When I was in 7th grade, I started writing graffiti after seeing a classmate practicing tags in a notebook. This was the late 80s and while train bombing was pretty much over at that point, street bombing was as live as it had ever been. Back then the city was so bombed that the streets were like a public art gallery that put up a fresh exhibit every day and I soaked it all in, way before I ever picked up my first spraycan.
I eventually got my hands on Spraycan Art and Subway Art, the seminal graf books by photographers Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. Up to that point my main hobby had been skateboarding, but those days were about to come to an abrupt end. I started boosting paint markers and spraycans from the local stationary and hardware stores and writing my name on every surface I could reach.
I was a fucking toy at the time, but I was completely enamored by the race for “fame”. I grew up in Yonkers, but I was never a Yonkers kid if that makes any sense. I love my hometown to death, but that shit was too quiet and insular for me. I needed action and excitement and I wasn’t going to find it in Westchester. Around the same time that I started writing, I reconnected with an old grade school friend who also wrote and we started travelling to the city every chance we got. A couple of years later, when I got to high school, I met a bunch of Dominican kids from Washington Heights who were also heavy into graf.
Now I was heading straight to the city everyday after school. Hopping the train, boosting, smoking weed and of course writing on everything. As anybody who grew up in NYC can tell you, the boroughs are a wonderland for mischievous kids. This was especially true during the early 90s. There was so much to see and get into and you could be anywhere within an hour with a quick jump over a turnstile.
It was during this era that I was introduced to graf scene in the West Village by my brother CHEZ TIN. The corner of West 3rd Street and 6th Avenue was the de facto meeting spot for many of the active young writers in the city and on any given day you could bump into guys who were straight up celebrities in the graf world. At the time, The Vill was an entirely different place than it is now. You could still cop weed in Washington Square Park, and NYU and Mayor Bloomberg hadn’t yet turned the whole neighborhood into a playground for rich college kids from out of town. The area was somewhat bougie for sure, but there was still a griminess to it that was very much typical of 90s New York.
To say that the RFC crew ran that corner and the surrounding neighborhood would be an understatement. This was the height of the Polo/Hilfiger/North Face era and if you were walking through that intersection shining, you had better have known somebody or you were getting got. Pockets were dug hourly. Beatdowns were handed out like club flyers. As a writer, I was very much familiar with RFC and their reputation as bombers and hooligans. Through CHEZ, I was introduced to a bunch of people from the crew, one of which was co-founder RAST.
Having heard stories from CHEZ and others and being in tune with the graf world, I had this image in my mind of a 6-foot tall, cock diesel Riker’s Island alumni. When I finally met homeboy, you can imagine my surprise when I was instead introduced to a short, skinny little kid with dreads that looked like he barely weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. This was the gangster RAST? Leader of RFC and scourge of The Vill? That shit didn’t make any sense, but sure enough, this was the guy and he was putting in work as advertised.
SEDI, an RFC capo who held down West 3rd on the daily, was one of the first writers I met down there. He was a goon like the rest of them, but he was also one of the coolest cats you would ever meet in an extremely cutthroat subculture. He told me I could push RFC, but I never really did because of the unwritten politics of the graffiti world. I was out there for sure, but I wasn’t known by every bomber in the crew and if writers see you pushing their team and they don’t know you, there’s a good chance you’re gonna get crossed out. Then you have no choice but to step to whoever did it and that wasn’t a situation I was trying to get myself into. Besides, I repped 5X7, my boy SIL’s crew from Uptown and those were the cats that I ran with on the daily. We eventually lost SIL and SEDI under tragic circumstances, but they both hold a special place in my heart to this day.
I spent a good part of the early 90s running around The Vill and the rest of the city getting into whatever trouble I could find. Througout those years, which I still look back on as some of the best of my life, I was heavily influenced by the RFC crew. From grafitti, to fashion, the club scene and the boosting lifestyle, those kids set the standard and everybody else tried to keep up. The first kid I ever saw P-Wing’d down from head to toe was an RFC cat. The first time I ever saw somebody walk out of a hardware store with a shopping cart full of spraypaint, it was a dude from RFC. Be clear: there were writers putting in serious work Uptown like my boy SEGE and my late brother EDONE, and I certainly learned alot from them, but those days I spent in The Vill played a huge role in who I am today.
So that’s the backstory. Please head over to the Mass Appeal site, or pick up the new issue, and check out Running From Cops: A Hip-Hop Odyssey, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It tells RAST’s life story from his days growing up in the Bronx and Manhattan, living in welfare hotels and stealing to survive, to his rise as a NYC street celebrity, his time in prison and his eventual redemption and current aspirations as a rapper. It’s a great read and I’m extremely excited that the world finally gets to hear about an era in NYC history that influenced me so profoundly but was very nearly lost to time.
Illustration by Adnauseum
UPDATED: RAST’s debut project, Across West 3rd Street, is out now.