Listen : Rammellzee – Gothic Futurism
Here’s the latest vinyl record with a Mo’ Wax logo on it, and it’s an interview of Rammellzee from 1995.
This is something we did not see coming : in November 2014 the Vinyl Factory teamed up with Mo’ Wax to release a record.The most surprising thing about it was that it’s not music. It’s the recording of an interview of Rammellzee that Ed Gill did for Mo’ Wax back in 1995. The tape was lost so it never surfaced, until James Lavelle started digging into his archives for the Urban Archaeology exhibition.
The interview was first published in the Mo’ Wax book, and was later available to listen as part of the Urban Archaeology exhibition in headphones. So now that we have full access to it, I thought I’d share it.
This is probably the most bizarre interview that I’ve ever read, I’ll let you make your own opinion.
Grab your copy of this limited to 200, white vinyl here : http://www.vfeditions.com/product/view/210
Listen to the recording on vinyl
Read the interview from the Mo’ Wax book
Interviewed by Ed Gill, June 1995
I was working part time at Mo’ Wax when Rammellzee was flown over to record “Rock On” for James. He was eccentric, outspoken, and friendly and being aware of his importance to hip hop culture, I asked if I could record an interview with him. He agreed, saying, “That’s what I’m here for right? I’m here to talkr Earlier I had witnessed him in the booth warming up with his ‘Gangster Duck’ vocal technique, which was amazing to see and hear. At one point during the day he got hungry and I offered to take him to the Burger King near Kings Cross—his preferred meal of choice. He got a Whopper meal and offered to buy me one too, but I wasn’t hungry. As we walked I continued to ask him all sorts of questions. I remember him saying are that he had to constantly drink high-alcohol-volume lager like Super Tennents, to thin his blood due to his prior overexposure working with glue. He spoke of an incident where he went to a drug dealer’s house to score and ended up getting shot in the knee. He had an amazing way of combining diverse topics, such as seafood and the universe, and was particularly proud of how quickly he could get in to one of his costumes: “I can get in to one of my costumes in 45 seconds man!”
This interview was set up and recorded in the dimly lit studio in the basement of Mo’ Wax by the sound engineer, John. We sat on the floor and recorded to a DAT. The interview was originally longer than the half hour that is transcribed here, but sadly the master DAT was only ever dubbed on to one side of an audio cassette before being misplaced, leaving the interview cut short forever. I lent this solo cassette copy to Tim Goldsworthy back in the day and then lost touch with him. Eighteen years on I ran in to Tim and was amazed to find he still had the tape, he kindly dubbed if off and sent it over. So here he is, the great man himself: MC Rammellzee…
RZ: We aint gonna’ be here talking for forty-five minutes!
EG: OK let’s go. Time is 4:37, 28th of June. Talking with Rammelizee here. What’s been the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in the last ten years?
RZ: The development of ‘Iconoclast Panzerism’—fully realised. Where I actually took drawings of, incomplete architecture, which were letters—the chassis of the letters A through Z—and turned them into tanks for real.
RZ: When you design a car, you design a chassis out of clay. What I did was I designed a chassis of a letter out of clay, but I put missiles on it, wheels on it, wings on it, and I even shipped it through a wind tunnel.
EG: Why did you put missiles on it?
RZ: Because in graffiti in 1990 there was a lecture given, where in the 1970s we would put arrows on those letters. We discussed many precedents like Lee, Dondi, you know, people like that. The trains are a big book. They are flying through a wind tunnel. Wind is—there’s pressure going backward against any train that’s going forward, so you design the wings, or the dream of the wings, or the dream of the arrows, becoming more aerodynamic. And when an arrow—a directional symbol, a symbol of direction—turns into a missile, you’re no longer directing your emotions, and the style changes into a tank from wild style, or burner. If you know wild style, then there’s burner style, which has two or three arrows on it; then there’s griller style, which has three or four arrows on each letter; and then there’s wizard style, that has four or five, six more arrows. And then they start to lock down. And they start to turn on you. They’re no longer direction symbols, just a simple triangle with a rectangle behind it. They start to become more architecturally designed, because they have to meet the requirements of the letter’s chassis, as the train goes through the tunnel. Now you have a wind tunnel, in front of a whole bunch of little kids who didn’t know what a wind tunnel was. And then we started designing letters like it was in a wind tunnel. So now you’re shipping words as tanks, or spaceships or dragsters, through a wind tunnel.
RZ: And you have a page, each train car. We call it a page because the number at the top of the train car could be a page number, like any page in a book. Or it can be a year, which means if it says 1875, you went back in time. If it said 1347 you went further back in time, and if it says 2015, to the future. So I came up with a statement called ‘Gothic Futurism.’ Gothic—before Gutenberg’s printed press, right? The ornamented manuscripts, illuminated manuscripts. And than Futurism, after Gutenberg’s printed press, where you have ornamentation with people, places, and things from the monks. And then you have the monks of the subways, and the architects of how to build chassis designs. Which were Al, Bl, Cl, D1, El, Fl, Gl, and then we stop.
EG: And then we stop, right? So you’ve been working on those ideas for ten years or so?
RZ: No, it’s been sixteen years. I wrote a doctorate for M.I.T. because I used to be an injectionist. I used to work for oil tankers and I was a glue expert. I knew four hundred different types of glue. I would inject them into five-pound screws with a gigantic twenty-foot needle. I would X-ray a screw to see if there was a fissure inside the screw; I would develop a certain math to fill that fissure; we would freeze a room this size, freeze it, 260 degrees below zero—absolute zero of course—we’d freeze the room and then we’d inject this hot glue into it. And you X-ray the screw again to see if it was filled. Then you’d fry the room at about 115 degrees and you put more glue inside the hole and then you X-ray it again to see if it was filled. When you screwed it on top of an oil tanker, it prevented static fire.
EG: Right, I see, for safety.
RZ: That’s what I used to do. It’s a place called ‘Marine Moisture Control,’ and we controlled the moisture in the screws for the barnacles not to stick to it, and all the other wind and the salt and all the iodine in the air and gold and everything that eats away everything.
EG: Technological work.
RZ: Except technocrat, I’m a technocrat.
EG: Let’s jump over a bit. This is going to sound pretty basic but—you used to write graffiti?
EG: You didn’t write graffiti? Not on the trains?
EG: You’ve been working on it, on your own style, on canvasses and stuff?
RZ: No, I wrote on the trains but I didn’t write graffiti on trains.
EG: What did you write on the trains?
RZ: I wrote ‘Gothic Futurism’ on the trains. The word ‘graffiti’ was given from society to the people who were too young to explain themselves. When we read this word in the dictionary we understood it meant scribble scrabble. Now how can you have a military? You see, we were gangsters, right? We were a gang club. How can a group of people who are organised have written scribble scrabble? I mean, we weren’t taught to write scribble scrabble when we were four and five years old. l mean, that’s scribble scrabble ‘to me, the normal written letter. But when you do blockbusters like on that AKAI box, whatever the hell it’s called, you can read those symbols. Now society called us graffiti when we wrote symbols that had some flamboyancy to them—which means that in the dictionary, ‘graffiti’ means scratching illegible writing. We had something called the ‘Military Unreadable’—militarily unreadable!—which were tank styles. Now if you can develop a military for something that can’t possibly fit the bill of society? They title you off! Right? Now there’s. this thing in New York called ‘scratchiti,’ that’s even more graffiti than what we did on the trains, because now they are doing what they did as hieroglyphics, back in the Cro-Magnon days. You’re taking a razor blade or a rock and scratching into the window. No style can ever develop from this. So from 1972 to 1981, an entire repertoire of styles was developed and I named them: burners, grillers—you know, they all came from wildstyle, Phase 2 was the inventor of wildstyle, burners, grillers, and wizards. Then of course the tank style. It’s hard for the government to believe that in the dark you developed something so complete. And then you came up with wind tunnel, you can’t possibly do that now—they were taking the trains from the IRTs, from the BMTs and the INDs, and they were switching them around. So if you wrote your name on an IRT train, number 2, It goes express—wind tunnel, right? Going very fast, about 35 miles an hour, your name is riding down those tracks, right? And I write on the Double-R train, on express. It’s going about 35 miles an hour, right? But we don’t like each other, so we don’t ever want to write on the same train line. And the transit system takes those two train cars, not knowing what they’re doing, and they switch them up so they’re both on the same train—now I’m gonna beat your ass. So they didn’t plan it, it’s an unplanned war, but that is a war. That’s graffiti, and there’s a better word for it: I call it ‘Gothic Futurism.’
EG: What was the reaction of the fine art world? People like Basquiat and Keith Haring, what was their reaction to your Gothic Futurism? Did you discuss ideas with them?
RZ: No, I was brought into New York City to interrogate Jean-Michel.
EG: What happened with that?
RZ: I did a painting… As a matter of fact I did three paintings. Jean-Michel made a bet with me for five thousand dollars that he could do what I could do and I couldn’t do what he could do. And I said, ‘Oh yeah? You got all that stupid fucking money sitting on that table, here’s five grand.’ I pulled It out, I laid it down. He got three canvases that was about four by five foot, so .I did an old Italian style because I’m half Italian. I did an old Italian style of graffiti. Something you learn in books because that’s what Jean-Michel is, he’s not a dream artist, he’s a book artist.
EG: Yeah, he read a lot?
RZ: No, a sponge for a brain, he absorbed. My genius loci is natural. I put out, I don’t take in. See I block it, I’m a militant. I don’t take in, I’m a puritan. I don’t take in. I put out from what the genetic code speaks for me. Whereas he would take in, and they called him the best graffiti writer for the first four years of his art career. And Fab Five Freddy had brought me to New York City to stop this man from being known as one of the best graffiti writers. Now I’m contradicting myself because I hate the word ‘graffiti.’ Eiti for Jean-Michel, there wouldn’t have been a change for him to become a pop artist. He would still have been called a graffiti artist. But representing us, all 10,000 of us, and him being the best? Ain’t no fuckin’ way!
EG: So what did you do to stop that?
RZ: I interrogated him! I asked him questions, I figured out that he was book smart, I found out that all he did was write on walls, he never ever touched a train. Neither did Keith Haring. Never did they ever touch a train. Now you’re not a monk, and you have to be a monk. And a monk writes on a page. He doesn’t write on a wall. And they didn’t understand that. And society then switched it up and called them popular artists. So I painted, those three paintings to win this bet, and I won.
EG: You won the bet?
RZ: Oh yes I did. I painted
EG: He paid you?
RZ: Yeah he paid me and didn’t like it neither, and he threw a punch at me too, and I kissed him on it. The three paintings were done. His gallery owner Annina Nosei – it’s 100 Prince Street in New York City – sold my three paintings as his work and told the collector – two collectors that bought it – told it to me and Jean in front of both of our faces “Jean-Michel, this is the best work you ever did.” He looked at me, and I said “Give me my money.” And she said “What are you talking about?” I said “You just sold my three paintings, we made a bet that he couldn’t do what I could do and I could do what he does better, and you just proved it.”
EG: What was his reaction?
RZ: He threw a punch at me, I caught it and kissed it.
EG: And he gave you your money?
RZ And he gave me my money.
EG: What did you do with the three paintings after that?
RZ: I said, “Give me my paintings but she’d already shipped them! She already shipped them to South Carolina, so they had to come back. They stole a sculpture of mine, you know, to replace them – what happened was she wrecked her reputation
EG: She didn’t know what she was on about.
RZ: She didn’t know me and him had made a bet, and she didn’t know that. I could beat the boy at what he was doing. Many people can do that shit! So he was beaten and it just made him look extremely unintellectual, it made him look like grey matter, a sponge. And real genius loci do not sponge up, give off, we do not absorb. We squeeze and drain. And he didn’t like that. And she didn’t like it. And she started spreading rumours – I said, “Why didn’t you just tell the world that I beat him at bet and that my paintings were better than his, simple as that, why don’t you just say that?” And then it was his turn to do what I do.
EG: Yeah. What did he do?
RZ: Nothing. He couldn’t. No way. He did stupid little tags on a wall. You know, SAMO, that’s not…
EG: Was that his attempt?
RZ: That was his attempt.
EG: To get back, to be you?
RZ: No! No! Rammellzee is an equation for aerodynamics, right? Ram times elevation equals ocean. Ok? It’s a Dutch word that I made up in America. That’s how come I’m so popular in Holland. It’s these double letters. No, he just tried to do a letter, but he did it worse than a little kid! Because that’s where his mind was at. How to inflict pain and punishment on intellectual, pseudo-intellectual society, by being a genius kid. And that’s how he wrecked them. They wanted so badly to think that his was the best writing on the walls, because, like I said, we have the militarily unreadable. So of course they can’t read it! It’s too violent, too many colours, missiles shooting, arrows going this way, they can’t deal. Well when you write something as a bad signature, oh they can get into that, that’s the best the mind can offer from the black culture – Afro Futurism! But see, I’m a threat, see, I’m a threat because I show organisation; I even show a little bit of tyranny and terrorism… intellectually, not physically.
EG: Mental violence.
RZ: When you turn the white Europeans or the Greek alphabeta, drop the ‘A,’ it’s ‘alphabet.’ When you can speak harder than Japanese, before the 1600s had what was the first sound for the first pictogram in the Japanese alphabeta? Alphabet. It was not ‘A’, it was not ‘U,’ it was not ‘I.’ When you’re sitting there and you’re giving lectures, and the kid says, “Oh I didn’t know that,” I say you’ve been Westernized! Now, you go back to your libraries in Japan and you figure out what was the sound for your first pictogram, before World War I? And the dude came back, says: “Zabayah!” He said some shit like that. So I said you been westernized! So two Greek letters, you drop the ‘A’ from the beta, alphabeta, drop the A, and it’s ‘alphabet.’ And somehow the Romans allowed this and the Europeans spread this two-letter substance as the beginning title for every Spoken language, whether it’s heroglyphics, pictograms or whatever you want to say. All over the world. To the Japanese who hates us? Imagine, that’s terrorism!
RZ: I hope I’m not too much for you.
EG: No it’s cool, man. We’ll have to break it down later on and take it in chunks.
RZ: You’ve got time.
EG: Okay let’s move on to a different area. Tell us some of your early experiences of MCing. How did you get into that?
RZ: In 1975 I would guess, 1974, 1975 I started rhyming with a guy named Shock Dell, S-H-O-C-K-D-L-L. And he used to call himself Grandsire Shock Dell. A couple years younger than me, I saw him in a park rhyming and my brother had just started teaching me breakdancing. Let me see if I can remember that shit. We’d be rhyming to a song called To Be Real’ and I would do a thing called ‘Gangster Duck,’ which you’ve already heard I think.
EG: Yeah I head that, that was bad.
RZ: We kept on rhyming together, we’d go to P.A.L. Centers. P.A.L. Centers are Police Athletic Leagues and it would always be under the police station, or in the bottom of a project. And they would let you, you know, sell tickets, and bands would go up against each other—’Explosion Disco’—and I was from ‘Stimulation Assassination.’ I had 16 people down with the crews, I was a gang leader at the time, and you’d rhyme and there’d be bullets flying, and if you didn’t like it, you’d get off the mic. If you did like it you keep rhyming and you’d be at parties next time and you’d get some pussy the next night. Because the girls loved to see that you wouldn’t stop when motherfuckers was shooting! Besides that, somewhere around 1976, I went to jail for a couple of years and when I got out I was more schooled in this thing called Five Percent Nation. I became a ‘Divine God’ -tn the Five Percent Nation. I had known my one to ten, my one to forty. I came along theses of one to 720 degrees of a cypher, which is two cyphers-360 and 360, 720, right? Two more 360s is 1440 degrees of science. So that made me a ‘Divine God,’ in a gang culture. So I had written up all my science and I went to a place called ‘Skank Park’ in New York, where you had a congregation of all of these people, and they’d surround you in a cypher. You’d have a Bishop on the outside of the cypher who was higher than a Divine God, cos he was older, and he’d stand behind. It’d be twelve people in the cypher, and you’d be in the middle, number thirteen. The Bishop would go to the next person, and it’d be like a clock. And you had to answer, every time he went to the next person, this person had to hit you with a question—axe you a question, A-X-E you a question. Because he knew that if he didn’t do that the Bishop was gonna hit him in his back, so he had to do it to you before he got hit! So there you got a different type of school. Its not violent, but I’ve been cut because if I didn’t answer the question right the Bishop would say “hit him,” and I’d get hit, and I had to defend myself. And then the Bishop would move to the next person.
EG: All right. Talk a bit about what you were saying yesterday with Future—you both spoke about Gothic Futurism.
RZ: In 1987, I told him that your mechanism formation according to my thesis is Future’s mechanism, and the magnification is 2000. So you’re drawing my tanks and instead of doing it in a blue shift you’re doing it in a red shift, if you know anything about space calculation?
EG: No, I don’t.
RZ: So, it’s quantum physics. There’s a blue shift and a red shift to time and space. And when you magnify the blue shift you get a tank—very, very small, looks like a dot because you’re like God, looking through a microscope. I explained this to him. And we see the exhaust that he’s painting. So Futura’s old paintings, I called him the ‘master mapper.’ He did maps of mechanisms that were magnified 2000 times. He liked it the first couple of years but then he switched up his style because I guess maybe it made sense.
EG: So who are you still friends with?
RZ: I got no friends! The only friend I have is my damn girlfriend.
EG: Really? Only one left? How long have you been with her?
RZ: How long have I been with that girl? Seven years? Eight years? Oh yeah, I’m married already, common-law wife.
EG: How old are you, if it’s not a rude question?
RZ: Me? How old am I, God damn it? Oh, 34! Yeah, I’ll be 35 in December. I forgot about that! That’s all that God damn glue in my brain, boss. Word.
EG: All right, you know there’s that photograph in Subway Art, the photo of you standing with someone?
RZ: Oh yeah, I was wearing a white do-rag, right?
EG: And you’re standing in front of that ‘Knock’ piece on the wall with the red character. It says, ‘Out to bomb.’
RZ: I think I know what you’re taking about, it’s a red piece that said ‘War,’ and there’s one character—right, that’s Tracy168.
EG: That’s Tracy?
RZ: Yeah, that’s Tracy168.1remember this very much. That was done on 14th Street and 9th Avenue in the triangle building, that was the first graffiti show where everybody really got together.
EG: That was a show? That photograph was at a show?
RZ: Yeah, yeah, we was there.
EG: Because it looks like it’s in someone’s house or something.
RZ: It’s like a house! It was a sleazy-ass gallery owner, who rented out his house! But about forty, forty-five works was up on the wall from thirteen, or fourteen different artists.
EG: Did you have some of your works in there?
RZ: No, I believe I’d just started to come to New York City at the time. I was a model; I used to work for Wilhelmina. And I just started coming there and they kept looking me up and down and
asking me my prices, and I was too expensive for my shit like that, so how can I be too expensive when Futura and the rest of these guys’ prices are higher than mine? But then they looked you up and down again, and it just—I wasn’t orientated to what they thought the culture should look like. Sorry, I have no intention of doing that I don’t think you should either. For anything, for anybody. Be who you are, wreck them and then die.
EG: So, what happened to all those people that were in the scene? I don’t want to’use the word ‘graffiti anymore, but what happened to the graffiti writer Kid?
RZ: There’s four Kids, boss.
EG: Four Kids?
RZ: So which one are you talking about?
EG: I don’t know, just the one who has the fat ‘Kid’ whole car in Style Wars.
RZ: There’s two Kids like that now. The one you’re talking about must have been hanging out with Duster. All right, he’s probably up in the Bronx. I believe at Henry Chalfant’s 50th birthday party I met him again. He’s with Seen, the tattoo artist.
EG: Tell us about some of the other people that were around. What happened to Cap?
RZ: You don’t want me to talk about that. Cap I believe went into the army and then he came out of the army and he had what he had shot, Min or some shit like that? Min Is in jail now. Delta just saw him in jail as a matter of fact; Delta was one of the people I used to work with. Since the style developed to the fullest point, which is called Iconoclast Panzerism—’iconoclast’ means symbol destroyer, ‘ism’ is practice, and ‘Panzer’ is armoured division. You know, Rommel? Rommel, the desert Fox? The tank division for Hitler was commanded by a person named Rommel—see, so we have something in common there. He designed the tanks for Hitler’s World War and I design the tanks for the trains. So, Rommel / Rammell, right? And after everything was developed, somewhere around 1979, all this stuff started with Cap and the styles were simply taken out. The transit system was taking it out, washing off the good stuff first. Leaving what we call the cancer to the blood system—the transit system is a blood system, it’s just like the veins in your arm. BMTs over here, INDs over here, IRTs over here, and they all flow with human beings. We call it information, it’s like the super highway but it’s underground. And you know Cap wiped out most of the big-time writers, I was more known as an assassin, I would only hit presidents. I would not write on a train as a normal person would write on the train—I would be hired to do these hits and it would be spray paint, money, drugs, sex, whatever the fuck it was. Cap would cross out the big-time stuff like blockbusters, like Doze or Dondi or people like that, you know, big-time whole-car artists. He never would cross out Lee though.
EG: He wouldn’t cross Lee?
RZ: He wouldn’t cross out Lee. So you had this to worry about, plus you had the transit system crossing out and washing off all of the good stuff and letting the bad stuff become more and more dominant. We called it a cancer. I think it was 1983, we met a person called Richard Ravitch, who was the chairman of the board of the MTA in New York.
EG: Yeah, Dick Ravitch.
RZ: Yeah, there you go right there, that’s his name right there. And Lee wouldn’t come, right. But me, All and Fab Five Freddy, Dondi, Zephyr, and three or four other motherfuckers was there. And we all read our papers off, and me and All teamed up on Ravitch because he wanted to play staff sergeant on us, because he didn’t like the way we were talking. We were talking more for the development of our styles and he’s trying to get it to stop! We don’t want it to stop, we want to develop it more because we had the knowledge of these wind tunnels! We were developing toys, man! You know in the subways when you were called a ‘toy,’ that meant you’re supposed to be a bad artist, you’re not good at all, right—but what ended up happening is that I ended up making toys! I ended up making toys with the skateboard wheels and the wings and the missiles on it. So again, it’s subliminal. If you’re being called a toy, you’re a toy, you’re no good, you’re fucked up, you’re a toy—would you ever develop a toy? No. It’s brainwashing. If you’re called a graffiti writer, you’re a graffiti writer, you’re no good, you don’t like it, you’re like, “Get away from us!” Would you ever develop something sensible? No. The word that society put on us, graffiti—scratching, illegible, bad style—these words went from us to them, went from them to us, destroyed us. So somewhere around 1985, we were finished. But see, if it wasn’t for the tank style coming from the equation—Ram times elevation equals ocean—we would’ve still been very bad style, because there would have been no development. You would’ve had a lot of arrows, which are direction symbols but had no place to go. Now if you remember oldChinese thinking, an arrow was the first missile. You know, for the first rocket. When they were doing Chinese fireworks, these were the same arrows we did in wildstyle, very much like the arrows you see here, and they were filled with gunpowder. But they looked just like the wildstyle arrows we did on the train. If it had a curve it was an emotional direction symbol. If it was straight, it was going to turn into a missile because it went down the wind tunnel. Architecture, right? Simple design.