Street-wear brand and graff crew, the World Famous 7th Letter is synonymous with quality work, both on the cloth and in the streets. Southern California veteran (to both graff and street-wear) Menso is no exception to this rule. With years of work in the streets and an unmistakable West Coast style of writing, he’s carved out a spot for himself among the greats, most of which he calls family. He was kind enough to sit down and chat with Bombing Science about his views on the internet, chase stories and what “Menso” truly means to him.
How and when did you get started with graffiti?
My pops was an artist. I Had a bit of talent from the start. In grade school It was pencil drawing and sketches of Cartoon characters . In Middle school the Southern California Gang culture and lifestyle art form had a huge influence on me, by 6th grade I started hittin up with old English and Neighborhood straight letters on dumpsters, fences, alley ways , phone booths, school notebooks and folders with nicknames and clicks. By 9th grade I was introduced to hip hop 4 elements, which transitioned the “Gang dialect” to “Graffiti art” from New York subways to Los Angeles bombing and street culture. From there it was a melting pot from all aspects of life ,music genres and lifestyles to mold me into what I am today as a writer.
What was the climate like in the local scene when and where you started writing?
For the most part the weather is prime in Cali . We get are hot areas inland and cool breezes on the coast. All the yards under bridges are nice to paint when the suns out and freights are the best in the middle of the night with that crispy midnight air.
What kind of adversity did you face and have to deal with growing up and when you started writing early on?
I believe we all grow up and have hardships that build our character and (street) etiquette. It would have to be a whole story on just this question. For the most part I would say a Graff artist at the time was one of the toughest lifestyles to live. There was a lot that went on in the scene, everything from Starving, to couch surfing, racking, boostin, plotting, hustling, scheming, parties, raves, drinking, smoking, drugs, fights, heartbreaks, You name it . Including running from the law.
What benefits and positive things has graff brought to your life?
Over time it’s become the biggest art culture and movement. A modern day renaissance with a plethora of artist. It’s great to know my roots contribute to the scene and that allows me to make a living from it now that I’m Older, because as an adult you need structure and stability. What I loved to do as a hobby as a young adolescent has naturally turned into a craft, career, and business, branding myself as a quote on quote professional “Graffiti artist”
What kind of damage has it caused in your life?
Physically I feel like spray paint fumes messed with my nervous system. There’s is a few things I notice like migraines, congestion , and frequent bathroom visits. Haha. Only when I’m around the fumes it’s more intense. Mentally I feel like all I was consumed with was graff life, and worried about it so much, That I didn’t see my family or enjoy a relationship with them. I make it a point these days to spend quality time with loved ones. Life’s to short.
What motivates you to stay active in graffiti culture?
What motivates me is my past, present and future. The places I’ve been, the people I’ve met along the way. The work I’ve put in in the past to get here where I’m at now, and what I’m doing now to get to the next level, learning and progressing always . It would be nice if everyone had to the chance to know my story. But if if not a single person did. As long as I knew what I’ve accomplished I would be satisfied and would stay motivated.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
I wish I would of known a different hustle instead of racking or coming up to make moves. It was like I was trying to “Keep it Real” all the way through. I should of chose a different route and became legit , and kept it low key. Imagine a lawyer by day and graff head by night.Then you can have money in the courts and have a Get out of jail free card on deck.
How did you get your name and what’s the meaning behind it?
“Menso” translates to “stupid” in Spanish, or in other words “Troublemaker.” In a Mexican household when you get into any mischief, moms or pops would say “Ay Menso!!!” It was Like saying “aye you big dummy” if you did something stupid. I was the black sheep of the family growing up so they called me by that name a lot. I was a handful, most likely a little pain in ass giving my relatives a hard time being stubborn running amuck coming from divorced parents. Also, aAs time went on, I would also use the term “Menso” as “Stupid Fresh” to describe the vibe of my style.
What have you learned over the years, both graff related and life lessons?
I’ve learned that street etiquette was important to take hold of and grasp and transition that mentality and energy towards contemporary every day life, and business in the world of art, music, and fashion. I’ve learned life is nothing but borrowed time. Let’s make the best of it. I’ve had trials and tribulations of loved ones who passed, everything from natural causes to murder, so we need to except it and be aware of making the best of our time here, leave a good mark on this world to where people remember you and celebrate your life as a righteous soul. Instead of fending for yourself and leaving a tainted legacy .
What do you think it takes to make a well-rounded, respected writer, both in terms of putting in work and character?
I would say it’s only a dime a dozen who really go all out and become the top of their game, all city-well traveled and respected, notorious writers. I’m talking stickers, scribes, tags, bombs, pieces , rollers, heavens, yards, trains , freights, billboards, etc. Known world wide. I enjoy watching them raise the bar. As I’m thinking in the back of my head “I can do that!” I’ve always been told and learned that you can be the dopest in the game but be a complete asshole and no one will fuck with you. On the other hand you can be mediocre or even suck and be the nicest guy ever and that will get you respect and take you further in life. But to each his own.
What kind of effect(s) do you think the internet has had on graffiti?
“If you can’t beat em, join em.” I remember the days of graff mags and b-boy events with black book sessions as our social media. But I’ve got to say the internet could be the worst and best thing that’s happened to graffiti. From the saturation and exploitation of the art to riding the wave and joining the crowd on all this free advertisement and possible personal income. So the worlds in the palm of your hands, literally, it’s up to you, what you want do with it .
If you could only use one writing device (can/marker/scribe etc.), what would you choose and why?
I would say a tattoo machine, leaves a permanent mark on someone. They can’t buff it, it can’t break, won’t get lost, or stolen or ever go out of style. No one can take it from you. They can strip you from your clothes and all you would have left is the tat. You take it to the grave. But if you don’t consider that a writing device. Nothing beats a good ‘ol “rattle can.”
Can you tell us one of your best bombing/chase stories?
We were in the train yard late one night and got chased by ghetto bird and we ran into the river. But I didn’t get to make it down the sloped part like my crew ahead of me, I fell off the ledge that has a straight drop two stories tall or so, had to have been over 20 feet and had to have been one of my 9 lives. Another time, downtown L.A. we took a rookie out for his birthday and his first time hitting the city and he got caught up, almost ran over, chased across the 101 freeway, maced inside a Denny’s restaurant, beat with a baton and handcuffed by a security officer. All went down while I was trying to find the other homie with our walkie-talkies we had at hand at the time. After I found him, when the signal came clear. We found the other kid sitting on a chair on a dark corner after being beaten and sprayed in the face with mace. We were like this is our chance to save him. So we pulled up like bank robbers on this security guard music blasting and hoodies over our head. We had our handcuffed friend jump in the back of my truck. Pulled off speeding over the LA river 3rd Street bridge like a scene out of a movie with police sirens in the distance. And of course the on-ramp was closed because of construction. So we had to detour and drive thru east Los Angeles at 3 am with my friend maced in the bed of my truck. We finally let him inside the truck and the pepper spray made it hard to drive, while he’s crying because the cuffs are too tight. We stopped at every gas station, looking for someway to get the cuffs off. After getting away we pulled up to my friend Steve’s house who had bolt cutters and we tried to cut the cuffs off. That only made it worse by jamming it, pinching the metal together, and making it impossible to take off because the other cuff was opened a minute after with a safety pin We ended up calling the cops, told them a fake story that it was a gag, his girl tied him up for his birthday that night. The officer couldn’t use his keys to crack them. So he had us go down to the fire station, wake up the fireman at sunrise to have them saw it off for him. It’s crazy they all fell for the story.
If you had to pick one form of graffiti (tag, throw-up, piece, straight letter) that personified and conveyed the true essence of what graffiti is all about, what would you choose and why?
I would use a nice brand new black chisel tip marker at a 45 degree angle preferably a pilot or magnum with all the extras like quotations marks arrows, stars and halo maybe a drip or two. I feel that makes for the perfect tag, classic and timeless.
How did you get down with the 7th Letter and what does it mean to you?
I’ve always looked up to the clout MSK and AWR brought to the table along with the raw talent from the diverse crew based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Over time I became friends and family with a few of the crew members. When the idea of TSL started as a street wear brand I was there to lend a hand, I owed it to them for inspiring me as a kid. No matter what it was, if I could help I would go all out for the crew, in due time it went from a brand to a world wide network of people that had graffiti in common. I was never trying to ride the coat tail, Im simply playing my part in the role, like a soldier manning his station. I’m blessed to have these certain individuals I call family- thats why I rep it. Loyalty & Royalty.
Graffiti as a culture has seen a lot of legendary people pass away. Are there any homies you’ve lost that you think we should know about?
I taught everything I know to my brother “Trip” who wasn’t a writer but a freestyle rapper and recording artist. We created some good music and shot some music videos. It was great to listen to the content that contained our personal lives as the lyrics. I’ll always remember him, being thankful.
How does your family feel about graffiti? Do you ever have conflicts with your relatives about how you live and your activity within the culture?
It was stressful for them when I was younger. They didn’t understand it. And couldn’t control it. I was gone most of the time, like I mentioned. Nowadays they learned to accept it and realized I make a good living and by doing the illegal work, that’s how I get the legal work.
If you got a free plane ticket to anywhere for a spray-cation, where would you go and why?
I haven’t made it to Barcelona, Spain. I can see the graffiti being more accepted there and it would run longer. Looking forward to planning that trip. I missed out the last time the crew went. I know a majority of the major cities are getting gentrified and won’t be the same again .
If you could reverse history and take graff to the early 90’s by changing just one thing about how it has evolved, what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t change anything about it. It’s been great time watching it evolve.
If you were raising a son, would you want him to pick up graffiti? Why or why not?
Yeah why not. If that’s what he desired and has a passion for. I would definitely let him. The kids going to be born with can control. He better put it to use and paint a freight for his pops.
What non crew writers out there are killing it? Whose work do you like?
I like all the billboard bandits. That’s something that I never was able to accomplish, a nice handful of some burners on billboards. The dedication of climbing up those structures and serving some letters is insane to me.
How has your graff and your involvement in the culture changed as you’ve gotten older?
I’ve stepped away from any bombing unless it’s out of the state or country. Never in the city only a couple tags and land mark scribes here and there. I paint a legal wall every now and then. Freight trains will always be something I paint till the end. If I can find time and a place I’m there. Since I’m less active, I go with quality over quantity.
Do you think it’s possible to be original today, with so many styles already being rocked?
That’s the toughest thing to have is an original style. You are lucky if you are the chosen one with a unique style that still sticks to the traditional look, staying true to the roots but with a twist. Just not too innovative, but distinctive so we stand out from the rest .
Do you plan on painting forever or do you ever see yourself retiring?
I’ll never retire. That’s just another word for quitting. I plan on painting till my last days.
And last words or shout outs?
I’m just an ordinary person who happened to pick up a spray can, nothing special. I appreciate the opportunity to have this interview reveal my story. I believe documenting is very important. Respect.
I can make a very long list of people , but I’ll keep it short.
“Eklips” and the entire world famous seventh letter crew .
My painting partner . Mike Glory from TSL/ Us Versus Them
My Fiancé Bailey for always supporting me .
And special thanks to “Victor Koast” for linking up the interview .
By Paul Lukes