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Interview – Charlie Ahearn

September 20, 2019
12 min read
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Charlie, why don’t you give everyone a quick background of who you are and where you’re from etcetera and then we’ll get into the details about your event this Saturday.

My name is Charlie Ahearn and I’m well known as the Director of the movie Wild Style, which introduced hip-hop to all the territories around the world in 1983.

And how did you end up deciding to get involved with that project?

Well, Fab Five Freddy and I met at this Times Square show and we discussed working together. He had this idea of trying to do something that connected the subway art with the hip-hop scene and I had previously done a martial arts movie in Lee Quiñones’ neighborhood and that’s how Fred knew about me.

Very cool.

So, this became a Fab Five Freddy, Lee, and Charlie film idea quickly, and it developed from there and it really was focused on the Bronx and telling the story of how people in the Bronx had created hip-hop. This was achieved by using the talent and the artists that helped create hip-hop as a cast that would shine in the movie itself.

Crash, Charlie Ahearn, & Daze in conversation at Beyond the Streets

There was not much out there connecting these two facets of hip-hop culture bar then, correct? I mean it was like 30 years ago, right?

I would say 40 years. That’s closer, I think. We began the project in 1980 but I had done my martial arts movie in 1978. So, it goes way back this whole story.

Did you think when you were filming Wild Style that it would end up being a cultural phenomenon?

I did once I started to work with Fred. I have to say, I really did think that this was going to have a big impact. I didn’t necessarily think it would make a lot of money, but I thought it would have an enormous impact because I really felt strongly that this was something that needed to be seen by people.

To me, it’s just crazy because my teenage years were in the 90’s and loads of stuff I listening to and studied… well they sampled Wild Style.

It’s true.

And that must have been crazy for you to listen to. Some of these are not just records, but historic groundbreaking records. They used your movie as source material.

Well, I would say The Beastie Boys and Nas helped bring attention back to the film in the late 80s or early 90s. At a time when what we think of as hip hop had really changed and hip hop was a big business and it was not something that happen locally so much.

Yeah. I mean I lived through it. I remember listening to the intro on Nas’s Illmatic and hearing the train sample from Wild Style for the first time. It’s part of me and millions of others who were raised on the golden era hip-hop.

Well, It wasn’t seen at that time as a culture which it is acknowledged as now. I think it was later that it reinvested itself, as a culture.

Now it’s not just a culture, it’s a driving force in our popular culture.

And I think people felt that watching Wild Style helped put them in touch with what that was.

Crash, Daze, Charlie Ahearn, & Grand Wizzard Theodore at Beyond The Streets.

Yeah. I think that’s 100% accurate. Especially for me growing up, I was probably 13 or 14 years old, when ‘Illmatic’ and ‘Check your head’ came out and I can tell you, that’s exactly what it was. So, I was your prime demographic at that point for what I guess, was a first renaissance for the film.

That’s true. And very much for people like yourself and of all ages, what I’m going to be doing on Saturday is, there is a silk screen workshop in Mana and I’m going to be presenting a number of painting projects that I’ve done that tell these stories about hip-hop and specifically, about Rammellzee. There’s a theater there where the event will take place Saturday the 21st. I’m going to do a presentation at the theatre which involves a combination of a live talk along with playing a radio show that I did in 2005 with Rammellzee, and images and films that are related to that and related to the culture of hip-hop.

So, when did you meet Rammellzee? How did you guys begin working together?

He was on the set in a couple of scenes in Wild Style and the most pronounced thing was when Fred brought him on at the amphitheater at the end of the movie. I make it sound like it was filmed at the end. I mean that’s the way it’s edited, but there was a scene that we shot at the amphitheater and Rammellzee was on stage with Rock Steady, which is how he was seen by many people at that time as a kind of live MC for their shows. And of course, Rammellzee was many other things, but that’s how he was seen in Wild Style and it’s very radical because he’s swinging a shotgun at the audience and his whole style of dress and MCing is very different from anything that was going on in the Bronx at that time.

I mean his style of fashion is still ahead of its time forty years later.

I Agree.

So, he passed away a little while ago and you obviously knew him very personally and spent a lot of time together.

He passed away in 2010. And I had been actually living right next to him. I had moved near his place in Tribeca in 1993. So, I was with him for a very long time sharing this neighborhood with him and visiting him, his studio which he called, The Battle Station.

I’m sure it was aptly named. So, you guys obviously did this radio show which you’re going to be reintroducing and reviving at the performance on Saturday.

In the theatre, yeah. Beginning in the studio in Mana. I have an Instagram which is @twincharlie and I will send out on the Instagram information, it’s a free event and it starts at four o’clock sharp. If you get there at five o’clock, you’ll miss it!

Plus you will be doing a panel with Crash and Daze at Beyond the Streets this Wednesday night which will have passed by the time this interview is posted; But tell me a bit about that.

Yeah, of course, we are going to see each other on Wednesday as well! It’s featuring Crash and Daze, who I worked with on Wild Style but I have known since the summer of 1980 and although they are both very different people, they are seen a lot of the time as kind of this duo, like a subway bombing duo but they were of course applying themselves in all different ways at that time and they both had the most amazing careers imaginable. There are very few people that were painting on the subways that actually had careers as artists consistently painting. You can count the artists on a few fingers, Lee Quinones, Futura…

Futura gave you a shout out at his talk last night at Beyond The Streets.

Oh cool. He’s one of the few artists… Futura and Lee and then came Crash and Daze…

Yeah. And then Haze and Cey.

Sure. Haze and Cey would definitely be on that list. These guys are the few examples that have careers that have been consistent since the 1980s.

They’re legends for sure.

I won’t go in too deeply here, but there’s a very few people that could be on that list. It would be something fascinating to discuss together in real detail another time. Maybe I’ll bring it up with Crash and Daze tomorrow night.

That would be great! So, I know you have to get back to preparing for your events this week, so real quick you’re doing this event Saturday night for Rammellzee, with the Lichtenstein studios, are you releasing a print for this?

It is a painting. There is a painting that is a kind of modular form made painting which uses a photo silkscreen, a photo that I took of Rammellzee at The Battle Station. There is actually a version of that image at the Beyond The Street on display right now. I made a painting that is kind of a square of 22″ by 22”. It’s a smaller version of it but it’s totally painted on a silkscreen.

And are these going to be available or is it a one off for you?

Oh no. It’s going out for sale at Gary’s (Gary Lichtenstein Editions at Mana).

Photo @garylichtensteineditions

Oh excellent. Okay good. Definitely people should know that because I’m actually very excited about that too. I saw you post, I think a little photo of it a couple days ago or last week, and it looks amazing.

Yes. I would definitely post in more things about that very soon!

Oh great. So, obviously we covered what’s going on Saturday and Wednesday, I mean that’s a pretty busy week for you. Anything else people should know about coming up in the future?

Not that I want to let people know yet.

Okay. That’s fair enough. I think we discussed enough to keep people busy.

Sure. Plenty of things to get them excited about.


Oh! They should follow my Instagram page.

Exactly and just to tell you people, Charlie’s Instagram (@twincharlie) is phenomenal. I’ve been following it for years and you should too.

Thank you very much, and I hope to see everyone this Saturday to celebrate the one and only Rammellzee.

Charlie Ahearn & Gary Lichtenstein at Gary Lichtenstein Editions at Mana. Photo @garylichtensteineditions

All Photo’s & Text Copyright 2019 Matthew A. Eller (unless otherwise noted).  Follow me on Instagram @ellerlawfirm

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