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What Does it Mean?

By Gathering Marbet
Special to The Lookout

July 15 -- It’s everywhere, but what do the seemingly incomprehensible scrawls mean. The Lookout asked those familiar with graffiti to explain how to tell apart the messages defacing the city.

The majority of graffiti in Santa Monica is not gang related per se, but rather is the work of kids and young adults who use paint to convey messages or win notoriety, experts said.

Some are interested in marking their style, others are looking to gain fame through repeated tagging about town. Some graffiti is scrawled by kids who are simply bored and broke, or by those looking to gain recognition in order to become serious gang initiates.

The more stylized graffiti, that uses effects such as bubble letters, colors, boarders, fillers, characters and 3D imagery, are known as “piecing, bombing, and burners.”

These graffiti graphics often contain the letter “c” or “k” at the ends of abbreviations which signify that they are the work of tagging “crews” dedicated to this specific form of hip hop expression.

Taggers and crews who consider themselves artists will “battle” their graffiti skills against their rivals on the wall.

Gang-related tags are simpler in design and may convey warnings or mark territory. The tags may contain the letters “smg” for Santa Monica gang, or x3, a symbol for LA gangs, which also stands for 13 -- a warning that it's bad luck to meet up with the gang.

Street numbers are also commonly included, although others besides gang members use them as well.

Individuals may use pseudonyms, initials, street numbers or phrases.

There are also crews that tag for recognition instead of art. Being recognized is referred to as “getting up,” which means that the tagger’s marks are everywhere. Some do both.

A row might break out between crews or individuals who write criticism next to, or draw lines through, existing tags or graffiti. This can lead to “beefs” between individuals or crews that may result in violent confrontations that are not related to gang violence.

An ultimate form of disrespect is crossing out the scrawl and writing “toy.” Toy is a way to call a tagger or artist a poser or a fake.

Whatever the message or the source, if you’re looking to erase it, call the City’s graffiti hotline at 458-2231.

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