Retouched image of possible SAMO© tag (screenshot via @freshpaintnyc/YouTube)

In the late ’70s, it was a tag that appeared on walls across downtown Manhattan. “SAMO©,” the mark of artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Al Diaz, has since largely vanished from the city’s landscape, along with the rest of their contemporaries’ graffiti. But now it seems that one has surfaced as a rare relic of those gritty, golden days. Maybe.

Construction workers renovating the decades-old, four-story building at 350 Lafayette Street in the neighborhood now known as Noho uncovered what appears to be graffiti by the duo, SAMO, earlier this month. They removed layers of paint to reveal the original stone surface, where they were greeted by a line of old, yellow text. Billy Schon, who runs the street art blog Fresh Paint NYC and first noted the find, captured footage of the faded lettering:

YouTube video

Schon has also deciphered the line as “SAMO© … AS AN END TO MIND-WASH RELIGIONS POLITICS AND BOGUS PHILOSOPHY.” The very, very faint yellow will make this a tough one to authenticate, but if we’re going off style, age, and location, this may very well be a trace of SAMO that has survived decades of development. And it might have been left by Basquiat: as Zoe Rosenberg reported at Curbed, Schon asked Diaz if he knew anything about the tag, but the artist had no recollection of painting it.

What’s also uncertain is what will happen to the mysterious tag now. The building was Noho’s last remaining homeless shelter until developer Aby Rosen purchased it in 2015 for retail use. The real estate tycoon has an art collection that includes Basquiats, but he doesn’t have a great track record of preserving the street art that adorns his buildings. Recall the historic, graffiti-covered mansion at 190 Bowery, which he had buffed last year after purchasing it for $55 million. If this proves to be a real Basquiat tag, Rosen would do well to look to the example set by the developer at 184 Grand Street, where another SAMO© tag has been preserved in a fourth-floor hallway even as the rest of the building has been renovated.

Notably, the enigmatic lettering isn’t all that workers discovered that day. Schon also took photographs of what seems to be an original tag by the late graffiti artist DONDI.

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...