What is a back pack rapper really? Walk with me…
If you’re not from New York City, Brooklyn in particular, you may not understand the following, but I suspect you may be able to relate if you try.
The original “backpackers” were teenage kids from the hood who used bookbags to “steam” or boost” clothes from department stores or to steal spray paint from hardware stores which we called “racking”.
Most people would stuff the inside of their book bag (knapsack was a term we never used).
This, of course involved you either taking your bag all the way off of your back or a wiser way, to keep it on one shoulder using your free hand to un zip, stuff and re zip the bag. So i’ve been told.
A more skilled booster would keep the bag on both shoulders and place the clothing between back and bag. Thus, you wouldn’t alert the security guard by taking the bag off.
Some would even place aluminum foil around the sensors to beat the alarm.
Some famous, pardon me, infamous boosting crews were Lo Lifes, Steam Team, USA (Universal Shoplifters Association, Downtown Mob and more.
This is the origin of the backpack. In hip hop, I would say Black Moon were the original back pack rappers so to speak.
In their debut 1992 video in “who got the props” frontmen Buckshot and Five Ft wore over-sized hoodies, baby hats and enormous bookbags. Some didn’t understand the style.
But those who were from Brooklyn know that Buckshot was a member of FAP (Franklin Avenue Posse) a crown heights crew who had a section that were straight boosting (original crooks).
Black Moon - Who Got Da Props
In the 90’s if you saw 5 young dudes with book bags you weren’t going to find
no microphone, no 12 inch vinyl record, no boom box and no rhymebook. You would find a can of spray paint, some gear (probably someone elses), and if you looked in the small compartment by the pencil holder you would most likely find a .22, .25 or .380 caliber pistol If you were lucky. And it was wrapped in a wash cloth or a bandanna.
And if you had a Decepticon on your hands, you might find the .380 AND a hammer. Who am I kidding? In 1994 I carried a hammer in the inside compartment of my Purple XXL Polo Hooded Parka and I was hardly a Decept. It just seemed like logical sense.
Any way, you may think that any ole’ book bag would do. You couldn’t be further from the truth.
The homie and esteemed writer Dallas Penn tells me that EastPak was the O.G. bag of the 80’s but what was the book bag of choice for thousands of bookworms, (graffiti) taggers & bombers, boosters and stick up kids in the 90’s?
The JANSPORT. soak it in. let it marinate for a spell.
I was told that Jansport beat out EastPak because they made better bags - I just know that for MY high school era (early mid 90’s) it was ushered in along with 2 color reversible face masks, hard plastic neon pacifiers and baby hats.
Jansports - or JANZ for short, came in damn near all colors and sizes. Green, Blue, Black Red, Blue, Purple, Pink, Grey, Sky Blue..you get the point. Their were different sizes..I think the smallest kind would cost you 15 to 20 bucks, the next size was about 25 and then you had the big boys with the suede bottom or the big leather patch on the back…these were about 35 to 50 bucks each.
Jansports were cool to have, and if you had some other shit, you might as well had been wearing Pepe jeans, or worst - Paco.
If your color was light enough, or if you had the neon gold or silver paint marker, you would Tag your Posse’s name as well as your tag name on back of your bag. IF this wasn’t enough, you would use the paint marker to tag up the black shoulder straps so they saw your name and crew when you were coming.
Each zipper piece had an elastic string. The string was black and had bits of color through out. Some time in 93 or so we figured out that if you split and peeled off the black layer, a neon pink or green string was underneath.
That blew our minds. (Back then, there wasn’t such a big thing with pink, as longas you weren’t over doing it. If you had a pair of pink acid wash guess jeans (not like straight pink, more like rose…pause) you was cool as long as you rocked it with a black hoodie, a black North Face vest with the blue trim and a pair of black cross trainers.. I myself never rocked the pink, but I don’t remember dudes getting flack around that. So, this being the case, to have your Jans strings to be pink and green was hard.
A even deeper subculture with the BK Bookbag movement was the Jansport String.
This is deep right here. The more the strings you had, the more status you had. It would be hell to keep a string on your bag. There were enough dudes trying to steal bags and whatever was in them, but then there were dudes who filled their bag quota and just needed more strings. Each bag had four strings, each string was tied through the eyelet of the zipper with a simple knot.
So it was nothing for some one to loosen the knot and pull the string off. This was especially easy on the bus. Brooklyn roads are bumpy as hell. The untrained person is not going to feel that shit.
Strings on a Jansport were sort of like decals on a football players helmet for every tackle or touch down. It showed you were hard.
You could be hard without 30 strings on your back, but 30 strings on your back showed that you definitely were taking other peoples strings, bags and shit in general.
In a climate where everyone was stealing bags and strings, the more strings you had were testimony that you could hold yourself down. Or that you “held weight” or had “back up”.
Some dudes had More strings then Mr.T had chains. Around 94 dudes got wise and started melting the end of the strings. By melting it after the knot was tied, it became impossible to untie it. Plus we just liked to burn things.
My High School at the time was literally on the other side of Brooklyn - Sheepshead Bay
I was living on Myrtle avenue in Fort Greene Brooklyn at the time and the morning commute was 90 minutes. I took two buses, the 54 down myrtle to Nostrand Avenue by marcy where I took the B44 bus all the way to Sheepshead Bay. When I tell you that the bus ride was hell, I aint lying. Though some of my homies from flatbush were going to the bay, none of the my peoples from Downtown were even going into that direction. So I had to hold down fort myself.
So, to ward off any people who thought I was alone in life, and also because I was addicted to graffiti, I usually tagged my name as well the names of my whole crew (was only about 20 of us, so it could fit)
This of course, made my bag look ugly as shit. And even the tagginist tagger eventually NEEDS a clean SLATE.
But who’s trying to buy one? Not your mother.
So you gotta go shopping the BK way. You gotta “find it somewhere”.
So tuesday morning, I was on the prowl.
The bus hadn’t passed by church avenue yet and the two Wingate High kids from the projects in my hood had just gotten off the bus and I was on the hunt. The bus was crowded as usual. You had kids who were going to 7 different High Schools on there. Standing room only. Except for me, since I got on crazy early. Other dudes sitting down would be people who were thorough enough to sit down, in otherwords - take a seat. And considering there were only about 12 seats in the back of the bus.it was dog eat dog.
I once saw a kid named Boots kick this dude in the face for not giving up his seat by the window. He was called Boots because he wore a size 13 or 14 black timberland chukka all year round. Needless to say, the dude got it bad in the face and we all had a good chuckle.
So this tuesday was no different, but sometimes you WANT to stand up. Here you could kick it with your peeps and tag on the windows. Like I said I was a writer so there was always a fine black or blue pilot
Marker in my pocket, along with my trusty boxcutter. allegedly. Actually my memory fails me.
One of the dudes on the bus that would tag with me was a cool cat from Flatbush named Panama. Panama was down with LTP (looney toons posse) and a whole bunch of other crews. We linked up based upon us being panamanian and cool at the same time.
Cats like my man Jamal also known as Whiskey VTM usually had me write his shit up because he didn’t have “hands” like that. Besides that he was usually busy terrorizing something.
Some people would try to hide in a corner. Half of the time, those were victims in waiting. But I was sitting down today. I was in the corner seat over the radiator…Writing on the arm rest of the seat in front of me. The corner was the best seat in the house. If you could stand the occasional roach falling to the ground or stepping into last nights chinese food, you could get the closest thing to a birds eye view of the bus. That’s how I spotted my new Jansport.
Jansport stealing was an art.
Hell, there was even a crew in Crown heights called JST (JanSport Takers). You had to analyze the prey.
The shit was New, fresh and green like a 18 year old on Prom night. Ready for the plucking
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself “I never had green, I bet my tags would show up crazy with the Green..AND he got strings, oh that sh^t is mine”. For some reason, I decided to just take the strings, like I said, I hadn’t crossed church avenue and I was still by myself, so at clarkson and Nostrand, it may have been suicide to rob this kid so early. He may have had “back up” on clarkson.
Every stick up kid worth his gat knows that when u rob some one, you need to distance your self from them ASAP. I didn’t really know this kid, so I didnt know how long he would be on the bus. So instead of jacking the Jans, I started untying his strings. After I had 3 or four safely in my pocket, I could have quit, but I decided to go after the remaining eight. He must have sensed it because he moved a couple of steps forward, turned around and
looked at me. Stunned, all I could come out was “What!” in Brooklyn, What! Is not a question. Its a declaration of war.
“You all on my bag son, I saw you” he yelled. “You bugging!” I replied “I was closing your bag for you son, I wasn’t even NEAR your shit”. Despite the obvious contradiction, homeboy turned around and hung on the pole opposite me. He didn’t snuff me, so I knew he was WEB (’food’ as they say now).
A couple of more blocks passed and we were on church avenue. Hardbody. About a dozen kids came on at the back door, and your man with the Green Janz was trying to get out. I got up, followed him to the back door and pulled the JANZ off of his back. At this point, I had the true element of surprise and he was stuck. After another well placed “AND WHAT!” your man continued to walk down the stairs in disgust…- I can’t say he was a herb, I can’t say I was a thug, but that day , I got the drop on him, and went to school with a Forest Green Jans and some new strings to boot.
After a while people realized that I had a knack for “finding” Janz’s and I began taking orders. Cats would tell me the color they wanted and I would handle that. Some of the targets were harder than others but some were so easy, they were just plain FOUL. I would go to the lunchroom, pace around looking for the right bag analyze the person, pick it up and walk away. This was the 90’s. Most people understood and respected the Jux.
Eventually, around 95, Jansport gave way to the new improved NORTH FACE bags. They were bigger, lighter and cooler. They only really came in Black at first, but after awhile they become #1 in the booster’s book.
I’m not proud about my deeds or my obsession over that particular material item. I dont even know where any of my Jansports were. But as I look at school age children get ready for the Fall Season, with the little metrosexual pocket string packs or whatever you call’em,..As they go crazy over who can fit into the skinniest European jeans; I cant help but to Salute JANSPORT. The most peculiar thing a kid ever stole on his way to school.
Who Flushed The Toilet !?!