Cope With The Truth
The story of Cope 2, the controversial Bronx graffiti writer, and his rise to kingship on the subways, streets, and international gallery scene.
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.