I just heard that Rammellzee, a truly original artist, died this past Sunday. He was one of the original grafitti artists, a friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and was called a pioneer of hip-hop music.
Randy Kennedy wrote a good piece on him in The New York Times.
Some highlights from the article:
He cast 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 that they had inherited this mission from medieval monks...
In 1984 he had a small part in the Jim Jarmusch movie “Stranger Than Paradise” as a kind of deus ex machina, bearing a cash-stuffed envelope toward the end of the film. In an interview in The Washington Post the year the movie came out, Mr. Jarmusch said he considered Rammellzee a mad, overlooked genius.
“He’s the kind of guy you could talk to for 20 minutes and your whole life could change,” he said. “If you could understand him...
"Ms. Zagari Rammellzee said his illness had slowed him down over the last few years and prevented him from pursuing a prodigious list of ideas. But she added that he never viewed death as an end, only a change in forms."
The Times didn't mention that Rammellzee was also a member of Bill Laswell's loose collective of musicians known as Material. His track on Material's Seven Souls album is called Equation.
He reminded me of someone out of time, like a visitor from the future who got caught in the backwaters of time but turned it into a creative advantage.
Perhaps he's best remembered in his own words. From Equation:
This is a letter you can give only a malfunction to the mind,
basically leads straight from the heart to the brain,
wants you to go insane,
as you read the intertwining messages,
open up to page one .... one ... one... one...
This is a military function information equation coming down straight from A to Z.
We have nothing else but to say and leave a retreatable rhyme that can only be so far back in time that your mind will turn to will washes and bubblegum factories.