OG GRAFFITI BEATS, Mesh sprays it and plays it
Mesh AOK reminisces about his roots in graffiti and hip hop culture growing up in New York City.
Mesh makes music. Before he made music, he made spray paint and aggressive ink stick on the insides and outsides of subway cars. He’s a New Yorker. He’s seen a lot. Here’s what he’s got to say. Look at the pictures. Listen to the music.
When did you first get into graffiti?
I first got into graffiti when I was very young, growing up here in New York City. I can’t remember the very first moment, but I already liked all the rock group’s letters and logos, which are kind of like graffiti itself, and then just growing up here you’re exposed to so much advertising and geometry of letters. Me and Cost KRT were classmates in school, and I can remember one day in about 5th grade at recess, while talking about sneakers most likely, graffiti came up and it was like: “Oh, word? You like that, too? Yeah, me too!” From then on it just grew. Scoping/studying tags around the ‘hood, really analyzing it. I really loved letters, so I began practicing with little throw-ups and pieces–my interpretation of what graffiti should look like. I remember one time getting a can and going down by the river, on the east side, next to the FDR drive, and doing this TOP throw-up. Why those letters–I don’t know.
I loved the subways. So much, in fact, that there’s a smell from the subways that’s still my favorite smell to this day. You used to catch it more back in the day, coming up from the subway grates when a train would pass by underneath, and the wind from it would shoot up. It’s kind of a dry, dusty aroma, which I later figured out to be steel filings coming from the tracks, probably mixed with some electricity in the air or something. Anyone remember that?
What was the inspiration behind the moniker Mesh?
One of my first main tags was Moses. Anyways, one day in like freshman year of high school, this dude came up to me who also wrote, and I think he had probably seen a Moses tag I took in the bathroom. He was like “Yo, that’s not cool that you write Moses, that’s disrespectful, man.” I didn’t like this dude too much, but I thought about what he said, and even though I wasn’t religious at that time, somehow it made sense that it was inappropriate, so I set out to get a new name. I liked the letters “M,” “E” and “S,” as they were already in my previous tag, so I came up with the idea to write M _ SH at first, with the initial idea that I would put a different vowel in the blank as I felt like it, so Mesh, Mish, Mosh etc. But then I quickly settled on Mesh, as I felt that looked the dopest.
Who were some of your influences, as far as other writers?
Wow, that’s a tough one, because I’m a little weird with acknowledging influences, but I will say unequivocally the TAT crew. I know many people today may associate them with simply being muralists, but I don’t think people really realize how many dope burners and pieces they did on trains, particularly in the era we were coming up, which was right after the old school writers. Their styles influenced me greatly, along with, of course, Dondi and the FBA dudes.
You were a white dude who was in the rap game as an emcee early on. Talk about that experience.
I’ve always loved black music–especially being that white music in the 80’s wasn’t that funky. Like, I was a “Quiet Storm” listener. I don’t know if people know what that is, but late night on 98.7 KISS FM they had this thing called “The Quiet Storm” where they played all slow jams. I used to put that on and do my homework to it, loving it. I loved the Jackson Five growing up. Used to buy their records with the Beatles and then disco 45’s. Used to go in to the record store and ask what was good, and they had this flamboyant black DJ in the store who was like, “Here young man, try this one.” So I had all these disco 45’s growing up as well. Then my parents had Catch a Fire by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which is still musically one of the best albums ever made. We also had the Smokey Robinson and The Miracles Anthology playing up in my crib all the time. Those records and Kraftwerk’s Computer World, which a family friend introduced me to probably right around the time it came out, set the stage for my musical influences, which inevitably lead to Rap when it came out. When “Sucker MC’s” came out by Run DMC, I literally sat by my tape recorder, rewinding and playing it until I had written all the lyrics out, and then memorized it.
Then at one point I just said to myself, you know what, I could do this too, and began writing lyrics early on. You see, the thing is I grew up on the Lower East Side for my early youth, and was even like the only white kid in my class for a time. But I always felt comfortable around black and Puerto Rican kids growing up, and even to this day I still have problems communicating with average white kids–just a different style of directness I think. At any rate, the real point is, I’ve always been at ease, and fairly confident at slinging slang, and thus I could wrap some words around beats. Now as for the race part later on, yeah, it had some interesting repercussions, you could say. Being into Hip-Hop we used to go to the hard-core Hip-Hop clubs back in the day. We went to The Latin Quarter back in the day, and to Union Square, where KRS filmed “The Bridge is over.” Anyways, some of those places got mad dangerous. I remember at Union Square we were up on the upper balcony, of course the only three white kids in the entire place, Me, Reas, and Josh, and moments after they had just jumped someone for their gold chain, and left them basically unconscious on the floor. Then on cue, cops suddenly rolled into the place and raided it
Me and Reas formed the group together at first with DJ Flasher TR as our DJ, called “AOK,” after our crew “The All Out Kings.” I did a show once, and a dude noticed me, and hooked me up with this woman, and the two co-managed me. They shopped me and Flasher around as AOK, and we got the deal with Profile Records, signed by the same people who had signed Rob Base with “It Takes Two.” Then we did the record and started promoting it. We had some contacts through the DJ’s at downstairs record who used to throw some of the first, if not the first Hip-Hop parties downtown, with a guy named Patrick. One of them was DJing one of the parties and he played my joint. Then he told me Red Alert came up to him afterwards and wanted to know what the record was. When I herd that I figured I should go introduce myself. For those who don’t know, back then the only two main outlets for Hip-Hop were the weekend mastermix shows, with Red Alert and Chuck Chillout on Kiss, and Mr. Magic and Marley Marl on WBLS, other than the late night radio shows on BAI by The Awesome Two, and a show on NYU. So, I go to introduce myself and you should of seen this dude’s face drop when he saw me. Anyway, long story short, he never played it. Flasher tried to go to BLS and KISS to talk to them, as he grew up around KRS’s way, but we never got played on them, but The Awesome Two did play us, and I love them for it.
Talk about how your transition from hip hop to other musics came about.
I made some Jungle and Drum & Bass music that got some play on WKCR, the Columbia University radio station. Anyone in New York should be checking that out for their eclectic shows. Which really brings me to the point about my music, and tastes. I just like so many kinds of music, and that’s why I think Mesh is such an apropos name for me. Love reggae. It’s even been my favorite music at times, and when you see and hear what King Tubby did, innovating the dub versions, with the echoes, and line that up with Kraftwerk, you see how that all comes together. A dude I knew got to interview the guy who programmed all of Kraftwerk’s nasty beats, Karl Bartos, and it turns out that dude was a big James Brown fan, so there you have it full circle, it all makes sense to me as just good old funky music.
How would you describe the sound of your latest project?
My new stuff is completely sample-free. For a while, I was doing a mixture of samples with original music–you can find that on my MESH iTunes page, not to be confused with another UK band titled Mesh with their own separate page on iTunes. The last MCeeing I did was back in 2003 on an album titled PLaYer, that has me rhyming over vintage dub rhythms. But since then it’s been strictly singing. I’ve been told by enough people that I have a good, interesting voice to be in there with that. I do things that strike my interest. Sometimes a humorous joint, like “Hipsters Are The New Jocks!,” that Z-trip remixed, similar to the track off my new album titled “Foodie,” which is really just social commentary on what I see around me at the time, spun in a funny way to make it even more acute as a commentary, but mostly, just deep funky grooves. On this recent album, I even invented a whole genre, that could only be called “Electronic Country.” I just stumbled upon that, and went with it. It’s kind of kitschy, and fun, and almost makes me cringe with how kitschy it is, but just mad nasty funky. The album’s available for free download for the meanwhile as a pre-release by going to MESH “American Fleece.”