SLY ARTISTIC MASTERS: A STYLE SUPREME
I started writing graffiti in 1976. I had a few bullshit clubs myself - you know, the neighborhood type clubs. The first major club I was in was KCD - Klub City Decorators. The club was started by a white guy from Society Hill called T*Bone. We met at Central High, which, believe it or not, had a lot of graffiti writers in it - the most prominent being Tee from HCS (Hip City Swingers). T*Bone and a guy called Slick Keith were early influences on my later style, as were Ken, Mat, Tonk, Popcorn, and SkiBop (HCS) and Vern, BZ, Last, Crock and Jab (MAD - Masters At Destruction).
My early attempts at styling were quite atrocious, but I kept trying, working on my hand day and night. Then, it seems like it hit me all of a sudden, like an epiphany. It seemed like everything I did was coming out very, very funky and people (other writers) were digging it! My peers were giving me compliments left and right on my hand (style). KCD was getting so popular that everyone and their mothers started writing it and it made me want to start my own crew. The thought was somewhat frightening because I would be leaving a well-established crew and starting one from scratch. I also wasn’t sure how it would be received. I asked my man SK (Slick Keith) if he would join and he actually turned me down!!!! He didn’t think the club would get anywhere. He later wound up eating his words.
The first thing I had to do was come up with a name. There was a gang club around my way called IBM (Imperial Black Masters) and I always thought that was a fly name. No matter what, I knew I had to have the word “masters” in my club name. The “sly” part came from the way girls used to always say I never acted like I looked. I had a baby face with big glasses and I looked like a nerd (until we were alone). The “artistic” part came from me wanting to have the best stylists (or artistic) writers in my crew.
The first person in SAM was Crash and that was because he lived down the street from me. At the time Crash had a lot of walls and I thought he would be great for getting my crew around. He also admired my hand and respected my creativity. Crash was my boy and he was the first one to give SAM a buzz, but he NEVER had the world’s best hand. I then put Biz in the crew. Biz, along with Popcorn, has to be one of the most under-rated writers to come out of this city. Biz could just flat out STYLE!! His style influenced Sab, Kimba, Slick Keith, Rank, and many others who probably don’t even know it. He worked with Crash a lot on his hand to get it to look like something worthwhile. For a while it was just the three of us in SAM. Crash was hitting the walls, while me and Biz was trying to put a hurting on SEPTA.
At school, there was a guy hitting the bathrooms with the most unusual style I had ever seen up to that point. His tag was Maniac or just MA. Tee from HCS introduced us and I asked him to join the crew. He became my first combo on the walls. After we ‘d gone out slamming for a minute, Maniac went into the Job Core. I then put Cool Arty (CA) in the crew. I had my core group (Crash, Maniac, Biz, and CA).
Around this time, I started going down to 11th and Market on Saturdays to meet the other writers in the city. That was an experience that stays with me to this day. When I first started going down there I was just Bik from KCD. I had a nice little rep on the buses and trains and what not, but I wasn’t a king or anything like that. But word started getting around about this new crew who was writing in a totally different style from everyone else - a more FUNKY style. It was wild like the guys from MAD, but in a totally different way, and everyone wanted to learn how to write the same way. The problem was, everyone couldn’t do it! I had developed a style that only I had but if you had a little bit of what we called “ism”, you could adapt it to your own style. Because of this, SAM developed a reputation of having the best writers in the city. Not the most BOMBING writers, but definitely the best writers. And since the ‘ism“ was flowing from me as the President, everyone would come up to me to give them advice on how they should write their names. I also got challenged EVERY TIME I CAME DOWN 11TH STREET!!!!!
I met and defeated all comers. My “ism” was flowing so fluidly that it seems that everything I wrote was coming out funky. People I admired (like the HCS mob, KNP, MAD, etc.) were starting to take notice. Then an incident happened that could have been a lemon, but I turned it into lemonade. My mother kicked me out of the house because I had basically become a hustler (hanging down 11th and Market street on Saturdays, you almost couldn’t help it - it was like crime school). She sent me to live with my father up in the Logan part of the city. Luckily for me, right down the street from my old man lived the greatest stylist in Philly up to that time. His name was Roy Cool and he also wrote STN (the original Satan). I used to go to his house every day and we would just sit around and write. This was around 1977 and he wasn’t really writing too much anymore, but the hand was still there. Roy gave me the stamp of approval so that all the old time HCS heads would acknowledge that I was coming up. With Roy co-signing me with the old heads, my rep was solid. I was coming up with so many different styles that no one really wanted to challenge me anymore and I was acknowledged as being the best stylist by both the new guys and old heads.
Because of the writing battles down 11th and Market and at the Burger King that used to be on 17th and Market, I had the crème de la crème of the graffiti world asking to join my crew. I turned most of them down!! People thought I was crazy!! Duck, Bak, Rob, Way, Breeze -- whoever was hurting the walls from 78-79, 9 times out of 10, they wanted to be in SAM. But I couldn’t do it. I wanted SAM to have the best writers in the city. A lot of these so-called kings could only write their names and nothing else. They really had no creativity, at least not the kind that was needed to be in my crew. They really had no “ism”. I did let Print, Knot, Slack, Dazz, Kool Dan (KD), Zoot and Nam in. They were hurting the city a little at the time, but once they got in SAM, they basically retired. It seemed that once they joined the crew, they figured they had nothing else to prove - they had reached the pinnacle of Philly graff!!!
I retired in 1979 when I graduated high school, but I started schooling some of the young bulls in the neighborhood and they became the best at the time - people like Star, Beat Artist (BA), Shine, Kreo, and for a while, Sobad (SB).
SAM has directly or indirectly influenced most of the writers that came out in the 80’s on up to the present time. I’m very proud of that fact. Me and Maniac always say we influenced the people who influenced the people who influenced them. My crew has influenced the styles of people like Sab, Daveski, BX, Satan, Kazoo, Kad, Razz, Rakan, Teak, Jonathan, Credit, MB--- the list goes on and on.
If Philly is known world-wide for the “wild style”, then SAM1 has to be acknowledged as the originators of it, and I have to be acknowledged as the architect - the ground zero- of that style! I never claimed that my crew was the most “bombing” crew like a HCS or the reconstituted ICP. That was never our goal. I personally never thought it took too much brains to be “king of walls”. All you needed was enough paint and the balls to get out there. SAM had (has) a nice rep in that respect also. But it takes a certain kind of something else to create a style - a certain type of creativity - to change an ordinary letter or word to something akin to a rococo type of wall writing that makes other graff artists look at it and say “Damn…that shit is BAD!“.
I enjoy my place in the echelons of Philly graffiti. I like the props that I get from the younger generations of graff writers. They make me feel like some sort of rock star. The ultimate thrill, though, is to get the respect of your peers or the ones that YOU used to look up to. One of the high lights of my graff career just happened recently. I was sitting with some writers in a restaurant talking about helping to put this book together. A couple of the younger guys were talking about writers who had “flow“ to their styles and they were going back and forth debating who had the best flow. JS (Johnski) told the both of them “What are yall talking about flow for? The one with the best flow to come out of this whole game is sitting down at the end of the table here. NB is the king of flow as far as I’m concerned.“ My head almost popped off, because JS has always been one of MY heroes, and to have him say that about me made my day. At the end of the day, for me at least, this is what it is all about-the RESPECT OF YOUR PEERS!!
On a last note, here it is 2009 ( 32 years since I started SAM) and people STILL want to join my crew. Once again, we only take the best… PEACE!