Wayne “Stay High 149” Roberts is the Robert Johnson of graffiti. Simple and plain.
The man was born in Virgina in 1950. He started writing back in ’69, way before there was a global movement of “writers” with their own dialects saying it via spraying it.
His stylized signatures have remained iconic, and have inspired generations of writers.
There’s a book by Sky Farrell and Chris Pape simply titled Stay High 149: The Voice of the Ghetto. Chris “Freedom” Pape has been involved with the movement since the ’70s; his art is powerful, and his desire to document American graffiti is pure. But this scribe purchased said book recently, and this scribe had questions about it. And the questions weren’t necessarily for Pape. It is his co-author, in my estimation, who’s intentions seemed questionable. I found it odd that somehow, her own art-world aspirations got jumbled up in the narrative of Stay High’s life. But let me not digress.
It’s understandable, dear Sky. Who wouldn’t want to have a deep connection to such an important artist? Who wouldn’t want to forge a friendship with a man who was so universally loved?
Chris Pape and Sky Farrell–I’m sorry for your loss.
By the mid ’70s, Stay High would disappear from the graffiti world. He made it through the ’70s and ’80s somehow. I mean, it isn’t a secret that Wayne Roberts had issues with drugs. So as the culture continued to grow and evolve, Wayne Roberts was existing and making his way through life the best way he knew how. In a bubble. Even though he wasn’t actually gettin’ up, the Stay High name was deeply embedded in his soul. That’s one thing I found odd about the Stay High book: how do you not explore the fact that his name made him both master and slave?
In early ’90s, with Wayne Roberts still out of the mix, a Latino gentleman posing as Stay High made the rounds. He did interviews with graff ‘zines, and told scores of respectable writers who weren’t from the Stay High era fantastic tales from the Stay High perspective. But OGs like Phase 2 knew that this cat was suspect and, as I understand it, told folks so. But hey, can you blame that dude for wanting to be THE DUDE?
Fake Latino Stay High dude: I’m sorry for your loss.
When Wayne re-emerged some time in 2000, the story goes that he went to a gallery opening. It was if he’d been frozen for years. He saw that what he’d done for fun as a young man had turned into a cash cow. When folks figured out who the quiet blackman in the room was, the excitement in the air was thick like good pizza. It was as if James Brown Moonwalked across the Atlantic Ocean straight to Sierra Leone, West Africa. Keo was there, and Keo has a tattoo that is definitively inspired by Stay High’s iconography. Keo showed the tat to Stay High and Stay High got freaked out–like WOAH, WHAT THE FUCK! He really had no idea.
I would see Stay High at other openings and he’d make some scratch selling signatures. A lot of folks had a lot of love for him, so putting money in his pocket for his art was just natural. My wife copped a humble little one at Hostos Community college in the BX. She paid $30 for a super small signature and that little puppy lives on our bookshelf today. Stay High was super nice and super humble; it was almost as if he lived like a peasant, not a prince soon to be crowned king.
The folks at media monolith Frank 151 were very close to Stay High; they got him involved with projects that honored him and payed him. They got him a Reebok ad, which I thought was pretty progressive and pretty bugged out. Stay High was famous.
My condolences to the Frank 151 family.
Reebok: bless you for recognizing the real before most.
I’ve met the legendary Snake 1 a few times over the years and he’s always been a gentleman. This is man who started writing the year I was born. Some weeks back, he sent out an email to a very select group of legendary writers and folks who were friends with Wayne. He basically encouraged anyone who was a friend to Wayne to go and visit him in the hospital. He didn’t anticipate Wayne being around for much longer. But then I heard that Stay High was doing better. I thought, ‘oh, of course, Stay High has been through it all. I guess he wants to be here.’ Weeks and weeks went by. Figured he was OK.
Snake 1: I’m very sorry for your loss.
Got a text from my man Baser earlier today asking me if it was true that Stay High passed. I hadn’t heard yet, but with the internet, it was my man Baser in Atlanta who would hip me to Stay High’s flight to a new dimension. Baser is a killer of freights. Baser is a keeper of the tradition that Stay High helped to pioneer long, long ago. Thank you Baser for loving this culture and honoring this culture. We’ve lost someone who was very important. A man who leaves behind a daughter and a son and a legacy that has changed the lives of too many people to mention. My condolences to Stay High’s family. To them I say treasure his legacy, beware of the fakesters, and do your best to protect what Stay High has created. Because what he’s created is immortal and will be around long after we’re all gone. The roaches–the fortunate ones who survive the impending nuclear holocaust–they’ll be looking up to Stay High’s single hits, hurting their nasty little necks in the process.
Stay High 149 was the Voice of the Ghetto.
Writers world-wide: I’m sorry for your loss. http://stayhigh149.com