Rammellzee: the 80s artist-icon who invented Afrofuturism.


The latest Nike Dunk SB Supreme release dedicated to Rammellzee, gave us the spark to delve into one of Street Culture's most eclectic and influential artists.

Nike SB Dunk Supreme are colored in art with a tribute to the pioneering New York Street artist and musician.

On Dec. 18, 1960, an artist who to call “multifaceted” is almost reductive was born in Queens: street artist, writer, painter, performer, actor, art theorist, sculptor and even musician, he had his name legally changed to Ramm-ell-zee, affectionately shortened to “Ramm” by his friends and fans.

His art and musical output have left a permanent mark on contemporary artists, mesmerizing prominent figures of the 1980s, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, who would become his friend after a four-handed collaboration; Jim Jarmusch, who once said, “He’s the kind of person you could talk to for 20 minutes and your life could change, if you could figure him out“; then the Beastie Boys, artist Futura, Funkmaster Bootsy Collins, to name a few.

Even in life, Rammellzee was described as an alien character, rather than human: he strolled the streets of Manhattan armored in elaborate costumes assembled in his Tribeca studio-apartment, leaving a trail of rhymes and rumors along his path, which he improvised based on what he saw at that moment. From time to time, his machine-creatures would spit fire or smoke, impressing passersby.

Rammellzee was a myth, through and through. He hypothesized theories of Gothic Futurism, imagining a struggle between letters of the alphabet to preserve their symbolic individuality against any kind of imposed standardization. Throughout his life he often exhibited masks and costumes he created that represented a personal mathematical equation, which created a parterre of as many as 22 ever-changing characters, called “Junk Gods,” such as Alpha Positive, Crux the Monk, or Igniter the Master Alphabet, which he flaunted casually on the streets of NY.

If some onlooker asked him who the hell he was, Rammellzee replied: “I’m just an average guy.”

His work first appeared in the 1970s, on NY subway cars, on which he scrawled intricate graffiti, alongside street art pioneers such as Basquiat, Futura, and Keith Haring: his favorite line was the A train, which ran from Queens to downtown Manhattan. The inner sanctum of the artistic avant-garde.

Rammellzee and Baquiat in late 70s

For him, the painting process with spray cans was instinctive, immediate. He was painting to defeat the depression, the anxiety, the despair of living in the most infamous, discriminated against and impoverished part of New York. Like many as him, daubing walls and cars was a way to exorcise social inequality, to claim space and power.

Rammellzee in late 70s

His tags had the power to be edgy and expositional, seeming to be weapons to be unleashed as violently as possible. As he himself stated, “wars are not fought only with weapons, we do it by deploying words.” These ideas became core components of Gothic Futurism, a cosmology that Rammellzee continued to profess throughout his life, even carrying them outside of subway cars and even collaborating with as a model for Wilhelmina during a brief stint at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

During the early 1980s, the mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, launched a campaign to remove graffiti from subways, which had been on an incredible increase since the mid-1970s. In response, Rammellzee began to spread Gothic Futurism through paintings and sculptures, created in his apartment-studio, nicknamed “Battle Station” for the occasion. The paintings depicted volcanic and cosmic spaces in which jagged letters, sharp as scythes, exploded on the surface, leaving splashes of neon spray paint in their wake. They often targeted their enemy, Ed Konh or society, represented by chains, handcuffs and acid green gaseous clouds, a symbol of toxicity.

Rammellzee in 80s

In 1983, Ramm co-composed with rapper and friend K-Rob a track called “Beat Bop,” produced by Basquiat: a structured vocoder melody in which he presented himself with a nasal, strident voice, which later became the soundtrack to Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant‘s cult hip-hop documentary, “Style Wars,” of the same year. The track was called by the Rolling Stones “One of the most revered songs of the early Rap Era.”

Unwittingly during his tenure, NY Mayor Ed Koch witnessed the birth of Hip Hop, the death of graffiti-at least on subway cars-and inspired Rammellzee to open his art toward painting, sculpture, and Hip Hop music.

Rammellzee and K-Rob in 1983

The decade of the 1980s was also the heyday of his exhibitions, between the States and in Europe, which gradually thinned out in the early 1990s, by his own choice. Rammellzee was seen less and less around, retreating nto his home-studio to work. He went out from time to time to collect discarded materials on Canal Street, such as old skateboards, doll heads, finished spray cans, discarded clothing and various accessories, which he used for his canvases and masks.

During these years, his theories became increasingly complex and less comprehensible, which increased the aura of legend around him as an otherworldly being who came to earth to spread a message that will be understood decades from now, hopefully.

Rammellzee died at just 49 years old in 2010 from complications stemming from years of alcohol consumption and the inhalation of toxic fumes produced by the resin he used to make his works.

His legacy still echoes today in contemporary art, performance, hip hop music and fashion, as evidenced by the latest Dunk SB Supreme Rammellzee release.

The sneakers are presented as a canvas on which the abstract art of the late creative genius was expressed: the Low and High models, in opposing black/white colors, highlight some of his artwork with a series of eye-catching artwork all over the upper, toe, side panel, collar and heel lining; completing the composition is a box designed especially for the release and gold dubraes with the word Supreme.

Nike Dunk SB Supreme Rammellzee release

Rest in Space, Rammellzee.

Rammellzee, “GASH-O-LEAR” – 1989



Subscribe to our newsletter

© Pluriverse 2024
Registered office: Via Romaniello 21/B, Napoli (NA), Italy | N. REA: NA 823189