When a king reigns from a high and mighty throne, people vie to snag a piece of his domain and put an end to that supremacy. The Bronx (and New York City) empire that true legend COPE2 marked years ago still keeps the toys at bay—even when they try to stake a claim and make a name by crossing out the tags, throw-ups, and burners that border his territory like an unwavering great wall.
Before grabbing a bite to eat and politicking with us, COPE2’s broad-shouldered frame unflappably dipped out of a SoHo hardware store to where we waited on the sidewalk. He immediately pulled his only weapon of war (and mass destruction) out of the pocket of his throwback adidas track jacket—a freshly rakked, ready, and now uncapped can of silver spray paint. As he shook the can with precision, ease, and nonchalance, we couldn’t help but feel that we were walking as the court to one of the city’s highest royal figures.
The metallic top of that can glistened in the sun as if it knew its intended purpose and was honored to serve as the king’s cylindrical scepter. That trademark color, usually encased in a red or black outline and banked by the initials representing his crews, has showered the Big Apple since ’82 and more recently, the rest of the world.
Throughout those twenty five years, COPE2’s name lasted numerous mayors and the tricks, traps, plans, squads, and ruination they enlisted and enacted trying to put an end to graffiti and the legacy he, and his crews KD and GOD, built in the yards and on brick walls. As the cars got cleaner than a recovering addict, Vandal Squad fed on the blood of snitching writers, and those around him hung up their fats once the law cracked down, COPE2 continued wielding that can in his palm and ruling the empire.
Nowadays, you can find COPE2 playing all the roles of a modern day graffiti writer—still bombing, tagging parking structures, and ironically selling his once destructive, “ugly,” and criminal pieces on a canvas as art. Labeled as a “sellout” or no longer a “real writer” by some of his contemporaries, COPE2 knows he paid his dues in the graf game. He knows that you recognize his name. He knows that he spent all that time practically branding himself. Now, it’s time for him to stick it back to the NYC mayors by turning his property-damaging and felon-catching destruction into a career.
Tell us about your early days in the Bronx.
I grew up all over the Bronx—Rosedale Projects, South Bronx, 156th and Elton. I moved to Mosholu Parkway when I was about ten or eleven, right there where the 4 train ends. That’s kind of where it all started, my whole graffiti career.
When was the last time you went bombing?
Recently. A few days ago I did a couple of spots I’ll have to fix when I get back uptown. This fucking toy from the Bronx keeps going over my shit. I’m going to see if I can lay up and catch him, bat his ass down or something. Toys just want attention. I don’t understand that type of shit.
What got you interested in the whole game?
Just hanging with my cousin Chico and seeing him tag and stuff really influenced me. Riding the subways with him, he used to motion tag. That’s where I started seeing the pieces by TRACY168, MARK198, FRITO, and TEDDY167. Those were some of my heroes and the ones that made it happen for me. They got me open to all that. My cousin was just a local tagger, but I wanted to be a subway writer because I noticed them all writing “king.”
When did you throw up your first burner?
My first burner was on a subway train. My style started to evolve from a simple style after watching MITCH77. He’s been a major influence on me, and he’s one of my idols. DELTA2, the original one, he kind of showed me some things, too. So, my first burner was on the 4 train. That’s where I first started writing. Maybe in ‘81 or ‘82 is when I really started throwing some pieces up.
Were you tagging first?
I started tagging and doing small throw-ups on the inside of the trains. I would go to the 4 yard or the 2 yard and just smash the insides because I wanted to take them over. I wanted to be like BAN2 because he was king of the insides. I used to write just COPE first, but then I added the 2 because of him. He was another idol of mine. Then, I wanted to do burners on the outside like MITCH77 and developed my throw-up.
Who was your mentor?
I never really had a mentor. I was mainly by myself. I had some writers who kind of taught me, like RICH7. He’s an original Rock Steady Crew member. When I met DELTA2, he had just broken away from SHARP, and he started showing me. He was an amazing artist. I started really hanging around with him. I never really tried to follow, but I did learn from people.
What was it like seeing your first train go by?
My first piece was a silver and red piece. I went into the yard myself after I stole Rustoleum from a place on Jerome Avenue in Mosholu Parkway. I remember using the caps from this stuff called Kitchen Magic, and I did a fucking silver and red piece right in the corner on the train. The next day, I was walking through Jerome Ave. with my moms, and it just rolled up. We were standing on the corner waiting for the light to change. She didn’t believe I did it. I was eleven at the time. I was so excited. When I seen it run, that’s what really opened me. So, I just started doing more and more and more, and it kind of got out of hand. I didn’t even think anything about taking flicks of it. I thought it would be a forever thing: that there would always be bombed subways.
How did you become King of the 4 Line?
I became King of the 4 Line by just getting the most throw-ups, the most insides, and the most pieces on the outside. I always wondered what you had to do to become king, and that’s what people told me—guys like MITCH77, BAN2, REX167, TRAP, DELTA, SHARP, SPIN. These were the guys that were kings before me. So, that made me want to become a king. I destroyed all the way until it died out.
How did KD form?
It was me, SPEL, REO, KIE (RIP), STON3, and AM1 who was the original KOPE (with a K). He actually gave me COPE (with a C) and changed his name. We were “Kids Destroy” in the beginning. We used to just bomb shit up like crazy. Then, when I became King of the 4 line, I changed it to King’s Destroy. We were kings of the 4, 2, and 5 lines. They all kind of quit though or got into drugs and selling them, and I just kept it going. I got into selling drugs, too though, and had a kid at an early age, but I always loved graffiti and hitting subways.
I got that from CAP; that was his crew and it stood for Going Over DONDI, Going Over DURU, and God of Destruction. CAP was the god of destruction back then. He was destroying everything. He was the only writer that wrote GOD. After CAP had quit because the trains were gone, I asked him what was up with GOD. He told me what it stood for, and that I could have it because I was the one bombing everything up. It fit me at the time, and so, I took it and formed a crew and became a god of destruction. GOD is a tight crew. I don’t put too many people down unless you’re a god of destruction, or a goddess of destruction.
What’s your take on Vandal Squad?
Vandal Squad has been out for a while, even back in the old days. They just got bigger and bigger through the years and more corrupt. Those guys are fucked up dudes. They make fake statements and fake police reports. They bring all these charges up on you. They’re really fucked up. If you don’t cooperate with them and snitch on other writers, they make your life miserable.
They still giving you trouble?
I don’t think so. I don’t know. I haven’t really been doing anything illegal lately. I have a good lawyer. You got to have a lawyer to deal with these motherfuckers. If you don’t have a good lawyer, you’re going to have problems. Most writers can’t afford a lawyer; so it’s a wrap from there. Them guys are mad shady. They raided my house in 2002 or 2003 and took everything. It took me three years and $10,000 in lawyer fees to get it all back. I’ve had a lot of problems with them guys. Most of them are retired now, and there’s a whole new squad. It’s fucked up. They’re fucked up. They’re liars. They’re corrupt, and people just don’t see that shit. Every time they catch writers in the street, they tell them that I’m a snitch, and I cooperate with them. It’s not true, and it’s fucked up. They trying to ruin my reputation and these kids feed into that shit because I’m a king.
Where do you think you’d be if it weren’t for graffiti?
I don’t know, man. Besides graffiti, I used to sell drugs. I would either have been in prison or dead. I lived a real crazy destructive life since I left my house at the age of sixteen for my son—living in furnished rooms in the ghetto through the crack era.
Looking back, would you have done anything different?
Not really. Sometimes I think: maybe this is all in god’s plan. Maybe this is what I’m meant to be. I’ve had thousands of jobs, and it didn’t work, but being a graffiti artist worked.
When did you see graffiti become art?
I was young when I first saw it in galleries. I’d see canvases by DAZE, CRASH, PINK, FUTURA, and DONDI. I was like, what the fuck are they doing graffiti on a canvas for? It belongs on the subway trains. I didn’t really care for it. I didn’t know the whole concept of it. As I grew up and got older, I figured out you could make money off these damn paintings. So, I got into it. Life got more expensive for me.
When did your graffiti first turn up in a gallery?
It started with this thing called Chirstie’s Auction House. It was a graffiti show they had in 2000. It was huge. They had so many writers from all over. They called me and wanted me to put some work in. I told them that I don’t do canvases and that I’m not into that. At the time, I had pieces all over the Bronx and walls everywhere, so I knew nothing about an art show. Then I said, “fuck it” and gave it a shot. It was funny; I did three canvases and two of them sold. I was shocked when I got the check. At the time, I had a family that I had to feed and bills to pay. You get tired of going to jail or getting arrested. I decided people can say whatever they want and call me a sellout. I paid my dues. If I can live off my name, why not? I’m my own boss now. I say what the fuck goes, and that’s it. I’m not working for no-fucking-body.
What are you working on now?
I just did a big collabo with adidas. It’s in 420 Footlockers in Europe, and I got about six or seven different pairs of sneakers, track jackets, hats, and bags. I just went out there and did a little tour. It’s crazy. In London, big double-decker buses were rolling by with my advertisements on them. It’s a blessing to me. I also have a toy coming out with those dudes from SuperRad toys. I got a bunch of shit I’m working with. I just go with the flow. I have a good manager. I’ve got a bunch of things I’m planning. I just try to keep it quiet because I don’t like to jinx shit. I’ve got a new book I’m working on called COPE2: The True Story. It’s an autobiography of my life, not just the graffiti, but my personal life—what I did behind all the graffiti.
Has graffiti changed now that it’s more embraced by both the art world and a more corporate environment?
Not really. I’ve traveled the world and kids are bombing still. I just came from LA and the freeways are bombed. Everyday there’s a newborn writer. Graffiti artists breed like roaches. I had a store signing in LA recently. It was off the fucking meter with hundreds of these fucking kids. It was crazy. I didn’t believe it. They’re telling me I’m their idol, their hero, their god. It’s fucking crazy. I don’t get arrogant about it. To me, I’m just another writer. I’m starting to realize that I’m that big of an artist. I can still be myself. I’m not trying to change. I’m not trying to be gassed. If I can get money out of it, yeah, but if not, no big deal. I’ll still do it.
Any formal art training?