The Bread Ties that Bind [Excerpt]

By St. Paco

As Billy (aka Upski) talked, I handed him a mock-up of the graffiti magazine Reminisce that I had dreams of publishing. He interrupted himself to gush over the colorful laser printed pages contained in clear plastic sleeves, and enthused support of my desire to publish the photos of Chicago graffiti art that I’d taken over the years. His almost boyish enthusiasm quickly called to mind my early impression of him the day we met at an art show hosted by our mutual homeboy Dzine. This was four years earlier at the Hot House, a bar on Chicago’s North Side.

On that day, Upski flipped thoughtfully through the large black photo album that I’d brought with me. I stood nearby chatting with West Side graffiti artists Answer, Casper and B-Boy B. Standing a few feet away from us, Slang, an old school homeboy from the FEDS crew (and an 'enemy' of Upksi’s) stood chatting with Dzine about one of several large paintings hanging around the room.

Upski & Slang

To the amazement of everyone in-the-know, just minutes before I had convinced Slang and Upski to pose together for a picture. Within that photo's edges, Upski’s discomfort is forever framed. As far as I was concerned, though, whatever 'beef' had existed between those two should have been squashed years ago. And, as I vaguely recalled, the problem was actually between Upski and Slang’s crew mate Orko anyway. 

Back in the late 1980s, when we were all teens, Billy had foolishly initiated an ill advised battle between himself and Orko. This done by defacing one of Orko’s recent pieces with a 'diss' regarding--of all bloody things--Orko’s mother. Orko’s reply to Billy’s challenge, when he finally caught up to him, was a blast of spray paint into the face of the cocky young challenger. Long after the paint had been washed away, the act would leave a different kind of stain.

My photo album held snapshots of pieces dating back to 1987, the golden age of graffiti art in Chicago. Billy laughed aloud when he saw the pages that featured photos of the “Fuck This Noise!” piece that he and his partner-in-crime Raven had painted on the south side of the Beatrice Foods building at 16th and Wentworth, a few blocks south of the Loop. He was clearly flattered to see his work included there, but perhaps even more flattered to see how, under the last of those photos, I had transcribed his infamous epilogue that had been tagged out in lavender paint on the right side of the mural:

Fuck this noise! Fuck everyone that says this is a crime! Fuck them! Fuck all you suckers who like to talk about me! Word! Fuck you backstabbers! You know who the fuck you are! Fuck this noise! Fuck Sgt. King...and the graffiti squad! Fuck them dicks! Word!!! Special love to Preach, who died for the art. RIP...and to Warp and Lola and the crew: Crone, Kep, Agent, Rest... Peace. -- The Union


It was a teen-angst tantrum leveled against the forces (both real and imagined) that Billy felt opposing him from within the city’s hip-hop subculture--and the finger-shaking parent culture at large. The mural itself was a 5-ft by 30-ft masterpiece with that oh-so-colorful phrase applied to the yellow brick wall of the Beatrice Foods building in Raven’s innovative wildstyle. Never before or since had a more beautifully profane work of art graced a wall in any city anywhere.

Admittedly, it was a something of a shock to me when I first saw the piece. Neither I nor my homeboy Seth, who I painted with then, had ever seen the word fuck used so many times in a single paragraph--let alone on a public space! Even more shocking, we would learn shortly after seeing it that Upski was actually just a 14-year old punk kid at the time.

Though Billy and I had seen each other at various hip-hop gatherings like jams at Hyde Park’s Blue Gargoyle, he and I hadn’t met until the day of Dzine’s art show. He was curiously dressed that day in blue jeans, black t-shirt, backwards turned King Sun baseball cap, and a reflective orange and yellow visibility vest that he had somehow acquired. It was the very same vest worn by Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) employees when working on or near the train tracks. He boldly claimed to have worn it during a recent bombing run; a few quick pieces on two buildings across the tracks at 16th street, less than half a block from the Noise mural which, at that time in 1992, was faded with half a decade of decay.

Around the same time, on another late night bombing run, Billy returned to the Beatrice building and actually scrawled out in black spray paint an unedited version of his article, “Chicago: The City That Revived Breakdancing” on the remaining space to the right of the fading "Fuck This Noise!" mural. According to Billy, he didn’t appreciate the editorial liberties that The Source had taken with his work, and wanted to make it available--in its unedited entirety--to the hip-hop kids of the Chi-town underground.

Click to enlarge

Excerpt from "Upski & Me: The Bread Ties that Bind" by St. Paco, published in Kung Fu Grip! #3

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