Seven years ago, the Bay Area lost a hip-hop pioneer when Mike "Dream" Francisco was senselessly murdered, leaving behind his girlfriend and their newborn son. Francisco grew up in a rough section of Alameda yes, Alameda has a ghetto and later lived in Oakland's hardscrabble Sobrante Park 'hood, becoming a member of Saafir's Hobo Junction crew. He rose to fame in the graffiti world during the late '80s and early '90s, becoming the first universally acknowledged style master from the Bay Area and leading a crew of artists who called themselves TDK. He was also one of the most respected Filipinos in the hip-hop world, long before the Black Eyed Peas made Pinoy pride acceptable.
Francisco is gone, but Dream lives on, as evidenced by a recent exhibition at SF's Rx Gallery. The show, which closed May 17, was organized by Local 1200's Marty "Willie Maze" Aranaydo, a TDK member who was one of Francisco's many protégés before becoming a DJ. The gallery walls featured several large spray-can tributes to Dream rendered in vibrant, colorful wildstyle calligraphy as well as many smaller canvases, some painted by Dream himself. Upstairs, under the watchful eyes of a candle-lit altar bearing a photo of Dream, TDK members hawked T-shirts while graf writers traded illos in each other's sketchbooks. Downstairs, Maze made frequent announcements and handled artwork inquiries as a succession of DJs, including Sake-One, Cuba, Myke One, Spair, and Platurn, spun rebel-minded dancehall like Sizzla's "Taking Over" and classic B-boy anthems like Stezo's "To the Max." Being there was like going back in time to Dream's era, when art and music played equal and intertwining roles in the culture.
Far from a somber eulogy, the event a fund-raiser for a commemorative Dream art book was a raucous, joyous affair that celebrated both the artist's life and the underground hip-hop culture he loved so much. Dream's impact was apparent from the heartfelt testimonials of those who knew him best. TDK member Krash showed noticeable emotion when asked what Dream meant to him personally. "When I first met Mike I wanted to fuckin' kneel down," he recalls. "He was like, 'Naw, man, you're just like me.'"
Krash says Dream "taught me to believe in myself. That's what Mike meant to me. ... Even though he was ten steps ahead of me, he still treated me like an equal. And that stayed. That's where I'm at today."
Dream had a similar effect on East Coast transplant Cuba, who says, "He's the only hero I got I mean, that I've ever known and rolled with to an extent." He elaborates: "Basically, everything I believe myself to be, he embodied. ... As far as being a writer is concerned, as far as being a ghetto youth is concerned, I don't think I can say anything else."
Spie, Dream's compatriot on many a bombing mission, remarks, "It was strange to know that you were that close to someone who was so great." His voice dropping to a barely audible whisper, he adds, "It was a devastating blow when he left this world. ... So much of my own kind of self-actualization came through his guidance."
Dream was "royalty," Maze says, yet "no matter how much fame he already had, he always took the time to talk to people." After Dream's death, "it was hard for us to gather and even think about coming together and painting together," he says. "This [event] is seven years in the making, it's like us re-emerging and coming back out. We want to make sure that Dream's legacy itself is understood, for his [son] Akil, who's always gonna be as old as Mike has been gone."
Moving Dream's legacy forward is "a teaching process," Sake One says. "We're passing on his style, his lessons, his struggle, what he went through, from being just an artist to becoming a rebel artist somebody of consciousness, somebody who fought for his community, who made links with the hip-hop culture in the Bay Area and other parts of the world."
There's a gleam in Spie's eye as he explains how the TDK acronym evolved from "Those Damn Kids" to socially-conscious statements like "Teach Dem Knowledge" and "Tax Dollars Kill." In the '90s, when the crew's aerosol productions began to take on political overtones, "you had the Gulf War, you had the Rodney King shit go down, you had gang shootings," Spie explains. "All that stuff kinda culminated. Folks had to kinda see outside of their own box and relate to what was going on in the world. It was all relative."
To Spie, Dream's message was "Always speak your own truth," and he's thrilled that his friend's legacy continues via a younger generation of graffiti artists, kids who may never have met the legendary writer, but are feeling his spirit.
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