Supreme published an interview of the all city legend Ja. This interview was done by Virus.
Supreme website, after the jump
JA breathes graffiti, he is one of the most prolific and omnipresent bombers in modern graffiti history to date. He writes as if it were a sport with fierce competitiveness and will. Originally from the upper West Side of Manhattan, he started writing graffiti in 1982 and took the name JA ONE in 1986. In 1990, JA had his name written from top to bottom in all of the five boroughs of New York City giving him the title “KING”. Along with that title, JA was beaten and given 100 stitches to the head by crooked NYPD cops. At one point he was sued by the city of NY, the Mass Transit Authority and the Department of Transportation for $5 million in punitive damages. With all the hardships and battles that JA has faced, he is recognized and spoken of as one of the most controversial graffiti writers in the world.
What was the main thing that drew you into writing graffiti?
JA: The one thing that attracted me to writing was that it was so illusive, no one knew who was doing it. everyone around me who had the answers for everything in my life at that age had no answers for who the people were that I was in awe of. I felt like whoever these people were that were doing this would take me in. I went through a lot of shit as a kid. I really sought these people out because they gave me a sense of hope by what they did and who they were. going against everything they were supposed to do gave me hope. I thought that they were so fantastic and that they could say “fuck that!” They can overcome anything they wanted to overcome. That‚Äôs how I saw it. If I could meet up with one of these guys, let alone the top guy, someone from a graffiti crew like AW, IBM or CIA? I would show them the utmost loyalty if they would take me under their wing. I felt I understood where they were coming from. That‚Äôs why over the years I have taken in many writers under my wing. Some have flourished, some have not, some are alive and some are dead. Some are on their master‚Äôs degree, some are on their third term of a 25 – to – life bid and that‚Äôs the reality of that. What I associated the most with writing as a kid was that there were people out there that would understand me and I would understand them. For a long time I didn‚Äôt connect with other graffiti writers, but I found that I became who I wanted to meet.
Why do you write? What motivates you and has that drive changed at all?
JA: It‚Äôs just the purity to want to write and express yourself. I write for myself and for my friends and if anyone goes over my friends I start going over them. I feel I had my crown firmly rested on my head by ‚Äô90 ‚Äì ‚Äô92 and everything since then has just been confetti. It‚Äôs just been running up the score, it‚Äôs just been overtime, it‚Äôs just been moon walking over the competition. It doesn‚Äôt mean what it once meant to me as far as a competition thing. I love writing. I go alone most of the time. There is not a lot of guys I would trust to go with. I love doing it still. It has changed for me when you‚Äôre so caught up in writing to level of holding down the job 6 nights a week. You throw away your relationships with girls because you would rather go out and paint, war with people and in the day time when you‚Äôre off from work you go out and steal paint. You are truly a fucked up individual and at the same time you are caught up in the graffiti game and that‚Äôs what I was. And I don‚Äôt regret it. It was real and that‚Äôs what it was and yes I loved my girl friends but it was more than that. It gave me more. For myself, not to blow my own bugle, I prided myself on what I could do in a night. Compared to what maybe two or three people could do in a month and what I could do in a month outdid what a whole crew could do in a year. I love writing and I don‚Äôt research it. The internet does not count on any level and neither does this. I will continue to write when I want to write, where I want to write, how I want to write till the day I don‚Äôt want to do it anymore and I don‚Äôt know when that is. It doesn‚Äôt really matter anyway.
What do you feel is important to you in general? graffiti related or not?
JA: What kind of person you are. Being a good friend, a good father, a good mother, a good son and daughter. Being true to yourself. I don‚Äôt care how that sounds to anyone, it‚Äôs true. I started writing not to make friends but because the people I saw out there were rebels and renegades and I felt boxed in, fucked up and pressed against a fucking wall. I felt that no one understood me at all and I understood the graffiti writers at the time in my own mind in the sense of‚Ä¶WoW you went and did that! You were that motivated to do that? Well so am I man! That‚Äôs how I felt about that.
What is your main motivation when you‚Äôre going out bombing? The first thing you want to accomplish?
JA: Not to get caught. To have an agenda, lay it out and get it done. To be a professional.
As a professional, the height of your bombing in the 90‚Äôs what did that involve?
JA: I had a lot of different wars going on. I took them relatively seriously like in the game Stratego where your aim is to knock people out. I never lost a war till this day over 24 years of writing. I‚Äôve taken on crews of upwards of 15 people and made them fucking quit graffiti and get into something else. That was by my own doing systematically. I am a very competitive person by nature but writing is something that I love and is in my soul. The difference with me and other people is, well, “I don‚Äôt want to get crossed out”. If someone goes over someone that I‚Äôm friends with or is down with xTC? It‚Äôs on. It is what it is and going to bat for people is not a problem for me. If you can put aside your ego and your name, you can basically open up your artillery and blast everyone if you can accept casualties. I love going out in the wee hours of the night, outfoxing the police and fucking up the program, that‚Äôs what I do.
How has New York shaped you?
JA: I believe, well, I‚Äôve traveled a lot in my life but New York City in my opinion is the greatest city in the world. It‚Äôs got the greatest diversity of any city. It has made me the person I am. I‚Äôm not shocked or offended by any cultures. Anything related to that was worked out when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I have very liberal and intelligent parents. I grew up in the melting pot of NY, which was the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York. I grew up with whites, blacks and hispanics. until I got out of my neighborhood, I didn‚Äôt know people thought differently.
As for growing up in NY back then, I got robbed maybe once a month. every kid who grew up in NY got robbed at some point and it was very predatory, it wasn‚Äôt shocking and it didn‚Äôt make the news. If you stood for anything such as writing graffiti or B-Boying because of the way you dressed you were going to get robbed. That‚Äôs how it went down. It either sent you to the showers or bolstered your ability in what you were fighting for anyway. It was a very black and white. Survival of the fittest. Come back and fight another day and if you didn‚Äôt, you don‚Äôt have no respect. It was tough when you‚Äôre a young man to stand up.
What is the illest experience you have had related to writing graffiti?
JA: I would say the illest thing that happened to me was in late July or early August of 1990, this is all documented. I was painting the FDR drive highway and I was chased by the police. I had the cops coming from the highway pa- trol unit from 125th St and the 3rd Ave bridge and the Tri-Borough Bridge. The cops com- ing at me 100 yards behind me had their guns drawn saying, “give it up, give it up!” I gave it up. I laid face down on the highway. This fucking piece of shit cock sucking cop beat the shit out of me while I laid down over the head with his knight stick. He gave me 130 some odd stitches to the head. All this happened to me while I was handcuffed behind my back. I ended up in the Harlem Hospital and the head triage nurse asked me what happened. The cops said I got hit by a Buick. What really happened I said to the nurse was I got the shit beaten out of me by a cop and she said “look at them all over there”, there was about 8 of them all getting their stories together. I went to court and fought it. At the court I saw 9 different police officers that weren‚Äôt even there all testify that I was running from another cop and was hit by a car. even though the lacerations to my skull weren‚Äôt conclusive with being hit by a Buick. That is why the charges against me were ultimately dropped but I lost a lot of respect for the NY police department. I understand what they go through on a day to day basis but at the same time a guy my age handcuffed behind my back laying face down on the FDR drive for 5 minutes being just seriously blasted by a nightstick by some drunken lucky charms cop is really foul.
I know what I dealt with that evening is not even close to what a lot of black and hispanic people or even white people have had to deal with on a much more serious level as far as shootings and unsubstantiated shake downs and basically just racism. When I was being stitched up I was still in a state of shock, “like what?” I didn‚Äôt realize how bad my skull was because I was handcuffed to a gurney and this Russian nurse asked, “What did you do?” I said I was accused of writing on a wall. She was, “this is how bad they beat you for that!?” When I was in the hospital the cop who fucked me up and his partner who was there started kicking me in the side and said, “You like making the police run?” I said, “No”. In retrospect I‚Äôm glad I did run. These scars don‚Äôt hurt anymore and the NYPD cops that did that are a bunch of brutal motherfuckers. Something to think about because if you want to do this it can happen and not just by the police but by anyone. There is more to the picture than meets the eye. S