2008.041.007 Oral History Interview with Roger Brue McHayle
Roger Brue McHayle bold, iconic tags cemented his street reputation as original and fearless in 1990s New York blossoming graffiti movement. Brooklyn born and bred, McHayle, upon graduation from The Cooper Union, founded the pioneering, urban clothing line, PNB Nation, with his multicultural street crew. Today, McHayle resides in Portland with his family and is an executive at Nike. McHayle, of mixed Chinese and Jamaican roots, grew up in Brooklyn, New York in a predominantly African American community. He lived in a single-family home with his mother, who played a crucial role in helping him embrace his heritage. His Chinese grandparents did not speak much English, but he would frequently celebrate Chinese New Year with them. McHayle soon developed an interest in graffiti art, which allowed him to creatively express himself. He attended the High School of Art and Design, where he connected with students from various backgrounds with a common desire for self-expression. With his peers, he created a graffiti crew called PNB Nation, inspired by the idea of being yourself. This idea extended to their clothing and business, which incorporated their diverse backgrounds and identities.


People would always approach me, like, "What are you? What's your background?" It would be, my response, has always been, "I'm Chinese and I'm Jamaican."

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York--Coney Island, to be specific. The community that I grew up in was predominantly African American. It was that of an African American experience that I kind of gravitated towards, initially. When you're a kid and you're growing up, you know, kids are kids and they see differences and they call them out, right? So you start to get confronted with your own identity pretty early and you figure out quickly how do you want to relate to that.

For the most part, I grew up with my mom; that's a single family house. My mom was great around explaining what my background was; there was no apologies about it--it is what it is. So I felt it was just very comfortable for me and I think it comes more from my mom. My grandfather and my grandmother were both from Canton. My grandfather spoke some English, but not a great deal of English, and my grandmother didn't speak any English. So, whether it be Chinese New Year, whether it be just dinners, coming over for dinner, as a kid, that was my experience with them and how I connected with my Chinese heritage.

So we would take the train to Chinatown to see my grandfather and I can remember seeing graffiti on the wall and thinking it was Arabic or--you know, I was, like, five, six years old--it was just completely foreign. I think that was my first visual kind of connection. From a community standpoint, kids in my neighborhood, as I was growing up, started writing graffiti. It became something that kids were doing and talking about. And me, being connected creatively, I think, I naturally kind of gravitated towards, "How do I do that?"

In high school, I moved into a different kind of community because my high school was on 57th and 2nd Avenue, so--High School of Art and Design--so you have kids from all different boroughs kind of coming in to this one school and they were all creative and, at that time, there were a lot of graffiti artists there.

I really started to gravitate towards all these different kids from different backgrounds--Chinese, or white kids, kids from Queens who were black--you know, it was just a mix of different people who wrote graffiti and the common thread was this need to express themselves.

So, we wanted to have a crew of just our friends, right? So we called it PNB Nation. It was based on looking at construction sites where they would put "Post No Bills." And I was trying to be deep and trying to, you know, come up with something super clever. We felt, well, "Post No Bills" means not putting up a false advertisement of who you are; you are what you are--a reflection of our crew was just a bunch of different kids together who just, are comfortable in their own skin. When we translated that into our clothing, into the business, all of my partners--West was Jewish, Zulu is Japanese and African American, and Bluster is Puerto Rican, you know my background--and adding all those things in, you come out with pretty complex, three-dimensional ideas and concepts and we always thought that, you know, we could go deeper.

My name is Roger Brue McHayle; I'm Chinese and Jamaican.

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