Welcome to Episode 8 of Know Your History, your monthly dose of hip-hop knowledge.
Today we will be focusing on graffiti art, which may prove to be a challenge because I can’t show you what we are talking about on this radio show (download this show for free, stream it with the player below, or continue to read it here.)
Graffiti Art is one of the four elements that comprise this culture that we love and hold so dear to our hearts here at DOPEfm.
We have DJs here all the time, Gamma Krush and Daddy J are mixing, cutting and scratching, and doing all the things that deejays do. We got MCs, the rappers that we are playing or interviewing.
The other two elements don’t make it on to a lot of radio shows. Breakdancing is obviously hard to see on the radio as well. Today, though, we will dedicate the entire half hour to that fourth element, Graffiti Art.
A lot of people see graffiti as a negative. They see it as a crime. They think that it is ugly or just plain vandalism. The truth is, that it is so much more than that. Graffiti is an important part of hip-hop culture and very important in rap music.
People have been writing on walls and surfaces since we were first able to walk upright and hold a stick in our hands to trace in the dirt. We have some great records of how ancient civilizations used and created art. However, graffiti as we know it, was started in the 1960s.
Daveyd.com pays tribute to graffiti with a very detailed history of graf. He breaks down the history of graf into different time periods as well. It’s an amazing site dedicated to all things hip-hop and I suggest you go and check it out if you haven’t already done so.
According to Davey D, the groundwork for graffiti as an artform and a movement was established in the 1960s in Philadelphia. I know some New York heads may take offence to that since New York was the birthplace of hip-hop culture. It’s undisputed that New York was the birthplace of the hip-hop deejay and emcee however.
Graffiti Art took hold in a few different places almost simultaneously. That being said, hip-hop does have a huge hip-hop culture and I’m not mad at all if they claim graffiti as theirs.
Graffiti artists are called writers because most of the early graffiti work was just words. The artists painted letters or words. Even today, with more detailed pictures and scenes being added, many artists still refer to themselves as writers.
Two of the first writers from Philadelphia were Cornbread and Kool Earl. They wrote their names all over the city and the community started to take notice. The newspapers and press started to take notice as well.
Graffiti sprung up in New York at just about the same time. We’re not sure whether or not it migrated there. All we know for sure is that graffiti art started in the 1960s, which is interesting since hip-hop as a culture didn’t solidify until the 1970s.
As we discussed in earlier episode of Know Your History, graffiti art and breakdancing were both around before hip-hop culture per se. That is not surprising because all of the elements of hip-hop were around before what we can say is definitively hip-hop.
I can think of quite a few rap songs that have graffiti references in them. I’d like you to listen to the opening of Eminem’s Remember Me? as an example.
That’s not one of Enimem’s best songs. I just wanted to play the opening few bars for you. In them, you can hear someone shaking up a can of spray paint and starting to paint something. Eminem is referencing an important part of hip-hop culture in this song, which is really cool to see.
This next song is all about graffiti art. It’s called the Manhattan Project by Typical Cats.
Wow! That track was all about graffiti. A lot of hip-hop songs reference it but not too many songs are completely dedicated to the art.