Graffiti's 'Ikonik Figure'
It's hard to ignore Trap's incessant graffiti efforts over the past couple decades. We sat down with Trap for his first-ever interview, which contains several historical highlights and details that have never been publicly addressed.
Writer's Block is a bimonthly column that takes a low-brow approach to profiling various street bombers and modern-day vandals with a mixture of stories, off-the-cuff interviews, and never-before-seen pictures.
Trap, not to be confused with his Style Wars counterpart, is one of the most significant writers in the history of New York graffiti. His signature mark, a hybrid of the classic throw-up and straight letter usually filled with Rusto and outlined by Kilz, can be seen throughout the five boroughs of New York City—a feat that earns you the proverbial "all city" title.
Trap has been writing graffiti ever since he was a kid, playfully tagging stuff in his neighborhood. In the 80s, as he became more ambitious, he started painting trains and eventually found his niche as a full-fledged street bomber. Still active today, he paints in streaks. Active streaks are commonplace for many dedicated writers and serve a dual-purpose: avoiding new heat and allowing any existing heat to simmer. And since Trap's never seen handcuffs during his 30-year career, it's clear that this method has worked to his advantage.
I linked up with Trap through photographer Disco Bryso, a friend of mine who specializes in documenting graffiti. Disco, who just wrapped up a retrospective-zines series with Trap called Ikonik Figure, let me sit in on a formal interview he conducted with Trap for the purpose of this installment. The following conversation—Trap's first-ever interview—contains several historical highlights and details that have never been publicly addressed, like the time he shattered his ankle while doing roller pieces with Dart and all the times when normal everyday things like friends, jobs, clothing, and even relationships have taken a backseat to graffiti—a common denominator among career writers.
VICE: When and where did you begin writing graffiti? Can you recall the first surface you tagged?
Trap: I've been writing TRAP since 1979. I started in my neighborhood in Queens, New York. The first tag I ever caught was a light pole on my block.
Has age played any role in your career? Has it hindered you somewhat?
It's not about the age, it's more about the mindset. Doing what makes you happy is what it's all about. Like most lifers, I think graffiti saved me from a life of crime. But I guess that goes both ways.
With the release of Ikonik Figure, some were surprised to learn that you've been actively writing graffiti all the way back to the train era. Can you explain a little bit about your history with painting subway trains?
Per routine, Dine came over to my crib to go over our plans for the night. He told me, “I've got a special spot for you, you're gonna love it.” That night he took me to the 5 train and I rocked my first car. That was in 1981, maybe 1982. Prior to that, it was mainly street bombing or piecing at the handball courts. To me, if you weren’t gonna do a top-to-bottom or a whole car, it didn’t make sense. I got used to window-down pieces, but if I wasn’t doing end-to-ends, I'd rather save it for a truck or highway.
In addition to Dine were there other writers who particularly influenced or mentored your style and work during that era?
Edge was definitely my first mentor. Back then he had a crew called UTK, and I was Trap MTV (Most Talented Vandals) on some art-type shit. He was focused on letters, so that's when I started fucking around with them, too. This was probably about six months into my writing career. We were tight, but eventually he got tired of being hassled by the cops and stopped writing in the late 80s. Every once in a while, we could convince him to do a burner but by then he was just focusing on making music. Edge influenced a lot of newer writers, at least from my neighborhood.
Tell us a bit about the precursors to the foundation of IF as a crew. Who were some of the first members, and what brought you together?
Another one of my partners during that period was Enuf. Because of our common interests and mutual friends, I introduced him to Edge. I guess you had to get the OK from him first before he'd put you down with the crew, which is the way it should be. I actually met him in school. He was always down for whatever. We put in a lot of serious work around '84. Eventually, we recruited other Queens writers who were already doing their thing: Rener, Dine, Shone, and Devo.
What was your interpretation of the scene back then? Were there any particular areas or lines that inspired you?
We loved all the main boulevards like Atlantic, Jamaica, and Fulton avenues. As a kid, I would spend a lot of time at my grandmother's house off Myrtle and Carlton in Brooklyn, or at my parents' friends houses in the Bronx. Even though I was a Queens cat, I was familiar with all the main avenues. Seeing cats like Joz and Easy on all the main streets was inspiring.
Is that around the time you decided to go all city?
We were crushing Queens at the time, so it was just a natural progression into the other boroughs.
Often times people mistake your work for that of Trap [OTB] from Style Wars. Would you mind explaining what differentiates you two?
I'm definitely the second Trap, but I also go by IF Trap and TrapStar. Much respect to Trap [OTB] and everyone that was in Style Wars, though. That documentary was on some pioneer, fundamental-type shit. But, to reiterate, I've never just been Trap, I've always been IF Trap.
There's a common belief among many in the graffiti world that in order to be a writer of the highest caliber, it requires having a solid partner. Having been around for so many years, can you speak to the importance of the various partners you've painted with?
I think partners are important in just about anything, not just graffiti. And it's funny because I began my graffiti career completely by myself. It wasn't until later that I linked up with Edge and Enuf and started painting regularly with guys like Fib, Tekay, Easy, Joz, Jick, Nox, Devo, Ja, and Dart. I like painting solo, but certain things I won't do without a partner.
You mentioned Dart and some of the most impressive work we've seen from you both was how you devastated the Freedom Tunnels. Can you tell us a bit about the origins of those illuminated spots?
Before I met Dart, I was doing a lot of solo bombing. I used to be a cab driver, so I would get a cross-borough fare and just bomb all the way home, but most of it was getting buffed.
Is this around the time you started heavily utilizing ladders?
When Dart put me on to the Biggie Smalls ladder, it changed everything. It was immediately and indefinitely on. It enabled us to get to all the elevated joints that were out of reach. I started to see that it was more effective to do 100 outlines that run instead of focusing on a couple street level spots.
Do you have any regrets?
Not at all, despite having to take some losses in my personal life, I've always had everything take a back seat to graffiti. I have lost a lot of relationships through this. Even my clothes are all ruined, and my health has been affected because of the lifestyle. But in the long run, it's all about longevity. That's why you can still see some of my stuff from decades ago, because I made a point to say, "I'm gonna make this last."