Walk With The CEM TWO: An Exclusive Interview in 2016
Cem Two TATs Cru was born to burn. A child of the South Bronx he began his graffiti career late in 1979 after being convinced to give up flying pigeons and start painting on trains. During his high school years he would have to ride by The Writer’s Bench at 149th street and Grand Concourse, a beacon and second home to many New York City graffiti writers during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He would skip school to listen to endless escapades and learn about graffiti culture. It was there he developed friendships with many writers, but it would be Smiley149 that would become his mentor, selling him outlines for a dollar, giving him styles to master and pushing him to paint harder than the rest.
After meeting his painting partner KENN, the two of them couldn’t be stopped from racking paint or hitting up the trains. It would be one painting mission gone wrong that would make being in the right place with the right skills destiny. That night was the night the TATs Cru was founded officially as we know it today. Nostalgically remembered for packing daggers and a notorious fighter, CEM was instrumental in the crew’s protection detail. He left the trains behind in 1985, moving to Puerto Rico for a better life, only to find out his grandmother there was a big time drug dealer just like his father back home. Forced to move back to the Bronx he started to work on commercial projects and reluctantly paint illegal walls.
In 2001, CEM moved with his family to Orlando, Florida with the intention of taking a sabbatical from painting. But that didn’t last long. It was there in the city renown for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that he met up with old school NYC subway graffiti writers like KIES TNR, PNER, RIOT and REEL who pulled him out to paint again, and he hasn’t stopped since. Many legendary graffiti writers from around the globe have made stop overs. In between rocket launches and world famous theme parks; Orlando is becoming one of the top graffiti spots on the east coast of the United States.
12oz caught up with CEM Two in Orlando, Florida to check out his walls and learn more about his extensive history coming up in the New York City Subway graffiti trenches.
Let’s talk about when you start writing?
I started in late 1979; I used to write with TAN1 and BACK1. I flew pigeons at that time. I had a coup up on a roof of about 125 birds. BACK 1 came to meet me one day and he told me that he had something else for us to do. He took me to look at the trains and said we are going to get into painting trains. I asked him “How the Hell are we going to do that. I don’t know how to do that?” So we bought some markers. We started writing on light poles and all kinds of crap everywhere, hallways, whatever. Then we met TAN 1 and he took us to the lay up’s on the 6 trains at Longwood. I use to go to all the hot spots on the 5 and 2 subway lines on the way to high school, that route forced me to pass through The Writers Bench at 149th & Grand Concourse subway station every day. I used to cut a lot of classes and I would hang out at the bench. That’s how I started meeting people and learning the culture of Graffiti.
How did you get your name CEM TWO?
I bumped into SMILEY149 aka GLADE 2 at the Writer’s Bench and he asked me what I wrote. I told him I write BANDIT and he told me to figure out a 4 letter or 3 letter names. I wanted to write DUCE One, which he thought was the woman DUSE One at first but then we agreed. He would draw me outlines and he would charge me a dollar for a sheet. I was writing that name for a while and we kept on talking. One day, I was on a bus and I kept looking at the map on the buses. It said something about cemetery… but I kept looking at the first 3 letters and I thought that’s it, that’s what I am going write C E M. I decided to put a two on the name to change everything around. I started bombing from there it was CEMTWO everywhere.
How or when did you get down with the TATs CRU?
In 1979, when I used to write with BACK 1 and TAN 1, I would bump into BRIM and MACK. They were coming out on the trains at the same time. BRIM and I had some beef, we came close to a fight, close, mouthing off, and we never got to swing at each other. We would yell at each other, going in circles, cursing at each other.
One time at the Utica Avenue yard, BIO organized at least 10 or 11 writers and something went wrong out there. We ended up outside. We were all talking about how big this crew of writers was so we decided right there we would make our own crew. Some of the guys started mentioning crews, all this and that. Then BIO said let’s all just write TAT. I talked to BIO about that I didn’t think BRIM is going to like me coming into the crew. BIO told me not to worry about it that he would talk to him. When he went to talk to BRIM, his response was NO! CEM and I had mad beef back in the days. BIO explained that’s what we needed that other crews were going to be punking us. He fights, he doesn’t care. That’s how I got in the Crew. Then KENN got in with BIO. SHAME125 and NICER were already down. We all came out and then we split up; BG, BIO and NICER went to do the 5 and 2’s lines and the 6 line. KENN and I were doing the 4 line and Broadway. Then we all got together and we opened up the ghost yard with TKID, KENN and RACK7.
That is something that stands out with the TATs CRU, each member has a role…
That is how BIO picked up everybody; everyone has their own skills and styles. I was doing block busters and my styles were crispy. BIO was painting burners with BG 183 and Nicer was connecting characters with his letters. SHAME 125 came out with his simple styles and his characters. We were painting everything at that time; blockbusters, simple styles, burners, top to bottoms and whole cars. We had a lot of people taking pictures of our stuff. Then TKID got down with us and it was all burning after that. Everything blockbuster went to hell. I wanted to do more burners.
When the TATS CRU came out SEEN UW told BIO he gave us three years. BIO asked him if he was sure. So we all had a meeting and decided it was time to show these people what it’s all about. So that was in our heads and made us go bombing even more. Seen eventually gave us props and told us that the TATS really took it to another level. I painted a car with SEEN years later. KENN and I bumped into him in the layups, he threw up an outline for all of us and we all did a whole car together.
How did you develop your blending of using only 3 color blends?
I started blending 3 colors back in the days because I had too much paint. No one was doing that kind of blending, it was only me. I had all this paint in my house. KENN and I would go rack early in the morning because in the hardware stores they were half asleep. Some of them were tired. Some of them had not slept or whatever. We would kill them on the racks taking paint. Then we would go racking for food and then we would go racking stuff animals for our girlfriends so that when we went home they would be nice and not complain to us about not having a regular job. We used to set up everything like that and then after we would go into the tunnels with the stuffed animals, all that and paint trains. Every day. Then we would get out of the tunnels. We would take that stuff all the way back to our houses up in the Bronx. Then wait for the trains to come uptown and then downtown to take photos. All this in one day: It was like a job. It was insane. It was crazy. When you see our old whole cars you see my burners with 3 color blends all the time.
How many trains do you think you have painted?
I don’t know but I know I did more pieces than the whole crew. I used to paint two names at the same time.
How long did it take you most times to do whole cars?
45 minutes. That’s what we did, that’s all we had. I would take the cap from first can and put it right on the second and keep going. Throw that can down on the floor and keep going until we were done then leave the yard. Most times, we painted at Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. They would pull out the trains of the yard to leave by 1:30 pm. So we would have been there by 10 o’clock in the morning to have at least 2 hours of work. To have enough time to do whatever, simple style, Chinese letters or anything we wanted. 45 minutes was the tops for a whole car.
What is one of your Most Memorable moments?
One day I was out racking paint with KENN and I suddenly felt the urge to go to the writers’ bench (149th street & Grand Concourse). KENN didn’t want to go because we had big bags of paint but something was telling me to go over there and I decided to go by myself.
When I got to the station and I was going down the staircase. I saw a whole bunch of graffiti writers, 40 at least. They were all looking at my bags of paint. I get into the middle of the bench and I put down my bags of paint and I walk away from my bags. I was waiting for someone to try to reach for the bags. They all see my dagger as I pulled it out and I put it in my waist. When they saw me walking away from my bag and that I was packing. They knew I didn’t give a fuck. Then I don’t know what happened, The train that I had just finished painting with KENN; The’ tumble for you’ whole car train just pulled into the station, popped up in front of everybody. A brand new train and it stopped right there. I said to everyone at the bench” ‘that’s right! You tumble for me! You know how that shit is!” As the train pulled out of the station, I left the platform walking next to it… I heard all kinds of whispering behind me… That’s Cem…That’s Cem…
What’s the craziest rumor you heard about yourself?
When my pieces started coming out better and better, people started trying to say that I used tape or that I used cardboard to clean up my pieces. One day this writer TROLL (RIP) told me that some people were saying I used tape, I told him to meet me early the next day and I would take him to paint a train so he could see for himself. So the next morning, we went and did a quick car. When he saw me doing my CEM piece, he couldn’t believe it. SHAME 125 was the same way, he thought that my piecing was too straight, and my lines too straight to be real until KENN, SHAME and I did a whole car in silver Blockbuster letters together.
One of your favorite whole cars?
Three cars that TKID, MACK and I did entitle: Tales of the Ghost Yard: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
The yard never let it out for some reason. Maybe because we called it Tales of the Ghost but none of the 3 cars ever ran out. It was like the yard wanted to keep that secret inside the yard or something. We were wild. We used to go into the yard, catch people, rip them off. At the same time, look at our trains and other trains.
We got some pictures of the three trains but broken up, not one picture with the whole car because they never ran on the tracks. All three of them disappeared and those were the best three cars we painted because we used a lot of old colors; icey grape, cascade green and all kinds of red devil paint. Those three trains were like the ghost. The ghost yard wanted to keep that tale inside the yard
Do you feel that graffiti has been a positive influence in your life?
Of course, if I would have taken my father’s route. My father was a big time drug dealer in the Longwood section of the Bronx. I would have probably made a lot of money but who knows I would have probably been locked up for many years or killed. If you look at some of the graffiti artists from back in the day; you were either reaching for your goals or you going to be a bust. Unfortunately I have seen a lot of bust. I see people that tried to do pieces and then they just stopped developing. They didn’t take it to another level I don’t know why but they just stopped, so we just kept on. We closed the doors on the trains because TATS CRU was the last crew to walk away from the train