WILD STYLES WITH JAMES TOP

nterview Shaun RFC
Photo Joe Tirado

Also known as JEE 2, James Top came to aerosol fame in the ’70s as one of the founding members of legendary bombing crew The Odd Partners. During that time, the Brooklyn collective wrapped the old IND and BMT subway lines with their trademark block letters and throw-ups. Nowadays James is trying to bring graffiti into slightly more formal settings Uptown.

With the infamous Graffiti Hall of Fame at 106 and Park as the backdrop, Harlem graffiti writer Shaun RFC sat down with James to discuss his take on the art form as it stands now, and where its history intersects with Harlem’s streets.

Where are you from, James?
I’m originally from East New York, Brooklyn. I started writing when I was like 12 or 13 years old; I was one of the first writers in my community. My partner used to be TEE and his brother STIM. But I was part of a group of guys who actually started the throw-up—we believed in mass domination, crazy numbers. Not only have the trains on lock, have your neighborhood on lock too.

I’ve always wondered who started the Hall of Fame.
A guy by the name of Z-ROCK started it. People like VULCAN came, everything like that. I remember VULCAN always had the top spot, they tried to involve the community with this project here because it was big time, especially for the cats on the east side.

It was 1990 when I first started coming here—a long time ago, but nothing compared to you [laughs].
This place definitely has some history right here. We even used to tag on the floor back in the ’80s, on the basketball court before they modernized it.

I wanted to talk about the origins of Harlem graffiti, because I’ve always been curious about that. All of the stuff I’ve seen up here is from people that aren’t really from here. There are only a few people like SPON, JOVER, AVER and DOCK.
I’m talking about going back to the mid-’70s. BOOT 119 was here from the east side.

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