Hip-Hop In Art: Graffiti

Hip-Hop In Art: Graffiti

The culture of hip-hop has had an impact on art forms around the world but its touch has been far reaching in the art of graffiti. Contrary to popular belief, aerosol graffiti was not born from hip-hop, it was merely adopted by the culture shortly before we entered The Golden Age as one of it’s four main elements. This is still a sorely debated topic today. I mean, I bet there’s probably someone already dropping this page in anger but you’ve gotta hear me out. You’ve got the original graffiti pioneers saying one thing but you’ve got fans of today saying something completely different. Let’s take a second and look back at hip-hop in art and just how Graffiti got its association.

Hip-Hop in Art: Graffiti - How To Make Hip-Hop.com
By Open.your.eyes – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Origins of a Myth

Graffiti truthfully originated centuries ago in Ancient Greece but let’s not turn this into a history lesson. We’re more focused on the use of aerosol paint and how it spread throughout the hip-hop community. If you wanna get technical, it was punk rock’s anti-establishment vibe that brought it in first as bands would spray-paint stencils of their names on the walls of nightclubs and hangouts during the 1970s. Hip-hop was quick to catch on as graffitis gritty and lawless nature matched perfectly with scenes of urban struggle and oppression that were familiar to so many listeners at the time.

Hip-Hop in Art: Graffiti - How To Make Hip-Hop.com
By JJ & Special K – http://www.flickr.com/photos/sweet_child_of_mine/452738765/, CC BY-SA 2.0

However, many of the most prolific graffiti artists of the era claim that many of them didn’t even listen to hip-hop. Even veteran MC Grandmaster Flash has claimed that the two mediums were never meant to mix and he still doesn’t understand their connection today. The culprits they all seem to point the finger at are two films that were released in 1983: The fictional movie Wild Style and the documentary Style Wars. The films combined breakdancing, rapping and graffiti to tell a story and mistakenly boxed these elements together to present hip-hop to the commercial media.

The fire could not be stopped and as the movies spread the culture to the rest of the world, the two art forms became one in the same. So to the dismay of many legendary artists, that could never be rectified, and you could no longer create graffiti without being associated with this emerging culture.


Welcome to The Fold

Hip-hop came bursting out of the Bronx as more than just a musical genre but as a much-needed form of expression for urban youth. Rappers and DJs had more than a musical ear but an artistic vision as well and they would spread their message and identities through the painting of murals and through ‘tagging’, especially after the attention given by The New York Times to a greek teen named Demetrius, a.k.a. TAKI 183, in 1971.

The idea of defiantly signing your name in various places around the city coincided with the voice that hip-hop gave to young African Americans dealing with the hardships of life as minorities within America. Graffiti’s integration was cemented with the formation of Universal Zulu Nation, created by Afrika Bambaataa as a means to draw teenagers out of gang life and violence. It became a decorative element for every event or performance that followed. Together with DJs, Emcees and B-boys it became a cornerstone as hip-hop’s visual component.

Hip-Hop in Art: Graffiti - How To Make Hip-Hop.com
By Joaqimo Kolloch, CC BY 3.0

The Future and Beyond

Both art forms take a hit from the negative association that tagging has through gang culture and rap’s common tendency to glorify the lifestyle but that should never overshadow the political outreach they have when combined together as well. In these turbulent times, it’s more important than ever to remember the voice that graffiti and hip-hop provide for all.

The graffiti culture itself does a lot to stand on its own but there’s no denying the hold that hip-hop has on the art. The bold self-expression, style and symbolism go hand-in-hand with the music’s raw, renegade attitude and it’s no wonder that together they have captivated the world for nearly four decades and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Have you got any input on the subject? Are you a fan of graffiti? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.


Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowTo MakeHip-Hop.com


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8 thoughts on “Hip-Hop In Art: Graffiti

  1. Lauren

    I’ve never been much a fan of graffiti that simply resembles a name, although it’s still quite a show of skill. I was in Melbourne within the last few months, and they have a lane filled with street art that is constantly changing, and sometimes you’re lucky enough to watch the artists spray painting!
    I think more people should see the beauty in well placed graffiti, not everyone can create such incredible art.

    1. Ryan

      Nice to see you again, Lauren. Thanks again for leaving your comment

  2. SaM

    I did not know anything about graffiti before reading the information here. Glad I did. I have never been close to this art but I enjoy it. Here where I live there are also a very good graffiti artist (of course there are all anonymous) and I still remember some of the graffiti I have seen. I also have pictures as a graffiti background. Are you a graffiti artist yourself?

    1. Ryan

      Not myself, but I thought it was important to show the connection it shares within hip-hop and influence it has on the world.

      Thanks for leaving your comment.

  3. Richard

    I secretly admire graffiti art as it goes against the grain of the public. They see graffiti art as a form of vandalism. I lived in London and I was amazed that graffiti artist would spray tube trains with aerosol paint.
    This was probably done in the middle of the night to avoid arrest. It was interesting to read that graffiti dates back to ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece. In my opinion, I would rather prefer to see a derelict building covered in graffiti than a dilapidated one

    1. Ryan

      Hi Richard

      That’s exactly why it suited the music so well. The vibe just mixes so well with the outright lawlessness that both art forms possess.

      Thanks for leaving your comment

  4. Chiwisdom

    Well done my friend, very informative article. I enjoyed it and was happy to see the serious approach to the history. Hip hop was and should be a form of artistic expression for suppressed minorities, or a political statement against poverty. It should not be about the glorification of a gangster lifestyle, or about the glorying in selling out as a human being and living shamelessly. I believe 2pac was also involved in a project trying to get teens out of gangs. Am I right?

    1. Ryan

      Thanks bro.

      Doing the research for this article helped to open my mind to the direction the music was headed and how both art forms helped to keep it real and make a statement. In these times I’m hoping that hip-hop again becomes the voice that it once was.

      You’re right about 2pac. He did a number of philanthropic things but I think the one you’re referring to is the Tupac’s Code Foundation that was started to help keep young people out of jail and to decrease “Black on Black” violence.

      Hope that gives you more insight and thanks again for leaving your comment.

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