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The emergence of graffiti and its association with the Hip Hop movement

In the beginning, there was writing. Popularly associated with the works of Banksy and Jean-Micheal Basquait, street art and graffiti was known only as writing by the originators of the movement. Traced back to Philadelphia in the sixties, beginning with the artist Daryl “Cornbread” McCray, followed closely behind by Cool Earl, the two who are credited for sparking the artistic movement that influenced fashion, media and pop culture. Writing redistributed the accessibility of art to the unnoticed and underprivileged, and utilized it as a form of protest. Writing, with its humble beginnings, has a rich history of influence on other art forms, becoming one of the most dominant and influential artistic movements today.


Cornbread Crouching in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 1971
Cornbread Crouching in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 1971

Sent to a juvenile institution, McCray was given the name Cornbread. It stuck and he bombed (tagged) everything he could with it. Youth in Philadelphia were inspired and harnessed their new tools for getting their voices out there. Responding to the neglect of care by the powers that be, spray painting became the catalyst that turned youth in neglected communities as truth sayers and artists who could not be ignored.The movement became a force of fun and artistic liberation. The challenge was twofold: get your moniker out there for people to see and don’t get caught doing it. Writer’s like Cornbread were more than up to the challenge, eager to have their name everywhere. After a fatal shooting in Philadelphia, where Cornbread was thought to be one of the victims, he scaled an elephant enclosure to tag “Cornbread Lives” on its body. Although busted by the police, Cornbread etched his legacy on that elephant.


“I don’t see the correlation; the correlation between hip-hop and graffiti, that’s a media thing… they put that all in one package so they can identify [and] put it in a box.” FARGO, 1970 writer, New York. (Just to Get a Rep)

Stepping into the ‘70s, street art found its way to New York City where it ignited. Trains were bombed. The Puerto Rican writer, Lee Quiñones, famously spray painted hand ball walls: Howard the Duck, The Lions Den and Graffiti.



Howard The Duck, 1978, Whole Handball Court, Jr Highschool Corlears # 56 Lower East Side NYC - Photo by Martha Cooper (https://www.leequinones.com/walls)
Howard The Duck, 1978, Whole Handball Court, Jr Highschool Corlears # 56 Lower East Side NYC - Photo by Martha Cooper (https://www.leequinones.com/walls)

Led by the pioneering Tracy 168, Wild Style became one of the most recognizable graffiti ways of life. The Wild represents the daring of sacrificing life to get your art on where it needs to be; the Style represents the respect and class for the art form and the fellow artist. In the early days of the movement, Sandra Fabara joined the rising movement, which had been dominated by boys. Becoming Lady Pink, Sandra Fabara became the most famous pioneer of feminist graffiti. Hanging with the boys, going out and bombing trains at night, Lady Pink always resisted the attempts of her male crew members to control her art.



Pink on CC Train, Brooklyn Museum
Pink on CC Train, Brooklyn Museum

Released in 1983, Wild Style (accredited as the first hip hop film), merged multiple cultures together, framing writing with other art forms emerging out of the New York scene.Writing became graffiti and was bottled down with B-boying, MCing and turntabling . Even though graffiti preceded these artistic movements – cultivated independently by writers in the sixties and seventies – in the eighties, writing became known as one of the four pillars of hip hop. In the film, Lee Quiñones, accompanied by Lady Pink, are introduced to the audience as graffiti artists immersed in the hip hop scene guided along by Phade, played by Fast 5 Freddy. In the final scene, a concert that includes the rapper Busy Bee, the DJ GrandMaster Flash and the B-boy/hip-hop group Rock Steady Crew, perform in front of a mural done by Raymond Zorro (Lee Quiñones). Perched on top of an archway Raymond Zorro sits, overlooking the crowds of people who gathered to see the show. He’s in awe of the audience who have gathered with their heads bobbing in response to the verbal flow of the MCers, their bodies grooving to the electricity that comes from uniting rapping with breaking and turntabling. And behind all of that, painted by Raymond Zorro, a mural of two hands igniting a star, stands tall as part of the stage. Even though defining graffiti as one of the four pillars of hip hop is a “media-appropriated amalgamation of art forms” (Lavie Raven) the influence writing has had on hip hop since the release of Wild Style is unquestionable.


By June Diaz

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