In the early 2000s, ex-graffiti artist and indie label owner Austin Wilde ran a label that released cult classic compilation albums, including a hip-hop-inspired series called BADMEANiNGOOD, for which he commissioned a then-little-known graffiti artist named Banksy to produce four album covers and posters, and an additional 12″ sleeve for the 2002–2003 releases. Back then, Wilde shared an office with Banky’s first manager.
The concept for the albums was to shine a light on the compiler’s musical influences. The tracks chosen by each compiler were the soundtrack to their experience, a Venn diagram of hip-hop, turntablism, and sample culture. The strapline for the series was “Personal. Musical. A Hip-Hop Chronicle,” and this remains as true today as it was then.
Working with Stephen Earl (Banksy’s then manager), Banksy assigned Wilde the copyright for the designs. This in itself is a rarity, as Banksy only did this twice as far as we know:, the other being for Blur’s “Think Tank” album, released in May 2003, which features a couple wearing aqualungs and kissing.
For the first release by Skitz, Banksy produced an original image of heavy artillery wearing a pair of Adidas. A canvas of this image was sold with Pest Control authentication via Sotheby’s in 2008. For the remaining album covers, Banksy repurposed existing images from his catalog that would work within the subversion of the bad/good thematic principle.
“Ain’t Half Bad: The History of BADMEANiNGOOD” by Austin Wilde
Since the launch of the BADMEANiNGOOD mixtape series in 2001, twenty-something years have passed — and they have now become cult collectors’ items around the world. And in the world of music and rare records, “cult collector’s items” is very much a synonym for “lost a shitload of money when it was first released,” and that, fly girls and homeboys, is very much the case with BADMEANiNGOOD.
The four BADMEANiNGOOD mixtapes shone a strobe light on the selector’s musical inspirations and featured seismic songs that paved the way for jungle, dubstep, and grime. These musical game-changers went head-to-head with stone-cold classics: unrivaled samples, and super-rare esoteric breaks, all culled from the golden songbook of black music’s past.
“Right place, right time” is not a synonym but a well-trodden truth. And the reason these mixtapes are so celebrated is not solely musical but more akin to the fourth element of Hip-Hop: Graffiti. Namely, the artist who compiled the artwork for the series, Banksy (more on him shortly).
Right place, right time was very much the case for BADMEANiNGOOD creator Austin Wilde. I’m the person writing this marketing asset. Hello. I’m fully grown now but, way back then; a pre-pubescent kid from the ‘burbs, out to the East of London; a place of car factories, concrete dull greyness, a Tory heartland that swam in the flatlands of mono-culture, a place football vetoed music six days out of seven.
Something irrevocably changed when, aged 11 in 1985, I watched Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five perform ‘Step Off’ on Top of the Pops. In grey — the single color that had soundtracked my life until that point — school trousers with grass stains ingrained at the knees, I sat cross-legged and transfixed at Melle Mel and Keef Cowboy, acutely aware that I’d get a kick-in if I wore their outfits to youth club.
The performance was full of everything I’d never heard or seen at that point. It had surely been recorded in deep space. It was music from another planet, a planet I wanted to inhabit. Behind me, on a floral sofa with matching floral cushions, my mum and dad feigned indifference. Whilst for me, the song felt like the only progressive thing ever to have happened anywhere, ever.
Mum and dad made it clear they didn’t think it was music.
This made me like it more.
But in one way, they were right: it wasn’t just music. It was the Manhattan Project bomb — re-engineered in the Bronx Projects — going off on the other side of the Atlantic: a nuclear happening that made things better by getting rid of Duran Duran. I can’t say it for certain, but this moment started something that the release of Yo! Bum Rush the Show galvanized two years later: the need to escape the grey.
Pretty soon after, I started writing graffiti myself.
Pretty soon after that, I found the planet I wanted to inhabit. It was called Ladbroke Grove, home to the Notting Hill Carnival, officially the un-greyest place I’d ever been, which is strange considering we spent most of our first visits underneath a section of elevated motorway, the Westway, taking photos of wildstyle graffiti in the belly of a pour grey concrete beast.
As things turned out, I ended up moving to Ladbroke Grove, starting a record label in 2000 and sharing an office, beneath the Westway, with Banksy’s first manager Stephen Earl. Right place, right time.
This is where I first met Banksy, who had recently relocated from Bristol to make his mark. Already a seasoned contrarian with considerable and admirable swagger, he was presumably attracted to the same glorious multicultural, expressive explosions that happened on the daily in this part of town. Or, perhaps, because he’d run out of walls to paint in Bristol; who knows? Much mystery whenever he’s involved. But one thing’s for sure, he lived around the corner from me with a lad from Virgin Records. And was a regular at the watering holes frequented almost exclusively by creative types, of which there was plenty, all relocated to (what was) the epicenter of the music industry: everyone on the hustle in the heyday of their twenties.
Rent in West London was, even then, fucking exorbitant, and writing on walls wasn’t (yet) the best way to make an easy living. Like Warhol before him, Banksy took on a few commercial music jobs from which he could continue to fund his other project: poking a stick in the eye of a whole city. Given what I wanted BADMEANiNGOOD to be, a celebration of Hip-Hop and its influences, and my ‘one desk away’ proximity to his manager, it felt like the right thing to ask Banksy to be a part of the project.
At the time, having him turn up at the office for a meeting never felt like the arrival of street art’s caped crusader anti-hero, but somehow that’s what it feels like in retrospect to others. Part of this has to do with timing, the Banksy of 2000 was not the Banksy of today; if you were into music in that part of West London at that time, he was known.
But the seeds of a covert identity were already being sown, an aloofness was perpetuated by him and his manager. Looking back, I’m unsure if this was by design or requirement: producing provocative illegal work attracted unwanted attention from the same police force who have subsequently protected his public works. I only ever knew him by his first name, and our conversations never involved a past outside of the cultural interests we shared.
At our first planning meeting, he very nearly walked out because someone he didn’t know was in attendance. For Banksy then, staying out of jail was good for business.
In keeping with the BADMEANiNGOOD name, Banksy’s idea for the series illustration was based upon subversion: an anti-aircraft gun in trainers, a police car on bricks, crows detaching the wiring to CCTV cameras, and a tank with bunny ears in place of the weaponry.
The typographical elements and the large cross upon which the illustrations sat were all based upon hazardous chemical labels, the type you find on radioactive waste. All the album covers are what the major art auction houses refer to as ‘signature Banksy’ — and the first release, by Skitz, was produced exclusively for the series.
The vinyl and CD formats all featured his logo — and we produced stickers, posters, and beer coasters distributed to record stores, club venues, and the above-mentioned watering holes for creatives. Another graffiti writer and friend of Banksy’s, Solo One, plastered the stickers across London, and the posters got pasted to walls at busy intersections or outside of nightclubs.
The press adored the albums, but they sold poorly, and the well of marketing money soon dried up. The 2x World DMC Champions, the Scratch Perverts, closed the series in July 2003 — ironically, the only album to turn a profit.
A couple of years later, our distributor went bust, meaning a lot of people lost a lot of money — and, sadly, I had to close the label.
I never saw Banksy much after that, I believe he moved to East London, and I stayed West. In 2009, we bumped into each other backstage at the Hyde Park Blur gig, who were now a part of my A&R roster at my new gig, Creative Director of EMI Music Publishing. I have a vague memory of seeing him leave the afterparty, but I could be wrong.
I now work as a muralist. It’s funny how things turn out.
Austin Wilde @nofrescoyo