be able to read it.

- Don't go nowhere...-

Throw a little semi thing here.

It wasn't no
severely bad accident,

just that I got burnt
by wires, that's all.

A long time ago.

Electrical wires.

And then they rushed me
to the hospital and

they just had to amputate,

'cause my tissues and
muscles was burnt bad.

And I was young,
I was playing and I wasn't,

you know, too sure--

I knew what I was doing,
but I just didn't know

should I grab the wire or not,

I don't know if
I grabbed it or not,

but I know I just,
you know, got hurt.

'Cause it had knocked me out,
so I didn't remember.

But that don't mean
nothing in general.

I mean I'm okay.

It's just, that was a bad
thing to happen at the time.

But that's why people
are amazed about me now,

'cause of going through that,
and then dealing with

what I'm dealing with,

even though it's common
little bull-crap in a way.

People look at a person,
"What, you write on trains?

Oh, you vandalism,"
and all that.

Yeah, I vandalism.

All right.

But still, in general,
I know what I'm doing.

I did something to make
your eyes open up, right?

So why are you
talking about it for?

From here up...
nobody goes but me.

It's my lay-ups. Definitely.

'Cause this is a beautiful
spot to do pieces on.

Ain't hardly no writers
know about this place.

MY Spot.

Niggas know.

Believe it

Niggas know.


Yo. Here.

Take the cans.

I am not a graffiti artist.

I'm a graffiti bomber.

There's two styles of
graffiti that are trying to,

you know, co-exist
with each other.

But it ain't
gonna work like that.

Blood wars, buddy.

Blood wars.

That's why
graffiti's ruined.

That Cap ruined the 2s and 5s.

The 2s and 5s used
to go to the 2 yard.

It would be a masterpiece
art gallery of burners

from all these dudes from
the Bronx and Brooklyn

with def wild styles.

Now you go to the 2 yard,
it's all destroyed.

This guy named Cap
with his Lucille Ball hairdo

is going over all your burners.

- Hey, what's up, Shy?

- I've seen your new pieces
on the 2s and 5s.

They went over that.

- That Shy-Min.

- Yeah, I know.

- Cap-

- Cap-

I wouldn't have minded
if he would've went

over one of my old cars,
but that was fresh.

It was a brand new burner.

It only ran for
two days, you know?

He didn't give it a chance
to run on the line.

Just like... pow!

They went over it,
and now I feel...

that hurt me, you know?

And Seen was with him, and PJ,
and then I called Seen up

and he denied it.

- I can't afford
to get involved.

There's a war going on,
as you should know...

PJ and Cap--
against everybody.

He just crossed me out anyway,
so I don't know why.

Brand new car, too, he wasted.

Let's say this,
I stand behind them,

if they had a good cause
for the situation.

As far as it is now...

they have no cause behind it.

They're just doing it
for the hell of it...

which that ain't me,
because I wouldn't want

people to go over my pieces,
so I wouldn't go over them.

He's disrespecting
the line, which no other

guy was doing that years ago.

All he does is silver throw-ups.

You got fresh colored pieces,
full top-to-bottoms.

And you can't get him back.

And he'll just laugh at you.

"It's just a throw-up.

I've got a million
of 'em running."

He's a jealous toy, that's all,
'cause he can't do a burner.

- He can't do shit.

- He can't even do
a straight letter.

- He went over this?

- Yeah.

He did a Cap throw up over
me and a MPC over this,

and wrote war
next to Fat Albert.

- Oh, shit.

- You can't never
make up for that.

That's never forgive action.

- If you're a toy,
you gotta be stopped.

This guy's a toy and he's big
and he's still gotta be stopped.

Gotta break his arms.

- But how come we
waited all this long?

How come there's so many writers
that he went over their

burners and we're not in his
neighborhood with crews?

- Because nobody
wants to get united.

- We gotta get together, bro'.

- Everybody that says, "We're
gonna get down," right?

But nobody comes, man.

What we gotta do
is meet everybody

at 149th Street
at the Bench.

At the Grand Concourse.

- We should forget our
bullshit worries that

we got with each other,

unite and get this toy,
'cause he's dogging everybody...


- Cap, I don't know,
some big white boy.

I don't know him,
I don't want to know him.

Yeah, that's why he's doing.

He's trying to get
attention and revenge,

'cause people go
over his throw-ups.

People who do burners--

you see a throw-up,
you're going to go over it.

Who thinks Cap's throw-ups
are worth being on a train?


What you write, bro'?

- I write Mare, man.

Mear, M-E-A-R?


- M-A-R-E, Mar?

- Yeah.


Mar is M-A-R.

But no, seriously, you gotta
kill them dudes for doing that.

- Who's Cap?

Cap is right here?


People don't know what
I look like until now.

Till they start
going to the movies.

They're going to see my face.

Big deal.

Anybody tries to screw around
with me and my friends,

I go over everything
they got forever.

Everybody, from
Brooklyn to Manhattan.


And that's the way it is.

Especially with me.

The object is more.

Not the biggest and the
beautifullest, but more.

It's like a little
piece on every car...

is what counts.

Not one whole car on every
30 cars that goes by.

Once you start going over
someone, you can't stop.

So, I'm gonna live.

Dust started pulling
some shit with me.

I'm telling you,
he's lucky we didn't

catch him by that wall.

If we would've been there, even
if you was shooting the movie,

it would've just been

And that's the way
it would've went.

- It's gonna get crossed off,
I guarantee, by tomorrow,

once they find out it's here.

Help me with the 3-D, Nicky.

Come on.

The piece has got a lot of
colors to go in there yet.

But with the color, we
could do that with no problem.

I could do it
before it gets dark.

No problem.

Colors, colors, colors!

That was a beautiful wall.

I really liked that.

People like that,
they deserve getting

everything they
got crossed out...


- For the past 20 years,

there really hasn't
been anything hot.

There have been no
movements since Pop Art.

Any retailer, and let's face it,
a gallery is indeed a retailer,

they're always looking
for something hot

that they can merchandise
and sell to the public.

- It's almost as though
these pieces were peeled off

the train and put onto canvas,

so you have the same energy,
you have the same coloring,

you have the same intensity
and the same big piece

that you would see on a train.

The real subway graffiti
that's done on the trains

is slowly dying out,
and this is taking its place.

The lifespan of an
average piece today

only lasts a few months.

This is something that
could last a lifetime.

"Blondie" seems to be
an important figure within

the graffiti art style.

Cain has used her in a
very photographic way.

Noc, shows her...

I'm a colorist myself.

I'm an artist.

And it's exciting.

The color is exciting,
the movement is exciting.

It combines all
kinds of movement.

We had ABC-TV.

We had CBS here tonight.

We're going to be on the news
tonight at eleven o'clock.

National Public Radio.

- Do it up, baby.

I love it.

- I'm Ron Powers.

I'm a reporter with
the Associated Press.

- How long would it take you to
do something like this?

- On a train?

Depends on what
your schedule is.

I can't let my mother know
that I'm going to the trains,

so I have to be back early.

But I did meet a guy here
who's an art critic from the

news, and he says
he gets so goddamn mad

every time he sees this,
that he walked up

to one of the artist
at the show tonight and said,

"How would you feel
if I took a can and

wrote on your graffiti?"

And the artist said to him,
"I kill you, man."

As an investment, I feel
so strongly that if you

get in on the
bottom of anything,

it's got to be a
good investment.

This is definitely
going someplace.

But I think that graffiti
on the subway cars

were a symbol of New York
for foreign people,

especially French people.

And I think it's a little
sad if graffiti is going

to be only on canvas,
and not anymore on trains.

Forget about the trains.

Who wants to be dirty
and hot at the same time?

That's right.

I'm into making money.

It feels good.

You go to school
and the teacher says,

"It's not worth anything.

You don't make any
money from graffiti."

And you tell them,
"When was the last time

you made $2,000
in a month, huh?"

And you go,
"Okay, now you failed."

- All right, the thought
has crossed my mind, yeah

if something should happen,
I'll go along with it,

but if it doesn't,
it's no thing to me,

because that's not what
I'm out here for.

I'm out here to bomb, period.

That's what I started for.

I didn't start
writing to go Paris.

I didn't start
writing to do canvases.

I started writing to bomb.

To destroy all lines.

- That's what I'm doing.

- How long do you
think you'll do it?

Till I'm finished.

- Now that you've heard that,
you understand what I'm saying

to you when I say I
don't understand him.

He's out there to bomb,
destroy all lines.

What have the lines
ever done to him?

- They made me pay 75 cents.

- When do you pay 75 cents?

- Never but--

- I don't even know what
you're talking about.

We're on the
Staten Island Ferry.

This is the New York Harbor.

This is to signify
we're leaving New York

with this package of artists
to go out and play at places

where, individually,
they never would play.

It will be in Washington DC,
Pittsburgh, Chicago, Madison,

Minneapolis, Iowa City,
Detroit and Toronto.

- Being professional,
what does that mean?

- Getting paid for what you do.


your own style.

your own moves.

Don't let nobody else
bite your moves.

Doing it for a long time.

Being the best.

- Consider us the professionals.

I think it's about
time the politicians came down

and looked and saw
what is on these trains.

It is just awful.

- It shouldn't be that way.

It should be cleaned, and
the ones that are caught,

they should clean it-- the o
ones they catch doing that.

- What's the sense of paying 75
cents when you have to ride

graffiti trains, you know?

- It gives a terrible
impression of the city.

And if you think
the outside is bad--

I've been riding them,
like I say, for 40 years--

the inside is just unbelievable.

- It's a violation
of public property.

- I think it's disgusting.

- They should get somebody to
clean up the damn place.

- We move three and a
half million people a day.

They have rights, too.

- The people see
the outside of the cars

when the trains are going--
pull into the station,

or when they're passing
on the express track.

And then it's generally a blur.

But I don't think
the public finds that

nearly as intrusive and ugly as
they do the inside graffiti.

- He hates the insides.

- Yeah, he hates the insides.

He said if there's any
possible way of we giving him

some kind of suggestion of
how to get rid of the inside,

he said there might
be a chance of "negotiating"

with the outside.

- "Negogiading?"

- Something like that.

I met with a group
of them one day.

More out of intellectual
curiosity as to who

they were and
what made them tick.

I found them
surprisingly articulate.

They expressed a strong sense
that if their outside paintings

were left untouched, that
the public would be impressed.

We came up to him
with a proposal to paint

10 cars inside and out and let
it run in the major stations.

- And let people vote on it,
let's say a two-week period,

and after the two-week period,
they'll have the results in the

paper, and I think the
MTA will be embarrassed.

- I thought there was no basis
whatsoever in which it was

proper for anyone
to touch our property

in an unauthorized fashion.

- They got guys out there

that are mugging
people in the subways,

stabbing people, throwing people
into the tracks and all that,

and they're wasting their
bullshit money trying to get us.

- With all respect,
I think you are close

to falling into the trap
of the 1960s culture,

which says this society
has left these kids

with not enough to do.

If the kids have energy
and want to do something,

we'll give them all brooms,
we'll give them all sponges,

and they can do something
that is publicly productive,

useful and that would
earn for them the respect

and approbation
of their fellow citizens.

It isn't the energy
that is misplaced,

it's the value system
that is misplaced.

- I think it's great
for the riding public

to be up on the station,
one cold and dreary day

and see a nice white,
shiny car come pulling

up to the station.

- The public has
knocked us for so long,

that we are doing nothing.

It couldn't be done.

We proved that we done it.

- We painted 409 cars in
approximately eight weeks.

24 hours a day,
seven days a week

and not one day did we miss
that production schedule.

- Our personal pride was hurt.
A lot of people been knocking

the transit authority,
and we wanted to show

them that we
could do something.

If the Japanese can do it,
we can do it.

The stuff is
like razor blades--

about two inches long
and there's one of these

every two inches.

There's really not too much
protective clothing you

can wear to prevent
yourself from getting cut.

And once you do fall into it,
it's so structured that it

collapses upon you
and the more you try to move,

the worse off you become.

- It's like in the movies,
like in "Apocalypse Now,"

they used it to protect their
lines and their barricades.

They want to hold back the enemy
from destroying our trains.

About three years
ago, I decided to suggest

to Dick Ravitch that
they put a dog in the yard

to keep the
graffiti vandals out.

The MTA rejected it
and they said, no,

that if you put a dog
in the yard, the dog

would step on the third rail.

Now, I don't happen
to think that dogs step

on the third rail,
but I said in response to that,

you think the dog
will step on the third rail,

then build two fences
and have the dog run between

the two fences and that
will keep people out and

protect the dog from
stepping on the third rail."

And the response was,
"Maybe somebody will climb

over the fence and
the dog will bite them."

I said, "I though at was
what the dog was for."

But if you're afraid of having
the dog bite such a vandal,

and here I called upon my
prodigious memory, I said,

"What you should do then,
instead of using a dog,

is to use a wolf,
and have a wolf run

between the two fences.

Because there is
no recorded case in history

where a wolf has ever attacked

a human being unless the
wolf were rabid-- mad."

As a result of telling that
story innumerable times,

I embarrassed the MTA
into building the fence

around the first of 19 yards.
And it was so successful

they now claim it as their
own idea and they're building

18 more fences.

I think it's stupid.

The idea of having
all this barbed wire

and fences and protection.

Trains are still
going to get written on.

- They invented
the white elephant.

It's still got--
well, they weren't bombed,

but they had
little mosquito bites.

Call it what you want.

They were still written on.

They're still
not spotless, completely.

- "Dump Koch."

Well, there you go.

That is the highest
praise imaginable because,

obviously, I'm getting to them.

There always will be graffiti.

It's a part of New York.

It'll be there forever.

Someone will always want
to jump down on the track,

or while the train's
moving and just take out

a can of paint or a marker
and put up their initial.

- He still shows me
all his things,

which I don't
even want to see.

But we still talk.

He tells me just about
everything that goes on.

Other than that,
I wouldn't really be able

to tell you so much.

And, like sometimes--
knowing all this,

it just really only makes me
that much more fearful for him.

- I felt that I just
had to let her know,

'cause sometimes when
it's time to go bombing,

you got to go late at night
in the middle of the night.

You've got to leave
the house at 2:00

just to go bombing
so you don't get caught.

You know, she got
to know where I'm going,

can't just say
I'm going to a party.

No party's going
to start at 2:00.

- Not every kid would tell
his mother where he's going.

- Yeah, well, I'd rather let
my mother know what's going on,

you know, than
keep her in the dark.

If I get busted, cops call,

"Excuse me, we have
your son for graffiti."

And I'd rather let her
know that I was doing it

so she's prepared
to come and get me out.

But, I'm never getting busted,

so we don't have
to worry about that.

I mean, an adult,

I just couldn't see an adult
ever putting that much energy

into something that
isn't going to pay,

or is going to risk
their life or have

the possibility of
them getting arrested.

- I see myself eventually
growing out of graf

and getting married and living
the lifestyle, you know,

and making good
money, like that.

And when life is at its best,
you don't really want to

run around in the trains.

I'm sure I'll come back
every now and then,

just to let people know
I'm still around.

- Oh, no.

When I come back,
I take over.

And that's it.

After that.

- And after that--

- You want the prince of the 6s?

I'm king right here.

I'm the prince of the 6s.

He's later.

You know, he's one
of the has-beens--

- I'm what they call a
has-been, and he's a wannabe.

- A wannabe?

- So they consider you a king?

lam a king.

I could say--

- King of what?

- I want to tell you,
lam the king of bombing.

- You got to be able to take
over a line with insides,

take it over with throw-ups,

you got to do everything.

If you specialize in one thing,
you really can't call yourself

an all-out king.

- Who's king?

You're looking at him,
right here, my brotha.

The original.

Know what I'm saying?

Kingdom Islam; Nation god,

for I'm the one
that rocks so far.

Always rocking the jazziest
car, know what I'm saying?

The only and the
original Magnetic King,

and that's the one that's still
sitting here doing his thing.

- You know it.

We all live.

This is the original
old master killer of

the "Manila Thrilla,"
right here that

you're looking at.

The original king and love
to do his thing.

Don't shout, don't run,
don't hide, don't sky.

This is me coming to you
natural and live.

On CB...whatever.

- Ha, Ha!

- CB without the mic.