Now that you're all settled in New York, do you still own your shop in San Diego?
I still own it, it’s been 10 years but I feel like I’m going a different route in my life. My partner there is stable, he has kids and a family. I’m like a machine, I want to progress and tear it up—I don’t want to be there right now but I’ve lost some clientele just from not being there and the people that I’ve worked with over the years, now that I’m gone so much people aren’t looking for me as much on that local sense. Globally, I’ve been traveling and I have a following now.
There's a fun edge that's lost a little bit by having the show and the fame, that's everywhere throughout tattooing now because people expect consultations and to be babied through your artwork. Back in the day it was like, 'You want something like this? Alright sit down, shut up, we're going to do that.'
What was the start of the show like in New York?
It was a little crazy, it’s always difficult to be around people who are normal and then get a little bit of fame, and watching people fight with their egos. It's not a bad thing, it's just normal. Trying to be chill and work with it, work around it, and tattoo people through it—it's definitely a weird tattoo environment, it's unlike any normal tattoo shop in the world. Here, we're in a new world of public reality. It's cool but there's a fun edge that's lost a little bit by having the show and the fame, that's everywhere throughout tattooing now because people expect consultations and to be babied through your artwork. Back in the day it was like, 'You want something like this? Alright sit down, shut up, we're going to do that.'
Is it annoying for you as an artist when people constantly try to alter the art before getting tattooed?
It's annoying as a tattoo artist but as a patient person, I deal with it okay.
Speaking of your personality, can you explain the idea of the 'Self Made' documentary film you did?
I got my knuckles tattooed with Self Made. As a tattoo artist, you're always trying to think of cool tattoos to fit your knuckles. The meaning is that throughout my life, everything I've made in it has been by myself pretty much. Good friends have helped me along the way, but I didn't have a boost or a handout from anyone. It was a self made existence where you're building from zero. There's no safety net.
I did a cool rosary on Silkk the Shocker’s arm. I filled up like all this little space and did a big one on him. But for some reason, Master P wanted a temporary one on his neck.
That's great. Let's talk about some of the most memorable tattoos that you've done. Is there a favorite for you?
The girl I broke up with, that I was with forever. A year later, she emailed me that she wanted to get her head tattooed, she wanted lettering. This was the first contact I had with her for a year. I told her I would do it and I didn't think about it, I just responded. She asked to do it at midnight at my shop in California and she wanted "No Love Lost" on the side of her head, she had part of it shaved. I just remember her coming to the shop and me sketching out the design and shedding a few tears while drawing it up.
That's really beautiful. You've also had some big clientele over the years. Did you actually tattoo Master P on a video shoot?
The picture of me tattooing him, I’m actually drawing a fake one on his neck for a video. I don’t know if he’s embarrassed about it or not. When I was still fairly new in tattooing, I had a friend who was shooting some Master P videos in LA, and they needed a tattooer to do some temporary tattoos on all the models. That was what I was told. I was, ‘Rad! I’ll go up there and draw fake tattoos on pretty girls, I’m in, no problem.’ But I was a little nervous because I had never done that before. I was going there with the mindset to do all the temporary stuff on all the models for the videos. I think Master P was shooting three videos that day, and it was when he was big and doing a lot of stuff.
After giving the women temporary tattoos, I just started doing some of the crew. Real tattoos, just doing cool stuff, cool roses—I did a cool rosary on Silkk the Shocker’s arm. I filled up like all this little space and did a big one on him. But for some reason, Master Pwanted a temporary one on his neck.
I spent a whole day with Jaheim when he was filming the video for "Everytime I Think About Her" with Jadakiss. He came in the shop and he was really easy to deal with. He wanted a portrait of Luther Vandrossand some lettering underneath.
Maybe he was a little scared of getting a neck tattoo.
I don’t think he was scared. I just think he’s a smart businessman, he wasn’t messing around. To me it was kind of corny, to just portray that, but in music videos and entertainment, it’s just entertainment. Like half of these gangsters and half of these rap hustlers aren’t real hustlers. I think he’s a smart guy, he knew that, he was just going to portray an image in this video. So I did a big ‘No Limit’ on his neck, but it was a temporary one.
You were in talks with Rick Ross to get some tattoos, too, right?
Rick came into our shop in Miami. It was busy in there, and I was tattooing, and I noticed he came in. This was right when ‘Hustlin’ came out, you know that shit cracked. He’s bigger now. He came in, and I stopped tattooing. I was like, ‘Fuck, nobody’s helping him? I’m going to go help him.’ So I go up to him, I’m like, ‘Hey what’s up man? Nice to meet you, what’s happening?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, I just want to see about getting a tattoo.’ And he had gotten tattooed by a friend of the shop, and he did a lot of stuff on him, and he’s like, ‘Well he told me to come and check you guys out.’ We were like, ‘Oh cool man, what do you want.’ And he’s like, ‘Honestly man, I just wanted to see what it was about today. Let me leave my number, and I’ll let you know, and we’ll figure it out, you know?’”
You tattooed Jaheim as well.
I spent a whole day with him when he was filming the video for "Everytime I Think About Her" with Jadakiss. He came in the shop and he was really easy to deal with. He wanted a portrait of Luther Vandross and some lettering underneath. I think he wiped out on a scooter in front of the shop when he was waiting for me to sketch it up. After I tattooed him, he went on to film more of the video and you can see his fresh tattoo in one of the scenes.
We went down to The Hit Factory around midnight, I talked Chris Garver into going with me to hang. It was in a weird neighborhood, we went in, and Lil Wayne's personal assistant told us to chill in the lounge area with Birdman who was playing pool.
I've seen that tattoo, it's so detailed. Weren't you supposed to tattoo Lil Wayne once, too?
We went down to The Hit Factory around midnight, I talked Chris Garver into going with me to hang. It was in a weird neighborhood, we went in, and his personal assistant told us to chill in the lounge area with Birdman who was playing pool. We were there for hours and Lil Wayne was in the booth and he ended up making us wait. I don't know if he got too high but it became 3:30 in the morning, and Garver wanted to go and I had to work the next day. If I had been by myself, I would've posted up and chilled for a bit.
It seems that he likes to keep people waiting.
That's what kind of sucks about some celebrities because you're this good artist and they come at you like you're disposable, not respecting that individually these artists are really great. I read an article on Game who was like, 'I just go into a shop and tell them to tattoo me.' It was an ignorant comment and didn't respect the art of it. Respect it, figure it out, find good people to tattoo you.
Who’s done most of your tattoos, by the way?
I was thinking about it the other day, most of my tattoos have been done by 30 of 40 different artists.
Do you have a favorite tattoo that you've gotten done?
It’s hard to pick one, it’s a real difficult question, because you get these different ones at meaningful moments or meaningful tattoos. I have some 'Rest In Peace' ones for friends that have died, which are the most important—a serious event that’s captured and memorialized and immortalized on your body. So those are the most important maybe. I have this really nice artwork by Chris Garver, this beautiful woman—from an art perspective, it’s my nicest tattoo. I have this cool snake on my stomach that Ami did, a Japanese snake. I have these different beautiful pieces, and each one has signified the moment or the style of art that happened. The most controversial one is my face one.
I read an article on Game who was like, 'I just go into a shop and tell them to tattoo me.' It was an ignorant comment and didn't respect the art of it. Respect it, figure it out, find good people to tattoo you.
The cross under your eye?
It’s a Latin-style, Pachuco cross—I got it ten years ago as a kid, and at the time, it was more part of the neighborhood culture. I was one of those white guys who thought he was black or Mexican growing up, because it was everyone who was around me. That was part of my upbringing. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, you’re trying to dress like this.’ No, that’s how we dressed in our neighborhood. So the tattoo was kind of the styled cross.
What do you think about getting them removed. I know 50 Cent’s got some of his removed.
That’s crazy to me. It’s like erasing a Mona Lisa. He’s got a nice beautiful Cartoon masterpiece that he’s just dissing basically. And I’m sure Mister Cartoon is not upset about it. It’s kind of disrespectful. I would like to get my hands and neck removed. Sometimes I think about it, but I have this artwork by these legendary tattoo artists that I look up to and respect their art. It’s like having a beautiful painting and just wiping it away. It depends.
One last question for you, in regards to something I heard in your Self Made documentary. Someone mentioned the divide between older tattoo artists and what's trendy now, like more graphic designers becoming tattoo artists, etc. What are your thoughts on that?
It's an interesting thing. There's the main old guys, that learn how to tattoo, learn how to use the machines and they learn how to apply tattoos—the purest form of tattooing. Now there's more and more of an art influence where you're artistically skilled and you're joining that with the tattoo form. Now artists are becoming tattooers and the emphasis is bigger on art than the tattoo skill. In between that, there's this loss of the boundaries of what you can do as a tattooer and what you should do.
Now artists are becoming tattooers and the emphasis is bigger on art than the tattoo skill. In between that, there's this loss of the boundaries of what you can do as a tattooer and what you should do.
These artists are coming from a pure art perspective without learning a lot of the boundaries of old tattooing. You have these people doing these fancy designs because they come from a painting background without a tattoo background so this mix in the middle are all these young kids who aren't really learning from old guys or time-tested methods. There's reasons why certain things are done because there are limitations. There are no limitations to these kids because they're used to doing design and painting and graphic design. They're stretching the boundaries at first but not really knowing the consequences later on.