12 Questions With "Yad" CAMO TKO
What’s your name and what crews are you repping?
My name is YAD and my crews are CAMO, TKO, DWA, HD, and NBM. There are a bunch of different meanings for the names but I’ll throw out a few: Da Wild Artists, Don’t Write Again, Destroying Walls Always, Da Wild Army, True Kings Only, Taking Krews Out, Hustlers Destroy, Nasty Bombing Motherfuckers.
1. How did you choose your name and how did you first get started writing?
Y: I chose my name because my real name is Yadiel and everyone was always calling me “Yadi” as a nickname. I had a few other names before I started taking graffiti seriously, I use to write ‘CHES’ and sometimes I would also tag ‘2HIGH’ but I chose ‘YAD’ because it’s the same flow of letters as my name and I just started practicing with it a lot and one day just decided I really liked it, as simple as that. Then I went to look up information on what the word ‘yad’ means, in Arabic it means hand. A friend also told me it’s the name used for a small pointer, like a stick, that’s used to read from the Torah.
After that I was looking to come up with an acronym for the letters, you know like my own meaning of what the word is. So I asked another friend of mine who is also a writer, SEM, what that word meant and he told me that the letters stood for “Soy El Mejor” (I’m The Best). I heard that and was like dam that’s a good one, what could YAD stand for? And I thought to myself “Yo Ando Destruyendo” (I Go Around Destroying), you know like I’m always walking around no matter where I am or what am doing throwing up tags everywhere I can and I destroy everything around. It’s nice to have a meaning behind my name and what I write because most people when they see graffiti they don’t think about those types of things. Regular people seeing graffiti don’t tend to stop and ask themselves is there a meaning behind that word? I think it’s important that I have that.
I started writing around 2003-2004 painting with MAD5 and NAS2 but my cousin, DAD from the HD crew, always helped me out because he’d been doing it for a long time way before me so he kind of showed me the ropes. I would show him sketches and he’d always tell me he really liked what I drew and asked why I didn’t paint. I was always just really hesitant because I didn’t know how to start, where to buy cans, what cans to buy, what caps to use, you know I didn’t know anything and he started showing me how to do everything and always gave me advice. He started by telling me about caps, which ones were wide spray, which were skinny, if you want effects like shadows on a piece you can use this cap and place the can much closer to the wall you know regular tips that every writer gets when they’re first starting out.
Then around 2004 I decided to start hitting the streets and trying to paint different spots that were more exposed, not just practicing in hidden places. I would just walk the streets and see a spot I liked and be like well I’m just gonna do a fill in here or throw up a tag and that’s basically how it started and what I’ve been doing ever since. But there’s people who have been in the game a lot longer than me like BLEN, SKE, REK, all those people have been painting since the 80s and 90s and they’re still at it. They’ve gone to New York, Germany, all throughout Europe. These are the guys that when I first started noticing graffiti as a little kid on the streets it was their stuff. Then I met them and would ask if they had done these murals I had seen and they told me about the walls they use to paint. They have tons of albums of photos of walls that don’t even exist anymore! Walls that have been torn down.
2.How do you think the scene in Puerto Rico has changed since you first started writing up until now?
Y: Well before there wasn’t this big boom of graffiti like there is now, now it’s a little bit easier to paint even though police are much stricter with writers than in the past. Now you can go to a place with a permit and paint or even go without a permit and just say you talked to the people who own the property and they gave you permission. Or if a place is abandoned the police might even ignore you completely unless someone calls in to complain and report you painting. If nobody reports it they don’t really waste their time trying to bother you over an abandoned building. But if you’re painting public property or mailboxes things like that then they will be very serious. There’s no break there, that’s federal property and when you destroy government property then they’ll really come looking for you.
But compared to before and now man I liked it better before because there was a lot less people on the scene. There was always some mystery behind whom each person was and everybody wasn’t so exposed to those outside of the scene. Like if you told someone you painted graffiti they really didn’t care, most people would just ignore you. In simple terms the scene was much more secretive, writers didn’t like painting with people they didn’t know, it was like a bunch of different little circles of writers. But now it’s been commercialized in a way that we’re at a point where I can say any artist who is talented can paint graffiti.
The true graffiti, where you actually gain respect, that comes from painting in the streets. Graffiti started a long time ago not just the 70s and 80s with the subways in New York and painting with aerosol. Graffiti has been around since people were scratching their names on walls and the cavemen were painting on rocks. I mean, I think that’s also graffiti the only difference is that people see it as another form of expression because it’s very different from painting letters and names like we do now. But really in terms of before and now the accessibility to things was really different, finding cans to paint and having the proper cans. Before there was Instagram you had to go take the picture yourself, go back to your house, connect your camera to the computer, transfer the photos from the camera to the computer, and then upload them so you could have them on the Internet. Before that people had to go stores and get the pictures developed and wait for that entire process and now those writers have boxes and albums filled with pictures of their work.
Before it was harder because things were just getting started so that’s why I have a lot more respect for the people who have been doing this for a long time because they know all the hard times and hustle you had to go through. It’s not like today you know the path has already been paved and the scene has been created. Writers who start now aren’t doing anything new; the people who came before them have already laid all that groundwork. I’ve seen guys who start writing and the first thing they use is a brand new box of Montana’s, they’ve never used a regular cheap can before with a stock cap. With a regular cheap can you can paint the same thing, it won’t be as clean obviously but for someone who’s just starting it’s much better to use cheap cans so you can master can control. If you’re always painting with low-pressure cans and you’re not used to using regular cans like Painter’s Touch or Rustos it’s really different when it comes to writing on the wall. You can make a line really quickly with a Rusto but if you’re using a low-pressure can you gotta go slower and make sure you get the details you want. It’s a big difference, a lot more precision.
3. What do you think about the new writers on the scene and what they’re doing?
Y: You know a lot of people, I’m not saying everyone, but a lot of people think that if they’ve been painting for 3 or 4 years you’re already a king and it’s not like that. You need to win respect in the streets, just because you paint a lot doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. You can have a lot of quantity but very poor quality, or vice versa, I would say it’s better to have less work in the streets but everything you do have is really good stuff. In terms of graffiti you can talk about regular graffiti in terms of vandalism or things that are more esthetically pleasing like pieces and murals those types of things.
But for me you gain respect in the streets, you got to go out and bomb. If after that you want to work on pieces then that’s chill because you already did your thing in the streets. But you also have to stay loyal to the streets, you can’t stop bombing and dedicate yourself only to piecing, it’s not one or the other. As long as you have a balance between both forms then you have my respect. It’s not just bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb. You know for me if you bomb piece bomb piece continuously then you get a lot more respect.
4. Can you talk to me about the CAMO crew and how it got started? I also noticed you guys do a ton of rollers can you talk a little about how you guys decide what walls you’re going to use and when to do it the whole strategy behind that?
Y: CAMO was founded by ENDSO and ALE a long time ago. I’ve been painting with them for a while now, I know ALE’s brother DR.INK since I first started writing. But I became part of the crew around 2009/2010 even though they’ve always been my friends, they’re not some strangers I met from one day to another. They’ve always helped me out with everything and I help them with things like designs for their brand Camo Clothing and they always give me new merchandise when it comes out. If there is ever an event they let me know and invite me. They’re great people, they’re like my other family. I’ve always said that crews are families, whether you like it or not. Crews get together and they go out to paint, they go eat together, they hang out together, they smoke and drink together, it’s another family aside from your own.
For blockbusters we always try to find walls that are very visible and very big; it also has to be very high so people can see it. Once we’ve decided on a wall we get together and we sketch and talk about our ideas and what kinds of letters we want to do and how to use the wall. We go out and buy the paint, light colors for the fill and dark for the outline, and between about 4 or 5 of us with 2 or 3 brushes we go out and do it.
5. You also rep the TKO crew from LA, the only 2 Puerto Rican writers who can say that are you and WIKS, how did that all happen?
Y: That all started because ENDSO told me he had been painting with someone from the states who was staying near where I live. I’m from Santurce and he was staying in Condado so we were really close. This dude was always calling me wanting to paint and I didn’t even think about it I would just take him out and go we’d go hit spots. After that we started smoking together and hanging out and after a while he started telling that if I kept it up hitting the streets with him and being humble and hospitable I could probably be in his crew. This was PASO TKO. He’s the one who introduced me to TOOMER, BAER, KOZE all those guys I met them through him.
Since then they always write to me and ask how everything is going if I’m still painting and working and if I ever want to go visit and hang out with them. They invited me to Denver a few weeks ago for a get together with the crew but I wasn’t able to go because I had work. WIKS is there because he’s also a good friend and he’d always go out with us to paint and chill. He knew PASO before me through ENDSO, but since WIKS lives really far away it was hard for him sometimes to go out with us. But when he lived closer all of us would always spend time together.
PASO was here in Puerto Rico working on a new museum that was being built at the time and he left to the states but came back to keep working on it and we’d always hang out and paint together. The second time he came back is when he told me to start signing TKO. It’s been really cool you know a lot of people give TKO a bad rep saying they’re a gang or a bunch of thugs but it’s not like that, as long you don’t fuck with them they won’t fuck with you and it’s that simple.
6. What about the TKO and LA handstyles how did you start doing those? Did they teach you when you were starting off in the crew?
Y: They kind of gave us the basis of the letters, they’re considered Chicano letters that style. Letters that are narrow and have the same style at the bottom. They didn’t tell us exactly what to write but just said look at this style and practice it, don’t do this exact same thing, but try to figure it out and incorporate it into your form of tagging. So I tag YAD kind of sideways to one side and then I tag TKO sideways to other side to have it kind of all in sync. I like it because they don’t both look exactly the same. So after I learned that I started learning more LA styles that are long and thin, then a lot of Philly style tags that have a lot of curves but can be like 5-6 feet tall. I like doing those tags but it’s always better with a good can one of those new extra wide Krink or Montana cans.
7. Back when you were in the BTA crew you guys were the first to paint the trains in Puerto Rico. Can you tell me how you were able to achieve that and what that experience was like? There’s also a photo of you painting a yard next to the highway in the middle of the daytime is there a story behind that?
Y: The first time I painted the train was at the University of Sagrado Corazon stop, I remember I painted an ‘SI’, a crew I was repping at the time, it was yellow fill-in with red outline. The difference between painting the trains then and now is ridiculous. Before there weren’t even any fences! You could just put up a ladder or even stack milk crates and climb over into the tracks. But over the years they’ve been putting up more things, more barbwires, more fences, they just keep cutting our points of entry. I was lucky to paint the trains about a dozen different times.
I remember that picture because we painted that in the middle of the afternoon, it was ZAPS and I. We had taken a few photos of everything we painted together but nothing of individual people painting. So that’s when we decided to get that pic of me hitting the train in the middle of the day. When I finished I took a picture of what I had painted and as soon as I did that I saw a van coming down the tracks in our direction about 300 feet away. We sprinted to the fence, jumped it, and ran through the trees in the mountain next to the yard. We ended up in a little neighborhood that is on the other side of the trees and we emerged out of nowhere from the trees just walking around, everyone was staring at us. People started asking us if we were lost and we responded no, then they told us that the police were looking for a few guys from Hogares CREA, a rehab center nearby, and we were relieved to find out the police thought we were some escaped drug addicts instead of graffiti writers.
8. So would you say that you guys hit the trains the first few times and after that the authorities got much more serious with security and trying to keep people out?
Y: Let me put it like this: we had the opportunities that people today don’t have. If they realized one morning that we had been painting the train the previous night they send out people to search the tracks and see where we could’ve gotten through the fences. So they find the spots, fix them up, make the fences higher, make more fences, and put more barbwire. Now it’s gotten to the point that they have people in the trains almost around the clock just to be watching out for vandals, they move the trains around, there’s always one guy walking the yard and a car parked nearby.
But there is always a day when security isn’t present, it could be a day off, or it’s raining and he’s somewhere else taking cover. You just want to make sure you choose a day to go when security might be distracted by others things, when they aren’t really thinking that people will be painting the trains. That’s your best opportunity. Even if it’s raining you just go up with a towel and dry the spot you want to paint, take your picture, and get out. That’s when you notice who paints the train for fame and who paints it just for themselves. No writer ever expects to get caught, but you always have to have a backup plan in case things go wrong.
9. Utah & Ether came down the island a few years back and you hooked up with them and painted a bunch of spots, how did you meet them in the first place and what was that experience like? Also, have you noticed any difference in the mentality and types of things that writers coming from the states do compared to local writers? Since you’ve bombed with so many different people.
Y: The first time I hooked up with ETHER he had come down to paint with TAHOE. BAD6 introduced me to them when they came down and they basically told me their plans and what the wanted to accomplish in the few days they were in town. But these guys were here to just straight paint, they didn’t even have a place to stay, they rented a car and slept on the beach. I told them I had a friend I could hook them up with and a place to stay. They stayed at my friend’s house and whenever they were there they’d just be drinking and sketching and I sat down with them for a while to talk about things. We got pretty tight after that and ETHER always hit me up when he came down to the island. The next time he came with UTAH and I took them out to paint around San Juan, they also hit the trains.
Trains are what they’re really interested in because they’ve painted a lot of metros and subways in the US and around the world. They’re just really cool people, super chill, with a very different mentality from Puerto Rican writers. Local writers just want to paint the same area over and over again, not these guys. Their mentality is to hit different cities; it’s not about having a ridiculous amount in each city. As long as they think they’ve done the necessary damage in one city they will move on to the other, and that’s how they work. They’re never in the same place for too long, because if you’re in the same place for too long cops start noticing and trying to catch you. Cops aren’t stupid. They realize what spots are being painted most and they’ll camp out to find you.
It’s also really different in the states, it’s much more strict, not like here where it all depends on how the cop is feeling, you could get a break, they’ll let you go randomly at times. Over there you will get arrested and charges will be pressed, no questions asked. When Americans come here they’re always really paranoid and looking out for everything because they think it’s the same as it is over there, they think you can only paint a wall in the middle of the day as long as it’s legal. Here sometimes you can go do a throwie on abandoned building in the middle of the day and get away with it just fine, nobody will say anything.
Overall they (American writers) are much more aware of what’s going on around them and what they’re doing. They’re always using gloves making sure not to get any paint on their hands, they have four eyes at all times. If one guy is painting the other is on lookout, when the first guy finishes they switch. It’s much easier to look out for cops that way. They are much more cautious in that aspect than local writers, since locals already know what’s up with the cops there are many times when they don’t give a shit. They are much more careful when they bomb.
10. Where do you find inspiration for your letters and all of your art? I’ve noticed your throwie and letters have evolved similarly over the years what do you think of when you come up with that?
Y: I just came up with my bomb trying working the flow of the first letter and trying to imitate that in the others. A lot of things change over the years from lower case letters to capital, just trial and error trying to see what works. Anyone who is interested in bombing and trying new things knows they are going to waste a shit ton of scrap paper. Drawing is practice; if someone doesn’t practice they don’t learn anything new. I’m always trying to do something new, something different, drawing people or cartoons to learn new perspectives, also drawing letters that aren’t ‘YAD’. Drawing outside of your comfort zone always provides more ideas. If you practice calligraphy letters for an entire month then you always have that tag in in your arsenal.
There are so many things that can vary such as the style of letters and the colors; there is so much you can do. The kinds of letters that I like the most are the simplest ones, the simpler the letter the easier it is for people who aren’t writers or graffiti fans to understand what it says. It could be your grandma or your dad, someone who doesn’t know about graffiti too much, and they see your piece and say, “oh that says YAD, or SEM.” The fill-in doesn’t matter as long as your letters are solid and legible. That’s what I always try to go for a mix between simple letters and few extensions, nothing super complicated that can’t be understood.
11. Can you talk to me a little bid about ENDSO, I know it’s sensitive since he recently passed away, but I see him as someone who was really making a splash on the scene and inspired a lot of people.
Y: We actually just did a piece dedicated to him because it was his birthday a few days ago. Whenever it’s someone’s birthday we go out and paint during the day then party at night. We did a dedication to him with clouds in the background and SKIM even painted one of his (ENDSO’s) big ninja characters on it. When I found out about what happened I was just shocked. He was someone who was family; he’d always come over and call me to go ride our bikes. I remember when I started riding fixie he also wanted one so I helped him get all the parts and put it together. When they told me the news I just couldn’t believe it.
The day it happened he had told me the crew was going to be hanging out all day and then party at night, I couldn’t go because I had work, I work at night until 6AM. So that night I’m getting home from work and I see his car parked outside of the house, whenever they would go out to ride they’d leave their cars parked in front of my house and go ride through Santurce. It was weird at first for me to see his car there so late, I called him a few times but he didn’t answer. Since he had crashed his car a few weeks ago I thought something else had happened and he just had to leave it. Then after I called him a few times and he didn’t answer ALE calls me and tells me that he’s in the hospital because a car had hit him when they were out riding their bikes the day before. He was supposed to be in stable condition at the hospital but they told us things could go wrong at any moment, and that’s exactly what happened. They next day they come and tell me he passed away.
I still think about that dude as if he were alive today. He was just a great person that helped everyone out unconditionally, it didn’t matter who you were he’d hang out with anyone. He’d even lend me his car when he went to work, he didn’t think twice about it just told me to go do whatever I had to do. I mean there are some people in my family who wouldn’t do that for me you understand? That’s why he was like another brother to me.
12. CAMO has been saying “We Bomb Puerto Rico” for a while now, what can we expect from the crew and from YAD in the future?
Y: CAMO is coming out with a lot of new things, a lot of different designs and new clothes. We’re expanding, not just doing prints on t-shirts, now we have different styles like pocket tees. They’re planning on releasing a movie soon called “We Bomb Puerto Rico” with a lot of footage of bombing everywhere we go. Whenever we go paint we always record it and have it documented so we can have enough material to make a feature length film. In terms of the VANDL$ line ENDSO and I were working on the entire workload has fallen on me since he passed away. I have to continue that because I’m not going to leave it unfinished.
The mentality behind that is just to expand the VANDL$ brand name. Being a vandal isn’t necessarily something exclusive to graffiti, a vandal can be anyone. As long as you don’t conform to what society does and what it expects from you, the whole “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. Like if you want to go out and paint that’s vandalism, but a vandal can also be someone who just goes out and breaks things, or someone who breaks into a building to explore. The full name is “Vandals Secret Society” and it’s just supposed to be designs and ideas that people are familiar with but mixed with our name and our logo. We were thinking kind of an illuminati type vibe and we had worked on a design that combined that with our logo. Those are the kinds of things we’re trying to do. But we’re really trying to do big things with CAMO CLOTHING and VANDL$ everyone should stay tuned we’re going global.
Any people you want to give a shout out to before we’re done?
Y: Definitely want to recognize CAMO, DWA, NBM, HD, TKO, and especially WIKS who was always helped me out and been there for me. SWIFTY that’s my homie. BLEN, who I haven’t been able to see in a while. SEM. NMK. DYCE, also a great guy he always talks to me and sends me photos and new things, he also interviewed me. SABO, DAD, BAD6, WEBS, AOK, ROC. My friends Emanuel, Eugenio, Franco, MAD5. ETHER, UTAH, PASO, TOOMER, BGN, KENER, SPEK, RIVeL, DR. INK, COMA, TATER. There are just so many people I can mention that if I keep going I’ll never finish. A big shout out to SETS who always comes to tell me that I forget about him. ENDSO may he rest in peace. SKIM. XOMI. There are just too many to name, everyone who I didn’t mention just know I’m also thinking about you.
If you still want to hear more about what YAD has to say check out the full interview with more stories on El Keyser Soze’s blog.
Stay tuned every Wednesday for more interviews dropping throughout the summer.