How Futura 2000 Went From Graffiti Pioneer To Streetwear Icon

I grew up in the same neighborhood as Futura 2000. I first saw him (real name Leonard McGurr), at the first McDonald’s in all of Manhattan, on Broadway and 96th. This was a big deal. A real McDonald’s in Manhattan. And Futura was the fry cook. I was just a little six-year-old kid, but he was already one of my heroes. My older friend pointed him out to me. It was like seeing my first celebrity.

I grew up in an already-graffiti-bombed-out city. There were tags on street signs, and doors, and walls, and mailboxes… Everywhere. It was tangled mess of similar tags. But Futura stood out because he did his own thing, he had his own style that only he could execute. And back then, style was everything. It didn’t matter that he was cooking fries at Mickey D’s. He was a legend.

Later, when I started Zoo York, we would go onto collaborate more formally, but he’d always been someone I knew about. Everyone knew about him. He had cred from all directions and didn’t need anyone to sign off on him. His work and reputation were literally known worldwide.

Seriously, if there’s one thread between the graffiti boom, punk rock of the 80s, the golden age of hip-hop, and our modern streetwear movement, it’s Futura. He’s the nexus point. He went on tour with The Clash, he dated Madonna, and he hung out with Basquiat. He was the coolest and most culturally connected of all the New York City graffiti artists and that one tag — Futura 2000 — would eventually take him around the world.

Futura / Uproxx / Eli Morgan Gesner

For kids like me, who started in streetwear in the 1990s, Futura was known as one of the guys (along with his partner and fellow graffiti legend Stash) who made the Phillies Blunt tee shirt that fully took over the world in the summer of 1992. You remember Ad-Rock wearing it? It doesn’t get more authentic than that. So when you see Futura painting during the Louis Vuitton / Virgil Abloh show last winter, you know that shit wasn’t by mistake. The show was about repping for New York and Lenny belongs on that stage.

In this episode of The Masters, I sat down to talk with my longtime idol and co-conspirator, Futura, about where the scene has been, his part in it, and where it’s headed. If you want to be up on things, you’re going to want to watch. It’s a lesson from a true legend.