What are your origins? Where were you born?
A: I was born in the Bronx borough of New York City in the mid 60’s to my beautiful mother who was nicknamed “Bumpy” after notorious Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson; she was a Harlem-ite who grew up near 116th street and Lenox Ave, and to my father, a staunch Barbadian who immigrated to the US in the late 50’s; both good loving parents who tried in word and deed to set me on the straight and narrow path. Unfortunately I and fate had other plans.
Did you have other tags before Skeme, the one that will go down with in history?
A: Before I became an experienced writer using the nom de plume, SKEME, I wrote two “toy” names; Spivey and Cheerios, neither of which I am fond of recalling.
Which steps have you gone through to find the right lettering?
A: I was lucky to be born into a writing legacy that was and is rich with lineage, history, and tradition. The 3 and 1 trains regularly interchanged with each other and since I lived near the No. 3 train line, masterpieces by Tean 5, Kade 198, Chain 3, Kool 131 and Part 1 were my first impressions of what a burner should look like. In 1979, when I first started really looking at Graff, this elite group of writers were burning up the Broadway 1 line with beautiful productions that set the standard for style and technical execution. The work of The Death Squad (TDS) and The Magnificent Team (TMT) went virtually unchallenged for quite some time. Although other pioneers such as Phase2 and Riff170 made definite and lasting contributions to letter and concept development, the TDS and TMT styles are the modern prototypes for New York Graff wild-style.
Did you start with bombing? What did it mean to illegally write you name back in the 80’s?
A: Bombing can have three connotations; first, bombing can simply mean to go on a writing mission; second, bombing is used to denote a specific time or period when some serious damage was done; and lastly bombing was also used to distinguish from writing on the insides verses the outsides. That being said, all three definitions apply to me. Bombing in the 80’s was a way for a kid from the inner city to be famous, it was bravado and machismo mixed with steel. It was our political statement; it was our voice, our way of life.
When did you enter in a yard for the first time?
A: My first time I was taken to the (1) One Tunnel lay-up by a good friend who wrote Mr. Mean TMT. This lay-up was situated below between 145th and 137th streets on Broadway. We were good friends for about a year before either of us knew the other one wrote. He just happened to see me drawing one day at my house and asked me what I “thought” I was doing…I told him I was doing Graffiti and he just burst out laughing, and immediately called me a “toy”. I was so much of a “toy” that I didn’t even know what that meant. As we talked I discovered he was somewhat of a seasoned writer who claimed to know many of the writers I admired. He challenged me to take my name from paper to the trains. Sometime in the fall of 1980 we hit the 1 lay-up around 1100 pm on a weekday. The first time I wrote my name I was mesmerized by the drips slowly cascading down from my tag. The feeling you get the first time is similar to what you hear crack cocaine and heroin users say….you spend the rest of your life trying to replicate that first high! From that day on I was hooked and I knew this was something that I wanted to do forever.
I know about your presence in different crews (TNT, TMT, TFA), which is your crew right now? And which ones have great importance in your artistic life?
A: Yes I was put into: TMT by Tean and Kade, TNT by Phade, INDS by Phase2, TDS by Kool131, The Ebony Dukes (TED) by Smily149 (RIP). I was also told to hit up 3YB, and TC5 and a few other crews…so my memberships are legitimate and can be corroborated. There are crews however, that I was given member or associate member status in, but because I don’t necessarily believe in a particular persons “put down power” (authority to recruit members), I don’t write it. TMT for life!!
When did you do your first piece on a train? What did you think after that?
A: My first piece was in 1980, a skinny, skinny, Skeme and Mean3, blue fill-ins with red outlines, which I only have poor distant photos of. I was satisfied with it, but I knew I had to get better. After it was completed I imme diately went to work planning the next piece I wanted to pull off. The second was a Dial piece, with a fantasy facial character for the “I”. You can clearly see my inexperience in my inability to make the lines connect, a problem I covered up by putting colour blur-fades where the lines would have intersected.
Whoever knows Skeme knows the 3 yard, can you tell us something funny that happened there?
A: Ahhh… so many stories to be told from the three yard. The best stories are raid stories. One night we were painting in the 3 yard along with some dudes from two relatively new crews, the Ball Busters (more of a vamping crew) and some dudes from Fast Breaking Artists (FBA). Airborne and Baby-Rock and Me and Dez along with about 20 other writers were all getting busy. I was painting when out of the corner of my eye I saw a uniformed cop tiptoeing towards me, hands outstretched, only about 5 feet away from me..as soon as I saw him I shouted out “RAID!!!” and dipped down the tracks, people scattered in all directions, many of the dudes not familiar with the yard ran in circles not knowing where to go. At this time the tracks leading to the 145th street stop was blocked off by cops, and you definitely didn’t want to run up on the station…this left the only exit which was a 7 or 8 foot high 3×3 hole cut in the fence. To scale it you had to take a running parkour type leap using the wall to jump up and grab the ledge to pull yourself up. Luckily I was always tall and had no problem surmounting any obstacle including this one. I made it to the hole and pulled myself up. Shortly after, Dez made his run to the hole with a cop close behind him; he jumped up and pulled himself halfway into the hole, just then the cop grabbed his leg and attempted to pull him back in the yard, they were also hitting him in the ankles with their night sticks. I grabbed Dez and pulled him out of the grasp of the cops to safety, and the rest is history, we’ve been friends ever since. I don’t know if you’d consider that funny, but we sure laughed about it after it was over!
Who painted with you in the 3 yard?
A: My main and first partner was Dez. I also painted with Pore1, Blazer, Agent, Seen (TC5), Mean3, Pain, Airborne, EN005 (RIP), Mr Mean, Tac147, Push, Seap, Spank, Daze, Tean, Kade, Kase2, Part, Chain, Kool,
and most notably Phase 2.
I saw on web an interview with your mother that talks about you not coming back home at night because of writing…what do you think it means to have a son that does writing and what does it mean to you to be that son, especially in a period in which most people did not understand graffiti?
A: Yeah I was in a bad place with regards to respecting my mother and her house; I never openly disrespected her like verbally or physically, I just came and went as I pleased from about the age of 15 when I started writing. When you’re young you don’t understand the grief you put your parents through. You have tunnel vision, you’re like a soldier on a mission that must be completed at all costs. But on the other hand, as individuals you have to do what your heart tells you… we each have to form and follow our own destinies… so in effect there was NOTHING at that time that could have stopped me from writing except death.
Which style formula is the basis of your style?
A: I’d say my style is a hybrid of TMT and TDS styles….Tean5, Kade198,and Chain3 from TMT along with Kool131, Part 1, and Noc167 from TDS were the premiere style masters of my time. Kase 2, also nasty, was also an influence on me but I considered his ‘Computer Rock” style too advanced for me to digest. I definitely don’t mean to leave out the early pioneers who paved the way for those guys, but I didn’t personally see many of their cars running as they had been buffed away by the time I started writing and train spotting.
What is your relationship with the police? Are there experiences that you lived yourself ?
A: Growing up a young-black-male in just about any inner city, you are almost born with a genetic predisposition towards not liking the police. It was no different for me. We didn’t like, talk to, trust, or respect the police. The police were the ultimate representatives of authority and establishment…and Graff was all about defying authority and self expression at all costs, including bodily injury, incarceration, and death. The police were often looked upon with disdain and contempt.
In a historic photo you are portrayed running on the top of a train in “Ghost Yard”, what had happened?
A: Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper were on site that day snapping photos; but even though I definitely ran on the tops off trains in the ghost yard during a serious broad daylight raid, the shots of me on the train that you speak of are not in a yard and are in fact on an elevated platform with the train pulling out of the station up in the Bronx. I ran from end to end of the 10 cars while it was pulling out then jumped to the overhang at the last minute. The time I ran on the tops in the Ghost Yard was during a daylight raid in which a uniformed cop followed me on the top, when he got up he kept trying to jump to the train that I was on, but I was way too fast and agile, so every time he jumped to my car, I just jumped to the next or previous car. I could see other writers running around getting chased it was like a Charlie Chaplin or Key Stone Cops movie. His bulky utility belt, tight uniform pants, and hard bottom shoes did not allow him to keep up with me. He then started threatening me about how he was going to beat me up in the squad car on the way to the booking station if I didn’t give up…I just laughed and played cat and mouse with him until I got bored, then I ran all the way to the end of the car and took a flying 12 foot leap which he was not willing to take off the end….I hit the ground running, looked back at him and laughed and escaped out of the yard right into the street and hopped the train home.
Who are you today in the world of writing?
A: I am “Skeme”; it was interesting to come back from the army after almost 30 years and see several people try to write my name; they say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but in Graff we call it biting and we don’t look on it favourably. There is only one Skeme, that’s me, period! Graff is about originality; be original, get your own name.