The following article is the cover story from The Infamous Magazine on the controversial graffiti writer Cope2 written by Mass Appeal’s own Sacha Jenkins SHR. The Infamous was kind enough to let us share it with you, make sure to show them some love!
How one Puerto Rican writer from the Bronx rose to Kingship inside of the international graffiti and gallery scenes.
Up in The Bronx where the people are fresh, there was one Boricua who would pass numerous tests on the streets and in life in general. He had very humble beginnings as a writer who just wanted to see his name go by as family and friends navigated their way through a chiefly subterranean maze governed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Fernando “Cope 2” Carlo set out to make a name for himself back in the dangerous old New York that you’ve seen in photographs. Back in 1979, the Bronx was a shell of herself, literally: gang members would burn massive buildings for a fee; landlords wanted to collect insurance money in the wake of so many white BX denizens flying the coop for “greener” pastures (these conditions would birth hip-hop, so fuck the burbs, ya heard?)
Today, Cope 2 is an international success story who has taken his thirst for fame on trains to a subway yard called the Internet. His Cope throw-ups ring bells in the most remote area codes, and he’s traded in his street infamy for gallery grandeur. He’s paid his dues and has gained friends and foes along the way. And whether you love the man or hate the man, whether you call him a saint or a snitch, you have to acknowledge that Cope 2 has morphed into a beast of a brand, with his widely recognizable and beloved “bubbles” serving as writing culture’s answer to Nike’s Swoosh.
The following is a candid conversation with Cope 2 – some of which conducted in his mini-van – which is outfitted with a handy-dandy baseball bat. Not sure how many balls the smoothly-shapened slab of wood has seen, but this writer digresses…
Sacha Jenkins SHR: Sitting here with Cope2, Bronx legend, Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Let’s start with throw-ups. You’ve created one of the most recognized throw-ups in the world. Talk about how you came up with your throw-up style and where you think it has evolved from when you first started.
Cope2: I came up with my throw-up style just watching the legends from back in the ‘70s, like Iz the Wiz. I remember Comet and Blade, they always had big bubble throw-ups and so I just started doing bubble letters watching them guys. I liked the whole idea of doing the throw-ups until I met this guy Cap, and Cap – which people know already – was notorious for throw-ups. That’s basically what he did. I guess he had so much beef, that’s what he needed to go against everyone and just destroy everybody’s stuff. When I met Cap, he gave me the throw-up I’ve been using for the past 30-plus years. Instead of doing one piece you can go in the yard and do 20–30 throw-ups and you would just get up much faster. So that’s why I like doing throw-ups and I stuck with that throw-up so many years.
SHR: So what does it mean now that your throw-up is recognized around the world and you are painting it on canvas now. Does it have a different meaning now that you paint it on canvas?
Cope2: Yeah, it’s a whole different thing. I’ve met some pretty famous street artists and they always talk about my bubble throw-up. They just love it. Artists from around the world, they’re always like “Yo, I love your bubble throw-up.” Even when I have done corporate gigs with Ecko and Converse and Adidas, they love the bubble throw-up. It’s funny: I would give them burners, and then I would give them just a clean simple bubble throw-up, and they’d be like like, “Oh, we like this.” That throw-up, I’ve made it famous to the point where it has history behind it. It’s a throw-up that’s been through bombing trains and beefs in the streets and having wars with other writers on the trains and in the street.
SHR: So do you think that essentially that the throw-up is you and it represents who you are and do you think you look like your throw-up?
Cope2: Yeah, a lot of people say “Yo, you look like your throw-up.” It’s weird, man. I can tell you I get orders every day, people asking me, “Hey, how much do I need for a throw-up? I have this money and blah blah blah…” And people, just normal people, like they don’t even write graffiti. They literally e-mail me to buy a throw-up for their kid’s room. It’s bugged out. I had a show in Copenhagen called “The World Famous Bubble”; I did about 20 or 30 of them in different colors and sold them all. Little kids just love it.
SHR: You are probably one of the most recognized graffiti artists in the world because you go so hard on the Internet. Do you see the Internet as the new subway lines?
Cope2: Kind of. The Internet is bad and it’s good. It depends what you do with it. I learned to use it in a more positive way now instead of being on there arguing with all these haters. You can’t do that. It’s not going to help you if you waste time arguing with a hater and the crazy shit is they will dis you with a fake name and you will never know who they are, so why waste your time? They’re not going to step to you with their real name, so I’d rather e-mail a gallery somewhere on the other side of the world and send my artist’s resume and try to book a show where I can make some money… I’m really kind of retired and done with graffiti. Too many headaches, too many haters, and too much shit talking. So I can’t be in that vibe because what happens is that as humble as you try to be, you are going to wind up getting into some shit, you’re going to hurt someone. And it’s not even worth it.
SHR: For a while you were pretty serious about beefing pretty thoroughly on the Internet. What were you able to do to get away from that? Because obviously you come from a time where if you were a writer, you probably had beef.
Cope2: There comes a time in life where you have to change. I’m in my early 40s. I’m a grandfather. The majority of these guys who talk shit on the Internet, I’ve caught them, I’ve stepped to them, I’ve chased them – and they run! I catch a lot of people and when I approach them, they totally deny it, so I’m like, “Why waste my time?” You can’t think like some angry dude, that’s just not going to help you. If you want to change and become a successful artist and have great shows, like Jose Parla and Kaws and Shepard Fairey… all these big artists who are having great shows, they aren’t on the Internet [beefing], they don’t waste their time with that shit. If they have a blog, they’ll blog. Blogging is cool, you’re going to throw some stuff up, people see it. I travel all around the world and I go into the MOCA in LA when it opened, and I’ve run into everybody, from Barry McGee to Retna, these guys are like, “Yo, I love your 12ozProphet blog,” and I’m like, “These guys are looking at my 12oz blog? That’s kind of bugged out.” It’s an honor to see these dudes who are great artists looking at your blog. So you learn to appreciate it and put positive stuff up. The hardcore days are done.
SHR: Well there was a Tumblr called “Cope Pointing at Things,” it was all photos of you pointing at things. How did you feel about that?
Cope2: I mean, it’s cool. I don’t care. They’re not disrespecting me; it’s kind of funny. I ‘d rather them do that than write some shit about, “Aww, Cope’s a rat, Cope’s a snitch,” which people have been saying for years.
SHR: So why do you think people have pegged you for being a snitch?
Cope2: It has a lot to do with police, with the Vandal Squad. These guys are the worst. And right now I’m in court – I’m in Supreme Court – because I won’t snitch. They literally want me to give someone up and because I won’t give someone up they indicted me on some buffed trains they say I did – which I didn’t. It’s a fucked up situation, you know, but it’s not my fault. Someone got me into the mix with some e-mails. People talk all this shit about snitch this, snitch that. You don’t need to snitch on anyone today. People have to understand this: You snitch on yourself. Once you get on the Internet and you’re e-mailing your trains to someone else – and you’re posing in front of these trains – you’re done. Nobody needs to snitch on you. It’s common sense. And then people go to jail, and when they come out, they think they’re hardcore. People go to jail because they don’t have their shit straight or their life in check or they’re a bunch of idiots and every one of them has different charges and cases. If you get arrested because you had 20 clean subway cars in your e-mails and you’re posing in front of them of course your getting a high bail. But if you have one or two buffed-out trains that don’t even say your name, and they never found anything on you or in your e-mails, of course you might get out on ROR; there’s really not much evidence on you. But try explaining that to one of these idiot haters or retards – it will never sink in
SHR: And you’ve gone to jail before in the past, right?
Cope2: Yeah, but not for graffiti. I’ve been locked up and did a little 90 days, 60 days, for racking, for fighting, for robbing. I’ve got pictures of me in prison, and I’ll probably post one for this interview so people can shut up. People don’t know my personal life, they don’t know my history. And that’s why I really don’t sweat it, because my fam knows the deal. That’s just the world of graffiti. Everything’s just about hating and shit talking.
SHR: But don’t you think it’s always been about that – that the Internet just makes things more concentrated and intense?
Cope2: Again, the thing with the Internet is, these dudes will hide behind the fake screen names. Back in the day before the Internet you would eventually run into this dude and fight. Today people just talk so much shit it’s unbelievable.
SHR: Did you ever talk shit on the Internet?
Cope2: Oh, yeah. But I just talk shit to retaliate and defend myself – to dis someone who’s dissing me. If you don’t disrespect, I won’t disrespect, that’s just how I am. If you dis me I’m going to come at you and everybody in your crew and dis you hard.
SHR: I’ve noticed that when you would ride on people on the Internet, you come at them with all caps. What’s that about?
Cope2: People think because you write all caps that you’re an idiot. That doesn’t mean nothing. I can sit down and write a full sentence, a paragraph, or a fucking poem if I wanted to. But it’s just when I’m in the moment and pissed off, because these dudes just talk so much shit – it’s unreal the shit they talk.
SHR: So you’re in court now. What’s the deal with your case?
Cope2: Well, I have one case in the Bronx, and they are willing to give me a conditional discharge and a fine. And the one in Manhattan, the thing is, they threw some charges on me with some buffed trains they said I did, and I pleaded not guilty. The district attorney wants to talk to me. I don’t know why, because I don’t want to talk to them. I didn’t do these trains. And the thing that upsets me is the Vandal Squad pressures them to pressure me to give up some writer, which I don’t know who it is, and if I don’t give them the person they want [I’m] going to go to trial.
That’s the thing: the Vandal Squad conquers and divides and manipulates all these writers. And that’s what gets me upset. You’ve got writers today hanging out and rolling with retired vandal squad cops. That shit disturbs me. You go on the Internet and you see retired Vandal Squad officers going to graff parties and shows – that’s ridiculous. Hanging out and taking pictures with other writers? And then these writers are like, “Oh, he’s cool.” He’s cool?! He’s cool now because he’s retired, but when he wasn’t retired and he was a fucking Vandal Squad cop and he was disrespecting writers and doing fucked-up shit to [writers]. Or they’ll call the New York Daily News up and tell them a bunch of lies to disrespect your whole character – it’s so outrageous! Then the haters take it and run with it like the bunch of idiots that they all are. It’s so sad; that’s why I’m done with this graffiti bullshit.
SHR: Well you hang out with writers you once had beef with, right?
Cope2: That’s different. Beef – that’s our world. We got beef. But cops, like Vandal Squad?
It’s so fucked up because this is only graffiti – nothing serious – and these Vandal Squads fuck with people’s lives, their reputations.
SHR: What do you say to the people who say you’re a sellout for painting with Mr. Brainwash?
Cope2: They can say what they want, because even if I write graffiti, they are still going to talk shit. Today, you’ve gotta do what’s best for you. And if Mr. Brainwash offers me a wall in his studio because he loves my bubble throw-up and it’s his favorite and he flies me over to do a wall with him, why not? If he’s going to pay me to do it, why not? He’s a good person. That’s another thing, I’ve always judged people by personality, not by what they write. Some people are like, “Oh, he’s whack, I’m not going to do a piece with him.” I was never like that. If you’re a good dude, a good person, we’re cool, man. That’s what it’s all about. And Mr. Brainwash is a good dude, he’s actually doing a big show now, the first week of November. He called me the other day, he wants to fly me in and do an installation in his show. Graffiti writers out here don’t do shit like that. They’re selfish, they’re all about themselves.
SHR: What do you think about the state of graffiti in New York City today? You’re a guy who started out as a bomber and at one point you were all city; you had the streets on lock.
Cope2: I mean honestly, I don’t care anymore. It’s not the same. It’s all Internet bullshit now and not too many writers are putting in work like people used to years ago. A writer from out of town can come and smash one little neighborhood, like Lower Manhattan, and all of a sudden, he’s killing shit. Of course he is, especially if no one else is bombing in New York. I mean, JA is still going strong, killing trucks. It’s not too many real, old New York writers who are still bombing. Not even the females. Nobody’s really bombing.
SHR: What do you think of the graff scene on the West Coast? Like all those MSK dudes—they’re super organized and on the same page and they work with one another. Why do you think that’s not the case in New York?
Cope2: I have a lot of respect for them MSK dudes, because they hold it down. Not too many crews in New York… You know, I try and hold shit down with my crew, but everyone’s different: you got one dude who is dysfunctional, the other guy’s a fucking retard, this dude’s hating on the other dude, this guy’s complaining about the other guy. I’m sure all crews go through that, but there’re not too many crews in New York that hold it down so tight like that.
There are some crews in New York that I can say hold it down pretty tight and have been holding it down for many years, crews like TC5. I’ve never seen a crew so tight like them; they’re like a family, a real family. That’s how it should be. I still have some tight dudes in my crew – Kings Destroy, worldwide, Puerto Rico and in New York, and I’m blessed and appreciate having their loyalty and their realness. But as a tight, tight squad, like a fam and a camp, you don’t see that in New York. I stick with my brothers, my kids, and my partner Indie who runs her Kweenz Destroy empire, and maybe a handful of good, loyal and real friends, otherwise I’m good thanks to them and the 004Connec fam from Miami.
SHR: When you grew up, writing was a bona fide culture, it was something that was passed down from generation to generation… which isn’t the case these days. What do you think the future holds for writing culture in NYC?
Cope2: Kids are still out there painting, there are kids out there who don’t care about the gallery scene. They are going to paint hardcore, they’re going to still paint trains. You got kids who will still do it; every day there is a new breed. I run into kids all the time and they are just starting to bomb and they say, “Oh, man, you’re my idol, man. I always looked at your videos and your YouTube clips,” and this and that. So writers like me, and Skuf and JA, and even old-school bombers like Iz The Wiz, we will always inspire the new generation of kids.
SHR: What countries would you say have graf that reminds you of what New York was like in terms of trains and the overall scene?
Cope2: Definitely Brazil. Os Gemeos took me to a lot of ill, dirty areas in Sao Paulo that reminded me of the South Bronx. And when I started doing a lot throw-ups in the South Bronx I used to do some of them during the daytime because they were in abandoned lots and nobody cared.
And when it comes to train systems? Milan. It was fucking unbelievable the way the trains were bombed over there. I went to a yard and did a bunch of throw-ups and it was like bombing the Ghost Yard. It was fun, though. Sometimes you need that. But I’m focused on a different direction, a transition.
SHR: Talk about some of the other things you have going on. I know you collaborate with brands. Talk about, outside of fine art, some of the things you have happening.
Cope2: I have a whole line of stuff coming out, early spring  with ecko Unlimited. It’s a series with different writers; my color’s orange, everything’s going to be in orange: backpack, t-shirts, sweat hoods, caps, a watch, pants, sweatpants – underwear, condoms, who knows? They had a couple of dope writers from around the world get down. I also have a show in Paris is this February; in March I have a show in London with this artist Sweet Toof at his gallery. I have a bunch of other shows I’m working on, so I’m just busy painting canvases like I would paint burners on a wall. That’s all I do.
SHR: One source of inspiration that I have always noticed throughout your writing has been your Mom – she always gets love in a throw-up or a piece.
Cope2: My Moms took me everywhere with her when she had to visit family or go shopping, I always took the subway with her and I always looked at the trains; I’d be sitting down and looking at all the tags. When I started actually painting subway cars in ’79, ’80, I told her I was painting them, she didn’t believe me. Then one day we were on the corner of Jerome and Gun Hill waiting for the light to change and the 4 Train just pops up and it stops. And it was so crazy because I did the piece like two days before, a little silver-and-red one on the corner of the panel, and I said, “Mom, look, I did that one.” She did not believe me, and I was like, “I’m telling you.” She just laughed it off. And then it got to a point where she had to believe me, since she saw me coming home with paint and markers.
My Moms supported me. She always told me “You’re an artist. Don’t ever look at yourself as some dirty little kid who only wrote on subways.” She was always amazed at the way I did my burners and blended colors. Before she passed I was starting to do canvases, but I wish she was here today to see what I am actually doing now. But she definitely inspired me a lot, telling me that I wasn’t just some ghetto-ass nigga painting on trains. She was right. Like, how long can you keep it hood? That doesn’t pay the bills, that doesn’t take care of your family. People gotta understand that.
When I’m dead and gone my paintings will still be selling, and hopefully that will take care of my family, and that’s what it is. I want to leave something behind. You put so much work and effort in for so many years, you have to leave something behind for your family. That’s what I’m working on.