The Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip Hop Culture defines graffiti as writing messages and drawing images in public spaces. Graffiti has been around since the sixties but can be historically traced to hieroglyphics in Africa. In it’s highest moment graffiti was all out tags, bombings, and pieces! Everybody wanted to be known throughout NY! In modern times graffiti is used to express point of views on government policies and actions. In this 21st century with the overabundance of technology the graffiti game has changed. With the introduction of video and photo apps along with cameras on every cell phone how relevant is graffiti today to our culture? If everyone can harness different fonts and filters and post them online (a public space) do people even care about graffiti. Gangs have impacted graffiti in a negative way as they use it to mark their ‘territory’. Now a days I see everyone trying to be a photographer with no experience. I applaud the hustle but everybody can’t do it. Folks out here spending hundreds of dollars on Canon and Nikon cameras and still taking wack photographs. A good quality camera isn’t going to get you anywhere without a creative eye.
5Pointz was a space in Long Island City, New York known as the “graffiti Mecca”. (Check the picture at the top of the page taken by a good friend of mine) Graffiti artists from around the world came to paint pieces on the walls of a 200,000-square-foot factory building. Last summer the historical landmark was painted over and demolished against the wishes of millions of fans worldwide. A petition was created on Change.org but the city didn’t care siting that the space was not appealing to the eye of residents and visitors. The most popular Graffiti artists at this time is clearly Banksy and Shepard Fairey. He was even featured on the intro for ‘The Simpsons’ television show. Banksy creates a frenzy with every new piece he does. People are running to see his pieces throughout NY. He has created a ridiculous amount of momentum behind his work as the pieces become quickly painted over. The question sometimes is whether or not he’s the one painting over his own work. Unlike Fairey, Banksy chooses to stick to the root of the culture and has never been seen; even in interviews. Plenty of Rappers started off doing graffiti or breakin and then got into the music.
Most recently on his Instagram page he posted a picture of a piece referencing Gaza. (Pictured above) A lot of artists have used ‘the gram’ to showcase their work. Artists are influenced and inspired by life and what’s happening around them. Dr. Seuss started off as a political cartoonist and some of his books continued to have political meanings as well. We need to embrace all the elements of our culture. If we ignore one then we lose part of our identity. We already don’t know who we are as a people due to slavery, apartheid, and racism. This is how we can use our voices without using our voices. Martin Luther King, Jr. was all for non-violence and graffiti is the number one answer. Imagine if we spoke out against racism and other social injustices using graffiti. Understand street art and graffiti are two different things. An example of street art would be Shepard Fairey’s ‘Hope’ featuring Barack Obama. Street artists may use materials other than aerosols or spray cans while a graff artist strickly use the can. Stenciling is something new on the scene as well. This blog has plenty of links for you to explore.
The question is whether graffiti was still relevant to Hip Hop Culture, YES! Why wouldn’t it? There will always be a place in our culture for graffiti. When they take away the art classes in your child’s school what other creative outlets will they have? They took away our instruments which is what got the ball rolling for Hip Hop music. We cannot allow our culture to be chipped away like this. They are slowly chipping away at OUR culture through mainstream Rap music! They are trying to take it from us just like they did Rock N’ Roll (RIP James Brown) and hockey (CHL in Nova Scotia). Graffiti continues to be relevant but now it’s easier to share. I don’t have to travel to NY or Europe to see a Banksy piece. I can read about Lady Pink in multiple books and everybody knows the Fab 5! Expose your kids to this type of expression and creativity. If you’re teaching them about the music you can’t leave out the other elements. It’s like their getting only a small part of a larger picture.