It is with great pleasure and excitement that I’m officially announcing I’m bringing back Kings of New York! I know it’s been a looong time and I guess I owe you guys an explanation.
I know the vast majority of you reading this have no clue who I am as I’ve always kept the site about the art and the artists. I’ve never had a face reveal or even talked about who I am; but today I’ll bring you up to speed.
So sit back, grab a coffee or blaze a fatty as I’m going to take you on a personal ride…
SO WHERE HAVE I BEEN?
By my estimation it’s been at least 5 years (probably longer) since I’ve updated the site. I haven’t lost any love for the art or the people I’ve had the honor to meet. But as we get older we have less time for certain things. Especially when you decide to quit your day job and work for yourself (more on that later).
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Growing up in Jackson Heights in Queens New York City graffiti was always around me. Wether it be kids in elementary school tagging up the bathroom walls or doodling when they should have been paying attention. If you ask me this is how people become really good at graffiti! I even remember seeing the old red number 7 trains painted from top to bottom (geez I must have been 4 or 5 years old).
Fast forward toward my high school years and I remember seeing MS MAGGS and JACKEE battling on Roosevelt Avenue. Every morning as I walked to school they were one-upping each other on store gates. It was hard to miss for anyone paying attention.
I was looking for an image of the MISS MAGGS and JACKEE beef (as I know I have it somewhere in my archive) but I did find a few Queens NYC graff images to share with you…
This image is crazy as we have a lot of kings beefing in one gate. We’ve got TRAKE going over JA, MS MAGGS over MQ going over BRUZ!
Here’s a vintage JACKEE throw up…
I also had friends that were friends with local writers like TEASE and NATO. Hearing wild stories of them getting up and seeing their name on the 7 line rooftops was pretty cool as a kid. These guys had street cred in the neighborhood – which is why most people start doing graffiti in the first place.
Then I’d say in junior year of high school my estranged aunt suggested I link up with my cousin since we dressed the same and listened to the same (“black”) music. My cousin was into hip hop and so was I. It was years since we linked up so we decided to rekindle our relationship.
For the next 2 years I went to New Jersey every weekend to hang out with my cousin Jesus. Historically he was always a trouble maker growing up and adults would call him a “bad kid”. One of the knocks on him as a teenager was he was out always doing graffiti. And as an adult you can imagine how it’s frowned upon. He was known by WASE ONE in the Jersey streets.
He was super talented when it came to coming up with different styles. He and TASK would always encourage me to sketch with them – but I wasn’t worthy. It looked like something a kindergarten kid came up with – lol. I know if he would’ve kept up with his graffiti art – he would have definitely gone professional as he had a lot of funk. So I guess you can say graffiti was once again was in my world.
Some teens would decorate their walls with posters of pop stars or naked chicks but I decorated my wall with pages from Source Magazine.
I even had a section dedicated to graffiti…
Another historic moment for me was the first time I read Subway Art while hanging out in Jesus’s bedroom. I remember flipping through those pages and being amazed by the art. Before the internet, heck even before books written about graffiti – this was the world’s graffiti bible. I think it’d be safe to stay that in 2019 it’s still the authority on 1980’s graffiti subway graffiti.
Used copies sell for over $500 bucks now but lucky for you I found an online archive.
Any true fan of graffiti has this book in their library. If you don’t, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy: https://amzn.to/2XUW85l.
Plus now that I think about it, around that exact time Artifacts came out with their track Wrong Side of Da Tracks. It was and still is a head banger!
I’d say for a solid 2 years we hung out like crazy. In our circle there were probably 30 of us going to house parties, hanging out in the city and just doing things inner city teenagers would do. Since WASE was into graffiti were were the BYS crew. We weren’t a gang – more like a local conglomerate of teens from different circles getting together to hang out.
But one fateful night Buck another writer going by the tag BU was shot and murdered. It was around this time that I guess you can say things weren’t the same and everyone went their own way. Now that I’m looking back reminiscing I have to say those were some amazing times!
MY LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHY
About 3 years later I went to visit a buddy’s house and when I walked in all of the adults were huddled by the living room TV checking out the digital photos they had just taken moments ago. In my mind this was amazing! So a the next paycheck I earned I went to Best Buy and bought a digital camera. The MVC-FD5 Sony Mavica to be exact.
Peruvian coffee for those of you that noticed it used floppy disks as the memory!
Just as graffiti was always a part of my life – so is photography. Anytime there was a wedding or family event my mom was the family photographer.
I didn’t get to shoot a lot of photos since we didn’t grow up rich and in the film days it cost money to develop film. But as a teenager I’d use disposable cameras (how many of you know what I’m talking about) as it was easy to take photos and have them developed at the 1 hour photo video store. But with the advent of digital photography the world changed. Nowadays there are literally billions of photos taken every day with smartphones alone!
So now it’s 2001 and I had a serious interest taking photos. I also became best friends with someone we’d affectionately call Sajjy Bear. And Sajjy had a car (which meant we spent a lot of time hanging out in Brooklyn and Queens).
It was around this time I decided to start taking photos of graffiti as it was something fun to shoot and it gave me a reason to go outside.
Eventually one thing led to another and I started getting paid to do photo gigs like weddings. And once you start becoming serious and you want to get business out there – you need to have your own website. And that’s when the idea of Kings of New York began.
THE EARLY YEARS
To be exact I started Kings of New York July 18 2004 (holy cow that was 15 years ago!). I started posting photos and organizing them into categories to make it easy to navigate the site.
While writing this post – I went to the Wayback Machine and I found some web captures of early iterations…
If you want to go through a rabbit hole click here to check out the web archive here: https://web.archive.org/web/*/kingsofnewyork.net. PS – you can also check out other sites you’ve made or visited in the past. Currently they have more than 337 billion web pages saved!
I also started attending graffiti gallery shows in the city and reading and collecting Mass Appeal Magazine.
At its roots Mass Appeal magazine was all about graffiti. They even had dedicated issues featuring each borough. As it evolved it turned into a general inner city pop culture magazine and eventually graffiti became less of a focus. But the writing and photography was always top notch which still made it fun to read! I’ll see if I can dig up some issues so I can share it with you guys!
I also watched every documentary and underground graffiti videos that I can find. Now that I was fully engulfed in the graffiti world I asked NYC Lase during a Toy Tokyo show if I can interview him and we did…
GETTING INTO THE CIRCLE OF TRUST
Before the site was known in the NYC graffiti world I’d meet some of my heroes. I’m not going to mention names – but a lot of people can be jerks. I’d meet certain artists and wanted to show them respect and love as a super fan; and let’s just say some people were nice – some not so nice. Part of the reason was that I was an unknown outsider.
In the graffiti world there’s a culture of not trusting outsiders as graffiti in its purest sense is illegal. But when someone can vouch for you it opens doors and brings you into the circle of trust – and this is what NYC Lase did for me.
Lase is well respected in the NYC graffiti world. Not only was he a graffiti writer he was a DJ, music producer, b-boy, clothes designer and graphic designer. He was also instrumental in curating tons of art shows and events and he collaborated with several magazines and urban vinyl toy companies at the time. He was hip hop to say the least!
VIA – https://www.instagram.com/jamiehef
One of his crowning achievements (in my humble opinion) was MOTUG.
Monstas Of The Undaground was a collaboration where he brought together SHEPARD FAIREY (OBEY GIANT), FUTURA, EWOK 5HM, DOZE GREEN, CES, T-KID and GHOST RIS (just to name a few). They painted incredible walls, came out with urban vinyl toys and even sneakers.
Helping him document MOTUG, gallery shows and giving him a hand with Photoshop got me into the loop with everything that was going down in New York City.
It was also during this time that we became more than just friends. He’d come over my house to work on projects and after time he became family. He even was a guest at my wedding. I also watched him become a better person throughout the years and he’d become very charitable to the homeless and needy. He’d even go every year to an orphanage in Mexico to lend a helping hand.
And this is where I’m going to hit pause on this part of the story. Some of you reading this know why. I’ll continue this part of the story when I officially relaunch the site (as it won’t make much sense to get into it now). It’ll be fitting to do so down the road when I release the last video we collaborated on.
Here’s a preview of what’s to come…
DOWN ON NYC
Years went by and I was still into updating the Kings of New York site. But I wasn’t so much “into” New York City and my day job working for the Board of Education was taking its toll. And to be honest I’m still kind of down on NYC as it’s not the same as it used to be.
I remember when I drove a yellow cab in the 90’s and when I’d drop people off at Williamsburg Brooklyn – there was nothing there – that is until the artists moved in.
Around the early 2000’s it was the place to be for street art. There was tons of graffiti art (both legal and illegal) that made the neighborhood hip. It seemed like every week there were always new murals.
This image from my archive is perhaps my favorite Williamsburg mural. It features PINK, SMITH, CYCLE, DIVA, PEAK, MUSE, FREE 5, PG and more…
Sajjy and I hung out by the abandoned lot on Kent and North 7 all the time as it was a really nice spot to cool out and watch the city at night.
But once it became trendy – it became gentrified. The best example I can give you of what happened to Williamsburg is this: I used to drive from the Bronx to a bagel shop on Bedford ave. While I was out there, I’d also take the time to check out the walls that artists frequented to see if there was anything new as the Williamsburg / Greenpoint / Bushwick neighborhoods were hot spots.
Fast forward to about the mid 2000’s and one morning I was in the mood for bagels. And guess what happened? The bagel shop was now an Apple store. WTF! Whole Foods was also now also across the street.
Kent and North 7 doesn’t look like this anymore…
Gentrification is good to some degree as neighborhoods become nicer. But the original people that live there can no longer afford the cost of living. And as a result the neighborhood loses its soul (which what made it special in the first place).
Plus things can get out of hand. About 10 years ago I went to the same spot now named “East River State Park” and they wouldn’t even let me in because I had a camera in my hand. Apparently I needed a permit. In NYC if you’re going to take photos with a “fancy looking” or “professional” camera in a “State Park” you need a permit.
And speaking of Bushwick I used to go there all the time. I’d even ride my bike sometimes from the Bronx to document the illegal graffiti and see who was getting up. There were a few legal murals here and there – but I was mostly visiting to check out the illegal stuff. Williamsburg for murals and street art – Bushwick for tags and throw-ups.
But guess what happened to the artist that got priced out of Williamsburg? That’s right – they moved to Bushwick!
Out of all the neighborhoods in Brooklyn, artists started making Bushwick Brooklyn trendy and hip. It BLOWS MY MIND every time I think of the gentrification that’s happened there as it’s CRAZY! Just a few years ago there was nothing but abandoned buildings, housing projects and I guess you can say it was very industrial (think of a place where you’d see junk yards).
Now unless you’re a millionaire or willing to spend $3,000 a month on a studio don’t even bother looking for a place to live. 4 room apartments are now going for $1,000,000.
And it turns out developers are paying graffiti artist to paint giant murals in Bushwick to lure in people wanting to be hip!
As Zach Gottehrer put it…
“In a gentrifying neighborhood, a new development sticks out like a sore thumb. But, by slapping a mural on the facade, developers can increase a property’s appeal, giving hopeful residents the sense that they’re not taking part in changing the local landscape, but rather joining a community whose character has been developing on its own.”
Check out Zach Gottehrer Cohen’s article titled “Graffiti and Gentrification in Brooklyn” as it’ll be worth the read!
If you haven’t been there lately (like within the past 5 years), the best I can describe it is if the (old) NYC village had a baby with Williamsburg it’d birth Bushwick.
I went there last summer and I saw tons of caucasian people walking around, an outdoor brewery, vegan restaurants and this is crazy all crazy to me as this is in Bushwick!
As a side-note I never stopped blogging. Aside from my business related blog posts, I’ve been posting over at Steemit. Last year I filmed a video where I visited Bushwick on the hunt for the colourful photography challenge.
Before I get to my point – I’ve seen the same thing happen to DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge Overpass. Years ago it was rat infested – now you have to be a multi-millionaire to live there (way worse than Williamsburg). And the same bullshit happened to me in 2010 at the Brooklyn Bridge Park in regards to taking photos.
I was still working the scene (in regard to composition) but while I was taking this shot 2 security guards came to me saying a needed a permit. Welcome to New New York.
All that being said New Yorkers don’t live in New York anymore and New York City has lost its soul. Yes I know the generations before me can say the same thing as cities always evolve into something new. But in the 2010’s the cost of living is astronomical and the quality of life isn’t that great – unless you have a lot of money.
At least back in the day when the cost of living was still manageable by most – you’d still find New Yorkers living in New York.
PACKING OUR BAGS FOR BEAN TOWN
New York City is a very congested – perhaps one of the most densely populated cities in the world. And in NY there are a lot of tall buildings (to say the least). And as crazy as it sounds sometimes I’d be yearning just to see an open sky. And to see open sky I’d have to drive pretty far – somewhere like Jones Beach in Long Island where I can do a 360 degree turn and see nature.
Factor in working for the Board of Eduction with special education students for almost 10 years (in a failing systyem) and I was getting burnt out. And during this time you can say I was getting tired of New York City as well.
Then one day my wife got offered a job in Boston. It was a great stepping stone for her career and part of the reason she accepted was so that I can also have a change of scenery.
While in Boston I went full time with my my photography / video career. When someone would ask me “how’s business” I’d have different answers depending when they’d ask.
The reality of working for yourself is that it’s feast or famine. Money comes in waves and when you work a 9 to 5 you’re always guaranteed a check. Plus it’s more of a grind as you’re working longer hours.
But there’s something to be said about working for yourself. You’re not capped at how much you can earn at a company or organization and you don’t have to ask a supervisor for permission if you can take a break. You also don’t have to worry about thinking of an excuse as to why you’re sick when in reality you just need a mental health day. Or having to stay in the shade while I was out shooting a destination wedding somewhere tropical.
When asked “how do I like Boston” I’d reply “try finding a place to live in Manhattan”. As a the same thing can be said about Boston – Bostonians don’t live there anymore as the cost of living is crazy and things don’t balance out.
Once in a while the thought of bringing back Kings of New York did come to mind. But I simply didn’t have the time or the gusto while being in a rat race trying to survive.
Plus try being a hardcore Yankee fan in Boston!
I’M COMING HOME
After 3 1/2 years of living in Boston – if someone asked me “how do I like Boston” I’d reply by saying “the air is clean (as crazy as that sounds you’d appreciate it if you’ve lived in NYC all your life), the city is clean – but its not diverse.” And depending on who was asking I may talk about how there’s still prejudice and sexism out there.
Boston is one of the original states and what you have to realize is that New England is where they literally brought the Africans off the slave ships – and a lot of that still resonates out there. Sometimes when I’d visit parts of Boston, New Hampshire or Maine I’d get that 6th sense. You know that feeling you get when you can tell someone is watching you and you’re not directly looking at them.
And it’s not like I wouldn’t be dressed with pants sagging or speaking a certain way. I’d be just a regular dude going about my business. And if you’re a woman and a person of color in New England that can be a double whammy.
What you also have to understand is I grew up in Jackson Heights in Queens. And I’m not trying to brag when I say it’s the most ethnically diverse place in the world (and in NYC for that matter). I grew up knowing people from places you’ve never heard before. I’m not going to rattle off places but trust me when I tell you there’s literally every race on the planet living in Jackson Heights.
Check out this photo oozing diversity circa 1987. Can you spot me?
Consider the fact my dad is Puerto Rican, and my mom Cuban / Chinese and when you put me in a place that’s all one thing I’m out of my comfort zone. So yea Boston was nice – but it wasn’t really home.
Home is always and will be New York City but sometimes we have to spread our wings and fly away.
But as we get older – so do our parents. When your wife is the matriarch of the family and you want to be there for your family (in case something happens) then it’s time to come back home.
And we did – well at least closer. In January of 2019 we moved to New Jersey. And it’s funny because New Yorkers talk a lot of crap about NJ (mostly due to the shitty drivers) and here I am! LOL
Throughout the years I’d get emails saying it was time to renew the kingsofnewyork.net domain and I couldn’t let it go as it was my baby. It was and still is something special to me. It was a lot of fun documenting New York City graffiti culture and getting out there to take photos and shoot videos. Plus I got to meet a lot of my heroes and can even consider some of them friends.
I remember reading graffiti magazines or seeing photos online of particular walls wondering where in the hell is that wall. I’d think to myself it’d be really cool and super convenient if I can just make a phone call and just ask them where the location was (as opposed to riding my bike or driving all over the city).
It was thrilling to say the least when I got to the point where I was given inside information and sometimes even given exclusives (and direct phone numbers). It was also an honor when I had the respect of graffiti writers allowing me to take photos of their face knowing I wouldn’t post it online and violate their trust. Or even being allowed to take certain photos of walls with the promise of not posting it online.
But after a while it became a project keeping the site updated as I had other priorities.
As I’m writing this it’s July 14, 2019 and last week BG 183 text me “free this Wednesday at Beyond the Street”. I had no clue what he was talking about and replied “where @?” thinking it was an outdoor event. He sent me the link – and HOLY COW! My mind was blown to say the least!
As I walked through 100,000 square feet of New York City graffiti history I felt inspired once again to get back into documenting the culture.
If you’re like me and don’t know what I’m talking about I wrote a lengthy post about the art exhibit. You can click on the image below to check it out or click here.
THE PLAN FOR KONY 2.0
Now that I’m a lot closer to home and inspired it’s time to bring Kings of New York back. At its height if you Googled NYC graffiti it would be the first search result.
The site was also featured on Complex as one of the best 25 graffiti blogs https://www.complex.com/style/2011/11/the-25-best-graffiti-blogs/
Just the other day I went to check out the stats on the YouTube channel and holy cow – the channel is over 1.4 million views!
Well writing blog posts on graffiti can be tricky as often the art just speaks for itself. And it’d be easy to just throw a bunch of pictures online and/or social media and call it a day – but there’s tons of people already doing that with their phones and social media accounts.
I want to create something special and something that’ll represent true New York City writers. Nowadays it can be argued that the street art scene has never been more alive and stronger in NYC. But “street art” was never really my thing – unless a New Yorker was doing it. For the record I’m not a hater and moving forward if I find something that resonates with me I’ll be sure to share it.
If you’re reading this I’m sure you remember 5 Pointz. Yes it was always nice having a place like no other in the world in terms of the sheer scale of it all and having a safe haven for graffiti artist to paint.
But I never loved it as it was mostly out of towners that painted there. Sure I have to admit some of the art was amazing – but I’m a bit of a NYC graffiti art snob. Of course NYC writers would paint there, but I’d guess that was about 10%.
I’m a New Yorker all the way and I always represented true New York City graffiti writers on the site and that’s what I’m going be delivering weekly.
I also have an archive of at least 50,000 images; enough content to make a book! I also have some incredible images I’ve never shared with the world and perhaps I’ll even remaster them (now that Adobe Lightroom has come a long way).
VIDEOGRAPHY & INTERVIEWS
Aside from documenting murals I also have a list of heroes I’d like to interview with cutting edge technology (as corny as that sounds – lol). Throughout the years I’ve amassed a lot of photo and video gear. Lenses, lights, microphones, etc. However it’s not about the gear – but how you use it. Gear aside, it’s also how you edit and deliver the final product. And just as NYC has evolved – so has my editing skills.
Speaking of gear I’ve recently updated my drone so now I can get footage from inaccessible rooftops. Or capture some really creative angles while people paint! Just think of the possibilities…
Nowadays you have to be crazy not to use social media. But as we all know it can be time consuming. So I’m going to hand over those duties to my nephew. Once we’re up and running you can expect weekly updates on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
My nephew will play a big role with KONY as when he was young (I’d say around 9 years old) I’d bring him along to take photos or just be there while I was filming content. He got to meet a lot of people and see amazing art. Now that he’s older (and graduated college) he tells me often how he misses those days.
I have several ideas on how I’m going to reinvent KONY and I know you’re going to love what you see – especially if you’re a New Yorker!
In terms of an official launch date – I don’t know yet. I’m aiming to have a soft launch on September 20 and having a full launch perhaps in November. I’ll need a few months to capture new content and edit unseen footage (such as interviews with Shepard Fairey and Henry Chalfant at his home studio).
Summer is here and there isn’t much action in the winter so I have to take advantage now.
ON A FINAL NOTE
Be sure to sign up for the email list as you’ll be notified when I have posts that I’m super excited about. You’ll also get insider perks like discounts on exclusive art from your favorite artists and shirts!
If there is something you’d like to see please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m recreating Kings of New York for people like you that have love and a deep appreciation for NYC graffiti culture.
I can be reached directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions or if you’d like to join the email list.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and for the support you’ve shown throughout the years!