Futura 2000 Is A Graffiti Legend Who Continues To Leave His Mark On The Globe

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Futura 2000 is a Hip-Hop trailblazer in more than one facet. Now in his sixties, the New York City graffiti writer, artist, and cultural conduit tells his story in the latest episode of  The Masters. This veteran creator has been in the game for half a century, and in that span, he has achieved icon status due to distinctive art style and spontaneity.

To start the interview with Eli Morgan Gesner (co-founder of Phat Farm and Zoo York), the graf’ innovator born Leonard Hilton McGurr details his beginnings. “In ’68, I’m 13 [years old. I was] coming from a period of anti-war protesting. I think before I saw tags on subways and on stations, and random tags on walls in New York, I would see more political messages. So, my approach comes from more of like a political era than anything really…I still attributed graffiti to that. It was kind of a radical, ‘hey, let me express myself this way’ [medium].” Notably, since the age of five, Futura was closely connected to Marc André Edmonds, aka “ALI,” who was his Manhattan neighbor. “At some point [we] started to see the writing on the wall, and figured out that maybe this would be something that could be interesting to do just from a ‘hey, let me participate’ [or] ‘hey, I exist’ [perspective].”

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Futura goes on to explain that his name was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that as a kid in 1970 he was pessimistic that humans would live to year 2000. However, 30 years ahead of Y2K, he was fascinated by the calendar year. He attached it to his tag. Several years later, in 1974, he joined the Navy. The style king spent a couple of years on an aircraft carrier where he had access to technologies, which he states, influenced the artist he is today.

When he returned to New York in the early 1980s, he became a part of the “Downtown underground art movement,” as he calls it. It was at this time that his star started to rise as his work was shown in galleries with the likes of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Around this time he also met seminal British Punk band The Clash. He ended up going on tour with the group in Europe and doing live painting on stage while they performed. A fact not mentioned in the interview, but worth noting, was that he recorded a Rap single titled “The Escapades of Futura 2000” with The Clash and fellow graffiti writers Dondi and Fab 5 Freddy in 1982. Futura speaks about how instrumental Freddy was in getting graffiti to be viewed as art in communities outside of Hip-Hop and the streets. “There’s a novelty of this culture being exposed to this, I guess, ‘white audience,'” he recalls.

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Futura was able to evolve and continuously leave marks approaching 2000. The conversation moves to the 1990s, and the infamous Phillies Blunt shirt he produced with Stash. In a wave of apparel modeled after brand names that members of the graffiti and Hip-Hop community respected, Stash officially licensed the popular Blunt shirts through the cigar-maker. Futura’s his first foray into clothing led to him being an integral part of companies such as Project Dragon, GFS, and Subware. During this same time period, he started working with James Lavelle’s Mo Wax label and his group UNKLE. Futura developed UNKLE’s trademark pointy-eared alien mascots. He touches on meeting Nigo of Bape and the Teriyaki Boyz early on in the celebrated designer’s career. He details how he rocked an Aape jacket during UNKLE’s Japanese tour, which turned Lavelle onto Nigo, leading to more history. Futura likens this period of his career, intersecting with music and fashion, to his 1980s time with The Clash.

The episode concludes with a chat about today’s fashion and the viral streetwear scene. McGurr expresses his feelings on clothing lines like Supreme and Off-White. “[Supreme] just went in the whole system, and did some kind of renegade takeover,” he says, admitting that he feels forced to respect the Lower Manhattan juggernaut. Notably, Futura has been recently collaborating with Virgil Abloh, both at Off-White as well as Louis Vuitton. Abloh’s Fall/Winter Louis Vuitton fashion show was inspired by Futura 2000, including live painting adjacent to the runway.

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#BonusBeat: Check out this vintage footage of Futura 2000: