Toast1 took my photographer and I up over a hill next to the railroad. We walked along this raised hill looking down at the ABC building to see many of Sacramento’s great graffiti-artists communication skills up on the walls. The walls spanned nearly 800-feet in length and went across D St. to another building as well with tag-names colorfully displayed along the way.
This wall has been used for over 25 years, evidence states that three well-known graffiti artists in the community, Refa1, Tunes and Rapski actually received permission to paint legally, according to Toast1 by the building owners, in the early ‘90s. Toast1 explained that there were five main crews back in the day, TNS [The Night Shift], TCB [The Capitol’s Best], BRI [By Reason of Insanity], XS [X-Streem] and DOI [Disciples of Imagination] that ran the streets and the walls.
Legal versus illegal artists vary greatly; although respected in the community as an art form, legal ‘graffiti art’ is considered urban art. Graffiti, according to Toast1 is vandalism, period. There is also a fine line between street art and graffiti art that spans between the west coast and the east coast where street art was originally from.
“I personally like [street art]; it’s urban art,” says Toast1, who continues, “You have to be fast [in Sacramento], so in Sac people mainly do graf-art.”
There were battles, according to Toast1 such as Resn of DOI versus Refa of TCB and Resn of BRI versus Asia of TNS that would go down. Both crews would show up and run paint crew for crew. The leaders would battle for eight hours a day – two days straight. Everyone in town that was judge-worthy would give up props to the best lead-painter from each crew.
“I would skip school everyday to be out here. This was a straight 24-hour spot,” says Toast1, who eventually taught classes in ‘97 at Valley High to students who were interested in urban art; this was around the same time that public schools were being notified of graffiti art as being vandalism and to report the painted walls to authorities.
Back in the day, all four corners of hip-hop were covered – the graffiti-art scene was painted, the music scene was spoken, the djs were spinning and the dancers were breaking. Everything was rocking in Sacramento for the hip-hop community in the mid-90s. The Yard was where it was at. With the popularity of graffiti art in Sacramento, the notion grew of who was better than another at wall-art; hence taggers began gangbanging with guns at that point.
These gangbangers made up less than 10 percent of graffiti artists, according to the Sacramento Police Department. If someone showed up, someone was unfortunately in the eye of the gun, viable to get shot. Cops started to come around and it wouldn’t take long before illegal artists were scared off or hauled in. ‘The Yard’ received a lot of rain as artists from the Bay Area and Stockton started to stream in to show Sacramento what was up. Once popularity grew, flyer graffiti became yet another way to get the word out about events, festivals, music groups and other much-needed community information and the police were taking notice. Still illegal, many people posted up their flyers. The most notorious flyer-graffiti posters were The Cawz, a Sacramento-based hip-hop group; Scratch 8, a hip-hop venue and 720 Records based out of Sacramento as well who would post flyers of their band’s events all over downtown Sacramento. The groups were eventually fined.
Back in the day there were two to three crews at ‘The Yard’ – made up of roughly 10-20 people, when it was a legal spot to paint. The spot went dead because a lot of the artists went dead, according to Toast1.
Or maybe they were just too afraid to keep bombing and tagging due to enforcement? The success of the SPD sweeps came in by the handfuls as ‘free walls’ such as The Yard were shut down. Many local artists were questioned about the history and culture of graffiti art and were used as expert witnesses in adult and juvenile court cases. This caused many of Sacramento’s artists to have warrants issued and artists were arrested. By ’97, the SPD began ‘graffiti sweeps’ in multiple locations, flushing out as many artists as they could. They could show up to an artist’s house on suspicion and with a warrant, come inside find paint cans or articles of clothing with paint on them and immediately warrant an arrest. By ’00, over 45 homes were swept by police. The SPD then created a website called www.graffitifreezone.com maintained on a volunteer-basis where a database was created to post images of artists and their records along with images of their art. The website was password protected for law enforcement only. A graffiti hotline was started so locals could call in graffiti art they saw in their neighborhood or catch taggers in the act. These artists and graffiti flyer vandals were sent to small claims court.
“He made sure everyone was getting up,” says Toast1.
*The Three Types of Graffiti Art in Sacramento
Vandalize with a ‘tag name’ or a ‘crew’ name in spray paint, liquid markings, stickers or etching.
Is illegally posting signs and failing to remove them after an event. In the late 90s flier graffiti was a major litter nuisance and abatement was an enormous cost to the city.
Makes up only 5-10% of Sacramento’s graffiti problem. They promote their group, claim a territory or make threats to rival gangs.
Sacramento Graffiti Art and Battles