Speaking with the Legendary Tracy 168

July 9, 2016


With his outstanding sense of color, style and design, Tracy 168 achieved legendary status early on in the most significant art movement of our time. The personification of wild style and the first writer to hit the subways with cartoon characters, the prolific artist wielded tremendous influence. On reviewing Tracy 168‘s work on exhibit back in 1999, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times art critic Holland Cotter had the following to say: “Tracy offers an astounding variety of styles, from 3-D to space-age spiky to Cubistic. He floats out words on cushions of colors, and ties them up in unreadable knots, festooned with tendril-like flourishes.”

When did you first get up?

I first got up with a crayon on a wall in my house when I was four years old. I remember drawing a tortoise and a hare. I lived across from the Bronx Zoo, and I always heard the sounds of animals from my window.

What about the streets? When did you first hit the streets? And the trains? When did you first hit them?

In 1969 when the Mets won the World Series, I first hit the streets. And I tagged my first train the same year. I was 11.



What inspired you to do so?

I loved the sense of adventure…the adrenalin rush. I envisioned myself as a Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. And I loved seeing my name on the trains.

Had you any favorite spots?

I was all-city, and I loved painting anywhere with people whom I loved. But my favorite spots were New Lots Avenue and Utica Avenue on the IRT line in Brooklyn. Any train I painted there would run right away, and so I didn’t have to hang around too long to see my piece pass by.


What about crews? Did you get up with any crews?

I founded the Wanted crew. It was one of the largest crews ever, and just about anybody who was anybody of worth was in that crew. It represented Wild Style.

Had you any early role models or inspirations?

My mother, my grandfather, Jack StewartMichael Stewart… Michael Stewart gave his life so that others would live. After his death in 1983 — and the trials and investigations that ensued — the police were somewhat afraid of treating writers so brutally.  We are the true prophets…

Any particular risky ventures stand out?

I was always wild, always doing dangerous things.


How did you support yourself back in the day? What was your source of income?

In the late 70’s, I began to create all kinds of art-related jobs for myself — painting storefronts, memorial walls, murals… I was the first writer to do that kind of thing. I also worked in an advertising agency. Jack Stewart taught me about copyrights and trademarks. He was a true mentor. He told me real stories — not the ones from Fantasy Island.

Your work has been shown in all kinds of settings across the globe!

Yes!  I’ve been in museums and galleries all over the world. I was always breaking boundaries, Here in NYC my work has been exhibited in dozens of spaces including the New York Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum and NYU.

I remember seeing your work at the Brooklyn Museum back in 2006.

Yeah! When I came by, I made some adjustments to my canvas with a paintbrush. That didn’t go over well with the security guards. They got the curator of the exhibit involved, who insisted that I couldn’t change anything, since it had already been photographed for their catalog.


Did you have a formal art education?

My education is hands-on.

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in this scene?

It can be used as a tool — if you know how to read the truth.


What’s your ideal working environment?

Anywhere outdoors. Even when I paint canvases, I like to paint outside.

What inspires you these days?

My main inspiration is to express myself and grow as an artist in a world that is reluctant to see me as one.

Are there any particular cultures that have influenced your aesthetic?

Every culture. NYC is a melting pot, and I’m in the center of it painting.


Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

I’m not done until I’m happy. As long as I’m alive, I can improve on it. But it must have meaning and exude positivity. Otherwise, why bother?

A few years back you were reported dead. What was that all about?

If I hadn’t died then, I wouldn’t be alive now. It had to happen.  When I vanished, I saw the world going in the wrong direction. This art form can save it.

How has your work evolved in the last few years?

It’s constantly evolving.  This movement is to art like jazz is to music. It’s a fusion of styles and cultures that knows no boundaries. It is a universal language. And the message of Wild Style is “Be yourself. Find out what your talent is and get good at it.” I love everyone, but I will not surrender the truth and lose my integrity.

Photos: 1, 6-8 Lois Stavsky; 2, 4 & 5 courtesy of the artist; 3 Flint Gennariinterview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Note: Photos 7 & 8 were captured from Tracy’s current black book; special thanks to Flint for the introduction!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Johnny Dough 718 July 9, 2016 at 9:51 pm

It can’t be denied… I remember going to the Bronx to a Mets game with my grandfather, probably ’75, and seeing bars and stores with signs painted by Tracy168. His pieces with King2, P.Nut2 and ChiChi were running on the M- train and the D-train in Brooklyn where I lived. Truly inspiring. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCzYyJjga6Q


michael tracy April 23, 2018 at 12:40 pm



Trey July 13, 2020 at 9:04 am

@ Tracy 168.

Silly question, more my own curiosity, as a kid growing up in soin Soundview, I’d see a Tracy who I thought was 168 with the Zulu Kings (black spades before that), just a long time curiosity, are u one and the same?


Louis Blake October 30, 2022 at 6:08 am

Tracey 168 was the king. His writing style so ahead of his time. His pieces were so colorful and detail oriented. I grew up up in the Bronx 2 years after him. So he is what I remember, just a god when it comes to being an artist.50+ years later we are talking about Tracey.168!


TRACY168 February 13, 2018 at 4:31 am

I remember what I said this day, and it wasn’t about the world being reluctant to see me as an artist. I never cared what the world or anyone else thought, as I’ve been an artist since before I ever picked up a crayon. I lost a friend named Bobby Columbia RC, back in April ’73 and I made this an art form, something bigger than it had ever been so the kid would not have died in vain.

As for the youtube guy, if he’s talking about me, why is he writing these other names? LSD, stay “high” and everything druggy but this video has nothing to do with who I am. I always a leader and not a follower, starting with my own name.

Also, the Yankees were playing in Queens in 1975 while the stadium was being rebuilt. If the Mets were at Yankee Stadium it was in an LSD vision.

The Legend Has Spoken.


michael tracy April 23, 2018 at 12:50 pm



rosemarie figueroa March 1, 2021 at 10:34 pm

Tracy I was a friend of yours in 1973 and my friend ana was with your friend john .I hope you remember us


Rob Baker July 17, 2021 at 2:20 pm

Hey Tracy,
We worked together at SMP for Stuart. I was going thru some old photos and found a nice picture of you. Send me an email and I will send you a copy. I remember our times working together fondly. I hope you are well.


MICHAEL TRACY October 26, 2021 at 9:29 am



Leurys May 7, 2022 at 1:34 am

Tracy what’s up? I’m working on putting a mural at st James park in kingsbridge. I would for you to be the artist. How can I reach you?


chris peck August 17, 2022 at 10:59 pm

I started writing in the mid 80s just as the subway era was coming to an end. I used to see Tracy 168 up all over the city mainly the Bronx and in the tunnels and was so fascinated with his style and color. SEEN, TRACY 168 and in Yonkers HAZE COS and COSEAN were who I kinda copied their letters on paper and the made them into my own style. I was always looking to meet TRACY and SEEN and one day in Yonkers i bumped into Tracy and he gave me some art lessons and let me put SHARPSTER COS up in his black book. that shit made my day, i went around telling everyone I know Yō I got my name in TRACY 168 black book! happier than pig in shit! then Walking down Palisades ave in Yonkers I find out that TAKI 183 owns the auto shop I walk by every day. I looked up to and respected these guys for so long it was like meeting a celebrity to me. I was happier to finally know these guys then I was when I actually met celebrities, lmao Yo TRACY FB a homeboy some time will ya!


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