As Hip Hop History Month comes to a close we have one more element to cover, graffiti! If you want to go all the way back graffiti can be likened to ancient hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics are described as decorative characters carved on the monuments of Egypt. Graffiti as we know it is defined as writing or drawing sprayed on a wall or a similar service in a public place. The earliest version of graffito (singular for graffiti) as we know it came from Darryl “Cornbread” McCray of Philadelphia. Cornbread was the first to tag his own name rather than a gang name or related symbols. In the seventies when Hip Hop Culture was being cultivated the local youth in the Bronx graffiti eventually made its way to the boroughs tagging blew up! The key to any great graffiti work is placement. Having your work seen by as many people as possible is the goal. What we see now at bus stops and billboards came from New York subways being covered inside and out with graff! Graffiti isn’t for the weak at heart as it could land you in jail or dead from being hit by a train.
Graffiti has been capitalized on just like the other elements of the culture. Mural art is commissioned graffiti that may or may not utilize aerosol paint as a medium. Taki183 made Hip Hop history after the New York Times wrote an article about his work popping up all over the tri-state area. Eventually the style or the fonts would evolve and the graffiti game would explode into what we know today to include bombing, rollers, and the like. After the release of “Style Wars” which included legends like Futura, Dondi, Seen, Kase2, and Zephyr you’d see artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat take the graffiti scene to a new level that included fame and fortune. From Shepard Fairey to Banksy graffiti is still a thriving element of the culture. As a staple element of the culture graffiti never ceased to exist only the traditional style went underground as others rushed to monetize the visual element of the culture.
Graffiti is the broadest of the elements as it became a household activity for young kids across the globe in the eighties and nineties. Although graffito was never completely legal in this country part of the thrill is not getting caught and remaining anonymous. There are vandalism laws across each of the fifty states and if you are practicing any element of the culture that has never influenced policy in this country you’re not doing it right! That “S” you used to doodle in class…that’s graffito but you only mastered one letter of the alphabet. Ask someone you know who “draws” or even does tattoos and see if they’ve every dabbled in graffiti writing. You’d be surprised I’m sure. I know I didn’t cover most of what graffiti means to the culture but growing up during the early Hip Hop years meant you at least attempted to do each of the elements whether it was graffiti, dee jaying, emceeing, or breakin. Hip Hop Culture is an art form that encompasses spoken word, visual art, dance, and high quality sound. If your work cannot last the test of time you’re not writing history you’re writing a fairytale.
“See me rise, located worldwide like the art of graffiti.” -2Pac (Bomb First)