New York City graffiti legend, Earsnot, of the legendary IRAK crew, recently sat down with 12oz Prophet to discuss what it was like leading 20 of the most influential writers in the city during the 1990s. In recent years, the man once known as Kunle Martins has taken his talents from the street to more marketable venues including collaborations with companies like Nike and Alife, as well as with other artists (most recently murals with Jesse Geller in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District for Art Basel 2011); not to mention a cameo in season two of HBO’s How To Make It In America. Read some of the choice excerpts below and head over to 12oz to read the piece in its entirety.
How long have you written Earsnot?
Since ‘98 I guess. So around 13 years.
What’s the first tag you ever caught?
I think the first tag I wrote was.. “Three”? Wait no, the first tag I wrote was “FBV”, which was a crew. “Fame Bound Vandals”… that was like the crew that me and my boy made up; just so we could have our own thing to do. I didn’t know what to write; I couldn’t make a decision, which isn’t uncommon. I’d write mad different things, like “THREE”… “NERS” … “KERM”… “GUNK”. Right before Earsnot I wrote GUNK, thats what my mother used to call me sometimes when she was feeling like; verbally abusive. It used to make me laugh. Around that time I had runaway, and I was downtown; I had other things going on, priorities. I was trying to figure out how I was going to survive and shit. I didn’t want to tag anything by the time I was writing Earsnot, I didn’t want to write graffiti; I was over it. Then it turned out that people were like “Ohhh I saw EARSNOT on the bridge! Thats you?” and whatever. That was the ice breaker.
What New York writers influenced you early on?
My boy Shawn, that I met in High School, wrote graffiti. He was always writing, and his notebook was covered in it; that was like my first exposure. I was really just content with having his scrap papers that he had written on; taking them home and looking at them, copying them and shit. He just wrote whatever on them, but it was really good. Choice NY straight letters and outlines, really dope. He’s the one that put me on to who was good in his eyes; JA, Giz, Web, Skuf, etc.
Tell me about the start of IRAK
IRAK didn’t come about until after I had runaway and dropped out. I was committed to living and racking off the land. I left home, so I decided like Ok, I guess I can’t go to school anymore. My boy Wak (STF) from Bushwick was a really big booster, he always had really cool schemes on how to rack shit; he was very active. (Wak) actually taught me how to breakdance (laughs), he had this whole like after school breakdancing steez going on. It was all very communal before the Internet, kids would just meet up after school and do shit whether it was good or bad; there was this work ethic to it, meeting up and getting it done. I was still going through tags and shit at the time, I might have even been writing “GUNK”, when Wak came up with the acronym IRAK. I didn’t really like the term “racking” at the time, I thought it was corny. I was like “oh that’s dope”, but the name wasn’t something ethier one of us really wanted. He told me “You can have that if you want”, but I wasn’t really into it. Obviously you know what happened from there (laughs).