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Rammellzee, Hip-Hop Pioneer

Getty Images / Waring Abbott

When rap, graffiti art, MCing, and breakdancing all began to coalesce under the banner of hip-hop, Rammellzee was there.

Music blogs were buzzing yesterday with the news that legendary New York hip-hop pioneer Rammellzee had died at age 49. As is increasingly the case these days, the news first broke not over the wires but on Twitter, where fellow old school hip-hop Renaissance man Fab Five Freddy first shared news of his death.

Rammellzee (his legal name, by the way) was one of the stranger acts to emerge when rap, graffiti art, MCing, and breakdancing all began to move up from the underground and coalesce under the banner of hip-hop. He developed his own aesthetic philosophy, Gothic Futurism, and claimed graffiti artists like himself were engaging in symbolic warfare to liberate letters from the shackles placed upon them by the standardization of the alphabet.

Rammellzee's Ionic Treatise declares, “This is symbolic war using slang and ionics to understand the very outline-structure that makes A through Z its mathematics and science for disease-culture to understand the consequences of structure that have been disease-culturally sabotaged and trick-knowledged.”

His most well-known single, the epic 10-minute “Beat Bop” was produced by noted artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (who was also originally going to perform on the track, until Rammellzee and collaborator K-Rob decided Basquiat’s lyrics weren’t up to snuff). The original 12-inch pressing has become a holy relic of hip-hop, with copies going for thousands of dollars. Rammellzee claims he made no money off the recording, but its success allowed him to tour the world and launch a career in hip-hop. He’d previously aspired to be a dentist.

Here’s “Beat Bop” in all its strange, influential and experimental glory (cover image by Basquiat):