Yesterday, Fab 5 Freddy revealed on his Twitter that art-rap pioneer Rammellzee had died. Today, Stuart Argabright, Rammellzee's collaborator in Death Comet Crew, confirms that sad news. He was 50 years old.
A legendary graffitti artist, fashion designer, and rapper, Rammellzee remains best known for "Beat Bop", his 1983 single with K-Rob, which was produced by famed artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. But his long, varied career encompassed much, much more than that.
"Beat Bop" was probably the furthest-out piece of work the genre had produced at the time, a 10-minute odyssey featuring Rammell rapping impenetrable silliness ("RPMs, my noooose don't care about the rhythm that breaks") over spaced-out bass pings and discordant violin scratches. Throughout, Rammell rapped in an exaggerated nasal honk, a style that the likes of the Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock and Cypress Hill's B-Real later used to became hugely popular. Vinyl copies of the "Beat Bop" single eventually sold for thousands. Rammell also collaborated with producer Bill Laswell, and Death Comet Crew released an album on the noise-rock label Troubleman Unlimited in 2004.
Beyond rap, Rammell was also famous as a visual artist and as a notoriously elusive, mind-bogglingly odd raconteur. Many consider him one of the pioneers of graffiti art. He appeared in the 1982 cult-favorite film Wild Style wearing a black trench coat and toting a shotgun onstage. His work, done in a style he called "gothic futurism", has appeared in galleries and museums worldwide.
Director Jim Jarmusch, who cast Rammell in his 1984 film Stranger Than Paradise, once called Rammell "the kind of guy you could talk to for twenty minutes and your whole life could change, if you could only understand him." Dave Tompkins' phantasmagorical new vocoder history book How to Wreck a Nice Beach ends with a chapter of Rammell dropping impenetrable science.
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