“There’s no story to hip-hop—just culture”: R.I.P. renaissance man Rammellzee

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Word from a Fab Five Freddy tweet and a post on his own MySpace blog is that New York hip-hop futurist Rammellzee has passed away at age 50 from as-yet-unrevealed causes. (@149st features a great, fact-filled interview with the man.) Emerging as a teen graffiti artist in the mid-‘70s, bombing the A-train from its last stop in his Far Rockaway, Queens hometown, Ramm ended up like many of his talented peers—a multidisciplinary creative icon submerged in the nascent metropolitan hip-hop scene.  He first surfaced as a persona to the world in amazing fashion, dressed in trenchcoat and wielding a sawed-off shotgun as he MC’ed for the Rock Steady Crew in the Amphitheatre scene of hip-hop’s famous first film, 1982’s Wild Style.
 

 
As an MC, Rammell’s cranky nasal style would influence folks ranging from the Beastie Boys to Cypress Hill to Doctor Octagon, via classic tracks like “Beat Bop” with producer K-Rob. He also started building his own rough-hewn masked avatar, complete with its own sci-fi mythology, which he would extend into his visual art. Below it’s evinced by the ski-goggles in this 1983 Hollywood appearance with DJ Toxic that was later graphically enhanced by Jean Michel Basquiat. It would get much more involved.
 

 
It always seemed that Rammell’s visual art was where his soul truly resided. Along with Dondi White, Seen and other graf giants, Rammellzee laid the foundation for the New York school of street art that would inform two generations of wall and train writers worldwide. Taking a cue from the outer-space style implied by pioneers like Parliament Funkadelic and Afrika Bambaataa, Rammell would eventually create a dense, outside-scientific theory behind his art that would transcend a spraycan aesthetic that had already been commodified by the early ’80s. 

The ‘Net finally gave allowed the man a node into which he could display his artistic presence in context via his amazing Gothic Futurism website. But it was always good seeing and hearing the man talk his amazing shit in his own real time and third-person glory, here in an outtake from the graf documentary Style Wars:
 

 
Here’s the man unmasked more recently, dropping history on the occasion of the reunion of the Death Comet Crew, the multinational production trio with which he teamed up in the early ‘80s to create jams like “America” and “At the Marble Bar”:

 
Afrofuturism—and hip-hop futurism specifically—has lost a true warrior too soon. May he rest in peace.
 
Get: Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee [CD]
 
Get: This Is Riphop by Death Comet Crew [CD]

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann

 

 

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