The remarkable hip-hop alchemy of Rammellzee is explored in a new short documentary, Rammellzee: It’s Not Who But What, from director Oscar Boyson. The Safdie brothers helped produce the film, which was released by Red Bull Arts New York in conjunction with the exhibit RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: RACING FOR THUNDER and closed the Red Bull Music Festival.
Rammellzee rose to prominence as a graffiti artist in late-Seventies New York City, but the nine-minute film showcases the true breadth of his work, which included performance art, sculpture, writing, philosophy and music. While Rammellzee may have been best known for his graffiti, he found the term too narrow for his brand of gothic futurism. Instead, as the film shows, Rammellzee felt a far greater connection with the monks who illuminated and preserved manuscripts during the Dark Ages.
It’s Not Who But What also looks at Rammellzee’s peculiar, but no less innovative, forays into music, as well as his chameleonic sensibilities. Over the course of his career, the multihyphenate embodied a variety of distinct characters and personae, crafting Voltron-esque costumes for each out of recycled material.
Bassist and producer Bill Laswell summed up Rammellzee’s omnivorous approach to art, saying, “It’s not like a musician, it’s not a painter who only paints – it’s a whole universe. There’s the obvious things, and he’s got nothing to do with obvious.”