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Rammellzee 1960 - 2010

June 30, 2010. News has reached us from various Twitter accounts and other sources on the passing yesterday of legendary graffiti artist and hip-hop musician Rammellzee.

from Gawker:

Rammellzee, the pioneering hip hop artist and Wild Style star whose ten-minute-plus 1983 record Beat Bop is still fresher than just about anything on the radio, has apparently died.

His death was first announced on the Twitter page of Fab Five Freddy, who would know; and early this morning, a post went up on Rammellzee's Myspace page reading in part " i type this, i'm numb from overwhelming sadness.....The Equation The Ramm:Ell:Zee has left his physical....left his pain." Details are unclear.

from Joseph Nechvatal:

I am sorry to learn that Gothic Futurist artist Rammellzee has passed away, An official confirmation is still pending and a cause of death is not yet known. Rammellzee was an amazing artist that I knew back in the early 80s. Check him out on Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine - a live radio program hosted by Isaac Jackson on WBAI-FM September 20, 1982. Edited by Joseph Nechvatal. Tellus link.

from Wikipedia:

Rammellzee (or RAMMΣLLZΣΣ, pronounced "Ram: Ell: Zee", born 1960 in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York), was a graffiti writer, performance artist, rap/hip-hop musician and sculptor from New York. His death was announced on 29th June 2010.

Rammellzee's graffiti and art work are based on his theory of Gothic Futurism, which describes the battle between letters and their symbolic warfare against any standardizations enforced by the rules of the alphabet; his treatise, "Iconic Panzerisms", details an anarchic plan by which to revise the role and deployment of language in society. Rammellzee is often identified as an artist apart of the Afrofuturism canon; Afrofuturism is identified discourse concerned with revisioning racial identity through the tropes of science fiction and fantasy narrative or aesthetics.

He was also instrumental as one of the original hip hop artists from the New York area who introduced specific vocal styles which date back to the early 1980s. His influence can still be heard in contemporary artists such as The Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. His song "Beat Bop" was featured in the film Style Wars.

Discovered by a larger audience through the 1982 cult movie Wild Style by Charlie Ahearn, his fame in graffiti circles was established when he painted New York subway trains with Dondi, OU3, and Ink 76, and doctor Revolt. Rammellzee was also a member of the Death Comet Crew, with Stewart Albright and Michael Diekmann. In 1988, he and his band Gettovetts recorded the album "Missionaries Moving."

Rammellzee's website:

Greg Tate's interview from WIRE #242, April 2004:
Rammellzee: The Ikonoklast Samurai

other sources:

Rammellzee on Ikonoklast Panzerism (video excerpt from an interview in a skate shop):

Ramellzee, Toxic C1, and J-M Basquiat @ LA's Rhythm Lounge, 1983

Rammellzee's passing in the NY Times

From the NY Times Artsbeat blog. A full obituary will appear at a later date.

June 30, 2010, 5:35 pm
Rammellzee, Graffiti Artist, Dies at 49

Rammellzee, an early graffiti writer, hip-hop pioneer and performance artist whose style influenced the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill, died Sunday in Far Rockaway, Queens, where he was raised. He lived in Battery Park City.

He was 49 and died after a long illness, said his wife, Carmela Zagari Rammellzee.

He became known in graffiti circles in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s for hitting the A train and other lines around Queens with his spiky-lettered work. He appeared in one of the most important graffiti and hip-hop films, Charlie Ahearn’s “Wild Style.” In 1983 his on-again-off-again friend, the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, helped produce and illustrated the record cover for “Beat Bop,” a 12-inch single by Rammellzee and K-Rob that became one of Rammellzee’s best-known performances and a hip-hop touchstone. It became the unofficial theme song for Henry Chalfant and Tony Silver’s graffiti documentary “Style Wars.”

He was an eccentric, outsize figure almost never photographed without wearing one of the elaborate science-fiction inspired masks and costumes that he made along with the sculpture and paintings that became the mainstays of his career in later years. He fashioned himself as an urban philosopher, whose overarching theory, which he called Gothic Futurism, posited that graffiti writers were trying to liberate the mystical power of letters from the strictures of modern alphabetical standardization and had inherited this mission in part from medieval monks.

“He didn’t separate his fantastic work from his life,” Mr. Ahearn said. “So when he spoke to you, he often spoke in character and that could sometimes be upsetting.” He legally changed his name to Rammellzee when he was younger, Mr. Ahearn said. As to the name he was born with, Mr. Ahearn said that he knew it, but would keep it to himself, in keeping with his friend’s wishes.

A full obituary will appear in The New York Times.

Rammellzee tribute in the LA Times

from The Los Angeles Times:

R.I.P. Rammellzee: The original abstract-rapping outlaw
July 1, 2010 | 9:51 am

Before MF Doom donned a metal mask, before Cypress Hill and the Beastie Boys conquered the adenoidal vocal and street art was bound in $100 books for sale at Taschen, Rammellzee was the original train-bombing, abstract-rapping outlaw.

He passed away last Sunday at 49, in his birthplace of Far Rockaway in Queens, N.Y., after a lengthy and undisclosed illness. The details of his death mirror those of his life: bathed in shadows and blocked behind bug-eyed ski goggles and robot-samurai battle gear.

There are people who know Rammellzee's birth name, but even after his death, no one has publicly divulged it. He first came to attention in the Bronx of the mid-1970s, where he relocated "because that's where the culture was coming from," he told Greg Tate in a definitive 2004 Wire feature. Rammellzee quickly fell in with the graffiti writers who rode the A train, including Phase 2, Peanut and others who achieved regional fame in the Carter-era chaos of the five boroughs.

It was the dawn of the Wild Style: B-Boys, DJs, MCs and graffiti bombers united to create hip-hop culture, immortalized in the twin testaments of hip-hop cinema -- "Wild Style" and "Style Wars." Rammellzee factored into both, brandishing a sawed-off shotgun and rapping in the former and creating the theme song for the latter. The song in question, "Beat Bop," is widely considered the genesis of hip-hop's avant garde -- a sprawling end-to-end burner of eclectic instrumentation (electric guitar, violin, various types of percussion) and Rammellzee unleashing his oblique "Gangsta Duck" and "W.C. Field" raps.

Loosely strung together by a narrative of a pimp warning a young child about the perils of the streets, the 12-inch was "produced" by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who initially raised Rammellzee's ire for accepting the graffiti art throne without ever having bombed a train car. The song was initially intended to be a battle rap between the two. However, Rammellzee famously claimed to have crumpled up Basquiat's contribution, laughed at his inept lyrics and enlisted K-Rob instead. But Basquiat had the notoriety and the money -- handling the cover art himself, and the limited-edition 500-copy run remains one of the most sought-after 12-inches in hip-hop history.

Opting for a monkish lifestyle, Rammellzee spent the next three decades largely holed up in his 2,000-square-foot Tribeca studio, painting, sculpting and creating futuristic body armor that made him look like a character from "Voltron." There were occasionally forays into the outside world: an appearance in Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" and a string of import-only releases on tiny Japanese and German labels. While hip-hop culture became big business, he rejected its commercialism, telling 149st that "we failed what could have been 'Our' culture ... too much 'mannerism' not enough 'burner'!!! Our futurism! We should have only stuck to doing the 'letter' and joined together to fight the light dwellers."

Interviews requests were frequent, but rarely granted, with Rammellzee preferring to hone his philosophy of gothic futurism in private. Embodying the notion that there is a thin line between tin-foil hat and genius, his conception of the universe often appeared as a byzantine tangle of conspiracy theories, arcane prophecies and mathematics. He viewed the graffiti writers as heirs to Medieval monks, destined to liberate the alphabet from standardization. He was obsessed with the notion of sonic sound wars and the historical struggles between the "letter" and the "number." Rammellzee fought chaos with chaos, creating his own strain of Afro-futurism, inhabiting a galaxy populated only by George Clinton, Sun Ra and Lee Perry.

It remains unclear whether he was born 600 years too early or 600 years too late. We probably won't know for another 60. But right now, it's evident that no style was wilder than Rammellzee's

-- Jeff Weiss

a good critical article

can be found at
it's from wire in UK...
just beginning to unpack the dark material that is Rammellzee... with all the money his pals made, don't you think there could be some kind of serious effort made on that score? I look forward to Robert Ferris Thompson's take.

a good article indeed

Greg Tate's 2004 piece for The Wire is often mentioned as the best thing published on Rammellzee. I linked to it in my original posting:

I was cleaning the house yesterday and found an announcement for "Subculture Capital", a four person show at Anonymous Gallery in October 2009 (in their former Collective Hardware location at 169 Bowery) that also included Ronnie Cutrone and two younger writers. It was a busy, crowded opening, and the last time I spoke with Ramm.

When I returned in November for the talk, Ramm was a no-show. Too bad. I was hoping not only to enjoy the panel but also to go over old times with him afterward.