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Part Tres: Can Weaponizing Graffiti Culture Change The World?!
Part Tres: Can Weaponizing Graffiti Culture Change The World?!

Part Tres: Can Weaponizing Graffiti Culture Change The World?!

"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.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

All images used in this piece come courtesy of Leon Rainbow.

Now, I love rap, I love DJ's, I love b-boys and b-girls and all sorts of hip-hop dance. However, nobody has my respect as much as graffiti writers. They are the most courageous solider in hip-hop's armed forces. If the art of rap was declared illegal tomorrow, half of these folks would quit right on the spot. Graffiti has been illegal since its inception and nobody (I do mean nobody) can stop it! There is something deeply rooted and addictive to the mind's eye about the combination of style, panache and colorful symbology.

Graffiti allows us to honor our fallen warriors and our leaders in ways the mainstream never can and never tries to.

What that means is that from day one, hip-hop artists have gone out of their way to write and chronicle life in then-real-time. Knowing that they could go to jail, they don't paint for the money. Instead, they do it to tell a world that saw themselves as invisible, that no we do exist. They did it to show others outside of the hip-hop culture the innovative ideas inside their head. They did it because no one could stop them from expressing themselves.

Read Part Deux of Adisa's 'Weaponization of Hip-Hop' series

While there are those of you who might not care about graffiti at all, just think about the idea that many of hip-hop's greatest contributors were bombers, were writers who were out there late night doing burners. Fat Joe, The Artifacts, Dilated Peoples, DJ Kay Slay and many others did not just start out in the form that the world knows them as. A lot of them began as bombers, hitting the trains or whatever compelled them, just to get their name or become the famed "All-City" inside New York or wherever they were from. For that, acknowledging their history as bombers and writers means only supporting them and those who do such things using paint cans.

Graffiti, thereby, is the most aggressive and unstoppable element in hip-hop!

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

All images used in this piece come courtesy of Leon Rainbow.

Keep in mind, I am not talking about those irritating taggers who only write their name on windows, bathroom stalls and bus stops. I am talking about the ones who write entire pieces. They sneak out into the night mist, risking life and limb to share the visions in their head with the rest of us. Some have argued that graffiti actually existed prior to hip-hop's birth, and about that I'm not quite sure. But at the same time, I don't care. Because simply put — before black and Latino kids started doing it, nobody cared.

There is one amazing thing that people forget when it comes to graffiti: Basquiat produced one of the dopest old school tracks that was born from graffiti beef. Called "Beat Bop" by Ramelzee and K Rob, the track was featured in the critically-acclaimed hip-hop documentary, Style Wars. Even Black Thought and Questlove put up some dope bars on graffiti way, way back. In fact, another great graffiti rap song that hit the airwaves was "Mean Streak" by the West Coast's own Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoplefeaturing Chali 2na. They flipped the classic bassline from "Colors" by Ice-T and rap about the history of bombing crews in Los Angeles. Even if you don't know anything about Los Angeles graffiti culture, the beats and the rhymes make you want to get out there and write on something.

"Mean Streak" was actually a brand of pens that was made out of thick paint instead of ink. I actually still have one, plus an old school Magnum marker (and yes, they both work!).

Back in 2001, Oakland rapper BasOne and H-Bomb made an amazing tribute to graffiti writers called "Spittin' Life" that took the listener deep inside the mind of the graffiti writer. It is one of the best rap songs on graffiti artists ever made.

Fast forward to 2016, and the best example that I could offer in how to do graffiti today comes courtesy of a writer named GATS. An acronym of sorts, GATS stands for "Graffiti Against The System" and this Oakland cat bombs all-city, mostly writing poems about power and creating pieces that focus on social justice. It is my understanding that GATS is actually wanted by Oakland PD for a lot of the work that he puts down in the city.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

All images used in this piece come courtesy of Leon Rainbow.

As I think back, a few years ago, I had an idea that could weaponize the impact of graffiti on a whole new level.

Ponder the idea of all graffiti artists for two years abandoning their traditional names + tags. In place of that, they would be permitted to take on a social cause that is important to them. For example, if you were known as "Crash One," you will suspend that name, place it on hold and take on the name of "Poverty," "Peace," "Education," "Hunger," or what have you. Everybody can't be police brutality or #BlackLivesMatter, and this would encourage the writers to take on one of the many other issues that are plaguing mankind.

Can you just imagine what type of impact that would have on our society?

If graffiti writers bombed pieces on issues with style and flair, you can see how this would influence the children of America and how they would grow up knowing that they had a voice from day one. Hell, if you are going to risk your freedom, you might as well risk it beautifying the hood, inspiring the community and speaking truth to power. Hip-hop as a culture and a message rallying point can remind lawmakers, corrupt politicians and crooked police that we see them. Hip-hop needs to let them know that they work for us and at the end of the day, we know what is best.

Read Part One of Adisa's 'Weaponization of Hip-Hop' series

I was once told by a wise mind that graffiti in Poland was used as a political tool back in the '80s. It was used as a means of resistance, to share news and the needs of the people. We can do the same thing here in America. There is no better time than right now to weaponize one of our most rebellious and impactful tools. Unless and until schools bring back art, music and dance classes (or our local city governments fund consistent free spaces) — get your cans and get to bombing!

Adisa Banjoko is founder of the 501(c)3 Hip-Hop Chess Federation, and author of the new book Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx: The Secrets of Hip-Hop Chess on Three Lions Press.