Real Graffiti

One Original Graf Artist‘s Story

Bama, a.k.a. AMRL, born at Harlem hospital, grew up in the Bronx in the late 60’s and 70's

This article was originally published in the International Graffiti Times, in 1986.























In 1969 my interest in graffit emerged.
Not in the sense that I suddenly wanted to paint art on city walls and trains. I had always seen the writing on the wall. I’m not the only one to use a dead Bic pen to dig their name into their school desk.
I was in Evander Childs High School, but at night I would hang out at a place called the Puzzle, on 167th Street and River Avenue in the Bronx. The whole disco movement bloomed out of the small boogie clubs like the Puzzle, the Tunnel, Palace of Love,the Duke, Nemo’s, Nell Gweyn’s Tavern. In these clubs teens Free-Styled and did Breakin. The term came from the cries of “break on him” (or her). You see, unlike the “breakin” of today, the breakin back then was not just between the guys. Much like the “fresh teens” of today, the teens of the early 70’s liked to dress sharp and the clubs were the place to show off your wares.

Being a child of the 60’s, I was raised at the height of the Black Power movement. I may have been young, but I understood what Malcolm X said. I believed in Martin Luther King’s Dream. I even wore the Black Panther’s beret. Black pride and power were something new and it was the teens of the time that echoed it. James Brown said ‘say it loud’... and we did. Aretha Franklin sang ‘Young, gifted and Black’... and we were. But not all good was growing from this.

The 70’s also brought about the rebirth of the street gang. The dope pushers pushed into the schools and schoolyards, many having to quit when gangs took over their trade.
The schools became the recruiting ground for the gangs.
There were not many to take for the “good kids”.
Of course, there was sports.
But for a person like myself, who was just average in most sports except basketball, in my neighborhood everybody played good basketball so I was nothing special.
There was one thing I did well all my life—that’s drawing. My love for art started with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. As a kid I would watch cartoons all day.
Later my taste changed to comic books. Spiderman and Fantastic Four blew my mind.
Then I discovered Playboy, and when I saw the art in there I knew what I wanted to do.

I can’t say who the first Riter was—cause like I said—there was always writing on the wall.
What I know is the first name and number tag I noticed was “Tree 127.” I know Taki 183 gets credit as the first writer, but Tree 127 has to be the first Riter to use spray paint in a subway station. (although Joe 182 gets credit for that!)

It was at this time that I started writing the names King Ding and Kal-Tel 169.
One night some friends and I went to the Puzzle. Before going inside we drank swiss-up and “ole E”and got nice for the first time. I guess it was the wine and beer ... my head was spinning so I went to the bathroom to be close to the toliet. While I was waiting for my head to stop rotating I pulled out a black Dri-mark marker.
Now mind you, there was other writing on the wall—a lot of gang tags ... or the “Candy’s a Hoe,: “Pete’s a fag” type of stuff.
I place my first tag (Kay-Tel 169) on the wall nearest the stool I was hovering over. The 169 idea I took from Tree 127; his number was the street he lived on. My was the year of the hit:1969, droppig one ‘9. At this time I was still very much a “toy” using cheap markers and crayons, and the place where I worked was the hardest hit my my early ‘bombing.’
The Kay-Tel 169, Kng Ding period lasted a few months. All around me graffiti grew—becoming something of a cult. My association with Supreme Speed 217 (Eddie) began. I changed my tag to “AMRL”, which was short for my last name Admiral, with evry other letter removed. Another advantage was that AMRL wa faster to write. Besides, it wasn’t 1969 anymore!
It was 1970 and graffiti was taking off. 1971 rolled in with a blast of color. The Bway #1 trains got crazy with color.
Dri-Mark hits covered the insides of trains—every Riter respecting the other guy’s hits.

Joe 182 ... Babyface 86 ... Coco144 ... Tan144 ... Jec/Star

In the Bronx, a battle had begun between “Tabu I” Lee163d!, “SuperKool223,” and “TurbanI”
Lee was proclaimed “King of the City.” But Tabu put up a great fight, tagging everywhere he could.
At the time I was rooting for Tabu because he was an uptown dude.

UltrKool226 ... Kool Kevin I ... B.S.T.90F ... Kool Tips 241 ... Moe-T.R.

Supreme Speed joined the Air Force and I met Moe-T.R. at work. (We were stock boys at Alexanders).
Moe became my new partner in crime. Moe lives in the Edenwald Projects, where a tuff street gang called intercrime led by a teenage psycho called Joe Pratt controlled their turf and hated everyone from my area (the Valley).
But the fear of intercrime didn’t stop me from walking over to Edenwald to see Joe.
Now Moe had this cousin Mikey who was always hangin’ around. One day Kool Kevin I, Moe-T.R., and myself planned to walk up 3rd 149th from Gunhill Road, when Mikey shows up. He wanted to come along, and even came up with a tag name “Iron Mike”

And so it came to be the team of AMRL, Mor-T.R., Kool Kevin I and Iron Mike started hitting togther.
All this time I was also doing alot of solo work. I had met Bug170 and Ron171, who introduced me to writers from their area (Kool Herc, Solid Soul, el marko 174).
I went to Evander but at 16 I found myself in Manhattan Community College (and not ready for it).
But the place to be was Clinton High School.
Outside Dewitt Clinton was the spot to meet other Riters in the Bronx ...
There I met Lee 163rd!, B.S.T.90F, Godslick 2555, Mr.T, and countless others.
Uptown, there was a Riters family that was growing bigger, and it never mattered what neighborhood you came from.

Jambu2 ... Tambu ... Spek 229 ... Cool Jeff ... Baron 325

Graffiti—now completely out-of-hand—seemed to become the thing to talk about in the scollyards and parks.
The Riters became the street heroes, the boys who defied the street gangs.


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