2010-07-09 / Community

Hip-Hop Pioneer, Rammellzee, Dies At 49

By Ryan Lazo

Far Rockaway resident Rammellzee, an early graffiti writer, hip-hop pioneer and performance artist, died on Sunday at the age of 49.

Rammellzee became known in graffiti circles during the late 1970s for writing on the A train and many other Queens train lines. Rammellzee also appeared in many movies throughout his career including one of the most important graffiti and hip-hop films, Charlie Ahern’s “Wild Style.” In 1983, Rammellzee teamed up with his friend, painter Jean- Michel Basquiat, to produce “Beat Bop,” a 12-inch single by Rammellzee and K-Rob that became one of his best known performances. Basquiat illustrated the record’s cover and the song is played in the closing credits of Tony Silver’s graffiti documentary titled, “Style Wars.” Rammellzee was himself quite a character and continually played up to it, even changing his name; never revealing the original.

His wife, Zagari Rammellzee, also declined to reveal it in a New York Times article, saying, “It is not to be told. That is forbidden.”

The hip-hop artist was rarely photographed without wearing one of his elaborate science-fiction-inspired masks and costumes, which became mainstays of his career, similar to what Lady Gaga is doing during the present generation.

His style influenced many in the music business such as the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. Cypress Hill is one of the best-known groups in West Coast rap and has received critical acclaim for their first three albums.

In 1984, Rammellzee had a small part toward the end of the Jim Jarmusch movie “Stranger Than Paradise.” Jarmusch had something interesting to say about Rammellzee in an interview with The Washington Post the year the movie came out. “He’s the kind of guy you could talk to for 20 minutes and your whole life could change,” he said. “If only you could understand him.”

Rammellzee lived in a studio apartment for over 20 years in TriBeCa that he famously called the Battle Station. The walls and ceiling of his loft were filled with his artwork, including toy-like wheeled versions of letters that appeared as though they could fly into combat.

AC/DC, the Hells Angels and Gene Simmons of Kiss were among the entertainer’s favorite cultural influences. He became known as “Gangsta Duck” in his later years and his half-comic vocal style was widely imitated during the early years of rap. In 2004 he released “Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee,” his first full length record.

His illness had slowed him down over the last few years preventing him from pursuing other endeavors, according to Zagari Rammellzee.

Rammellzee may have passed away, but his influence on the music industry and his fans will live on through the work of others.

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