How did you get into graffiti and how long have you been writing?

I remember writing back in 1980. I grew up in Chicago in the Uptown neighborhood. I’d see B-Bboy characters everywhere, even on my building. We were all break dancers, except I sucked! So instead of breaking, I would write on the cardboard. It was funny back then.. then we didn’t have Adidas or Pumas, we had these shitty Jupiter Jumpers from a store called Jupiter and we’d go to thrift stores to get our clothes that I would dye up and shit. We were super broke B-Boys.

My whole family was full of writers. All of my brothers wrote and my dad is an underground artist. I also learned about antiques through my dad who would make his own antiques to sell and hustle.

How did you come up with your name.. did you always write that?

I love telling that story! In 1987 when I was in grammar school, I was being bullied. Every day this guy was fuckin with me. He kept callin me Nerd and one day I got up and knocked his ass out. I got suspended. I really fucked this guy up! I busted his face and everything.

I grew up really violent. I stabbed a kid in the 3rd grade and was arrested at a young age. I went to counseling and tried to refrain from fighting. But this guy wouldn’t stop and always embarrassed me in front of girls. When I returned to school kids were all whispering, “That’s that kid Nerd..” and it stuck.

I was already up at that time. They called me Nuwave and then I took the name Wave for a couple years til Nerd came around. There was a writer named Jerk. Dose was his twin and I looked up to them.. I thought who the fuck would call someone a Jerk but you want a name that no one will know it’s you. They thought who the fuck would call someone a Nerd and didn’t know it was me. They thought I was a black dude.

Later, I ended up being good friends with the guy that bullied me. He was a leader of a gang and saved me from getting my ass kicked. He was like damn, after all these years.. you still have that name.  

I also had a t-shirt that said “Never Ending Radical Dude” – NERD – and I took on that persona.

Did you grow up in Chicago?

I was born in West Virginia in my parent’s ‘65 Impala at my grandfather’s funeral. I think that might explain why I love driving old chevys n shit. Right after that, it was back to the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago and yeah that’s where I grew up.

Back in the day, For a while, I had an airbrush shop called Uptown Beatdown. It was me and two other guys, EWOK XMEN and Demon SB plus DENZ TAC worked for us. In fact, I did my first freight with DENZ and YAVE SB. We airbrushed shirts, hats and all types of shit and always had a live DJ and sold graffiti supplies.

How do you feel about the current graff scene?

Graffiti is the big culture but there’s so many subcultures. The train culture here is huge. Some writers love paining clean trains, artists come from other countries to just paint trains here. If you’ve never painted a train, you ain’t experienced one of the greatest things you can do in graffiti!

I’d like break out and do freights for 2 years and do nothing else. I’m still active and I support my younger crew doing it. I’m going to do trains the rest of my life.

As an old schooler I’ve been around such a long time and I don’t do much tagging anymore. I think I’m wasting my paint. Sometimes I go with my son or when we travel out of town, we bomb too. My son used to do wildstyle then started taking the train and turned into a straight vandal. Personally, I wanna see a new original wildstyle.  

It used to be about a lot of tagging and throws, then to be the best burner, but it’s not really like that anymore. Now there’s people that just do tags and that’s its own culture. You couldn’t get on a permission wall back in the day unless you were real good. I’d sit back and watch. Now they just let anyone. It’s not the goal to be the best burner anymore, it’s just to get up.

I think a lot of people did graff because they’re not into traditional art or also did tattoos instead of traditional art. I picked up paint brushes and chalk all the time. I was into art clubs in school where we painted murals and realistic portraits. Then when I got a wall I was like oh shit!!  I like bringing in styles and techniques from the masters. They’re spraying cans just like a paintbrush now. You can do it low pressure, or put cans inside coolers to get certain effects – I love that shit! I keep clogged up cans to get shit to spit out.

What crews are you part of?

I’m XMEN and was originally POR crew (profits of rage). We’re still in touch. It took me 10 years to get into XMEN back in 1997 and before that I was also SB.

After Nerd took a smoke break we briefly talked about that 

Tell me about your love for weed.

It’s about to be legalized!!  I started showing myself smoking n shit, I don’t really care. I’m a big advocate of the culture and support it within the graffiti culture.

I really enjoy the camaraderie of painting and smoking with other artists and coming up with freestyles n shit straight off the dome. I also like trippin and writing stories and coming up with graphic novels while I’m on psychedelics.

What about NerdDoom?

That started as my way of getting into street art and making my slaps. I took my Doom mask (Dr. Doom comics and MF Doom) and kind of did it to pay homage to both of them where I didn’t have to do too much. I just wanted to get into copying and old school cutting and pasting and do collabs with MF Doom with Daft Punk or Wolverine, or even Jason mask wheat pastes and post ups.

This ended up with me wearing the mask while I was out painting and taking flicks. I would also wear a cape and have plastic guns and record myself while painting. I’d meet others in the train yards and do little skits and film it. One time we were out there and I had my whole costume on and a worker came up and looked like what the fuck and we all broke out laughing.

I haven’t done it in a few years, but I put together an underground comic about it with photos, live action and hand drawing. I’m making an underground zine for it.

If you could teach something or tell the newer generation of graffiti writers anything, what would it be?

I like to teach originality and tell them they could be the next great young writer to come up with something new. They need to think kinda crazy and outta the box. When I grew up we had Spray Can Art and you couldn’t do anything that looked like pieces published in the book. I don’t think too many kids are inventing their own styles anymore. To me, climbing way the fuck up or jumping into the yards and doing a 2 color readable is ok – and it’s still vandalism – but I’d rather see a crazy wild style that will take my mind some time to read. If I took the time to get in there, I’m not going to waste time doing a 2 color fill-in or throw up. I’m gonna go for broke! Plus I don’t want to just stare at a piece of art for a few minutes – I want to spend time – 30 minutes or more to really appreciate it.

Also I’d tell them to stop going with what society thinks is the dopest shit out there. Do your own shit!  

Tell us about your style and how do you feel your style has evolved over the years? Who and what has influenced your style the most?

My style is a wildstyle that is organic and continues to grow. This is going to be my 30th anniversary as NERD. In the last 20 years, maybe more, I’ve never shown up to a wall with a sketch. I freestyle everything. It’s already in my head. I look at it like an arsenal and then add some tricks and doo dads and just put it in the files. I try to create a new style from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. I kind of like playing with it the furthest it can go and master it and then store another style in the file. When I go back to the bandos, I usually paint some of my classic styles.

Throughout the years I had teachers that taught me how to think about my styles. One of my first teachers, TESL, was king of my high school. He told me how to climb the redline and do pieces off rooftops and how to do metallic fades – something I still use all the time.

Later I came across RAVEN who taught me to go outside the box and not care what anyone thinks. Come correct and clean and as long as you know it’s fresh then it’s fresh.  ZORE SB got me into going real big with shit and travelling into San Francisco and Oakland and other places outside of Illinois. They travel a lot.

RAVEN and ZORE taught me how to teach graff. I would teach at After School Matters, Kuumba Lynx and Youth on Youth in Uptown for about 15 years. I really enjoyed teaching the kids and seeing their styles evolve.

Who are your favorite artists and why?

Frank Frazetta – fantasy artist

Ralph Bakshi – fantasy and  movie animation

These guys take me to a different reality and when I paint graffiti, I want to take my audience to another dimension.

How do you feel about the buff in Chicago?

The buff makes you work for it, you gotta go extra hard. They made it a competition. When they weren’t around, I had nowhere to paint. There was so much graff but I could never go over it. It’s a free for all now. If they stopped buffing, I think graffiti would die out and people would stop writing.

How does graffiti play into your personal life and “day job”?

I’m a youth empowerment specialist for a transitional housing program for male teens 16-21. I mentor them, teach them life skills, cook for them, take them on field trips and teach them graffiti. I always bring art into the job. We have art classes, an art club, anime, animation and a resident of the month in graffiti. They work on murals inside the building and we have drop in classes to do art. Also, every Halloween I paint faces. A lot of my Kuumba Lynx kids started doing graffiti too. It’s been 9 years working at the housing program and 14 years with Kuumba Lynx after school.

I also get jobs throughout the year and make money from them. I’ve been getting paid my whole life doing it. Cans ain’t no joke! I do commission art murals throughout the year and participate in shows in galleries around Chicago. I also make t-shirts, hats, stickers and buttons that I sling. I also do custom canvas art.

What are some new things you’re working on?  

I’ve worked on some zines and comics, but not as hard. I need to get back on some of that.

I also do Street Creeps which are characters I’ve been doing forever. I do different stickers and enjoy making them and I’ve been drawing them live on IG.

We started hosting Thursday nights by NERD and BEL2 (KCM) black book sessions at Camp/Us in Logan Square. It’s all ages with friendly battles and you can just drop in. We have a live DJ and we also do beat making. There’s always cool art for sale, too.  

Any shout-outs or anything else you’d like to mention?

I’d like to say RIP HEKL & KEP. 

Thank you for talking with us! Thank you to CAMP/US for letting us use the space for this interview.  You can see more of Nerd’s work at @graffitinerd. Also check out CAMP/US and Kuumba Lynx

Interview By: Melissa Brand/LissahhB