"The true gentleman is friendly, but not familiar." - CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


In the world of graffiti art, few organizations stand taller than New York City's TATS cru. Started in 1979 by writers Brim, Bio and Base, TAT ("Teenagers Are Tough" being one of the acronym's many supposed meanings) played a crucial role in shaping and defining hip-hop as it appears to the eye, its members' craftwork appearing on album covers for Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five as well as the video to Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock", not to mention the countless subway trains that trundled around the five boroughs for years, bearing their multi-colored mark. When Hollywood turned its camera on hip-hop culture in the mid-'80s TAT was front and center for the intense interest in graffiti that shortly followed, helping bring graf into mainstream art galleries as well as the multiplex. TAT expanded the very definition of bombing to encompass platforms such as art, movies and graphic design, showing graff writers a legal and profitable way to bring fame to their names. TAT added the S to their name in the early '90s following the merger of TATA and TS, a crew headed by Crack, a fellow Bronx writer better known to the world as Fat Joe. TATS member Nicer was present on the day Joe brought the late Big Pun into the fold, and he was also present on the day they decided to paint a wall on Reverend St. James Street in the Bronx in Pun's memory.

When we first met Pun, he had the only helicopter haircut. He had real long hair on the top, a real tight fade on the side. Brim said, "Show these niggas your hair." Pun took off his skully hat and turned his head in a helicopter movement and his hair started moving and we screeched on him. It looked like a fat nigga about to fly. But the more you snapped on that nigga, that nigga would tear you an asshole, bee. All fat niggas get snapped on, so the fat nigga can snap back. You could not find a funnier nigga on this whole fucking planet than Pun. When Joe brought him through to meet everyone, that was it - he was family. No question.

[When Pun was preparing for the release of his first album Capital Punishment] the company had taken off. We were doing work for Coke, Seagrams, we did a commercial for Reebok, and there was a little cheddar in the company. So now we were approaching landlords like "Fuck this illegal bullshit - I'm gonna buy the spots that I bomb on." Joe put together a team to blaze the city with stickers, and the stickers coincided with the walls we were painting. So not only were you seeing the shit large on all these walls, but now surrounding that mural was block after block after block of stickers of the same image. On top of that, we were blazing the city with snipes. So Pun's joint drops - people went nuts.

[For Pun's second album Yeah Baby] we had gone from 42 walls to like 58 walls. We had gotten about five done, and we went to our office. Somebody called the office, like, "Yo, is it true? Somebody said something happened to Pun." I was like, "I don't know what you're talking about." So I hang up and we're getting ready to go out and paint another wall for his album. Another person calls, like, "Is it true? Is Pun dead?" So now Bio comes in like, "Someone just called me asking if Pun was dead." So we call Joe and Lorraine, Joe's wide, picks up. She sounds like she's crying. She says, "We just got here to the hospital," Bio says. "People are calling here asking if Pun is dead." Lorraine says, "Bio, it's true." She hangs up and we're sitting in the office, bugging.

More and more people were calling. We started talking about Pun and we were like, "We gotta do something." So, being that we already had the van packed up with spraypaint and ladders and scaffolding and we were going to paint a wall for him anyway, we were like, "Let's go paint a memorial wall for him." There was this wall where he took his first 8x10s (publicity photos) in front of, when Joe was shopping him around. It was a wall of a Boricua character on a cross holding two Glocks with a bulletproof vest on and a bandanna of the Puerto Rican flag on his head. This piece had become kind of iconic in our neighborhood. Pun loved that wall so much that he did all his shots in front of it, and he would always tell me, "That wall is dope! That's the greatest wall!" So when we were thinking about where to paint the memorial, I was like, "That's Pun's wall, bee."

So we went out, and it's about six o'clock in the evening by now, and the news is all over mad radio stations and was starting to get on the [TV] news. While we were painting so much loved poured out - there must have been hundreds of people out there on that street, and it's a small block. So we're painting and people are coming from everywhere, lighting candles and bringing flowers. Angie Martinez got on the radio and cried and let the world know that Pun had passed away, and she also mentioned that we were painting a wall in memory of him. People drove from Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Jersey... there were so many people there that the cops came, and we said, "Ah, they gonna shut it down." You know what they did? They parked across the street and turned on their headlights and gave us light for two to three hours, until the lieutenant came and shut it down. I had never seen so many satellites in the air. Jimmy from Jimmy's Bronx Cafe came through with at least seven thousand dollars' worth of Pun's favorite food, for free.

So we're out there painting the first fay and it all got so overwhelming that we couldn't even finish it. So we called it a night and we bounced. We go back to the wall at around 12:00 the next day setting up, and it's the same vibe. Mad people showing up all over again. People brought wreaths, bouquets of flowers, people left messages on bandannas and cardboard and laid all this out against the wall. people were crying and talking to the image of Pun on the wall. Like, in Jerusalem they have the Wailing Wall? For people in the Bronx, this was the new version of that wall. People were going to it and letting out their anger, their frustration, just crying against that fucking wall.

So we finish painting and I say goodbye to everybody and I dip up the block in my car. I turn the corner and I say to myself, "Why is this cop following me?" The nigga pulls me over and I'm like, "What's going on, officer?" The nigga said, "Can you get out of the vehicle?" So I get out and say, "Why are you arresting me?" He said, "You were doing something you weren't supposed to be doing." I said, "I was painting today, so I don't know what you're talking about." He said, "That's what you weren't supposed to be doing." he handcuffs me and puts me in the back of an unmarked car and we drive back towards the wall, where there's still mad people. So now I realize why I'm there - they're waiting for Bio and BG to leave. They pick them up too and take us all to the precinct. What ended up happening was, just to bust our balls, while we were painting, the cops called up the owner of the property and gave her a very vagye description of what was going on. They told [the owner], "Right now we have five guys writing on your wall. WOuld you like me to arrest them?" The owner's a sweet lady, we've known her for mad years - we've been painting that location for years. And that was all the cop told her.

So what ended up happening was, people start calling the precinct: politicians, senators... Lisa Evers had a show on CNN, and she's calling the precinct, telling [the cops] "You'd better tell me something or I'm going on the air with what I know." Jimmy from Jimmy's Bronx Cafe goes in, saying "Why did you arrest him? They're painters in our community, they beautify our city..." So noe we got those politicians, the media, and mad people coming to the precinct. These niggas are getting nervous because they're like, "We can't let them go because we just booked them, so what are we gonna do?" So they end up taking us to Central Booking. The cops say, "We're gonna put you in the holding cell. Don't tell the other prisoners what you're here for." We say, "Alright, no problem." We go in, and cats in the holding cell ask us what we were ther for and we say, "We were painting the Pun wall!" They were like "whaaat!" Them niggas started making a ruckus in the fucking cell, beefing with the cops! So they drag us outta there an dput us in individual cells. Now it's six in the morning and we can't sleep. Bio is in the next cell complaining that his cell has roaches in it. They eventually come open our cells. We go down a flight of stairs, then they make us sign some papers and give us copies, then they walk us down some more stairs all the way to this door. We're at the back of the courthouse, at some back exit. [A cop] opens the door and says, "Look guys, no hard feelings, we were just doing our job... The owner probably doesn't wanna press charges." I said, "I told you that shit yesterday!" So the guy lets us out the door and we're in the back alley of the courthouse. I'm like, "Why did this fool let us out the back?" So we walk around the corner and there's mad fucking press out there! Pun was a funny nigga, bee. I think even in passing, us getting arrested was Pun's way of fucking with us.