When I was a teenager and starting to really fall in love with hip hop, I bought into the culture entirely. I learned about the 4 elements of hip hop; rhyming, djing, breaking and, last but not least, graffiti. I have been into graffiti for as long as I could remember. I also grew up in the 80s, which is when hip hop culture was really starting to form and gain exposure. So I really believed that it was the hip hop movement that spawned this artform called graffiti, and that it was basically the visual aspect of a larger culture.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was completely immersed in graffiti culture and knowing where it truly came from that I took notice that graffiti was its own thing. It didn’t seem to “belong” to hip hop quite as much as I had once believed. Maybe it was because I took notice that in my day, and even in the early days of graffiti, there were a ton of writers who didn’t care much for hip hop at all. Now that could have been just the artform growing away from its roots, or maybe it was just a different, more realistic truth.
I recently watched the movie called Just To Get A Rep. There was plenty of interviews with old school train writers from the seventies like Blade, Comet and Stay High 149 along with graffiti historians like Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant and Charlie Ahearn. I think they said it best and really set the record straight on the true distinction between graffiti and hip hop. Check out this clip to hear what some old school writers have to say about the origins of graffiti and hip hop.
That being said, although this artform wasn’t birthed in any way by hip hop, it certainly has been adopted by it as the undisputed visual aspect of that culture. I think that’s a great thing, because hip hop has grown so fast over the years and has helped expose graffiti as an artform to millions of people who might have otherwise never known much about it. But the truth must be known and we, as writers, need to know our roots and history.
Respect the past. Create the future.