1BBi (2010) Back to the yards…
If you look up at these slides here on my last videotape, after I’m dead,
it will say one thing on my grave tomb:
As a Ghettovett, I only know serious business. As the interrogator of Ikonoklast Panzerism, I don't give nobody no business.
I tell you what is full military information and function for all integers, all four of them. There are no pictograms here. What I draw is architecturally built and will fly
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The Ikonoklast Samurai
Greg Tate interview in The Wire (April 2004) | text version
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[Beat Bop] was just simply a test pressing with Jean Michel and K-Rob for Jean-Michel’s solo compilation. He wanted say his own verses, me and K-Rob read them and started laughing and we crushed up his paper with the words he had written down and we threw it back at him face first. Then we said we’re gonna go in these two booths, and [I said] ‘I’m gonna play pimp on the corner’ and K-Rob said ‘I’ll play school boy coming home from school’ and then it went on. Jean Michel Basquiat put up the money for it and from there we sung to it. He did not sell it immediately. But when he did sell it he didn’t tell anybody. It was to Profile records. [But originally] it was a test pressing. We were just having fun.
… I didn’t expect anything out of anything. I just used to go over his house and chill. He was an up and coming artist, I was an up and coming artist… well I was an up and coming con-artist. And we just were doing things at the same time. But I didn’t expect it to be anything more than a test a pressing. It was something he wanted to do so we did it. I didn’t like the words he wrote and neither did K-Rob and both me and K-Rob at the time were 5%ers and there was nothing more to say. So we laughed at him. But yet he was paying for it all. I never made a dime of that damn record. I still haven’t made a dime off that record and it sold more than 150,000 copies.
Only thing I can say is he spelled my damn name wrong. I got two “L”s in Rammellzee. Rammellzee is a quantum mechanic equation, you don’t spell it with one L. You’ve seen the cover? It’s spelt wrong.
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The New York graffiti artist and B-boy theoretician Rammellzee constitutes yet another incarnation of Afrofuturism. Greg Tate holds that Rammellzee’s “formulations on the juncture between black and Western sign systems make the extrapolations of [Houston] Baker and [Henry Louis] Gates seem elementary by comparison.” As evidence, he submits the artist’s “Ikonoklast Panzerism,” a heavily armored descendant of late ’70s “wild style” graffiti (those bulbous letters that look as if they were twisted out of balloons). A 1979 drawing depicts a Panzerized letter “S”: it is a jumble of sharp angles that suggests the Nude Descending a Staircase bestriding a Jet Ski. “The Romans stole the alphabeta system from the Greeks through war,” explains Rammellzee. “Then, in medieval times, monks ornamented letters to hide their meaning from the people. Now, the letter is armored against further manipulation.”
In like fashion, the artist encases himself during gallery performances in Gasholeer, a 148-pound, gadgetry-encrusted exoskeleton inspired by an android he painted on a subway train in 1981. Four years in the making, Rammellzee’s exuberantly low-tech costume bristles with rocket launchers, nozzles that gush gouts of flame, and an all-important sound system.
“From both wrists, I can shoot seven flames, nine flames from each sneaker’s heel, and colored flames from the throat. Two girl doll heads hanging from my waist and in front of my balls spit fire and vomit smoke…The sound system consists of a Computator, which is a system of screws with wires. These screws can be depressed when the keyboard gun is locked into it. The sound travels through the keyboard and screws, then through the Computator, then the belt, and on up to the four mid-range speakers (with tweeters). This is all balanced by a forward wheel from a jet fighter plane. I also use an echo chamber, Vocoder, and system of strobe lights. A coolant device keeps my head and chest at normal temperature. A 100-watt amp and batteries give me power.”
The B-boy bricolage bodied forth in Rammellzee’s “bulletproof arsenal,” with its dangling, fetish-like doll heads and its Computator cobbled together from screws and wires, speaks to dreams of coherence in a fractured world, and to the alchemy of poverty that transmutes sneakers into high style, turntables into musical instruments, and spray-painted tableaux on subway cars into hit-and-run art.
Rammellzee’s Afrofuturist appropriation of the castoff oddments of technoculture is semiotic guerrilla warfare, just as his “slanguage”—a heavily encrypted hip-hop argot—is the linguistic equivalent of graffiti “tags” all over the mother tongue. In an essay on English as the imperial language of the Internet, the cultural critic McKenzie Wark argues for the willful, viral corruption of the lingua franca of global corporate monoculture as a political act. “I’m reminded of Caliban and Prospero,” he writes. “Prospero, the Western man of the book, teaches Caliban, the colonial other, how to speak his language. And Caliban says, ‘You give me words, that I might curse you with them.’ Which is what happens to imperial languages. The imperial others learn it all too well. Make it something else. Make it proliferate, differentiate. Like Rammellzee, and his project for a Black English that nobody else could understand. Hiding in the master tongue. Waiting. Biting the master tongue.” Wark’s analysis resonates with Tricia Rose’s notion of hip-hop countersignage as “master[ing] the wearing of this guise in order to use it against your interpolation.”
– Mark Dery “Black to the Future” Flame Wars (November 1994)
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I’m pretty sure nobody heard “Lecture”,” smiled Bill Laswell, a few years ago when I was in his apartment coveting his framed Basquiat Beat Bop sleeve (for Rammellzee Vs K-Rob’s 12″). As Gettovetts’ producer, Laswell had been looking for the perfect loop for the guy who called himself “The #1 Stain On The Train”. Then he found a recording of the Tokyo bullet express – a sure bet. So the podium became a platform and there’s Rammel, arriving, how do you say, too freaking early, holding a purple suitcase full of watches he designed (he attended Fashion Institute of Technology, briefly), none of which could tell time from a hole in a worm – each has an expended 9mm slug burrowing into its face. (“Their crystals hold information from a crushed galaxy,” he’d told me). The beat wheezes into the station and then chugs off and vanishes into a blurring horn, three stops away. An aria wanders the tracks looking for her head, only to find a symphony that’s been out in the sun too long.
That’s “Lecture”. Not quite a first date song, too medieval for the Golden Age of Rap, and certainly in the ‘At Risk’ category for Island Records. Not that a line like “sneeze with me” isn’t catchy as a word virus. And how about that Double Dutch helix: “This twine turns the rope of your mind like DNA codes.”
– Dave Tompkins, The Wire (January 2008)
’87’s awesomely crepuscular track The Lecture opens up the Military Perceptual Complex of MythScience. Rammellzee is no longer a Master of Ceremonies, an MC. Instead he’s an MK3, a Master of Kommand Kontrol Kommunications, a despotic esoterrorist who lectures on ‘Aerodynamics and Quantum physics’. Instead of breaking down information to its simplest atoms, the tunnel visionary systematically encrypts all information: ‘But we want you to understand that the integer is a nation by itself. Its function… leads you into the future.’
… Drawing you into an auditorium where echoes seat your hearing at the back, Rammellzee’s voice arrives from a distant lectern, inducing a powerful sense of being drawn into overlapping systems of privy information: ‘All formation and military function that hold the code to any formation procedure. With. Out it you have no control. You will have no control. This information I cannot really give you. Because I am not the master of its own technique.’
Throughout, the tone of the lecture shifts treacherously from acerbic to drawling to disquieting: ‘As the.. interrogator of Ikonoklast Panzerism I don’t give nobody no business. I tell you what is full military information and function for all integers, all four of them. There are no pictograms here. What I draw is architecturally built and will fly.’ Information and function: as a cryptogrammatology, Ikonoklast Panzerism encrypts all symbols, inducing an overpowering sense of ominous information and conspiracy made audible in Lecture’s keening, multi tracked voices. Horns loom into tonal shadows, shattered by string arrangements that reverse into Varesian shriekbacks which leave space shuddering from the concerted attack impulse.
– Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than The Sun
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“On Monday night this past week, old friend and collaborator The Rammellzee passed away at his mom’s place in Far Rockaway. Under an orange moon …
Met Ramm in 1983 in W Berlin, called him up to join Death Comet Crew for our first Ep in 1984, he showed up buzzing and bleeding from working on art pieces. After we tracked “At The Marble Bar” , we went directly to “Exterior Street” and let Rammell blow it to kingdoms come. The live at Danceteria is legend stuff…
… When I look at what Rammellzee achieved with his mind and artwork, in his times. A NY freestyler who surfed through decades down at the Battle Station, did it his way and as much on his own terms as he could. It was always great to see him work, at the same time I knew there was some poisoning due to resins, plastics fumes and so on.
Today I am enjoying Ramm’s art works in the 1990 Art Random Rammellzee “Acts Of Terrorism”, drawings, masks, body armors suits, outlyer of systems, keys to the subways …”
– Stuart Argabright of DCC: RIP Rammellzee > A king , a wave passes
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Rock well, Rammell. Class dismissed.