Martha Cooper for FRANK x ASAP

In New York City, the walls tell stories that are just as compelling as the ones recounted by its residents. Over the years, neighborhoods change, people grow, and childhood street staples slowly get buffed out by gentrification, but those walls still remain like sun-faded testaments of a time that once was. Whether plastered with local advertisements, sloppy tags, or intricate community murals, they’re all crucial elements of a proper city backdrop. And many of these murals have just as much cultural clout uptown as institutions like the Apollo or Sylvia’s, with pieces like the airbrushed portrait of Big L and Keith Haring’s legendary Crack is Wack wall becoming synonymous with Harlem as a whole.

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning when I set out with OG photographer Martha Cooper to document these brick and aerosol relics. Armed with a car, her camera, and several cups of coffee, we made our way from 103rd and Lex all the way up to 140th Street in search of every noteworthy wall we could find. For some, years of wear, tear, and locals chipping away at the painted surfaces have diminished their original splendor, like the 103rd Street Big Pun piece featuring his face blanked-out by white spray paint. Then again, others have been completely restored to look even crispier than in their glory days, namely evident with the epic Wild Style wall recently added to Hall of Fame at 106th and Park. But regardless of current states, each facade has an individual history that ultimately contributes to the visual richness of Harlem today. Let’s go for a walk…