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I’m hard to read like graffiti but steady / The science I drop is real heavy.” — Rakim, “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em”

About ten years ago, I was talking to a journalist about hip-hop’s power. He was following along with me on the impact of rap in hip-hop, but challenged me on the merits of graffiti. He asked me how I could even support graffiti when it is illegal and causes the city so much money.

I told him, point blank, that the graffiti explosion was born from schools closing music and art classes across the country in the 1970s and ’80s. I reminded him that this was done as sociologists agreed that American teens have a natural urge to express themselves through artistic means. When I said that I told him also that I think [that] it is a “greater crime to penalize the children for doing art when they know [it] is a natural expression of their mind.”

The journalist just looked at me with a complete blank stare.

Growing up, there was an area of San Francisco known to the teens and young adults there called “Psycho City“. It was home to only the coldest writers in the game. If you had style, flair and a true talent for writing that is where you showcased it. In every and any city in America, there was a “Psycho City” kind of area. In St. Louis, John Harrington hosts one of the most amazing painting events called “Paint Louis,” where folks from all over the country come out and bomb the biggest graffiti wall in the world. I spent a whole night just walking the wall with some of my homies. Sites like “Paint Louis” are concrete proof that the art of graffiti is not dead and that our youth who are using this form to express themselves matter.

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Comments

  • Colin Wonnacott

    “Keep in mind, I am not talking about those irritating taggers who only
    write their name on windows, bathroom stalls and bus stops…”

    “…before black and Latino kids started doing it, nobody cared.”

    I don’t mean to sound like I’m hating, because this piece is solid and is an honestly great exploration about the power and impact of graffiti culture, but let’s not get it twisted: TAKI 183 is largely recognized as sparking the birth of the NY graff movement in the late 60s and early 70s; dude was white and was the definition of a tagbanger. Sure, the style developed and has become something way bigger, but bar none, every writer who has ever pieced a train or bombed a heaven started with tagging, and disregarding the necessary element of growth will perpetuate the “I like it, just not in my back yard” attitude about graff. Sure, early mixtapes may not be the best work from a rapper, but no one is gonna shit on mixtapes; I feel the same about tags.

    Additionally, graffiti is probably the most multi-ethnic discipline in Hip-Hop and has been so quietly for decades. White, Latino, Asian, Black, Brown, and every other ethnic group in between has representation in graff culture, and all the better for it. Hip-Hop has always been an inclusive and organic culture, and graffiti’s anonymity has allowed for a huge number of people who would otherwise seem out of place in the “standard” conception of who Hip-Hop is to contribute to the beauty of the art. While the police blotter is mostly only looking for black and Latino writers, that’s more the function of our racist police and judicial systems and the media’s portrayal of Hip-Hop culture than it is a fair representation of writers as a whole, and something that weaponizing graffiti might very well address.

    On the whole though, I love this piece and am now looking up the rest of the Weaponization of Hip-Hop series. Big ups.