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Q&A: Boodamonk

Rarah

By Bret McCabe | Posted 2/18/2009

Born and raised in Baltimore, graf artist Boodamonk started drawing in the 1980s starting off with little "comic book characters" and started getting into hip-hop from his older brothers. Today, he operates Boodamonk Hip-Hop Tattoos.

Boodamonk: [My older brothers] were always sitting me in front of the radio even when I didn't want to be there. They forced me to hear all this music, whether it was jazz, funk, rap, didn't matter. Rock, they played it for me. And I would just sit there, when I was about four or five, I was playing with my toys, and I would look at the album covers and have these crazy dreams and these visions, you know? Parliament-Funkadelic, all these crazy album covers. And as a child, you just can't throw something like that on a child. It's just too much. And I'm starting to draw this stuff and I go to sleep and have these nightmares, so when I wake up I draw more stuff.

Same thing with the comic books and the cartoons and I remember seeing graffiti, walking the streets and seeing stuff on the walls. And I was a quiet child, so I would just watch the stuff around town. And anything anybody did I could mimic. So I seen somebody, as we were walking behind this building, I see this guy spray this wall, and I would stand there and just watch this guy spray the wall. And I said, "I want to do this, too."

And then after a time I saw the b-boys, so I started breaking and popping. And back then, a lot of the poppers could break, too. So if you're talking about the late 1970s and early '80s, my brother would go to these parties. And I met a lot of people and they would do certain kinds of dances. And I would just watch them. He always took me to a lot of his parties—I'm a little boy, but he knew I could dance. So he would put me in the middle of everybody and just tell me to go off. And I would just get down in front of everybody, and everybody would "ooh" and "ahh" seeing a little boy get down like that. These were basement parties, red lights going on.

I would see people in the streets doing stuff and I would try to mimic it. And my brother would come home from Club Odell's and other clubs they would go to and show me these dances. And I would go my friends outside, because my brothers were hip. So they would come to me and ask me how to do the dances. Back then, they didn't call it hip-hop, we just did it.

Hip-hop didn't come until later on in our lives. We had people saying certain things in songs, but it wasn't tagged as hip-hop until the mid- to the late '80s. We just did it because it was fun and something to do, and we felt the vibe and spirit of it was something different but we didn't put a name to it. And it kept a lot of us out of trouble. We'd dance in the malls, we'd go to Mondawmin and Security. We went to neighborhoods, and we would battle. And we didn't have internet and stuff like that back then, so we had to create to be different.

CP: Did you bring a boom box with you?

Boodamonk:If we could afford it, yeah, we definitely carried the boom box with us. And it got to the point that we got tired of making the cardboard, and then we got tired of stealing other crews' linoleum and cardboard, so we just danced on the cement. For the most part we just danced on cement.

CP: So were Mondawmin and Security, were those the places people knew to go to dance?

Boodamonk: Mondawmin was always like that, like it is now. It's a hangout spot, people who are down with certain things will hang there. And when we got tired of the city, we would go up to the county. And the county, back then, they weren't hip to city life. We were always down with things that were new, so we'd go to the county to show it off. And it wasn't as crowded. Certain crews would come up there, and we'd have our piece, and we'd battle right on the spot. We'd go to Security [Square Mall]. We would walk to Security, hang out all day long, and walk home. That's when the movie theater was up there inside the mall. And we'd go out there, sneak into a movie, come out, and if any of us had any change go inside Friendly's and eat, dance inside the mall with everybody watching and people would give us money, and then walk home at night.

CP: Were there a lot of people doing it?

Boodamonk: Yeah. Back then you had apartment crews called Chocolate Boogie, you had Eastside Jitter Blockers, there were different people around time.

CP: Did your crew have a name?

Boodamonk: This is going to sound wild, we called our crew AC/DC. We didn't know what AC/DC was, and a guy in our crew, Donut, he named the crew, he said, “Let's call the crew AC/DC.” So it was me, Donut, and a guy named Carlos. After that, I hooked up with these two brothers, but we didn't have a name for our crew. We would just battle.

CP: Was there anything about Baltimore dancing that defined it, separated it from New York?

Boodamonk: I'm going to tell you, Baltimore, we always did things our way. We're all kind of boxed in our own little world. We do what we want to do when we want to do it, know what I mean? We don't care who you are or where you came from, our style is better than your style. So we carried that arrogance about us. And people from New York came down but we really didn't care. We didn't care if you were from New York. You better just be good.

Now it's a laid back city. It's nothing like it was a long time ago. Back then, it was strong. Everybody was fighting to learn these dance moves and put out something new. Now, we just follow and the city don't really respect dancing, respect the art form. In my head, what keeps me going is the past. The past pushes me forward because I really enjoyed the '80s, and it kind of hurts to see it going away like that. Nobody really wants to create anymore. Nobody wants to push hard and say, “Alright, I'm gonna go ahead and get sweaty and enjoy myself.” Everybody just two-stepping.

CP: What made it more solid in the 1980s? What happened between then and now?

Boodamonkl: You know what, I just know that, and I'm not a person who tries to figure out why people do this or why they do that. I just know, I hate to sound like this, but I try to put a lot of energy into what I want to be and what I want to do. And if somebody comes to me and says, “Alright, I want to learn this, Booda,” I'll show 'em. I remember a long time ago I thought I was going to save the world, but you can't do it because there's too much going on. I would want people to get more into the art form like they used to do, but the fact is people get older and to them things get played out. People get into certain types of livelihoods and just get away from it all.

By the early 1990s, Booda says he was getting more into graf and drawing with some partners, and by 1992 he started airbrushing and meeting up with some graffiti crews.

Boodamonk: Later on down the line I hooked up with a crew called Westside Kingz, graffiti crew. Deka was my airbrush partner. He and I hooked up in '94, we had a store at Walbrook Junction. And he's the one that brought me into the Westside Kingz. Later on I met Naze and DStar. I would say they the ones that really gave me my style, as far as how to paint a mural. And to me, they're the best, the Westside Kingz crew is the best. They already had a history when I got recruited.

CP: How long had they been around?

Boodamonk: They been around for a minute, I'd say the late '80s. And Naze style was more like a transparent style, really like a dream. And DStar, his style was more—it was the same letters, but he just did it a different way. I kind of adapted to both of their styles.

CP: Where did y'all work?

Boodamonk: All over. And then a buddy of mine, he wrote Rage, I met up with him in '94. I met Rage when I was airbrushing at Westview Mall. And he walked up and he wanted to learn airbrush. So he started doing his tag—and I thought I was good, I was all cocky, so I was like, yeah, so I wrote my tag. And then he wrote his tag backward. So I started scratching my head, like, Did he just burn me?

So I wrote my tag a different way. So guess what he did? He wrote upside down backward. I said, "It's over. You just burnt me two different times. What's your name man?" And we just went on from there, and he and I become real, real close, like brothers. Rage, I talk to him this day. He's another phenomenal artist.

CP: Is he still doing art?

Boodamonk: Yes. He's part of the Westside Kingz as well. Now, we're onto designing clothes. And my whole point was to build a business behind my art. So I started taking my art and putting it on T-shirts, doing peoples rooms and basements and stuff like that.

CP: How long you been doing dance and graffiti now?

Boodamonk: All my life. So I've been in this world a very long time and I'm one of the last, as far as back in the day, I'm one of the last people from back in the day that's still doing this. It was something new. And when you find something new you want to hold on to it—it was a spiritual thing that just overwhelmed everybody. You had a chance to really express yourself as a person. Now, it's so mechanical. Everybody's so mechanical and robotic. It's nothing like it was in our time.

CP: What do you mean by mechanical?

Boodamonk: They're programmed. They don't put themselves into their art. They do what they see. Krumping is a big thing in Baltimore hip-hop. Bucking, juking—everybody wants to be on what somebody else started in another state or what the radio says is cool or what the media says is hip, instead of just doing what you love to do. You don't see a lot of that.

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