NO ROOFTOP WAS SAFE

NO ROOFTOP, NO BLACKTOP, NO EL STOP WAS SAFE WHEN CORNBREAD AND HIS POSSE WERE WRECKIN' IT.

By Katie Haegele
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Oct. 24, 2001

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Cynthia's father moved her away from him and to another school. But the many declarations had landed Cornbread a new obsession.

"I would go to the bus barns all night long writing on every bus in that depot," he says. "Riders would sit on the name Cornbread, go to work and see Cornbread, come home from work and see Cornbread again," he says. "I became obsessed with this name."

He'd picked up the name, incidentally, while he was locked up. His grandmother could cook cornbread so delicious it tasted like cake, and he missed it. "How come y'all never fix no cornbread?" he would ask the cooks. The name stuck.

In 1971 a kid named Cornelius whom Darryl had known for a long time--no older than 17 or 18--was shot dead on the street. They used to call him Corn for short. The papers got the story wrong, and next day on the bus Darryl read about his own death.

"I called the newspapers and said 'I'm Cornbread, and I'm not dead. You better straighten this out or I'm gonna tear this city up.' I knew it was up to me to bring my name back to life."

So he went to the Philadelphia Zoo and he cased the joint, watched where the zookeeper fed peanuts to the elephant and where he washed him down. The elephant was so domesticated he wasn't likely to cause a fuss. Early one Sunday morning Cornbread scaled the fence and sprayed "Cornbread Lives" on both sides of the creature.

And that's nothing. You should hear about the time he went to the airport to watch the Jackson 5 arrive for a concert. While the crowd's attention was riveted on the group, Cornbread tagged his name on a TWA 747.

Before long he'd started a trend, and Bread's friends--Dr. Cool and Tity Peace and the others--had become a crew.

THE STREET HUSTLER, THE PIMP, THE THIEF AND THE TOUGH GUY

The earliest Philly wall writing is called gangster-style, and for good reason. Graffiti, as we know it, sprang from the North Philadelphia street gangs of the 1960s, back when every few blocks constituted a different territory. Gang members would mark their ownership right on the walls, and to get someplace you had to be prepared to answer for yourself and where you came from.

Sub, a writer who grew up at 20th and Oxford and now owns a barber shop at 14th and Dover, remembers it well. "There was no good answer," he says. "They used to say that 'nowhere' was the biggest gang in the world."

Sub is tall and well built with a sweet face and a devilish expression, like a dear- looking 12-year-old who's a hairsbreadth away from flipping somebody the bird. He's just made a bleak statement about violence and fear, but his eyes are bright with the memory of getting one over on those guys. "Cornbread said the whole city was his turf. He united all the gang members."

Picture it: A baby-faced tough kid, who well knew the rules about turf and ownership, could roll down any block he chose. Cornbread would always have a little pack of followers made up sometimes of 10 different guys from 10 different gangs. But while the members of rival gangs wrote with Bread during the day, at night they were still warring.

"It was the era of the street hustler, the pimp, the thief and the tough guy," recalls Stallings. "I started seeing graffiti when I was 10, in 1972, on 10th and Thompson, which was a big gang corner. I'd see Little Sonny, Devil and Otto when I walked past it every day to go to Harrison Elementary at 11th and Thompson." He and his fellow fifth graders would stare at old gangster hands scratched into his desk at school and pretend they were the bad guys. Within two years he'd obliterated his junior high school with the name Doctor Proctor.

Stallings didn't make this choice easily. His family was church-brought; he'd been a deacon. He eventually dropped out of school, he says, and started writing instead of praying. It wasn't always clear what it meant to be a man.

"My father kept a gun. He told me, 'If I'm not home, you're the man of this house. If anybody break in here, don't ask questions. Just unload.'" He was 13 then, and his father was 32 when he died a year later. An alcoholic whose health was poor, his father cut himself shaving one morning and the bleeding didn't stop. He was rushed to the hospital, and that was the last Stallings saw of him.

"I was mad at the world," he says. "[Graffiti] was my way of getting even. This was my payback to the world."

He started bombing every chance he got with his partner Teaz. He whipped those writers into shape, getting the heads of all the best crews to operate under one name, the Children of Doom. He became a master of mimicry and could reproduce any hand he'd seen. He taught a lot of guys how to write.

"I was living with my mom at 10th and Master," Stallings says. "She didn't really know I was writing on walls. She called it the devil's handwriting." Today Stallings is an evangelist minister for the Greater Canaan Church of God in Christ.

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COMMENTS

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1. krazzy k said... on Sep 29, 2008 at 03:11PM

“very informative. Thanks”

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2. Quddus said... on Feb 6, 2009 at 12:03PM

“I read the piece and it brought tears to my eyes. My brother was from TNT (10th and Thompson St) and Lil Sonny Lived 1312 north 10th st, he was killed in 73 by his sister's boyfriend, Devil (Keibo) was on the 1300 block of Perth, he passed 12/08. Otto (Kevin B) he's still around doing his things...He has a bunch of children 9 or 10...The tag was on the center and around the corner on the other wall the names of Slack, Snake, Lamont, and other members of the TNT gang could be found...Those were the days”

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3. Anonymous said... on Apr 8, 2010 at 02:52PM

“Wow... I never knew there was so much more to Graffiti. I grew up in a close family in the country and we hardly ever went to any major city's until I was thirteen. Then we started going on world trips to the major city's of the world such as London, and Rome. I saw a little graffiti but the little I did see was on the historical monuments and statues. I despised it. Then I at eighteen I started college and had to live in Kalamazoo, MI. I saw more and more graffiti lining walls and street signs... It just seemed like people disrespected the things the city had to offer. I'm amazed that it could mean so much more to people. That there was another side to what I always thought was vandalism. I looked at photos and even suggested in my own hometown that they hire someone to graffiti the skate-park for the kids. Some of the artist works are beautiful and creative and graffiti benefits more people than any over-prized painting in a gallery. Thank you for the new view.”

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4. #Snap said... on Oct 23, 2011 at 05:37AM

“Time to express what keeps us with acts of separation to keep us divided. <3”

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5. mastachiefkilla said... on Nov 4, 2012 at 05:46PM

“This is an amazing and very informative Article. I used this in a research project for my english class !! The author has very good facts and information that is hard to get elsewhere. I would recommend this article to anyone looking for info on the origins of graffiti!”

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6. Sg iya said... on Dec 7, 2012 at 03:43PM

“Philadelphia birthplace of graff”

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7. Anonymous said... on May 24, 2014 at 02:30PM

“Suroc , & Espo are kings of philly graffiti”

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8. Anonymous said... on May 24, 2014 at 02:40PM

“Espo, Suroc, and all the "ICY" crew. Thanks for making the El ride fun”

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9. Anonymous said... on May 26, 2014 at 12:21AM

“Frankie eyes, "FAC" was not a king but he had balls”

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10. SMEAR R.T.H said... on Jul 14, 2014 at 08:19PM

“Great article! Much love to Philly from the West Coast giant, Los Angeles...”

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