One Nation, Invisible

The untold story of local hip hop: 1981 to 1996

Verb X: Skat Kat, that was kind of cheesy, but it was still hip hop.

 

Roger Cummings, a.k.a. Roger Dodger, b-boy/graffiti writer: When Spain went to different parts of South America, they put their flag up to say, "Yeah, we were here." It's kind of the same thing in graffiti. We left our mark. That's basically what we did, without raping and pillaging.

Peyton, a.k.a. Mackin' Me, graffiti writer: I moved to the North Side in '84, and that's when I saw a couple of tags by a guy named Karo. He would tag the 5 line, which was the bus I used to ride on. There were always different tags around, but that was the name that stuck because he was all-city. He had tags everywhere.

D. Tekh, producer: A lot of my early hip-hop experience was just going up to Northstar Elementary School and looking at all the graffiti.

Peyton: I saw a documentary called Style Wars on Channel 2 in '84 or '85. I originally tuned in to watch the breakdancing, but the movie is mostly about subway bombing [large-letter graffiti]. I started watching it, and I became totally intoxicated by it.

The very next week I did my first piece. I went out and bought a few cans of spray paint and found a location. I guess it's safe to say where now. It was at Northstar Elementary School. The piece was entitled "Bustin' Fresh," and it was a very clean, straight-letter style. I used only three colors: red, white, and black. I had a primer, which was gray. I didn't know what the hell I was doing at the time, so I did this huge piece and I ran out of paint. Half of my background ended up being gray primer.

I wasn't the first one to do it. The very first person to do it was a guy named Viper.

Slug, a.k.a. Jest, graffiti writer/MC: I remember when Smak took over the South Side. He literally owned every fucking block in a four-square-mile area. He did this huge piece right on the side of South High School. Everybody's afraid to hit schools, because you're going to get caught, because kids are going to talk. But he did this fucking bold, amazing, in-your-face piece on the side of South.

A little before that, my friend Mark did a huge piece on the side of [Minneapolis Central High School], after Central had closed. Between the big Zorro piece going up on Central, and the big Smak piece going up on South, that's what really made a lot of kids want to be part of graffiti.

I Self Devine, graffiti writer/MC: I grew up in L.A. where the earliest forms of writing were the Mexican gang pachuco writing. I remember one of the first times I came to St. Paul for Rondo Days, I saw Balam from Los Nativos doing airbrush, and he reminded me of some of the homies from back West.

I moved here in the summer of '89, and when I got here, I saw remnants of graffiti. I could tell that something did exist, but it wasn't as prevalent. What I found out later on was that there had been a bust.

Peyton: My crew, the Wildstyle Cru, we robbed a paint store, Glidden Paint. We got away with a lot of paint, but half of us got caught. We were just total amateurs.

Roger Cummings: We were putting the paint in Viper's car, and I went to go get another car from down the block. When I came up, the police pulled behind me.

Peyton: The cops pulled those guys over, and lo and behold, they had a few bags of paint with them. So the cops just put two and two together, a couple bags of spray paint, a paint store a couple hundred yards away. We saw that, and we kind of went and hid behind the woods for a little bit. The ones who got caught really had to bear the brunt of that whole robbery. The ones who got away, we pretty much got away. That kind of broke the crew up. We went our separate ways after that.

 

Travitron: This guy, his name was Allen Bell. He used to do The Hip Hop Shop show with me on KMOJ. He graduated from Washburn, and a couple weeks later, he was shot on the street. We used to call him the Gator. He was the first victim of a drive-by shooting.

Jason of the Fila Crew: That had an effect on all of us. To this day I can't imagine why someone killed him.

LST: The thing that wrecked our business doing community centers and park parties was gang violence. Drugs started coming into the scene in 1987, and that was it. It was through.

Gage: I think that we, as a generation, became pretty impressionable. We were too much influenced by the media. We had no identity. We were just some kids from Minnesota. And then all of a sudden, you meet this cat with his pants sagging. He's got this interesting way of communicating. And you take it in. I'd say, as far as the whole gang thing, the cats that were pushing drugs were from out of state.

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