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Day in the Lyfe Graffiti Magazine’s Online Blog Updated daily with graffiti, street art and original photography from around the world.

Tag: nigel clarke

Faithless City

Written by Nigel Clarke

The writing is on the wall. The 5PTZ graffiti art space which is located in Queens, New York is facing its end. The walls of the warehouse — turned art space may come
down, making room for high rise condominiums.

Back in 1992, when the building owner Jerry Wolkoff had the faith of graffiti, he allowed the warehouse to be turned into the Phun Phactory. Aerosol artists could legally hone their skills and in a sense — get up. Jerry kept the faith and in 2002, MERES stepped in and became the administrator. The warehouse became the 5PTZ: The Institute of Higher Burning.

Jerry lost his faith in 2009, when a resident artist who rented a studio was injured in a stairway collapse. That accident initiated a number of building code violations and
prompted Jerry to rethink the building’s future.

For the sake of this article, for those of you with the faith, aerosol art is identified as graffiti and the artist are writers.

The building’s multicolored canvas is a break from the mundane place that New York City has become. “How many places in New York can you go, where you’re guaranteed to see someone spraying on any given day?” asks MERES.

“This building is important. It’s more than just graffiti” explains MERES. Before trains were graffiti proof — before Jeru got loose –  the writers bench at 149th street in the Bronx, was the most important location for writers in New York City. There, artist would receive critique from other writers and watch incoming trains to see who was up. For those with faith in graffiti, that was the ritual.

Post clean train campaign, the 5PTZ has become a central meeting point for writers in New York City. “I got the old school generation that comes, we got the new school writers that come — the old school writers can tell their tales to the younger ones and vice versa” says MERES.  The 5PTZ is essential for the younger generation of writers who need to properly learn the art of getting over.

CHEIF69, the watch the throne writer, spoke on the importance of learning
at the 5PTZ saying “I’ve gone there and the older writers, if they see someone like myself who has potential, they’ll show me techniques or something or they’ll give me that simple good conversation.”

COPE2 a king who destroys, the writer who went all city, then all world, spoke on the importance of the points of the location saying “It’s important in general because it gives graffiti writers a place to express themselves. Especially writers and artist that come from all over the world. It’s grown to a point, over the years — it’s pretty iconic. When I travel, a lot of writers ask me about that place and how when they come to New York, they want to paint at 5PTZ. So it got big. It got to a point it’s almost like a hall of fame. So it’s very important for the graffiti writers around the world and New York in general.”

Although graffiti didn’t originate in New York City, it blossomed on the trains and for that reason, New York City is considered graffiti’s mecca. Writer’s from all over the world have made their Hajj and put their work up at the 5PTZ. When walking the perimeter of the building, when examining the masterpieces, you’ll see signatures from countries such as Japan, Mexico, Italy, Brazil and Paris. “When writers come from oversees, there’s like three things they want to do. They want to hit a train, they want to hit the 5PTZ and they want to go to some Hip Hop events” said CHEIF69.

As I accompanied MERES on his routine walk around the building, he spoke on how the 5PTZ was a place where Hip Hop was living, saying “This place, we’ll rhyme in the summer. I’ll throw some instrumentals on and we’ll get it poppin — just start spittin. There are times when we will freestyle and some cat will come in… We all just start cyphering together. ” Whether the cyphers are focused on rhymes, graffiti or breaking, the 5PTZ has been a location where Hip Hop knowledge was transferred.

The possible changes at the 5PTZ speak on the new landscape of New York City. With the changes, the new generation of individuals who migrate to the city, those who contribute to gentrification don’t know the history of the neighborhoods they’re living in. “Things are going to evolve, but what sucks is that people don’t know the history and they’re losing the history… For you to loose contact with the origins, It’s horrible” said MERES.

MERES also reflected on his youth, and the positive things the graffiti lifestyle gave him saying “I did a lot of shit when I was younger — I could have done time. Graffiti was the outlet I chose and over all I’m glad. I have friends who are doing time for shooting or drugs and this [graffiti] gave me a means to stay out of that.” While working at the 5PTZ, MERES has seen a generation of writers and the influence saying “It’s about saving a few kids. That’s the magic of this place, 5PTZ has been here so long, I’m seeing kids grow.” MERES fully understood the importance of the 5PTZ when a writer named DRIP was killed in a car accident, and his mother choose to commemorate his memory with a ceremony at the 5PTZ. “That was one of the most dramatic things I’ve ever seen. Made me realize more than ever what impact this has on people and that shit is serious” said MERES.

More than anything else, the 5PTZ provided writers a location where they had an outlet. JESUSSAVES, the veteran tagger who became a street disciple spoke on the importance of the 5PTZ saying “Its not fair, because now we won’t have any permission walls to do. 5PTZ was the only spot we had to paint. I pray to God they open up another spot and we can paint legally. If not, people will get tempted to do something else. This is the reason why there’s a lot of vandalism going on. Police, they’re making a bid deal out of it. People will have no choice but to go out and vandalize. Because it’s in them.”

Many would be politicians and individuals in law enforcement may be glad to hear about the impending end of the graffiti hub. They may feel as though they’re stifling the art form, but the clean train campaign should have been a lesson about the evolving culture. “If they took it away, it wont do anything.  That’s the thing about the art, the culture in general, it’s an art that will breed on. They’re always going to find another place, another spot to paint. There is always going to be  places to paint. Just like when the subway trains died people thought it was over. Graffiti went on, to highways rooftops and walls” said COPE2. The demise of the 5PTZ may have reverse ramifications and force writers back on the streets, or spark a return to the trains.

A city that doesn’t see the need to make 1520 Sedgewick a landmark, will be hard pressed to preserve the under appreciated art that flourishes at the 5PTZ. “A big part of why people don’t appreciate graffiti art is because they don’t understand it. And when people don’t understand something, they dislike it. Now that we’re aware that there is a time frame that the building may come down, we’re taking it day by day. Trying to do the best we can and bring awareness. For people who have not been here, come to 5PTZ, come check it out.”

Meres spoke on the current design of the 5PTZ saying “What we chose to do this year, since we knew we were going to redo it — Why don’t we crown the building with the fallen artist? This way, they’re closest to heaven.” Those who visit the points will see pieces dedicated to fallen kings like DONDI and IZ THE WIZ. Crowns on top.

There are no ill feelings towards the landlord, whose faith allowed the art to thrive on the property. MERES confirmed his faith in graffiti saying “I’m concentrating on now. This paint season, let’s have a great season, let’s have some good events. Get the walls looking beautiful and worry about next year when it comes. I have a hundred and fifty percent feeling that this place is going to stay. I don’t envision it as falling. I know things are against me, but it’s a magical place and I think that it will be here forever.”

The new version of New York City, is attempting to write over a lifestyle.  Unfortunately there is no more faith in graffiti — no crime in the city — and if New York doesn’t preserve its culture, their will be no love for the city. Speaking on the possible end of the points, COPE2 said “5PTZ history will be erased, but not graffiti history in general. It will never be erased, it is something that has made its place in history.”

When I spoke on the possibility of graffiti dying in New York City, Meres said “I don’t think graffiti will die in New York. It will keep going. I’ll keep going. I know there are others like me.”

New York City, remember your history. Keep your faith. Crowns on top.

THE QUEENS MASTERPIECE  By Nigel Clarke



In the late 1970s Andrew Jackson High School spoke failure and inferior education to

New York City. The predominately Black student body was the refuse of Jamaica, Queens.

However, in 1980, a little lady from Philadelphia would draw on her faith in graffiti and request the assistance of a group of kings. These kings would echo a message to the students and the community. While the world was concentrated on style wars in the Bronx, a kingdom was being established. A message that didn’t go all city, would be reverberated throughout the borough and eventually the world. This message gave the borough the confidence to reign supreme during the golden age of Hip Hop and triumph over and epidemic created to defeat them.

This is the story of The Queens Masterpiece.

“Our story starts in a town/ That was not tame/ There was no laws/

Things was insane/ In order to survive/ You had to be mean/

Our story starts in notorious Queens!/” – Show Boys

Abandonment. Indirectly, this was the message New York City gave the students at Andrew Jackson, and to the community of Jamaica, Queens. Rezoning plans, to make Jackson more attractive to White students was not embraced. Parents believed that the Board of Education failed deliberately, preventing Jackson from keeping the 70/30 White ratio found at other schools. The monolithic faded yellow brick structure, located on Francis Lewis boulevard and 115th avenue in Cambria Heights, was an eyesore.

Dr. Evelyn Rich arrived at Jackson in 1980. The school’s physical condition, which included

graffiti, litter around the periphery and unmanaged grounds were symbolic of the attitude and deteriorated education within.

In an article she wrote upon her arrival, she described the students as a group of underachievers and a staff with a lax attitude. Many students, were behind in reading and maths skills. “For the most part, the students who lived around the school did not go to Jackson. They went to the others schools. The Jackson youngsters were students who many other schools did not welcome, because they were not achieving in school — but it was my position that the reason why they weren’t achieving wasn’t because the could not achieve, it was because they were not receiving the proper instruction and support. So I set out to show

them that they were capable of doing anything anyone else was capable of — if not more!” said Dr. Rich.

The new principal realized that the students problematic domestic conditions contributed to their attitude. It was necessary to transform Andrew Jackson into AJ, and create a sanctuary.

She strategized and created a blueprint for education.  “Here is the reason/ Why I’m so concerned/ Because you must learn/” — KRS.

Dr. Rich wanted to communicate a message to the students that would change their attitudes, towards their ability “I was looking for something to really motivate the students, to describe the mission that I saw for the school, and for myself and for them. I looked  in a lot of places for some slogan which was very simple, but compelling.” said Dr. Rich.

Her educational background directed her to a Latin proverb. After collaborating with her assistant principal, the proverb was translated into English, with a more definitive meaning.

Resulting in WE CAN, BECAUSE, WE KNOW WE CAN.

After studying a Harvard researcher, who encouraged the technique of using visual aids to assist with education, Dr, Rich thought of a creative way in which to communicate the schools new slogan. “I wanted a visual symbol for the youngsters to see.” said Dr. Rich.

Although she didn’t like the unmanaged writing which covered the school. She devised a more creative way for the talented artist to express themselves.

“We had a serious graffiti problem when I went to Jackson. I was very concerned about that because I feel that you have to have a structured environment and safe environment for learning, so I decided that I had to do something about the graffiti” said Dr. Rich.

She put word out, that she wanted to meet with the graffiti artist (aka writers) on the football field.

Dr. Rich, reflected on the conversation she had with the graffiti writers saying “I pointed out all of the graffiti that was on the school and said ‘Look, this is our school, our community and I have a vision for this school and for you, that I hope you will share in the coming months. I propose that I will give you an inside wall on the school, you can draw anything you want on this wall, but you may not draw on any other wall!’ They said ‘That’s not much compared to the whole building.’”

In addition, to the wall, Dr. Rich had one more commission for the future royalty. “We have a wall outside of the athletic field, in addition to letting you draw, I would like you to put over the bleachers, the school slogan.”

“Oh you write for her/ Now that explains it” — Special Ed.

One of the writers in the build was none other than the late and great CER. CER was a member of the infamous Queens graffiti crew TPA (The Public Animals).


“CER was a serious bomber — While everybody else was trying to catch up, he laying it down” said fellow TPA member KAP. Perhaps CER’s motivation was somewhat sparked by the lack of acknowledgement for Queens writers, who some viewed as still living in “Busland.”

KAP, a former Jackson student, recalls the entrance of Dr. Rich, the “champion, I turned tragedy into triumph”(Kanye West) principal.  “It was a wild ass school, you could smoke weed, play cee-lo, sex in the staircase — everything you’re not suppose to do. Then came this little lady who shut down the place systematically. Took that school and changed it from trouble to achievement.” said KAP.


“LL COOL J L album cover, photo taken in front of Jackson”

When KAP wasn’t skating through Jackson or writing on the walls, he was honing his skills as an MC. He was overwhelmed when first meeting with another Jackson student, who was one of Hollis’s best MC’s. Speaking of LL Cool J, he described the next level MC, saying “His aura, his charisma, his braggadocio — it was just too much for anyone.”

He also happened to be present the day a young Wendell Fyte, who would later become DJ Hurricane of the Afros and The Beastie Boys, was shot. “When the gunshots went off, everybody was going every which way… it was time to get down” said KAP.

KAP recalls how the Queens Masterpiece was designed. He bumped into CER and

recalled him saying “We’re going to do Jackson.” However, it wasn’t CER who was the designer of the piece. “Cey came up with the sketch” said KAP.

Taken by Martha Cooper

Cey Adams, the Jamaica, Queens graft writer who was active in the 70s and early 80s, would move on to be a graphic designer for Def Jam. His background in graffiti allowed him

to translate the vision of the artsists into a form that was palatable for the young Hip Hop generation.

Cey reflected on graffiti in Queens saying “It was a small scene, it wasn’t the way it is today. It wasn’t a lot of fanfare, we were still just rebels for the most part. We were still writing graffiti and running around and getting in trouble ourselves.”

Cey would explain that in Jamaica, the Queens bus terminal on 165th, adjacent to the library was the Queens writer domain. “That is where the Queens writers would meet and bomb buses. You would go and hit as many busses as you can. All of the Queens writers would meet there. Years later I would wind up going to 149th street writer’s bench.” said Cey.

Cey was familiar with another local writer, who would later become a Jackson alumni, named Hype. Speaking of Hype he said “I knew him as a graffiti artist.” Hype Williams would go on and become one of the most successful music video directors in Hip Hop.

Although Cey grew up in Jamaica, Queens he did not attend Jackson. He explained how fellow TPA writer CER got him involved, saying “CER went to Jackson and he was the one who pulled me in because I was the most popular of the bunch when it came to graffiti.”

I asked Cey to describe the sounds of Queens during the early eighties, and what he was listening to at the time, what he might be listening to while writing. “Anywhere to the 70s to early 80s, it’s almost pre Hip Hop, Run-DMC hadn’t even come out yet. At that time, Maybe you’re listening to Treacherous Three, Spoony G — A guy from the neighbor hood named Sweety G, he was a local rapper.”

Sweety G, was born in Brooklyn, but as an adolescent moved to Queens and was pivotal to the Queens Hip Hop movement during the early 80s.

“Come on New York/ Now it’s time/ Listen to me rhyme/ Guaranteed to do it/

like a drop of a dime/” — Sweety G

Sweety G spoke on his view of Jackson saying “Andrew Jackson was the illest, it was like going to Riker’s island on a social component. If you were smart and you kept you mouth shut, you could defeat the odds and become a doctor, it was the closest you could get to Rikers. If you wanted to test your style, who had the freshest clothes — dope dealers would go there to recruit the girls, stick up kids would go to make some extra money. But people came out of there with an education. People gave Jackson a bad rap, but the teachers were passionate. Jackson was that thing.”

Sweety G spoke on the mural at Jackson and how he drew inspiration from it even though he didn’t attend Jackson saying “When I saw it, I use to say ‘They’re talking about me.’ It affected a lot of us. I didn’t realize it, I found pieces of myself at that time. It did stand –  It almost was like, it was in the middle of no where, It was like it was in the middle of Times Square and there were cobwebs and there was a fog and you almost couldn’t see it  — you could bump into it and take a part of that passage with you when you bumped into it vicariously, just by accident  — whether somebody was arrested, somebody got killed on the block or whether someone made it to the NBA.”

He’d continue with rap until 1985 when things would start to change. Lesson in Hip Hop passed at the lunch room table and graffiti lessons on blue binders were replaced and displaced. Substituted with messages of survival. In the mid 80s, the fun loving poetry of Holmes had died.

Speaking about the beginning of the crack epidemic, he said “You saw your friends disappear, we didn’t know what was going on until that girl you had a crush on — the whole neighborhood had sex with her. We could not see it, we were inside the bubble.” said Sweety G.

Dr. Rich talked about drugs inside of Jackson saying “We had a drug problem. It was marijuana and the beginnings of crack. I had a problem with the drug dealers in the school. I wasn’t afraid of them, they were afraid of me!”

The good doctor may have been successful in keeping drugs out of Jackson, but the rest of Jamaica, Queens wasn’t as successful in dealing with the crack epidemic.

According the the New York Times article A CRACK PLAGUE IN QUEENS BRINGS VIOLENCE AND FEAR (1987), the American dream, which Black residents had hoped to obtain by buying homes in Jamaica had vanished. The territory in Jamaica attracted the supreme clientele of Long Island. The Cross Island Expressway made these areas more accessible and safer than trips to Brooklyn, Bronx or Manhattan. The competition for clients gave birth to the crack wars. The exploits of the kingpins in Jamaica would reach as far as the pyramids in Queensbridge, to the throne of pharaoh Nas.

“They spoke of Fat Cat/ that nigga’s name made bell rings, black/

Some fiends scream/ About Supreme Team/ A Jamaica, Queens thing/” – Nas

Sweet G who had witnessed the transition in Hip Hop and infusion of drugs, spoke of the dealers saying “They’re coming in with the newest fashion and the newest freshest clothes and the newest look. They changed the paradigm. They changed the platform when they came in each week. Who could compete with them? That would galvanize and move the entire community, not to mention the whole generation.”

Crack signified a new era. A new way of thinking. A new generation. At the center of it, was

Andrew Jackson High School. These children were the future representatives of the borough. A borough that was misunderstood.


“Nobody understood Queens” explained King Phade, one of the cofounders of THE SHIRT KINGS, a graffiti inspired fashion store, located in the Coliseum, on Jamaica Ave.

Phade relays stories of getting established and how the influence of Jam Master Jay, and LL Cool J, would speak to him about Jackson and the talent from the school. “A girl I dated was from there. We knew about AJ through the girls. They were like ‘So and so goes here. They go here.’ Looking at AJ, I was like okay, this must be the new rising mecca of Hip Hop stars” said Phade.

After selling Jam Master Jay two shirts at his home in Hollis, he and his partner realized the potential for business.  “Jay wore a shirt to Elizabeth street where Russell [Simmons] and them had their first office. Jay wore his shirt — I did a black shirt with a gold chain around it, and I put a name plate ‘JMJ.’ Run and them was like — ‘Yo, where did you get that?’ but he did not tell them.  Jay told us, ‘Y’all need to go to the ave and open a store because everybody’s asking about this.’ Jay told us that and we went up to the ave and found the Coliseum in 85. We opened up — that was like the summer of 86″ said Phade.

Style was being created in Queens. The attitude changed as well. Although it wasn’t Brooklyn, Radio Raheem could be seen on every corner. Love and hate. His box spoke about the gloriousness of Schoolly D’s fat cold chain.

“Niggas from Rochdale poppin shells/ Snatching Rings/

Fly from Shirt Kings/ From Queensbridge to 118/” – Nas

Phade elaborated on the early success of Shirt Kings, attributing it to both LL Cool J and Jam Master Jay. “LL came down into the Coliseum, going from booth to booth looking for us. Nike did his first shirt for him and what he did, was wear that shirt to every photo shoot you can imagine. That boosted it to another realm of customers… Jay came down and supported. At the time Hollis and Jamaica was not on good terms. Jay traveled with like seventy dudes and then came to the ave. He came down in to the Coliseum and bought everybody down there.”

For many years, there have been differences or beef between South Side and Hollis. The most visible manifestation for people outside of Jamaica Queens, has been the misunderstood feud between Ja Rule (Hollis) and 50 Cent (South Side).

“I’m light skinned/ I live in Queens/ And I love eating chicken and collard greens/” – DMC

Phade shared his view on the conflict, caused by urban tribalism, saying “Hollis, they didn’t have the same attitude towards life as they did in Jamaica, In Jamaica everybody was Godbody. Me and Kash, we was part of the Five Percent nation. A lot of crazy stuff was going on that side of town. In Hollis, they don’t care, they’re eating pork they was living their life. They were like, we’re Hollis and they were standing on their own. Now they had the top rap group in the world and they was like ‘You gotta respect us! We’re not bending down to the will of 40 Projects, Baisley Projects and all of that!”

Phade, the graffiti writer who left the Bronx, shed further light on the dynamics of Queens in the eighties  “Queens was always coke heavy, they had it under control, but crack turned it out of control. To me, Queens was like Brooklyn, but they had money. A lot their parents came from  Harlem, Bronx, they were hustlers. They made their money and moved their families out to Queens — some were good working class people, but some of them were hustlers that moved away from the Harlem Scene and the Bronx scene and bought houses.” Indeed, many families who had learned lessons from Barnes, in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx had settled in the Queens during the late seventies. They brought their sciences and hustles with them as well.

King Phade recalls first hearing of LL Cool J, while he was still in the Bronx. “His voice was ill, his demeanor was ill, and his delivery was ill. Nobody in the Bronx knew what he looked like.” said Phade.

The Shirt Kings were a core component of style that was created on Jamaica, Queens.

People forget, that the mid eighties and late nineties gave birth to fly guys, but more importantly fly girls. Fly girls with bamboo earrings, sick haircuts and attitude. During these times, or years, every fly girl was named Roxanne, some time later on — Antoinette — and for a minute, for a second — Chanin.


“Yo, that’s Super Cassanova’s sister!” I don’t remember who said it, but while I was at Linden

Middle School — 192, our focus was on a fly girl named Chanin. My classmate was actually referring to Cassanova Rud, who was partnered with Super Lover Cee. Rud was one of Queens Hip Hop pioneers, who lived in Cambria Heights and later moved to Astoria. He helped paint a picture of Jamaica Avenue and it’s importance in style.

“It felt like Hip Hop. It smelled like Hip Hop, you heard Hip Hop. People forget that Hip Hop is a culture, and it was stewed there” said Rud.

“The Coliseum was the place were the trends were starting for the visuals of hip hop in the golden era. The outfits that people were wearing in certain videos, they were selling those outfits there. Everybody in New York City had a Shirt Kings shirt at one point in time. People

imitated the Shirt Kings!” said Rud.

“You’ll get action/ talking loud/ walking up in Jackson/” – Kool Keith

“Back in those days, Jackson was the toughest schools in Queens. People weren’t going to learn, people were going to be bad. A lot of gangsters came out of Jackson. A lot of rappers came out Jackson. It was tough back then” said Mikey D, the rapper who told a young James Todd — stuck on James Ski — that ladies loved him. Mikey D, whose rap battle skills, still has Melle Mel doing pushups, reflected on further talent from Jackson.


Speaking of Jackson he said “There’s a lot of rappers from that area. Black, Rock and Ron — a lot of Hollis cats went to that school.” said Mikey D. Black, Roc & Ron was a group that released the album STOP THE WORLD in 1989. Although their album was somewhat successful, they group failed to follow up when group member, Lord Black was murdered in the early 90s.

Before his acting skills allowed him to touch stars in Hollywood, Jackson alumni Gilbert Brown’s artistic mind was molded in Jackson. He spoke on the the misunderstood school, and the learning environment that contributed towards creativity. “Jackson had a bad reputation, but it wasn’t all that. There was a lot of positive things going on in Jackson. Mr. and Ms. Jackson, fashion shows — So much was going on that was positive.  He also recalled many teachers, intuitively seeing the need to push students further.

Although we both grew up on 197th, Gilbert was a bit older, and his memory of 1985, was more

vivid. We then reflected on that time, and the public service announcement commercial

which showed a young black male running home after school, hopping over fences, in an attempt to avoid the neighborhood dealers who wouldn’t take “No” for answer. “It was like that  — When crack happened, entire families were disrupted — that’s when the shut down started.”

I remember getting approached to sell by some guys who lived on the corner and both of them getting killed” said Gilbert.


“Milk’s bodyguard/ Is my bodyguard too!/” – MC Lyte

Gilbert reflected on the visible Hip Hop presence at Jackson. The most visible physical presence was Bigfoot aka Big Jean who was a security guard while working for MC Lyte and Audio Two. Jean is seen on the cover of MC Lyte’s album LYTE AS A ROCK. Lyte would refer to Big Jean in lyrics saying “Then he got bold/ tried to play insane/ So Bigfoot through him off my paper thin train/”

Gilbert also reflected on the many dance teams and squads at Jackson. The most visible is the

award winning Hip Hop choreography duo Cicely Bradley and Olisa Thompson, who have

worked with some of the most influential names in Hip Hop, including G Unit and Missy Elliot.

“Somehow the rap game/ Reminds me of the crack game/ Use to sport Ballys/ And Gazelles with black frames” – Nas

Orville Hall, owner of the Hip Hop museum in Hollis, helped describe Jackson and how Jay gave Run-DMC their essence saying “Jackson was that place. It was a mecca for gangsters, guys who did not go to the school, would just go there to rob people. But Jay going to Jackson, he could wear his Gazelles, his sheepskin — he had his [Hollis] crew” said Orville. Not everyone could floss at AJ. Or even near Jackson. That’s what made Jay so special, or anyone else who established themselves in Jackson. They were respected as someone who made it through what was perceived as the toughest school in Queens.

Speaking on Jam Master Jay and how he gave Run-DMC their tough, streetwise image, which was visible with black leather and wide brimmed hats. “They [Run-DMC] were wearing plaid suits. If it wasn’t for Jay, they would not have been able to present that image” said Orville.

Orville summed up the experience at Jackson saying “An urban phenomenon created by

gangsters.”

Jackson’s toughness helped mold Jam Master Jay. Jay in turn helped mold the Kings of Rock.

Jackson would give birth to further royalty and produce a princess.


“I can remember a time/  Up at AJ High/ You would rap and rhyme” – Princess Ivori

Princess Ivori rose to prominence with her single THE CRACK PIPE CHANGED IT ALL. She recalled the former glory of her kingdom and having a different experience than the one she

expected.

Ivori spoke on Jackson saying “I was fearful, I was scared out of my mind. I had heard all of these horrible things. Jackson was held to me as a threat. I thought it was going to be awful and it was the opposite. It had a bad rep, but Jackson felt like family.”

Ivori spoke further on the atmosphere which contributed to the group of talent that walked through its doors saying “Looking back at Jackson, there was no hate, everybody just supported everybody — anybody who was creative in Jackson, supported everybody else who was creative. In Jackson, we were encouraged to be creative.”

Jackson’s reputation also included a poor education and high drop out rates. However, Ivori spoke of a passionate teaching staff who understood the dynamics of the plague they faced, and answered accordingly. The teachers helped create an environment where the students’s creativity was nurtured.  “You’re coming from an environment in Queens where, everybody had crack head in their family. You had a brother, cousin, uncle or maybe a mother, father on crack. You can’t just address academics with a child who’s going through that” said Ivori.

LL Cool J had passed through Jackson four years before, and after she stopped leaving

roses on his front doorstep, she then decided to pursue her career in rap. She reached out to

Jam Master Jay and recalls the method she used to find him, and his attitude towards her.

“Jam Master Jay was encouraging to me. I went through telephone book, there weren’t many Mizell’s in Queens. I called his house and he didn’t hang up on me” said Ivori.

After explaining her interest in being a rapper, she remembers Jay’s response and the type of person he was in helping her attain her goal. “He was encouraging, calling to check  on me while on the road. He was always reachable and I can’t say that about a lot of people.” said

Ivori.

In 88, when Jay-Z was getting chased through Marcy, the young princess decided to spend her senior dues on her EP, which was made with legendary Queens producer Paul C. “I’m not in any Jackson yearbook, because I took my money and bought studio time.” said Ivori.

Ivori would help me understand the talent that existed at Jackson, and why many of them were not able to translate their talents to the rest of the world saying “The talent that has hit the surface at AJ is really just and ink spot, compared to the talent that was there. So many people did not have the courage to go beyond those walls. So many people, once they left the safety of the school, they had to become somebody else on the street — and the street ate them up. So many people didn’t have the courage and some of the talent is still struggling to be discovered.”

While attending Jackson, Ivori was friends with a student named Kim, who was Salt’s (Salt-N-Pepa) sister. Both girls had men in their lives, who were only interested in meeting their siblings. For Ivori, guys were constantly trying to meet her brother Shan, who was already an established rapper in Queensbridge. Kim, was the connection that allowed Kid-N-Play to film the video ROLLIN WITH KID N PLAY in Jackson’s gymnasium, which featured Salt-N-Pepa.

Another Hip Hop star would make his mark in Jackson’s gymnasium.  DJ Curt Flirt, a Jackson Alumni, spoke on Run (Run-DMC) saying “Me and Run had basketball together. I remember, that I thought it was a stupid name… ‘DJ Run,’ but I found out later that he was always running his mouth in gym.”

Curt Flirt would share music classes with Jam Master Jay and recall that Hip Hop personality Ed Lover was still a security guard at Andrew Jackson, while working at YO MTV RAPS.

Curt also reflected on living through the crack epidemic and how it effected the community saying “With crack, stores start closing and stay closed. When that stuff closed down, it stayed like that for almost the entire eighties.” The thriving Black communities never recovered, the Black business died in the 90s, giving birth to gentrification.

Flirt saw how Run DMC effected Hip Hop from a style standpoint saying “Before Run-DMC, guys were wearing outfits and costumes.”


If anyone stood the importance of style, it was Hip Hop barber Fathead, who also was a Jackson Alumni.

“I’m not so sure what school D (DMC) went to, but he was still hanging at Jackson all of the time because Jay was there. Even for people who didn’t go to Jackson, you had to go through there. Jackson was the flagship school of Queens, the most powerful school in Queens — we felt powerful.”

Fathead reflected on the mural, drawing inspiration from it saying “This is my bloodline, I can do all things! When I leave this planet, they’re going to remember me. I’m a thoroughbred from AJ!”

Fathead then spoke on Hype Williams and the creative vision he had at Jackson.

“Hype was an MC originally and graffiti artist. Hype can spit. Hype was so smart, a lot of cats didn’t understand him. Hype always had a longer vision than everybody else. Hype had a vision of Hip Hop being bigger than it really was. Hype saw videos being a tool, I remember

when he first started doing videos for free, working for Puffy and Ralph McDaniels — That’s the best thing you could say about Queens cats, they didn’t just apply themselves to Hip Hop, they were visionaries.”

Fathead agreed that the essence of Jamaica Ave and the Coliseum has been forever lost. The physical structures still stand, but these castles no longer have the presence of royalty.

“When the coliseum blew up, everybody [NYC] was coming to us — you don’t have any feeling any more. I feel like I’m in a ghost town you don’t have the same smells and feels anymore” said Fathead.

Rapper Cee Rock reminisced, and recanted stories of the legendary Music Building on Jamaica Avenue. This was the very building were LL Cool J recorded some of this first songs. The building was a location that attracted talent outside of Hip Hop. Rocker bands Metallica and Anthrax occupied space there as well. The building would mysteriously burn down in the 90s and music created by Onxy was destroyed although occupying space in Jam Master Jay’s safe.

There are legendary ciphers and records, that never escaped this building’s fate.

The heyday of Jamaica, Avenue is lost. LL tried to help us appreciate it and make a buzz in 2004, but it remained a hush. You might be able to find glimpses of it, on some lost faces who still occupy a space on the avenue.

Several Jackson alums who want to remain nameless, remember a young Curtis Jackson as

always having the thug or criminal demeanor, while Lloyd Banks was a more quiet low-key student.

No doubt, a young Curtis Jackson stood at the gate on Francis Lewis boulevard, looking at the mural, and those words spoke to him, anointing him like Tony Montana looking up in the sky knowing the world was his. It told Curtis, that he was 50 — that he was Queens’ Muhammad –that he had the wisdom to write a Ghetto Quran.

Andrew Jackson High School was abolished in1994 and the prophetic mural was removed.

One of the last writers to touch up the piece, was none other than Hype Williams. Although the structure stands, it has been replaced by four magnet schools, which no longer breed the same pool of talent.

The removal of the writing and closing of Jackson would be the end of the AJ class. This class of individuals who were some of the greatest contributors to the Hip Hop genre. The AJ class existed from 1980 – 1994, ironically, those years mirror or parallel what many to consider Hip Hop’s golden era.

The class of Hip Hop talent produced at AJ, are representatives of their classmates, who contributed to their success and went on to become contributors in society. When society tried to defeat them. AJ, was a breeding ground for creativity, manifested in music, style and life.

Dr. Rich left the school in 1985. Before doing so, she would see am improvement in student standardized testing and more importantly, the children’s attitude towards education.

“They gave me a hard time, but I was up to it — I fought with them the whole time they were in the school, but 25 years later they called me up to be the guest of honor” said Dr. Rich.

Ironically, Dr. Rich never passed the principal’s examination.

Although it wasn’t East Side High, Dr. Rich became the H.N.I.C. She was a rock and told the students LEAN ON ME. The students listened and proved that they could STAND AND DELIVER. Members of TPA, who were graffiti writers, soon became FREEDOM WRITERS.

Their written message inspired a group of children and helped liberate their minds.

This is how it all happened in Queens. A message written on a wall would speak to a generation, telling them that they would overcome a system which had been put in place to defeat them. This message was echoed throughout Jamaica at a time when a message

was needed.

There is not a person who has seen that message, whether a Jackson student or not, who did not draw inspiration in one way or the other.

The children of AJ bought their talents to the world’s stage. They used their creative talents to beat an epidemic created to destroy them and said WE CAN, BECAUSE WE KNOW, WE CAN.

And they did.

http://www.nigelclarke.com