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Former graffiti vandals celebrated as artists at Downtown hotel • Brooklyn Paper

Former graffiti vandals celebrated as artists at Downtown hotel

James Top, the current leader of Odd Partners crew shows off his afro-centric Thurgood Marshall painting. Sure beats painting on subway trains.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

From painting on an R train to painting on a canvas, it’s been a long ride for these artists.

Last month, the NU Hotel on Smith Street gave former street artists — that’s what we call “graffiti vandals” nowadays! — their own suite to turn into a mini-gallery.

One of the suites housed The Odd Partners, also known as “TOP Crew” — once the most-recognized (and feared) graffiti crew in the city. In the mid-1970s, the crew dominated the railways, becoming the first team to hit every subway line (in those days, that was considered something to strive for).

But times change. The current leader of the Odd Partners, James Top — tag name Jee2 — showcased his more-recent (and decidedly less-illegal) artwork. Top’s new art strayed away from plastering “Jee2” everywhere and focused on afro-donned portraits of African-American icons.

“I’ve done Frederick Douglass, James Brown, and other important figures in African-American history. Inside the afro, I’m telling a story, a story about some kids from Indiana that became the Jackson Five, or the story of the evolution of a musical superstar.” the founding crew member said. “Through those afros, I get a chance to express myself and I get a style of expression from way back in my original days from painting on a train.”

By the early 1980s, the Odd Partners were the scourge of the MTA. They terrorized the tracks and defaced the subway system, eventually becoming an international symbol of urban decay — ironically, an extremely colorful one. Yet now, the “vandals” are venerated.

“When I grew up this was an outlaw artform, but now I’m accepted and I have a chance to enjoy the artwork for what it is, as opposed to being somebody going against the grain and being anonymous.” Top said.

The showcase involved miniature train sets — recreated from photos from that era— decorated with the tags that originally made the crew famous. The almost identical replicas were made by Duro, another member of the Odd Partners. The miniature train replicas were a permanent remnant of their temporarily tagged train cars.

“It was authentic as could be, the replicas said, ‘This is a true art form!’ which is what we were trying to say in the 1980s, and we can show it now.” Top said.

The Nu Hotel [85 Smith St. between State Street and Atlantic Avenue in Downtown, (718) 852-8585] For info, visit www.nuhotelbrooklyn.com.

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