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Breaking Down Graffiti Lingo: A Glossary

Five East Bay writers define the terms of the trade.

Editor’s Note
: This is one of many stories San Francisco is publishing over the next month as part of the June 2018 East Bay Issue. To read stories as they become available online, click here.

Read more about Oakland's street art explosion here.

In graffiti culture, a toy isn’t an object but an insult. Beef isn’t something you eat but something you start, handle, or squash. And a throw-up is something you want to do as much as possible. Five East Bay OGs—Kufue, Pace, Vogue, Phresh, and Refa One, all of whom have been writing since the ’80s—break down the terminology.

BEEF: “When a writer goes over you, when a toy tags on your production, excessive gossiping, crossing someone out, putting wack pieces over burners, stealing someone’s belongings, leaving your crew mate during a raid, taking pictures of writers’ faces—these are just a few of the reasons we beef.” —Kufue

BENCHING: “Watching trains go by at train yards and stations where you can catch flicks of writers and your own work.” —Kufue

BOMBING: “Hitting the streets in a major way. The act of tagging citywide. Bombing hours are 1 to 5 a.m. Nobody’s out.” —Phresh

BUFF: “Wiping out graffiti—usually done by city workers, but there are vigilante buff folks, too.” —Kufue

BURNER: “The ultimate piece. The work is so well executed in its style, in its design, in its flow, in its technique, that it incinerates anything next to it. It’s on fire.” —Refa One

CREW: “An organization. It’s a guild of artists that organize like a family. It could be particular to a group of writers where you selected people with a certain skill or caliber, it could be a combination of that as well as people who grew up in a certain area or neighborhood.” —Refa One

GRAFFITI: “Writers call it graff, like, ‘Oh, you’re a graff writer.’ We call each other writers. Some people don’t like to call it graff—because it’s so much more than that.” —Phresh

HANDSTYLES: “Various ways to write your name. One flows, flairs, script, cowboy, Old English, and Philly hands are just a few of the many handstyle forms used to write one’s name.” —Kufue

KING: “Somebody who has mastered everything and is super up. If you’re on an ego trip, you might call yourself a king, but that’s kind of a toy thing.” —Pace

LEGAL BEAGLE: “Someone who only paints legal spots and occasional chill spots. You are frowned upon by many writers if you do not do any illegal painting.” —Kufue

ONE FLOW: “Hip-hop cursive. Writing your name without allowing the medium you’re writing with to leave the surface.” —Kufue

STREET ART: “It’s a friendly term that people find acceptable if they don’t know anything about the culture. Street art is wheat pasting, stencil’s all grouped into one thing because the word graffiti is not happening in the United States.” —Vogue

THROW-UP: “A quick way to get your name seen by many in a bigger fashion without getting caught.” —Kufue

TOY: “An inexperienced graffiti writer. Everybody is a toy at one point. When you’re a toy, you’re ignorant. But it’s your fault if you stay a toy.” —Pace

WILDSTYLE: “You have your straight letters and you have what would be considered a wildstyle.... Everything is connected. It’s all a flow.” —Pace

WRITER: “A practitioner of the spray-can-art, style-writing culture. I don’t use the G word. It’s a stigma.” —Refa One


Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco 

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