Numbering in the hundreds yet spearheaded by the mysterious figurehead known as Eklips, The Seventh Letter family has transformed from a rag-tag group of like-minded taggers and aspiring graffiti artists into a full-on multi-media empire. From the launch of their flagship store in December of 2013 in the Fairfax district, on through to their partnerships with everyone from The Hundreds to Reebok, the fundamental philosophy of The Seventh Letter remains fiercely independent, underground, and as unique and varied as its diverse and talented crew.
Emerging from the bombing crews AWR (Art Work Rebels/Angels Will Rise) and MSK (Mad Society Kings) in the late 1990s, the formation of The Seventh Letter collective heralded a new direction for the future of graf and street culture in general as it continued to attract the attention of big business and the “legitimate” art world alike.
Merchandising, branding, and corporate gigs were no longer seen as crossing over as legendary writers from the late-1980s and early 1990s were eager to not only evolve and capitalize off the growing mainstream interest in street culture but were determined to take control of the imagery that corporate America was using to appeal to a younger generation.
It’s a trajectory and ethos that feels familiar to those who’ve followed the ongoing evolution of bass music and its surrounding culture over the course of the past two decades. One figure who has and continues to straddle both worlds is the Los Angeles-based artist and DJ known as Hazen. A familiar face in the early days of the Bassrush dynasty as well as a long-standing and respected member of The Seventh Letter family, Hazen has been in a unique position to witness the ways in which street and bass culture continue to grow and expand in often surprising ways so we thought it only proper to sit down for a quick chat on the roots and intersections of graf/street/bass culture and where things are headed in the future.
Talk a bit about your own introduction to graf/street culture and how that led to you becoming part of The Seventh Letter crew.
I started skateboarding at a young age; so you’re out on the street and getting yelled at by people and then before you know it, it’s middle school and you’re hanging out with people who are skateboarding and writing on shit. Somehow the two went together and so as I got more and more into it, I eventually met up with the people like Tyke and Krush and eventually we linked up with AWR and started hanging out with Eklips and the rest of what would eventually become The Seventh Letter crew.
How did your interest in graf culture coincide with your interest in early rave culture?
It was right around the same time I got into AWR that I met Pasquale and all the crazy Westwood heads. This was around 1989/1990 and Westwood used to be a crazy hangout; it was all these kids from the westside at first, but then people started coming down from the valley and the east side and it became this free-for-all space. It was crazy.
The style back then was like a thrift store style and it was all about how wild you could get. I remember I used to bleach my clothes and then dye them bright colors, wear crazy hats, all of that. As a writer, going out to those early raves was a natural fit because it was about being out late in the hood, places we were already going when we were writing.
At what point do jungle and drum & bass enter the picture?
Breakbeat hardcore was taking off in the early 1990s, but that was also around the time I actually got out of it for a few years as raves started to get trendy really fast; all the kids from my high school were like, “Oh my god, rave, let me go with you.”
But then, sometime around 1995, I was hanging out with some friends that wanted to go to a rave and so we went and I found this other room; it was all dark, it was literally downstairs, and I stumbled in there and I was like, “What the fuck is this?” There was a live drummer and I don’t even know for sure who was DJing—it had to be either CRS?, R.A.W., or Oscar Da Grouch. It was really dark, you couldn’t see anything, it was all about the music and I was back in full speed.
In the same way that bass culture has developed from those early days, street culture has went through some monumental transformations! From fashion to film to gallery and museum shows—it’s a full-on cultural takeover!
I think it’s a lot like drum & bass and that’s why I feel so much at home with both cultures. There’s always this feeling that what we’re doing is cutting edge but still underground. Even though they expand and get popular, they can never really crossover in the way that other things can because they have this raw attitude at the core that just can’t be replicated.
If there is a danger it’s that when things blow up a lot of the people who helped build that culture get left behind or left out of the loop and that’s a hard thing to see. So I think that that is why Eklips and TSL are so successful. His vision is not about selling out, it’s about bringing the real people in and helping them be successful in spreading this culture that we all helped build.
Where do we go from here? I know you’ve recently moved into working with metal and making sculptures. Is that the future?
I think for people like me that got busted, arrested, had to pay all these fines and shit, it gets old and to have a legitimate outlet is good. Obviously we will always paint on trains and walls, but to be able to showcase another side of your art and your vision is really powerful. We’re artists; it’s not like I can only do letters, I can do a lot of different things.
So that’s where the metal work comes in for me. When I do a piece, you can definitely see the graffiti and the jungle in it. Jungle to me is heavy, big, thick pieces of metal like the bass and then sharp the way the beats just cut through. I love that sharpness.
As far as the future, I see it merging; the music, the art, all of it. My goal is to be a part of the old school that says, hey look, there’s graffiti, there’s bass music, there’s hip-hop, there’s art, but it’s not all separate, and there’s actually a lot of connections between it all.
It’s the same with The Seventh Letter store. The vision is not, here’s your gallery, here’s your clothing store—instead it’s a space to create. I’m actually surprised there’s not a recording studio in there. Maybe that’s the next step. We will have to wait and see.