Pope is the first west coast skater/writer to be featured in this project. I’ve been following his skate career for over two decades, but it was only until I started following him on Instagram that I realized he also wrote. Last month, I noticed he was posting skate and graff pics in Brooklyn. So I cold DM’d him to see if he’d be down for an interview. After checking with a mutual friend of ours that I wasn’t a cop, he responded in the affirmative.
Which did you get into first, skating or graffiti?
How did you get into skating?
I was born in a city called Baldwin Park, and we moved out in ‘85 because the block was just getting too hot. So we moved a few cities over, which was a little more bourgeois. Then we saw some kid come down the block skating, and my older brother started skating with him. And when I turned seven I got my first board. So I just followed my brother and his friends around. They had a skate crew called Team Woody and they ripped. But around ‘87, when I hit Pipeline and all that, that’s when skating got real for me.
Runnin’ Up Hard on those Chaffey ledges.
Who did you look up to in skating?
Quy Nguyen is number one. Quy is the dopest to me. Then in no particular order, I like Gino, Guy, Keenan, Koston, Caesar Singh. Puleo, who didn’t have to flip in or out, but was still dope as fuck-that’s hard to do. That’s hard to get away with, and he did it. Also Marcus McBride. And Richard Mulder, seeing what he did on the daily made me skate better. I owe a lot to Richard. As far as new dudes, of course Tiago, he’s a beast.
How did you get into graffiti?
Well, I always loved it. The first graffiti I remember seeing was when I was like 10 or 11 years old, and it was by this crew YGW, Youth Gone Wild. They had this huge roller at a Park N’ Ride on a huge cement wall right off the Fairplex exit. I was baffled like, “how the fuck did they do that?!”
I remember going to LA and seeing Saber, and GKAE, who was probably the most up. I remember seeing the fire escapes, thinking that was the coolest shit ever. Then Fart and Barf came and crushed it. I would see Hilo and Okaer in the early ‘90s. I didn’t know them then, but now they’re my homies. Hilo actually went to my school and I’d sell him skateboards. Then one day I saw Hilo was in an art show, so I went to peep it. And the homie I was selling boards to was there and was like, “What’s up, what are you doing here?” I said I was here to see the Hilo stuff in the show, and he said, “yo, that’s me.” I was like, “shut the fuck up!” A few years later we started painting trains together, and he put me on his crew, STS.
2005 is when I really started painting on things. That’s when I met my homie, Keyps OCP. Going to downtown LA, the first building you see, he had a hang-over, with Okaer. “Keyps Okaer,” it was like a landmark. I met him at a party one night, he asked if I wrote. I was like, “nah, not really.” Then he asked if I had a car, and I was like, “yeah.” He goes, “I got paint, money… You down to drive around? I’ll show you what we do.” So he took me on my first mission, and I was hooked after that. It was like skating – you gotta scope out the spot and all that.
How did you get your tag?
My mom is Catholic and she named me after the Pope. My name in Arabic is “Hona Bulis.” So at first I wrote “Hana,” but then I switched it to “Pope.” I just thought it worked.
Who did you look up to in graff?
Honestly, the dudes I’m homies with now. Like Okaer, who skates, too. And Hilo, who I used to sell skateboards to at the skatepark. He’s OG – he used to do walkouts back in the late ‘90s before people were really doing that. Then there’s GKAE, who had fire escapes on lock. Fire escapes are like the Lockwood table of graff for me. I love fire escapes, and GKAE had ‘em smashed in LA. I wasn’t really writing when he was active, but I was definitely influenced by GKAE. Then the combo of Fart and Barf, just seeing that tag team, that was cool to me. Reakt is a big influence, too. He’s the dude who got me in RUH. Of course without the homie, Keyps, I wouldn’t be writing.
What is it about these two subcultures that they attract the same people?
It’s the same kind of mission. You drive all the way to LA and you got 15 minutes to get your trick. Graff is the same thing. You get on a rooftop and you might have an hour, or you might only have ten minutes, and you try to pull something off that looks dope and get away with it. Like with skating, if you can get a trick before you get the boot, it’s the same kind of feeling. So I got the same feeling from graffiti that I got from skating, which I wasn’t able to do anymore because I was injured. It kind of filled a void for me. Then I just fell in love with it.
In skating, skatepark clips are not cool. In graff, legal walls are not cool. So would you agree that skatepark footage is the equivalent of a legal wall?
Yeah, it’s the same. I don’t fuck with legals. You can sit there all day with your $18 can of paint and make something look cool. But if you go do it in the streets and deal with the elements, it might not look as dope, but I respect it more. Legals are like a skatepark trick; nobody wants to see a clip at a skatepark.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, skating and graff weren’t accepted by the mainstream. Nowadays they are a lot more so. How do you think this warm welcome from the masses has changed these subcultures?
As far as skateboarding goes, it’s good. Think about how much a basketball player makes. Millions of dollars. Of course there’s a bigger fan base, but what we do is way fuckin’ harder. The most I ever got was $1,200 a month. And I’m like, “I’m out here killing myself for $1,200 a month and no medical insurance?” So in that way, the popularity is good. But now you got a bunch of cornballs doing it. I seen a dad and his kid skating down the street, dad pushing mongo, and my homie was like, “that’s so cool and so terrible at the same time.”
For graff, it’s bringing all the toys out the woodwork. It’s terrible for graff. But some dudes are making money off of it. They have huge followings and they’re selling their art work and that’s cool. But it’s just bringing out too many toys. There’s too much terrible graffiti out there. I’m not saying I’m the best, but I respect the rules and I learned my history.
Last question: will you hit my book?