“The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero”: A new documentary chronicles the life and art of the Bronx graffiti legend

By on November 18, 2016

The 2016 documentary The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — was compiled from nearly thirty years worth of archival footage, including home movies, which tell the story of a young man from the Bronx NY who left his mark in the world of graffiti and street art.

Cavero’s father — originally from Peru — worked in a General Motors factory in New Jersey, and his mother — originally from Puerto Rico — had tried to shelter their son from New York gang life, but starting in the 1970s, Cavero ended up in a couple of gangs: the Bronx Enchanters, based in his hometown, and the Renegades of Harlem, which is the crew he was banging with when he learned to paint trains and subway cars, and just about any other surface you can imagine.

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He used “King 13″ as his tag name, at first. Cavero has admitted that he engaged in armed robbery, theft, and assault (“I beat the shit out of people for no reason really,” he said in this interview).

He also says that he got heavy into hard drug use and drinking. He was, he admits, “a not so nice guy,” but the gangs taught him how to survive the streets “by any means necessary.”

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In his autobiography, The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170, which was published in 2006, Cavero tells the story of a gang shoot-out in a local park in the Bronx, which left him with three bullet wounds in his leg, one of them nearly severing a major artery.

He was left for dead by his fellow gang members and members of the rival gang, and survived three weeks of intensive surgical procedures only to come out of it a survivor who wasn’t quite ready to die in a gang shoot-out, not just yet.

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He spent the next three weeks in a hospital bed, where he sketched a lot and decided he would, instead, quit the gang-banging and focus on street art: graffiti.

Sometime around October 1980, he started a graffiti gang called The Vamp Squad, which was abbreviated as “TVS.”

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The Vamp Squad

Along with Cavero, the other founding members were Mike-Ike, Shock 123, 2 L, Include, Take-1, Vista-1, and later the Squad expanded to include Bilroc and NE aka Min-1 who joined from the “RTW” crew, and Rin-1, Beno, Basic, Boozer and Silk, who were from Staten Island.

Cavero chose the name “T-Kid 1970″ — the “T” was for the fact that he was tall and skinny, and “Kid”was because that’s what everyone called him.

Later, the “Terrible” part of the name was added by his peers, but not because he was bad at art (quite the contrary, he was pretty bad-ass with a spray can).

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The “vamp” part of the name came from the fact that he and the crew would go out and “vamp” the other graffiti crews they ran across in New York City, meaning they would rob them.

“Vamping” was actually derived from the word “vampire,” for a gesture that Mike-Ike had come up with that described how they covered their faces like vampires did in the movies, covering up their face with a cape.

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The Vamp Squad became one of the most notorious New York graffiti crews, but were also feared by other crews because they would hit train yards, tunnels and wherever trains were being tagged by rival gangs.

The members of TVS robbed and beat many writers attempted to tag trains on their “ghost yard” turf.

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After a few months, Cavero decided that he really didn’t want to rob people. What he really enjoyed, however, was street art, and staying true to the form and style of late 70s-early 80s Bronx-style graffiti.

He quit TVS in 1981, and continued to create street art, and he became an influential Bronx legend.

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Soon enough, his work was starting to become recognized by lots of local New York art critics, and some of it then ended up in a book, Subway Art, by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, which made him something of an international legend, and suddenly his unique style — big-block 3D letters and stylized characters — was inspiring other graffiti and street artists around the world.

Cavero ended up becoming a pioneer of old school Hip Hop culture, and his work added to the heritage of the graffiti movement. He became a mentor for urban youth, and formed a new crew, The Nasty Boyz (“TNB”), becoming their president.

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As an indication of just how legendary he became in such a short amount of time (the early Eighties), in 1983, Cavero was originally asked to be the narrator for the Henry Chalfant-directed Hip-Hop documentary Style Wars (he declined).

The film — which was originally aired on PBS stations across the country on January 18, 1984, and shown across the country at film festivals, winning the Grand Jury Prize: Documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival — raised the profile of street artists and expanded its popularity (it focuses mostly on graffiti, but also covered B-Boys and rappers).

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After the publication of his autobiography, filmmaker Carly Starr Brullo Nilles thought Cavero would be a good subject for a stand-alone profile film.

As the description from MVD Entertainment says, “You follow T-Kid into train yards all over the world, through his trials & tribulations from arrest, addiction, violence, love, and triumphs. Follow the story of one man’s rise to becoming a legend & witness the story of someone who came from the bottom to write his name on the top. T-kid is one of few, who have left their mark on the history of graffiti, coming up in the golden age of Hip Hop & becoming one of the leading figures in the emerging New York graffiti scene.”

Cavero gave her unprecedented access to not just his autobiographical story, but also his work from the 1960s all the way up to 2005, which includes images found on painted trains, walls, canvases, drawings, and sketches.

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Brullo Nilles — who formed her own production company, Love Machine Films in Oceanside, California — wrote, filmed, edited and directed the nearly-hour long documentary, The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero, which in addition to interviews with Cavero also features appearances by Style Wars director Henry Chalfant, as well as artists, musicians and others, including DJ producer Goldie, Cope2, Ces, Martin Jones, Med and The Death Squad.

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Brullo Niles has won accolades and lots of street cred for her work on this film. She and her team were honored at the Harlem International Film Festival with a New York Hi Lights Award and her film had the prestigious honor of being the closing film for festival.

Brullo Niles was also honored with the Woman in Film Award at the San Diego International Film Festival from the San Diego Film Consortium.

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Watch The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero now on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.