Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Interview by Wes Knoll, (Instagram: @weskn0ll)
(Photo by Wes Knoll)
There exists a practice seen by many and known truly to a select few that has been practiced since our species has learned to communicate and is used for communication. One in which the active user and in most cases, abuser, must risk his or her freedom, safety, health, employment and relationships in order to be a part of the secluded community. Mind you this is all happening before one can actually even get good at it.
Like most religious practices it is often viewed by outsiders as a cult and is dismissed by non-believers as a trivial hogwash, a canker on the otherwise polished and untainted surface of the public skin. Akin to other ideological doctrines, it’s true and primary originator is and will forever be unknown; its rules and teachings are preserved verbally through the school of each-one-teach-one university.
Over the years many a false prophet has attempted to rise and preach the holy word of graffiti, gaining cheap fame and recognition along the way, but the true alchemical shamans don’t bat an eyelash as the writing on the wall will always speak for itself and real recognize real. It’s language is practiced by individuals and in groups, both physically underground and often times high up towards the heavens, in places most would never dare nor dream to go, and one of the men who speaks this language best is the graffiti writer REBOE.
REBOE of New York City’s quickly up and coming crew, LNE, has worked fastidiously both night and day at making a name for himself. Most importantly, LNE is making a name in history with the contribution of his premier film, All We Got Is Us-an hour long project rife with the anonymous faces of the young Atlases who are working to keep this ancient practice fresh and alive. I recently had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with him and pick his brain about the familiar face of graffiti, what it is and what it isn’t.
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All We Got Is Us (2019)
"You know when I see graff on the wall I see a bunch of straight letters and fill ins. I don’t say look at this art, it’s vandalism, it’s supposed to be raw. It’s supposed to be 'Fuck you! I did this and got away with it,' and it makes you feel good."
Let’s get some of the facts down before we get into anything good. What, when and why did you start writing graffiti?
I remember when I was mad little and I would be on the BQE and I remember seeing people have floaters and I remember being in the car with my cousin when I was really little- I had to be 10 or 11- I was like "how do people do that? Do they repel down on ropes?" She explained to me how people climb ladders onto roofs and bring the ladders up to the roofs to write their moniker there. I remember seeing PK KID and that was the first writer I ever noticed, but I remember what really turned me onto graff was when I was in the car with a childhood friend and asked what does PK KID mean. My friend’s dad explained to me why they were writing because he grew up with one of them. I was like "oh who are they what are they like" and he said he couldn’t tell me because "they wouldn’t like that", and I was like damn that’s so sick there’s nothing more to it, you see their name on the wall and that’s it. There’s no face to it you don’t attach the qualities of a person its just there, a name on a wall. When I was really really little my Mom would catch me with a can of Lysol and I’d be pretending it was a can of paint spraying it around the house but I first started writing when I was 14.
(Photo by Herman Yung)
Can you define graffiti?
Graffiti is writing on something, plain and simple. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s writing on something that’s not yours, or that you don’t have permission to do.
Do you believe that graffiti is a form of art, can be an art, or something entirely unique to itself?
I think it’s entirely its own thing. I think being artistic is part of it. But I don’t consider it art, you know when I see graff on the wall I see a bunch of straight letters and fill ins. I don’t say look at this art, it’s vandalism, it’s supposed to be raw. It’s supposed to be "Fuck you! I did this and got away with it," and it makes you feel good. But you know I’m not going to lie to you and say I don’t care about who sees it, so ultimately it’s the act of doing it. It just feels good.
There’s beauty in doing something with consequences and getting away with it.
Is there something to ‘get’?
Nah I don’t think there is something to get, it’s like watching a basketball game you could watch it and say "oh I don’t get it, what’s the point? You’re just throwing a basketball in a hoop?" However, other people could say there’s beauty in it, it’s all about your perspective on it. If people who don’t write want to look at graff and say it’s art, whatever, you know that’s your perspective on it. But I don’t consider myself an artist. There's not really much to get you know it’s like take this name and see what you can do with it, in as many places as you can. It’s like a game: choose this name, now what can you do with it. Do you want to be someone who writes in tunnels and the dudes who lurk tunnels will know who you are, do you want to go down Houston street and do hot spots, do you wanna do rooftops, do you wanna do the N line, it all depends on what you wanna do, you wanna be an all around bomber, paint abandoned spots, freights, gates, whatever. It’s about what you want to do with it.
Does graffiti represent anything or does the act itself represent anything?
I think it represents a city. In my opinion a city isn’t a city without graff. A major city needs that, it’s just how major cities have transit systems or bars and people outside-it just ties everything together, it’s like the final touch on everything. If I go somewhere new, a huge part of it is that I want to see their graff scene.
(Photo by Wes Knoll)
There's not really much to get you know it’s like take this name and see what you can do with it, in as many places as you can. It’s like a game."
What are some common misconceptions that you believe people have about graffiti and graffiti writers?
I think that people will always, no matter what, think that you are a piece of shit if you write graffiti. Less people would hate you for it if it wasn’t illegal, you know it’s just because it’s illegal. But some of my closest friends are people I’ve met through this and I feel like I know how to judge character. Just because you write doesn’t mean you’re a piece of shit. And I think a lot of people assume just because you do graff you’re trying to say fuck you to society, like oh he thinks he’s bad because he’s doing it and its really not, I just like doing it because it feels good-there’s nothing more to it.
People often ask what makes ‘good’ graffiti, how would you try and explain what makes something good from bad?
It’s all about letter structure. A true test of what makes someone good is if you have a throw given to you, you can just copy and paste it as much as you want. That doesn’t make you not a toy because a lot of dudes are like that and get by, but the way I truly tell is how people throw somebody up next to their fill, if its their homies or a quote. If I do it you’ll look at it and see I know what I’m doing, I spent time on my letters, I have a good written alphabet, and that I’ve practiced but other people might look like a 4 year old wrote it.
But what makes something good rather than someone?
I think it’s your perception, I see stuff that I think is beast and my friends think is trash. I think it’s if it looks clean...well actually there’s beauty in messy graffiti, you know like a dusted fill that’s been quickly outlined...it’s a hard question actually.
Okay now what makes a good graffiti writer?
A good graffiti writer is somebody who knows how to pick their spots, they don’t go over people, they don’t go over dead writers, they know their history! They know certain spots you should and shouldn’t do like a bank or someone’s house. I think a good graffiti writer’s gotta have a good style and really have practiced and did work in the book. You can see it in the streets.
"I don’t know what would make me stop it’s hard. It also is a big reason for why I want to travel but I guess it’d have to be legal trouble... I plan to go until I physically can’t anymore."
Alright and real quick, for those who don’t know, break down the difference between street art and graffiti:
Graffiti is illegal. I don’t think street artists who have never done graffiti can complain about a writer going over their piece, unless its like a RIP or neighborhood mural you know. That might be a different story but you can’t get mad at it because either way its gonna get painted, legally or illegally.
(Photo by Carnage NYC)
Thanks, so what makes someone want to write graffiti and why do you do it? Is there anything that can or will make you stop?
What makes me want to keep doing it is that once I get into something I have to get into every part of it, you know like I set a goal for myself in the past year to paint Chinatown and Downtown. Everywhere I went I would have to get an outline, a tag, a fill. I take the N line. You know if there’s ten stops, I’m not going to just do 4 of them, I’m going to need to do all ten on both sides...I don’t know what would make me stop it’s hard. It also is a big reason for why I want to travel but I guess it’d have to be legal trouble-depending on how serious it is but I plan to go until I physically can’t anymore. But a girlfriend-no I’m not doing that, if the girl is going to except who I am from the start then I’m not going to feel any type of way because if a girl gives you an ultimatum then that’s not someone you should be with, if you’re going to be with someone you’ve got to be with every part of them.
Tell me a bit about what a graffiti writer’s brain is like, does it differ in any way from the average citizen’s, what makes it tick?
100%.110%. Being in love with this taught me to be way more on edge, way more aware of what’s going on around me. Like if you can come off in New York and paint and you have the ability to spot DTs, or dude who might call the cops on you, then your brain works differently. You can’t just paint New York. I like to have a game plan for everything, it’s taught me to be more on point. I’m more aware of things, when I’m walking down the street I’m paying attention to everything, to every last detail. Negatively its made me very, very, very, very paranoid, you know I’m a very paranoid person, if I meet somebody its like they must have something against me or they’re going to fuck me over the first chance they get. It’s way different than the average person...you’re just more observant than the normal person. If you’re in a car you know what’re you thinking? "Oh that’s a good gate I could hit?" or "how do I climb up there?" You could look out the window and see a REVS tag from '99 and shit your pants, but the average person doesn’t give a fuck! It’s a 6th sense.
Dope so one of the first things viewers will see when watching your film is that this is an LNE crew production, a crew you are a part of. What does LNE represent and what makes it stand apart from the others that are out there?
Leave No Evidence, but over the years there’s a million. But the thing about LNE is that it’s a very tight knit crew, you know other crews put people down who they’ve never met and you see dudes out throwing up the same crew who have never even gotten up. I’ve known SOUTH for years before he even put me down. You know I was toy and he just said keep practicing, and then one day he told me to put it up so everyone kind of joined together naturally. We all know each other on a first name basis not what we write. I think what’s sick is that we all make noise as a unit. When you see the crew name it makes you think of the people in the crew, you know I’ll see BEOH and it’ll make me think of MT, or ANSO. We all make noise on our own you know me and ACEM paint Manhattan a lot, then you have SOUTH who is just in every neighborhood in Brooklyn, ZAM also has Brooklyn, then ANSO, ANSO is everywhere, then BEOH who does uptown and east New York. I want to get to the point where if you go into an area in NY you’re going to see someone up from our crew and I think we’re getting there.
(Photo [top & bottom] by Carnage NYC)