Uncapped: Smith Houses and the Birth of ZC One

Posted on: September 4th, 2015 at 9:44 am by
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What’s up, everybody! Today on Uncapped, we have a child of the Zulu Nation (more on that below). Zulu Child aka ‘ZC One’ has come to us with the art and life of the The Dream Team (“TDT”) and growing up with graff and the greats such as Keith Haring. Let’s take it back to the ’70s in the Lower East Side’s Smith Houses. 

From ZC:

I started writing graffiti in the late ’70s…I was (and still am) inspired by LEE, Phase 2, Sen 4 TD, Sniper TNS, Fear KGB, Easy, Comet, EZB 3YB LES, Case 2, LA 2, Chico, Conan KGB TDT, Scribe (RIP), EL3 TNS (RIP), REN KGB, CAP MPC, Revolt, Zephyr, IZ The WIZ, MIN RTW (who visited our shop a few years ago with a barrage of NE throwies and pieced with DUEL RIS MCI), Seen, Duster who still rocks from time to time,  Cope2 who has been a great link between the LES and BX, TATU XMen who inspires neighborhood kids with opportunities to paint… Henry Chalfant of Style Wars had a gallery that attracted writers from all over the city. The Lower East Side became a major pit stop for writers all over, especially outside of NYC. By the mid ’80s, the graffiti buzz was an undercurrent of skills powered by the energy that did not stop and was emerging everywhere.  

I grew up with SEIK HOT (Hell On Trains), TDT (The Dream Team), Socky TDT, Zord aka ZD, Son DTA (Down Town Artists), BZ JTM (Just Too Much), and quite a few others. Writers like SF TDT, Air TD, (The Destroyers) Lee 3, were the guardians and the “Gestapo,” as we did not let many come into our neighborhood….Back then, if you had no style, do not bother coming out to bomb. The tags would never last and writers would most likely get “regulated” for the lack of…Many of us still keep in touch with each other to this very day. Social media has made it a bit easier to do so but it has also created social media beef (more on that later)…Simply stated, we have been there for each other whenever we needed one another…There are writers today that will never know what it is like to bomb trains the way that it was done back in the golden era of graffiti. Those times are long gone, and a new breed of graffiti writer has been cut loose, and it is certainly nothing like the way it was decades ago.

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BOWERY BOOGIE: Thank you for the intro. Once again, more letters than the alphabet. We spoke with Zephyr in a previous piece and will be interviewing SEN 4 and Duster in the near future. Meantime, I have some questions for you.

Firstly, why the name Zulu Child?

ZC: I was a young kid when I started writing. ZC or Zulu Child was a perfect and original tag with the growth of Zulu Nation in the LES.

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BB: For those who don’t know – the Zulu Nation arose from its gang predecessor – The Black Spades (BX). Founded by Kevin Donovan (aka Afrika Bambaataa), the Zulu Nation “created” the world of hip hop. Bambaataa formed the Universal Zulu Nation and is responsible for the term “hip-hop” being used in print for the first time in our very own Village Voice. The Nation was meant to pull young minds out of the gang culture and into the hip hop culture. Rappers, graffiti artists, Bboys – many attribute their survival to the hip hop culture; it “saved their lives.” KRS-ONE, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Rakim, et. al. There’s a lot of history behind that name, huh?

ZC: Absolutely. I see you’re well-versed.

BB: I love and equally miss REAL hip-hop. What was growing up in the Smith houses like during your childhood? Much has changed and much has remained the same.

ZC: I grew up in 46 Madison, and attended PS1. Smith Houses was a great place to live and experience life. Our community was tight and close-knit. So, there was not too much room to mess up as a kid, because chances were that the next kids parents were close to my Mom. There was simply no tolerance for stupidity and foolishness. We were surrounded by an underworld of drugs, crime, violence, and hopelessness. Our community stuck together no matter what color, culture or background. She encouraged my liking for art and just told me “do not get busted, because I will leave you in the tombs!” My Mom moved us to Chatham Towers after my father passed away. However, we still had in-laws and cousins that were still in Smith.

BB: Earlier you mentioned your team being the Gestapo. The Gestapo were the “secret” German police in the Holocaust/WWII responsible for aiding in the murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million others. They worked essentially for Hitler – perhaps that was not the best name to call your team? 

ZC: The term Gestapo was not meant in a derogatory way whatsoever. Especially, as our group was a melting pot of different cultures. We learned from each other. Perhaps, use the term “gate keepers instead.”

BB: I understand you meant no offense – we will call your group “gate-keepers” from now on. I hope others stop using the name as well. 

Social media beef has been a consistent topic in this series and, yet, the communication allows you to keep in touch with your old crew…damned if you do and don’t. Would you give it up? It comes across as an addiction for many.

ZC: Graff has always had some strange things happen over time. Today, social media has made it so easy to initiate problems and issues. We grew up in an era when the beef came right to your face without question. The codes are being violated and re-written for self justification and it’s clearly jealousy, coat tail riding, and stupidity. The beef online has become personal and disturbing to say the least. It is easy to mislead people today with social media. Back in the day, you had to worry about more. Now, the attacks come from keyboards and idle minds that do not want to face the problem, and love to use social media to coerce a mind state of hatred.

Personally, the truth will be revealed and I’m not surprised in the slightest to know that sometimes the most noise made is usually an indicator that something is being hidden. While others simply are going about normal business instead of concentrating and praying for the downfall of another. Crews back in the day got united over less issues.

I will always be in contact with crew members, FAM, and bredren. Before all of this nonsense, we have our craft and each other. We are not brain-washable. However, some are.

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BB: Back to your bio – you mentioned Cope2. As I am sure you know, there is a ton of tongue lashing surrounding him. We, at Boogie, stand neutral, but would like to know your thoughts on the situation?

ZC: Cope 2 is a great friend of mine for a number of years now. He has visited our shop in Long Beach a number of times. I know he has given any a chance to air this out truthfully, yet we still see blurred out documents that say otherwise. Personally, I don’t believe any of it. If someone was so determined to get this message out as true, there would be a different way to handle it. I see rampant jealousy and a move for cheap fame. Cope has worked hard over the years and is still top notch in my book. I give a lot of writers plenty of credit on how they get down. However, some have a very interesting focus.

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BB: Internet thugs abound. You stated that there is a new breed of graffiti; care to elaborate?

ZC: There is a new breed of graffiti.  I will simply say “no style, no originality, and no skills!” This is where it is applicable, because there are some prolific writers out there. In addition, these are main components to the elements of hip hop culture. Anyone can write their name on the wall, as we have seen already. Yet, where are the skills, and why get mad at the next writer if he or she knows how to piece, hook a throwy, and bomb at the same time? Today, there is not too much in skills department. We are all inspired by different things. Our passions are driven by different levels of energy. However, that is the fun factor that brings us all together.

BB: Ouch! Anybody in particular. No, don’t answer that. The writers in this series have style, originality and skills which is why we interview them. Plus we have some special advisers helping us pick and choose. Haha! So why did you leave the Lower East Side?

ZC: My home will always be in the LES. I have chosen to see what is outside of NYC, while I still have family in all 5 boroughs, especially, in the LES.

BB: What about Chico, whom you also mentioned. Chico has a plethora of murals across the LES; he left the ‘hood too. He is a well known muralist in LES. What do you think makes him a graffiti artist as opposed to a muralist? Is there a difference?

ZC: Chico and Lee were friends of my older brother, as they went to high school together. He sat me down in front of both of them to learn how to hone my skills and learn [spray] can control along with elements of style. I do not see anything wrong with growth, even if it means that it takes you on a journey to unfamiliar surroundings. The spirit of NYC teaches everyone who lives there that “you can make it anywhere.” I believe that.

BB: Okay. So, he’s now a muralist in your eyes and change is good. Gotcha. What do you want people to know about your crew. Or, in other words, do you consider yourselves to be the first generation of LES graff? Is that a legacy you are proud of or is it a legacy of vandalism?

ZC: I am proud of the crew members both young and old that we wrote with. Some still do today. We are just leaving our mark. Graffiti simply is another vehicle of expression, and I really feel that you cannot define that to any one person. Skills come in a variety of forms and how it is executed depends on the writer. I am proud to be a part of crews that are still active today.

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BB: Respect. There was too much loss in the ’80s to AIDs and violence. Did that affect your crew? 

ZC: Yes, the Lower East Side was one of the heaviest areas hit with rampant crime, drugs, and Aids. We lost writers to AIDS, such as Keith Haring, and Dondi RIP.

BB: We discussed that a bit in our interview with Zephyr. RIP to all who perished.  Keith Haring has become a household name…there are those who don’t associate him with graff at all.

Regardless, the double-sided Crack Is Wack mural in New York is one of the most famous Keith Haring works of all time. Completed in the summer of 1986, it was done without permission; Keith was thought to have said – “if you have a ladder, the cops think it’s commissioned and they pass right by.” This handball court mural is so famous in fact, they actually have those specializing in restoration work on the mural once a year.  He was a friend of yours. Tell us.

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keith haring foundation


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ZC: I first met Keith near Pearl Paint. It was 1983. He was using chalk to put up his [Radiant] dog character. I told him that I saw his stuff quite a bit. He did not respond at first, but saw that I was writing also and then asked if he could use my ‘mop.” He was amazed that we had homemade markers. He did a few of his characters and said that he would use his chalk on the platform signs. He said that he saw a few of us writing “TDT” and what did it mean? I told him it was “The Dream Team.”  He would always say “ZC, can I borrow a mop?” He used to go into the bridge layup too. We also would see him at the ghost station, in between Brooklyn Bridge and Canal on the 6 line. I saw him a few times after that before he passed away.

BB; Ah, City Hall Station. Truly is a ghost station in so many ways. Thank you for sharing that with us. Anything you would like to add?

ZC: In closing, I would like to say Peace to EZB, Ben Hill, LEE, TEV, Chico, SEV, Conan KGB TDT, REN KGB TDT, Seik HOT XMen, Sniper TNS, DJ SOE TNS, EL 3 RIP, SF, Lee3, Sae (DF), Veefer WKS, Son DTA, Fear TNS, Scheme GTF, GO4, Dush HOT, Set TDT, Me TDT, Henry Chalfant, Net TDT, VE RIP, RB, Bernandino LES, Zord aka ZD, Air TD, Sen 4, Scribe RIP, LA2, and Loki, all of the LOWER EAST SIDE. Much respect to my breddren within the Lower East Side.

BB: Respect and bless up to you, too. Thanks for joining us. Follow ZC @theoriginalZC1st and check the vid below. 


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