The Dream Lives: Remembering Graf Legend Mike "Dream" Francisco

An associate remembers the late great Oakland street artist in preparation for tonight's the 10th anniversary show.

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Complex Original

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Oakland, California is a beautiful city—beautiful people, beautiful scenery. It's also a very fucked up city, and perhaps nobody exemplifies that dichotomy—a beautiful person silenced by the evils in his hometown—better than Mike Francisco a.k.a. Dream. The Town's long had one of the most vibrant hip-hop cultures on the planet, and for the better part of two decades, Dream was the living embodiment of the city's graffiti scene. Beginning as a teenager in the early '80s, Dream was at the vanguard of his hometown's world-renowned graf aesthetic, pioneering a flowing style out of his 23rd Avenue Yard stomping ground that was uniquely Oakland. On February 17, 2000 he was murdered at the age of 30 during the course of a robbery, leaving behind an infant son, Akil, as well as a shattered artistic community.

Tonight Dream's friends and colleagues will gather for a reception and show marking the 10th anniversary of his passing at the New Parish in Oakland (details below), with proceeds going to benefit Akil (who's now 10 years old, and just last month lost his mother to breast cancer). Complex recently got with Marty Aranaydo, a one-time protege of Dream's and later a member of his famed TDK Crew, to talk about what his mentor meant to the worldwide graffiti movement, as well as the community of Oakland.


Complex: For the uninitiated, give us a feel for why Dream was such an important artist.

Marty Aranaydo: Mike Dream is what happens when you find freedom outside the lines. Fuck that. "Find" is too passive. Dream is what a person becomes when they take their freedom however the fuck they must. Oakland is a city that always forces your hand. Oakland made the Panthers, Oakland made the Hell's Angels, Oakland made $hort, and Oakland made Dream. Outside the law, the lines of the establishment, and without a whole lot of money, he set thousands of lives in motion on a positive path that defines a culture, a city and what is now the fastest growing movement in art history. Dream made himself into a masterful artist finding his voice in an "outsider" art. At that time graffiti would never go mainstream, end up in commercials, "street art," or iPhone apps.

Complex: It eventually got to be about more than just the art for him though, right?

Marty Aranaydo: In trying to make sense of his passing, I've come to see his life mirror that of brother Malcolm X. TDK went from meaning THOSE DAMN KIDS to stand for TAX DOLLARS KILL and TEACH DEM KULTURE. Through his art Mike's consciousness went from a town ass dude getting paid to becoming a leader of his people. Instead of religion, it was knowledge of self, culture, it was graffiti. I can firmly say Graffiti was my religion, and I am a better human being for it. Thanks Mike.


Complex: What did he mean to the Bay Area graf scene?

Marty Aranaydo: Dream was the head, heart, and soul of Bay Area graffiti. Dream took the lead stylistically, and pre-internet, he had the Town, and soon the whole Bay Area buzzing. Without being too new agey, Dream's pieces made people feel something, and along with his crews, he innovated what people came to identify as the Oakland and SF style of "Funk." Dream had a deep respect for the East Coast tradition of writing, and he led by example and set the bar with hella ups, dope handstyles, throwups, blockbusters, pieces, and huge, style-forward "productions" that really set the entire West Coast on its ear. In a short period of time, Dream put the Bay Area on his back and established Oakland as a world class graffiti city. 23rd was the epicenter, and 23rd was Dream's court. Anyone can be a king, but everyone LOVED this man. His personality was larger than large.


Complex: How old were you when you first met him?

Marty Aranaydo: I was about 13 when I first met him. I was in awe of his skills, and amazed by his storytelling, but most of all that he payed equal attention to me as a toy as he would one of the Frisco kings. Those hours and hours of stories he told while painting the most forward styles taught generations of writers what this graf thing—and more importantly what they—could be if they respected it. Mike consciously carried it like that and built a community out of artists in the midst of one of the deadliest cities in the country. When he was taken, it left a hole that is sometimes literal in the Bay Area hip hop community.

Complex: What's your fondest memory of working with him?

Marty Aranaydo: Painting with him after he came back from New York! He was on fire, a King with the excitement and hunger of a young dude. I heard helllaaa stories while watching him destroy walls. A genius inspired. Spie has good footage of that trip on Dirt Style 3. I still can't watch that. Makes me want to...nevermind. Besides that, him complementing me on a billboard we did. Even though it was toy, he was like "Yeeeah! Y'all DID that!?" It was in front of the TDKs I looked up to. Lightweight cosigned! Now all I had to do was get better.


Complex: What were the circumstances surrounding his death?

Marty Aranaydo: Mike was murdered in an attempted robbery. I should tell you their names. Shit like this happens when a city doesn't teach their young people, when movements are suppressed, when cities get gentrified. And when people are "hungry."

Complex: There's a Dream book in the works, right?

Marty Aranaydo: Yeah, it's called The Title of My Book Reads: Advanced Vandalism, and we're in the process of getting a publisher. We've gotta do it this year. The goal is to raise funds for Akil, but more importantly, to secure Dream's legacy for his son.

Complex: What's the status of "Dream Day" in Oakland?

Marty Aranaydo: I had this crazy idea to memorialize the 10th anniversary—if you can call it that—of Dream's murder, but transform my rage into something positive, since it almost got the better of me. I asked my friend, while we were having a drink, and she liked the idea and took it to City Hall. And it fucking worked! The 17th is a somber day to remember him by, but Dream loved Oakland, and I thought it was a good way to imagine an Oakland free of gun violence. So February 17th, 2010 is officially Dream Day in the City of Oakland. Gonna get the proclamation framed for Mike's moms.

"Dream Day" February 5th, 2010 at The New Parish, Oakland, California.
Event to honor the tenth anniversary of the passing of graffiti legend Mike "Dream" Francisco.
Art by TDK crew, DJs Apollo, ShortKut, Sake One, Fuze, & Myke One with performances by Equipto, F.A.M.E. and The Bangerz.

The New Parish
579 18th St. @ San Pablo Ave.
Oakland, CA

Artist Reception 6pm-9pm Free
Showtime 9pm-2am $10, All Ages (with parent)


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