Interviews

COPE2 Interview

       

By Vincent Morgan |  Published on Monday, August 15, 2011.

Everybody knows who's Cope2. But a few knows his past and path. Let's dive into his past made of racking, jamaïcan connexions, bombing trains and hustling in the Bronx during the 80's.

After the Bode Interview, Dan Plasma is back on FatCap with an amazing interview with the world famous graffiti artist Cope2.

 

 

Fernando Carlo was a child of the Bronx who was sick of poverty, and fell to the temptation of quick drug money. As a teenager he connected with Jamaican drug gangs who supplied him with sensimilia which he sold on Knox place and Mosholou Parkway where he grew up. He soon graduated to becoming a street hustler on 170th street and 181 street.

He was often arrested by police, but in those days in the early 1980's, things were corrupt. Police officers didn't make much money back then, and as opposed to arresting him, they usually just confiscated his money. Sometimes they would confiscate the marijuana and arrest him, but usually they would just take the cash, leaving Cope on the street to make more money for both parties.  He was making hundreds of dollars a day, when the lure of bigger money finally kicked in.

 

 

 



Hundreds of dollars a day from marijuana sales, became over five thousand dollars a day in crack money; but as the monetary reward grew, so did the risk. Friends were routinely set up by undercover officers in stings which took years to orchestrate. Families were infiltrated, and people did serious time, it was just part of the neighborhood. Although Carlo  spent years in and out of jail, it was not considered "doing time" in that part of the Bronx.  "Doing time", meant you wouldn't be returning home for a decade or more.

Throughout his hustling career, Fernando had a passion for "bombing". In the early 80's it was subway trains and by the 1990's his canvas became the streets . Graffiti was an addiction which Fernando Carlo excelled at. "Cope 2", was prolific, and one of New Yorks most "up" taggers, artfully avoiding doing time for graf, despite bombing "all city".

His two current open graffiti cases are the result of an internet controversy regarding photographs posted by other artists, Cope has never technically been caught in action; for vandalism.

As we sit in his van my feet hit a baseball bat which is on the floorboard. He shows off a new Bode character that Bode himself had just tatooed on his sleeved arm...Some of the tatoos hide old battle scars and stab wounds. He asks me to hold the wheel while he turns the van, as part of his left hand is permanently paralyzed from a stabbing.

 

 


Carlo permanently left behind the world of guns, arrests, shootings, stabbings, prison and crack; by becoming a highly successful internationally recognized artist. COPE 2's work sells for thousands of dollars and larger canvases routinely sell for ten thousand or more to collectors worldwide. Just as impressive as his success in art and ascent from street life, is the fact that he did it while staying true to his genuine style as an artist and a person.

We walk around the lower east side and search for a cafe to sit and draw at. He throws a perfect 1-2-5 combination, finishing a straight quick rythm jab/cross by driving off of his front foot with a compact lead uppercut


Dan Plasma: Wow, you used to box?

Cope2:
I was real good, they set me up for the golden gloves at age 17. I was knocking dudes out, guys much bigger than me. But then I would come into the gym all high, and they wouldn't like that, my wrestling coach was the same way, they hated when you came to practice high. So I had a choice, hang out and get fucked up, or go to the gym on a hot day and work. I wish I had picked differently and stayed in the gym.

These days you can't fight though. Back then if you beat someone in a fair fight it was over and you shook hands, nowadays it escalates to extreme things since people have a different mindset.


Did you ever do time for graffiti?

No, I'll release my rap sheet in an upcoming book, it's really long. I did time for drugs, guns, crack, fighting, bad shit I did as a kid, shit I really regret doing and wish I hadn't done. In 1985 my boy NIC (NST crew, non stop taggers) (rest in peace) and I were bombing the esplinade. We went to St. James park to score some mescaline, we were drinking and had just smoked a blunt. We just saw fresh pieces done by PJ, CAP, and SEEN and then we saw three white dudes running in the distance and thought it was them. Turns out it was PJ, SEEN and CAP and they just saw a bunch of cops headed our way. Three white dudes come up to us and since NIC and I were tripping, we couldn't tell until right when they got up to us that they were undercover cops and not our boyz...they asked us what we wrote, NIC and I instantly took off and jumped down into the street to hide behind a car. An unmarked van pulled out and they came out with guns drawn and arrested us. Since we weren't caught inside the yard they could only charge us with trespassing and not with painting trains. They asked if I knew who "Cope" was, saying they had just seen some fresh cope tags, I think they had some idea it was me. Since I was tripping I couldn't stop laughing....they were all so fat and funny looking.

 

 

Picture by Roman

 

Cope2 and Blen167

 

 


How did NIC (NST) pass away?

He was a good friend of mine, a Guyanese kid. He was shot in the head by a jealous ex boyfriend of a girl he was seeing.


Why did you become a drug dealer?

At the time in the South Bronx, minimum wage was something like $3.25 an hour. After taxes the paycheck was less than a hundred and fifty bucks. When I started hustling I had cash, I wasn't dressed in cheap levi's, lee or bvd t-shirts, I had gap or bennetton down, nugget rings, cuban linx, three finger rings, gold ropes, bracelets, I had it all since the junkies would give you a thousand dollar ring for a hundred bucks. Everyone else looked at me differently, they wore the thirty dollar adidas, I had the new hundred and twenty dollar Jordans or the new top flite reeboks.  


When did the weed game with the Jamaicans turn into crack dealing?

I'm Puerto Rican but I had a writer friend SPEL, who was Dominican, and we would go to several "buy houses" where there were mountains of crack on the table. These Dominican guys were really cool, to me as a 19 year old. There was always a woman cooking food in the kitchen, chicken, rice, beans steak, whatever you wanted, if you had money and wanted to make money, they were your best friend. Everyone in there was strapped and they weren't shy about letting you know they had guns. They made sure you saw the guns, that way if anyone thought of robbing the place for the mountains of kilos and mountains of money on the table; they knew there would be a bloodbath.

They had houses in the heights, 145th and 156th and broadway, we would make our buy, and then take a cab back to the Bronx to bag it up and do our thing.

I was obsessed with having the most and the best. Junkies will tell you who has the good product. I always had the "bomb", the best shit, and this made the competition jealous. Other dealers sent someone crazy guys to tell me to get out of the hood or I would get killed, and they meant it.

The competition snitched me out and 20 cops came to my house, they came through the fire escape, everywhere. They accused me of being the ring leader and I told them I was just a poor guy trying to make it with my family and that they had the wrong guy. They said that if they found anything they would arrest me and put my kids in foster homes. Somehow they wound up arresting my workers who were outside but not checking the place. I had several bundles of crack in the drawer along with a few thousand dollars and some guns. My daughter wasn't even a year old at the time and my son was only four, it was a wake up call.

 

 

 

 

 

 


How did you find time for hustling and painting?

Between 1981 and 1984 I was killing trains fulltime. By 1985 until about 1989 I got into dealing drugs. I started selling weed. I would make three to five hundred buck a day a few days a week, and on the weekend go to rack paint and paint trains.

Then in the late 1980's there was the crack boom. I painted a lot less in the late 80's due to my involvement in drugs. One Sunday I'm going out to get Itallian bread, ham and cheese and I see a gypsy cab rolling up the block really slowly. If I hadn't turned my head a second time to look, I'd be dead now. I saw a gun barrel coming out of the rear window and dived into my building, they shot into the building and I'll never forget the sound of bullets ricocheting off of the walls. I was in shock. I ran upstairs to my apartment and took all my clothes off and stripped naked, to see if I was shot. I was traumatized. I called my bosses, one male and one female. They wanted to light up the block and go to war with these people. I realized I was going to get killed hustling and I wanted out. I didn't leave my apartment for at least two weeks, I was traumatized and through with the game.
 

 

 

 

 

 


What did you decide to do to get out of the game?

I escaped, I moved to another neighborhood. I took about fifteen grand in cash and moved from 167th street and university to 170th and Walton, a really bad neighborhood. I lived off of my stash for a few months and started doing construction and warehouse work, it was backbreaking work, it paid good, but there wasn't always work.

It was about that time that a friend and I were wrestling on the street and I cracked my ankle. I had a broken leg, no money, and no way to work.

I got into money racking, when we went to paint trains in Long Island and Jersey we would do money racking.

 

 

 

 



What's "money racking"?

Stealing stuff and reselling it. Tylenol, Advil, Primatine Mist, relaxation pills anything you can rack a bunch of and resell on the street. It was decent money at the time. At the time I started doing lots of productions with different artists. Before that and since the days of the 70's no one painted outside of their crew or gang. In the 1990's people from other countries started to come to nyc for graf, so I painted with them.

I also brought a lot of old school writers out of retirement. Lots of writers retired after the era of trains. I just wanted to paint with everyone since painting just within a crew is boring, it's graffiti not a gang, we should paint, have a good time, and go home to our personal lives, that's it.
 

 

 

 


What happened to the "Money racking" gig?

There was one place we used to hit a lot. Finally two huge plain clothes detectives caught me when I was racking in Long Island, I had to spend thirty days in an orange jumpsuit. I was getting older and it was another wake up call.


What's the deal with the current police controversy and the "snitch" rumor?

I'm not supposed to talk about it but some people posted some images they weren't supposed to simply cause they wanted fame. This brought heat on me and got a bunch of other people thrown in jail.

Basically someone who wanted fame and brought down a lot of people got angry at me when I confronted them and spread this rumor to try to get at me. Cops are also on the internet all the time spreading that same rumor to incite and instigate trouble. It's also a basic tactic in any criminal case when they have two people connected to a crime. They often tell a person his buddy has snitched, it's a classic ploy used by the police since it works.

 




Was there lots of snitching invloved in your hustling days, before you became a full time graf artist?

Not much, you know Ice (L'il Man), theres countless dudes like that who did ten years or more for a kilo or two and did their time like men, they were taken care of while they were inside, the same way the Jamaicans took care of me when I was a teenager hustling weed, the same way my workers didn't snitch on me when my house was raided and they got arrested.
Before the crack days when I was hustling weed, if I got busted the Jamaicans wouldn't get upset, they just loaded me up with sensi again and patted me on the back, put me back on the street, and laughed. On the weekends I spray painted graffiti on trains as an escape from the hustle... I had battles with Seen, JA, and others, wars to determine who ruled what train lines.


Will your work on canvas ever cross over to a different type of non street aesthetic?

Nah fuck the unicorns and bunny rabbits man, I keep it real.


At the same time your new work is deeper than the graf you simply did on canvas for years. Layers, drips, colors, abstractions, you used photos of yourself from when you were a huslter, from when you were a kid, and blended them into several canvases....I saw elements of design, humor, culture jamming, and different levels of thinking in your newest art. You're expanding as an artist and the visual complexity seems to just get you closer to the truth of who you are, and your own style, it's a genuine progression. Where does the energy come from?
 
I'ts really hard not to paint illegally and that gives me mad energy for canvases. Thanks to this situation I have two open cases and I can't do any graffiti, not in the US anyways. They want to give me probation but its a classic game: they offer you the probation as a set up, to catch you on some bullshit or hit you with charges while you're on probation; and then you do real time, it's a commonly used set up, and they get a lot of people that way.

I'm trying to tell these people, "what is your problem with me????" I'm retired, I don't do graffiti anymore, I do gallery art for a living, I'm a family man now, I don't do anything illegal anymore, I'm trying to raise my family and get on with my career and the vandal squad has a harsh,vicious vendetta against me. The district attorney has elevated it to two supreme court cases since I wont roll on other artists, the DA offered to drop all charges if I implicate the others, but I was never about rolling on my friends...

 

 

 

 

 

Cope2 and Shepard Fairey

 

 

Don't miss Cope2's show in Copenhagen. More information here.

 

And last but not least, the whole "King Destroy" documentary. Enjoy.
 

 

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