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rammellzee :: elegy for a gothic futurist

July 1, 2010


Beat Bop (1983) - w/K-Rob / Lecture (1987) - w/Shockdell / Equation (1989) - w/Material / Hisstory (1999) - w/Material / His Stories Crockery (2002) - w/New Flesh / My Horizon (2003) - from This Is What You Made Me / Sigma 1 (2004) - from Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee / Beat Bop, Pt. 2 (2004) - w/Shockdell / Revelations Part 2 (2008) - w/Praxis / Uncommon freestyle (2007) / On Iconic Panzerism

Rammellzee, The RAMM:∑LL:Z∑∑, The Quantum Equation, The Gothic Futurist, Iconic Panzerist, The Master Alphabiter, King of the Garbage Gods, All-Around Crazy-Ass, moved from the material(ist) plane to one of pure graffiti on June 30.

Ramm started out as a graf writer and that informed everything he did.  The late '70s, early '80s--there was nothing we'd call hip-hop.  Just graffiti.  When downtown came uptown he got down with the art scene.  He was in the movie Wild Style and dropped "Beat Bop" with Schockdell and Basquiat.  Over the years he moved between making strange records, making strange artwork, and making very strange costumes--Iron Man by way of the garbage can.

He was one of those autodidact, true original, is-he-genius-or-just-talking-shit types.  Hip-hop's Sun Ra, George Clinton or Lee Scratch Perry, except his shit was too advanced to be as well-known and influential.  Why not more famous?  Well, the Museum of Modern Art owns some of his work, but in hip hop as usual the godfathers are left behind.  He wasn't really that interested in making records, and I think he was too unironic, too ghetto and too out there for the Soho scene to big him up.  I mean, wine and cheese gallery openings don't go well with homemade doll-head-covered Kabukitron outfits.

Kool Keith, K-The-I???, DJ Spooky, Killah Priest, Sir Menelik, Buck 65, Company Flow, Cannibal Ox, Super Chron Flight Brothers, Madlib, Lil B, Lil Wayne, all Anticon and Def Jux artists, and anyone who ever rapped about outer space, extreme/supreme mathematics, alien autopsies, Egyptian mythology, or any other kind of weird insane cryptic type shit, or rapped in highly coded messages of fractured language, all these people owe Rammellzee ten million dollars.  Because he invented that shit in Nine. Teen. Eighty. Three.

MF Doom wears a mask?  Rammellzee invented that shit.  RZA stands for Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah?  Rammellzee stands for RAM plus M for Magnitude, Sigma (Σ) the first summation operator, first L - longitude, second L - latitude, Z - z-bar, Σ, Σ - summation. I say it stands for: Rap's Ascended Master Mad Eloquent Lectures Landing Zone Earth Elevated. He legally changed his name to Rammellzee, for Christ's sake.  Top that, P. Diddly Oodly.  And Wacka Wocka Flame my ass.

Open Mike Eagle just dropped a nice LP called "Unapologetic Art Rap."  R:L:Z invented unapologetic art rap in 1983.  Open Mike Eagle owes him ten dollars.

The obits keep saying he 'influenced the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill,' by which they mean Ram's 'Gangsta Duck' nasal rhyming style made it OK for B-Real and Ad-Rock to be all nasal.  The Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill do not owe Ram ten dollars.  Maybe five dollars.

When you first saw The Matrix and got your mind blown in 1999, Rammellzee just shrugged and said: 'Told you.'

While today's no-talent rappers cozy up to cognac executives, Rammellzee invented some 2083 shit.  You best catch up.

This concise XLR8R review of his Bi-Conicals LP sums him up well:

Sometimes the album art says it all: some growling homeboy in a Beijing Opera mask, rainbow ski boots, with what appears to be a travel version of Connect Four dangling from his belt and, in the mirror, his opposite reflection. I don't know quite how it's happened, but Bi-Conicals sounds exactly like iconic hip-hopper Rammellzee looks--not quite insane, not quite clown. This album is full of gothic videogame hip-hop tunnel-scavengers that aren't quite demented enough to be truly fun, yet crazy enough as to be totally confusing to listen to.

Giovanni Marks sez: The dude was so far ahead of his time, no one even knew what it looked like when we all caught up to it.

Will Luckman sez: In a culture born of a desire for fame, RAMM∑LLZ∑∑ put on a mask and forced his way outside—transforming himself into a true god, an unseen force manipulating the world he dominated as he looked down from above, laughing.

He was one of those cats who dabbled in lots of media because the artform he specialized in hasn't been invented yet: a combo of graffitti, hip hop, sculpture, costumes, lectures, writing:

Q: Music or art? Which inspires you the most?


A lot of the time rappers who act crazy and talk shit, it's just an act.  There's no thinking behind it.  This is why I got tired of Kool Keith a few records ago and, like I said earlier, get frustrated with DOOM.  Rammellzee thought so much about grafitti and what it could mean, he sounded nuts, but he drops mad science if you listen.  He keeps going until ends up at pure mathematics.  It's hard to unpack it.  The Iconic Treatise is as dense and insane and brilliant as P.K. Dick's Exegesis.  The ideas about how language uses us, language's independence and domination, the need to free it from its own boundaries to reach enlightenment...these are all Burroughsian-like concepts in a wild style frame.

Q: You initially made your reputation in graffiti?

A: No, I was involved in gothic futurism and gothic text. Graffiti is a word that society placed on people it did not possibly understand. Before we could grow up and make our own determination of what technique or iconic statement we were doing, they decided - instead of saying we were abstract and have a whole society built on non complete information and these guys are about to scare the shit out of us with the biggest culture since futurism 10000 strong - to call us scribble, scrabble artists which is a contradiction right there. They called us something that eventually wiped us out.

So how does an all-city bomber end up in a handmade robot soundsystem suit making wildstyle Voltron skateboard sculptures?  Graffiti emerged from the dead zone, the war zone of '70s New York.  It was the disenfranchised taking back the trains.  You take the trains, you take the city.  They took the trains with their names, with letters.  The alphabet became the weapon.  The trains were the tanks.  The terminology was already there--bombing, burning.  So trains are 'rolling pages'--blank of writing, public transit papyrus.

My inspiration was my curiosity of why people wanted to write on trains, the biggest distribution gallery for any art form known to man...JESTER did what we should call now, the "signoverture." a letter with a harpoon on it. I based most of my style on that. I often wondered why JESTER armored the "letter" with a barbed arrow...

The letter music notes and weather notes that were done down there reached a point where you didn't need to kill a person. The piece itself became a weapon: the letter itself. So fame was the most interesting to take out. How do you know George Washington? You know him through a name. You shoot the letter on the train at the other name and it takes out that name. So therefore homeboy has no identity. Why should I kill him? He'll just be dead anyway because nobody will know who he is.

My style did not break away from any traditional art form of the illuminations. I just went further, did what people wouldn't. We all painted three dimensional letters. I just finished mines by building them. Those rolling pages in those wind tunnels showed everyone what to do. Those who chose to complete "that" competition of the five boroughs of New York City, had their reasons to finish or not their studies. Even if their studies were rolling at the speed of 35 miles per hour.

Wild style.  Three-dimensional letters--illegible unless you're initiated.  Coded language.  Electricity straight down the third rail.  These are also armored letters--protected from interpretation and exploitation.  "The letter is armed to stop all the phony formations, lies, and tricknowlegies placed upon its structure..." as Ram put it, "...how a letter aerodynamically changes into a tank."

Rammellzee is a military function formation… I am ramming the knowledge to an elevation and I am understanding the knowledge behind the Zee. Since we are dealing with Roman letters, we have to go back to the day when the Romans were using the ram to break down doors. Our situation today is to break down a door of knowledge hidden behind society. We're going to work our way around it instead of breaking it straight up. Whereas before you'd be trying to break through and you would be on the bottom of the pile. We're talking about where graffiti originated, where hardcore war went down, with markers against markers and letters against letters. You think war is always shooting and beating everybody up, but no, we had the letters fight for us.

From there it gets even more obtuse.  He started thinking about the connection between graf and illuminated manuscripts (gothic script).  And he decided he was continuing the work of medieval monks whose illuminations were banned by the Catholic Church.  Then he got into the idea that language is mathematics, and electromagnetic forces, and all this is preventing us from moving out into space...into Burroughs territory but also into Time Cube territory.  But there was always a coded Afrofuturist agenda there, his Five Percenter past keeping it relevant.

In 2001 R:L:Z said:

We failed what could have been "our" culture. I went to the Puck Building (Guernsey's Auction) in June of the year 2000 and offered my services. Everyone who was anyone in this "subculture" had works for sale. No one sold, except for a few. I felt that the "culture" died right there. There was too much "mannerism" not enough "burner"!!! Our futurism! We should have only stuck to doing the "letter" and joined together to fight the light dwellers. but, we will always be Kings From the Dark Continent. The veins of this Gotham! Remember this the next level, as you said, is the third dimension. I hope.

Born in Far Rock, Away.  He took the A train.

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