The 50 Greatest NYC Graffiti Artists

COMPLEX MAGAZINE ARTICLE – Having a top 50 list with no explanations just doesn’t work, so I’ve carved the subway movement into sections and tried to work that way—tags, style, throwies, etc. Trying to figure out how much weight to give to a category of writing is tough. Even tougher for the writers is that each generation has to surpass the next in quantity and quality. This is particularly tough on writers in the ’80s and ’90s. I think most writers can agree on at least 40 of the writers, after that it probably becomes more subjective. When you get frustrated with my list do what I did, ask yourself which one of these greats would you take off to put in your candidate? Good luck. Let the debate begin.



50. Ja

Neighborhood: New York/Los Angeles

Years Active: 1984-present

You would think that a writer from the 80s couldn’t make this list with just a throw-up, but Ja did. After kinging New York, he moved to Los Angeles and took that city by storm. He still hasn’t stopped. Amazing.



49. Revs

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Years Active: early ’80s-present

Revs is probably the biggest crossover writer from the subway movement to the street art movement, which is something he refuses to capitalize on. He began hitting subways in the early ’80s and had a decent career. In the late 1980s he teamed up with his partner Cost to do a series of wheat-pasted messages throughout the city. If that wasn’t enough, the duo began using bucket paint to roll their names from rooftops. When Cost retired, Revs decided to write his autobiography in every tunnel in the transit system; it’s still an unfinished work. When he isn’t working on his autobiography, Revs is soddering unique sculptures in the five boroughs. He’s a legend.


48. Tats Cru

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: early ’80s-present

Tats Cru was formed as a subway writing crew in the early 1980s by Brim. Each member of the crew had style to spare, and they were a major presence on the IRT lines. When the subway movement ended, the group disbanded, with members reuniting occasionally to paint walls. In 1996 Tats Cru became an official company with Bg 183, Nicer, and Bio. They’ve been paid well to paint murals around the world and are to the commercial mural world what Crash and Daze were to the fine art world. While making money is nice, Tats Cru is also an institution in the South Bronx, where they teach a class in painting and constantly give back to the community.


47. Cope 2

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1980-present

Cope 2 has seemingly had three careers as a writer. He began on the trains in the early ’80s, eventually kinging the 4 line. When graff moved from the trains to walls, Cope and his crew Kings Destroy did incredible murals. And finally, he has one of the most ubiquitous throw-ups around.


46. Ces

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1983-present

Ces began hitting trains in 1983, staying on the showcase lines of the IRTs. As the wall movement began, Ces became a strong writer for the legendary FX crew. Through the crew he had entered the European scene and took full advantage of it, he continues to paint around the world and is co-owner of Tuff City in the Bronx.


45. Sane/Smith

Neighborhood: Manhattan/Queens

Years Active: 1984-present

Sane/Smith were originally two brothers from Manhattan who made a conscious effort to get up in the most obscure spots in New York, as well as the most visible (like the Brooklyn Bridge). When Sane passed away, Smith kept the duo’s name alive by painting both their names.



44. Lady Pink

Neighborhood: Queens

Years Active: 1979-present

Lady Pink had a decent subway career in the 1980s, but it’s not what puts her on this list. Her murals of the 1990s are visually very distinct and usually involved fun imagery with camouflaged graffiti. Residents of the neighborhood loved them, and she was still getting up changing the thought process of a lot of emerging writers.


43. Sento

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1985-present

Sento is another writer that hasn’t stopped in almost 30 years. His whole-cars of the late ’80s are legendary. After hooking up with Kase 2, Sento’s style began to evolve, breaking away from traditional subway styles. He did walls, freights, and trains in Europe, helping establish a strong TFP presence in other countries.



42. Ket

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Years Active: 1986-present

Ket’s been painting for over a quarter of a century, rarely taking a break. His promotion of the graff movement via Stress Magazine, and later Complex Media, has helped pushed the movement into uncharted territories.


41. Ven

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Years Active: 1984-1995

Ven was famous in the late 1980s for two things: 1) He was known as the great communicator and brought together writers that normally wouldn’t have met. He also hooked up a lot of old school writers with a chance to do one last train. 2) His war on the clean cars that ran through the 90s was something that put him at considerable risk and on the top of the Vandal Squad’s most wanted list.



40. Reas

Neighborhood: Manhattan

Years Active: 1980-present

Reas began writing in the early ’80s and was going strong by 1985. He was highly respected as a character man as well as a stylist. In the late ’80s he loosened his style up a little bit as he began hitting clean cars with Ven. He continues to paint around the world.


39. Crash and Daze

Alias: Chill 2

Neighborhood: The Bronx/Manhattan

Years Active: 1977-present

Crash and Daze were two great writers, famous for both style and characters. They make this list for being the first two writers to live the lives of professional artists – making money exclusively from their canvasses. It seems everybody has a chance to do it today, but back in 1980 when they began their gallery careers, the odds were stacked heavily against them.


38. Mitch 77

Alias: Tue

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1975-1980

Mitch 77 was the total package on the 4 line in the late ’70s, crushing trains with burners and whole-cars and even the occasional throw-up.


37. Ghost

Alias: Six-Pack

Neighborhood: Queens

Years Active: 1980-present

There are so many iconoclasts that didn’t make this list, like Lsd-Om and Futura 2000, that it’s nice to have someone on here who broke all the rules, which is what Ghost did. From 1980 to 1986 he painted in the style of the RTW writers, at the same time he was warring with them. After a quick break, he regrouped and threw out the style handbook. His pieces from 1987 to 1989 were sprawled across trains like an octopus thrashing about. From a strict composition point of view, they made no sense, but they worked. His throw-ups were just as radical, usually done sideways or upside down; they gave the illusion that they were flying by in the breeze. He continued to paint during the clean train movement and today paints globally.


36. T-Kid 170

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1977-present

T-Kid 170 is probably the last writer in the lineage of the TDS, TFP, and IND’s stylemasters. He learned from such masters as Tracy 168 and Padre Dos in the 1970s and started evolving into his own style in the ’80s. His ability to draw helped him immensely when he started competing with European writers through the ’90s. He continues to paint around the world.


35. Doc TC5

Aliases: Arab, Bagel

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Years Active: 1980-present

If you ever wondered what would’ve happened if Dondi had continued to paint into the 1980s, you need look no further. Doc was a stylemaster in the mold of Dondi and rarely wasted his time with anything else. When the subway movement ended in 1989, Doc continued to paint walls, where he’s still a major presence.


34. Doze

Neighborhood: Manhattan

Years Active: 1979-1986

While not the most prolific writer on the trains, his influence in the graff community was deep. Doze was one of the major writers from Art and Design High School, where he handed out styles to anyone that asked. He’s credited with inventing the Mugsy character, an iconic figure on the Broadway line.


33. Zephyr and Revolt

Aliases: Gold, Heist, Chi 193

Neighborhood: Manhattan

Years Active: 1977-1985

Zephyr and Revolt were two writers that emerged from the Bandshell scene of the ’70s. They were writing partners that complimented each other well. While Zephyr was probably stronger in style, Revolt was a master at characters. When they finished on the trains, the two writers continued painting illegally and helped jumpstart the freight train movement.


32. Min

Alias: Ne

Neighborhood: Manhattan

Years Active: 1977-1985

Min has been dubbed the unlikliest king of the city. When he started writing in 1977, he was so short that he took the name Miniature – Min for short. He learned at the hands of legendary RTW founder Bilrock, and when Bil quit the scene in 1980 (the only reason he’s not on this list), he gave the crew to Min. Min did throw-ups on almost every line, and with Kel, he did a series of wildstyle top to bottoms from 1983-1985. He was finished by 1986.


31. Haze

Alias: Se-3

Neighborhood: Manhattan

Years Active: 1973-1984

Haze was definitely not the biggest bomber on this list, but it doesn’t matter; his throw-ups were a work of beauty. His Se-3 is considered the gold standard for a throw-up. He’s also responsible for bringing color to the throw-up which were usually done in bright silver.


30. Quik

Neighborhood: Queens

Years Active: 1974-1986

Quik took the same route as Iz; both writers were up in the 70s, and they just kept going. He popularized the usage of doing a face in his first letter, something that is still seen around the world in the work of other writers. Like Iz, he did whole-cars and burners as well.


29. Iz

Alias: Ike 357

Neighborhood: Queens

Years Active: 1973-1989

If you were a bomber in the 1970s and didn’t make the list for that era, then the only way to do it was to keep going, and going, and going. He has arguably bombed more trains than any other writer with his ubiquitous throw-up.


28. Seen

Aliases: Psycho, Apache

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1978-present

Seen did it all – perfect whole-cars, great throw-ups, window down burners, and beautifully rendered characters. He and his UA crew ruled the 6 line for a decade and took over other lines at will. Seen’s Hands of Doom whole-car is one of the most iconic trains ever painted; it was done in 1980 and was known for its gradual fades. Seen continues to paint around the world.


27. Kyle and Jon 156

Neighborhood: Harlem

Years Active: 1980-1987

It was difficult to top the whole-cars of the 1970s; it seemed like everything had been done, including an abstract car by Futura. This didn’t stop Kyle and Jon from bringing their own unique take on what a whole-car should look like. Jon was a great stylist, and Kyle was an expert illustrator who sometimes took 10 hours to paint one character. As their works progressed, Jon began experimenting with abstract letters, sometimes throwing paint at a train. They were unique voices at a time when that was hard to find.


26. Noc 167

Alias: Boy Five

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1976-1984

Noc 167 gets my vote as the greatest stylemaster. He was mentored in the mid-’70s by style greats Nic 707 and Stan 153 who encouraged his drawing ability, as well. During the late ’70s, as Noc’s reputation spread, he was offered free spraypaint by other writers who just wanted to see him paint. Two of his most famous cars are the Boy 5 whole car with Dondi and his Style Wars whole-car done in 1980.


25. Slave

Alias: Ken

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Years Active: 1975-1980

When you think of TF5, you usually think of Lee and whole-car specialists; then there was Slave. He was a master at style and did many of his pieces with the letter A upside down. He reached his peak in 1977, and 1978 and was just as strong since the TDS writers were at their peak.


24. Kel 139

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1977-1984

Kel 139 is one of those rare writers who’s been involved with three major crews at a high level. In the late ’70s, he left the elite IRT lines to join Dondi in Brooklyn, and the two writers spurred each other on. In 1979, he created Roc Stars, an elite style crew that would pull out window down burners on all 10 cars of whatever train they painted. They pulled off this feat numerous times. As that crew disintegrated, he moved on to become a pivotal member of RTW, helping to tighten up the style of the crew.


23. Dondi

Aliases: Naco, Bus 129

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Years Active: 1976-1984

Dondi was not unlike Kool 131 in that it was all about the outline. He also had great camouflage skills. Dondi would become one of the strongest writers to emerge from the Brooklyn scene. He did great whole-cars, blockbusters, and throw-ups, and he possessed a great tag, but his claim to fame was style. He worked with various writers, always making them stronger. He left the trains in the early ’80s to enter the art world.


22. Kool 131

Aliases: 2 Bad, Warm, Vega 2, Dobra 2, Boss

Neighborhood: Harlem

Years Active: 1975-1984

Kool 131 was a fan of Riff 170 and wrote as many names as possible to stretch the limits of style. What makes Kool’s work unique are the clean fill-ins, which have very few camouflage elements. This was because he was color blind. If his outline didn’t work, then it was over. Needless to say, Kool’s outlines almost always worked.


21. Chain 3

Aliases: Tee Bag 170, Word, Dr. Phibes, Ash, Pod, Peel

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1974-1983

Chain 3 had so much style that he was a key member of two of the greatest style crews ever. He was a co-founder of TDS and helped paint some of their most popular cars. In 1978 he retired for a period before teaming up with TMT to challenge his old crew. In the 1980s he did some cars with other greats including Skeme and Dez.



20. Part

Aliases: 2 Worm, Fudge 357

Neighborhood: Harlem

Years Active: 1974-present

Part seems to have three different graffiti careers. He began as a stylist in 1974, gaining recognition on the 6 line. In October of 1976, he started to paint with TDS, making him one of the strongest stylists in graffiti. When he finished with the trains in the ’80s, he moved seamlessly on to the walls of his beloved Harlem. Today, he paints around the world.


19. Comet

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1971-1989

Comet was Blade’s partner, and like Blade, he had also painted 5,000 trains. A good portion of his arsenal was sheer-bombing with Comet throw-ups. He had a 5-letter name and a nice style; it was amazing that he could keep up let alone set the pace, as he frequently did.


18. Jester

Alias: Dye 167

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1972-1977

There were a lot of active throw-up specialists in the ’70s. The ones that made this list had to bring something else to the table, and for Jester it was style. He had pretty much done everything else in writing by 1975, and he was highly competitive; the throw-up became the next step for him, hitting all lines with his Dye 167s or DY 167 bubble letters until his retirement in 1977.



17. In

Alias: Kill 3

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1974-1977

As writers began to get known for what they did: “He’s a whole-car specialist. Yo, that guy’s a stylemaster!” In decided to flip the script by inventing the throw-up. The throw-up was defined as a two-letter name painted as quickly as possible on as many trains possible. In hit 10,000 in just a few years, and then he retired.



16. Butch 2 and Kase 2

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1972-2010

Butch and Kase were two of the greatest stylists ever, but they were also responsible for a slew of innovative whole-cars from 1974 to 1977. The cars usually featured their names painted in wild style lettering with characters bookending them. At the time, most whole-car specialists went for legible “billboard” style lettering for simple reading.



15. Lee

Alias: Mom 101

Neighborhood: The Lower East Side

Years Active: 1974-1982

Out of all the whole-car specialists, Lee is at the top of the list. His mature works from 1977 to 1982 engaged him in a dialogue not just with other writers, but with the city at large. Themes included his fears of a nuclear war, the catholic church, and his own love life.



14. Cliff 159

Alias: Paz 2

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1970-1976

Cliff 159 had the all-around skills that Tracy 168 possessed. While his name had all-city status, his real notoriety was as a whole-car specialist. In 1975 he started a run of whole-cars that featured comic characters from Snoopy to Dick Tracy.



13. Caine 1

Neighborhood: Queens

Years Active: 1973-1976

Caine 1 wrote almost exclusively on the 7 line in Queens. He rarely followed the current styles and was known primarily as a whole-car specialist. He painted cartoon imagery and was probably the first writer to take a crack at realism with his depiction of Alice Cooper. On the night of the bi-centennial, Caine was responsible for putting together a group of writers that painted 10 whole-cars – one of only two whole trains ever painted.


12. Blade

Alias: Steve

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1972-1984

Blade is known as The King of Graffiti – a title that’s hard to dispute. He’s painted over 5,000 trains but is best remembered for his iconic whole-cars. He chose to paint characters he created instead of appropriating imagery like most writers. In 1980, he began using the trains for his more conceptual works – most notably, his Walking Letters car.


11. Ree 2

Alias: Opel

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1973-1978

Ree was important as both a stylist and whole-car artist. He was the most visible member of the MTA crew as well as its president. The crew painted side by side with TMT, where he also garnered respect.


10. Pel

Alias: Dime 2

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1972-1978

Pel was one of those rare artists who had a chance to compete with two generations – the 1974 Phase 2 era and the 1977/78 TDS era. His style was a favorite of the TDS crew, and they credit him with many style innovations.


9. Billy 167

Alias: Satan

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1972-1977

Billy 167 didn’t start to peak until 1975/1976. When he did peak, he became a master at what is now known as the swirl style of piecing, a legacy he would pass on to Seen UA.



8. King 2

Alias: Kool Hodgee 1

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1970-1975

King 2 was another artist that wrote with Tracy 168 and Pnut 2. He was an excellent stylist, although the strength of his work was in the camouflage designs he used in his letters.



7. Pnut 2

Alias: An 2

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1971-1977

Pnut 2 was a writing partner of Tracy 168 – while he wasn’t as prolific a writer, he was still considered to be one of the top stylists of his generation. He achieved the ultimate pop culture fame when his name appeared on a train during the opening of Welcome Back Kotter.



6. Tracy 168

Aliases: Hawaii, Lovester 1

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1970-1977

Tracy 168 was one of those rare all-around talents. He was prolific with tags and throw-ups but was most famous for his artistic ability. Tracy became famous for being the first writer to synthesize characters with names, a staple of the graffiti movement.



5. Superkool 223

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1971-1974

Superkool 223 was one of the first great taggers from the Bronx. More importantly, he’s credited with doing the first graffiti masterpiece; it wasn’t pretty, but he’s the one we have to thank.



4. Riff 170

Aliases: Worm, Cash 2, Stax, Peal, Crunch.Boy 170, Conan, Mr.6, Dove 2, Flip 6, Crash 2, 2 Bad

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1972-1976

Riff was notorious for pulling pop culture imagery into the movement. He was bored easily with the letters of his own name and became famous for inventing a host of different names.



3. Phase 2

Alias: Cad

Neighborhood: The Bronx

Years Active: 1971-1974

As single hits gave way to piecing, Phase 2 emerged as the leading stylist of his day; perhaps more importantly, he handed out styles to hundreds of writers at the bench at 149th street, making the entire subway movement look better then it was.


2. Stayhigh 149

Alias: Voice of the Ghetto

Neighborhood: All-city King

Years Active: 1970-1975

If Taki was the first All-city King, then Stayhigh 149 was the first to do it with style.



1. Taki 183

Neighborhood: Upper West Side of Manhattan

Years Active: 1969-1972

While there were writers before Taki, he was the first to turn it into a 24 hour a day job; he was rewarded with media coverage – the ultimate “fame.”