Hip hop culture began in the early 1970s. This occurred when a Jamaican artist, Clive Campbell also known as DJ Kool Herc moved from Kingston to the West Bronx, New York. In West Bronx, Campbell tried to incorporate his Jamaican style of Djaying into the music systems of the Americans. His style involved reciting improvised rhymes over the dub versions of his reggae records. During his initial performances in the city, he tried to adapt his style over the chanting over the percussion sections in the pop songs during that time. With the help of other Clarke Kent and Coke La Rock, he was able to establish two of the major aspects of Hip Hop culture-emceeing and Djaying. Campbell’s progress attracted more people to the hip hop culture. One of them is Afrika Bambataa. He not only saw hip hop as a music platform but also a pivotal aspect in the promotion of values such as peace, unity and love. It gained a huge audience from the youth during the 1970s. It was a way for the young urban New York youths to express their concerns in the society. Additionally, it was and still is a form of art that is accessible to most people in the society. One does not require expensive resources or even skills to pass his/her message through rhyming. Other than being original in ones rhymes and his/her ability to follow the beat of music, hip-hop does not have any other rules governing the culture as far as music is concerned. It also offered the many youths especially the gangs a better means of expending their energy. This is evident in the number of youths that joined Bambataa’s organization. Once in the organization, youths who were previously gangs got an opportunity to utilize their energy in a positive manner such as Djaying and break dancing besides being involved in extensive travelling as they accompanied Bambataa on his tours around the globe. Hip hop culture has evolved over the decades. In the early days of the culture, break dance crews used to challenge each other. Generally hip hop culture comprised of several aspects namely break dancing, rapping, beat boxing, graffiti art and Djaying. This paper explores in depth the development of graffiti art over the years as well as its eventual commercialization.
The Origin of Graffiti art
The early forms of graffiti art occurred in Philadelphia in the 1960s. The youths in the urban centers employed permanent markers to tag as well as write their names on the wall’s of buildings in the streets. The Philadelphian monikers, ‘Cornbread’ and ‘Top Cat’ are the pioneers of graffiti art. New York graffiti began when Top Cat’s style fist appeared in New York. The New York street youths dubbed it as ‘Broadway Style’ due to its long skinny lettering (Austin 40). In New York, the first individual to embrace the art was a Greek American boy, Demitrius. He was a messenger who used to write the name ‘Taki 183’ all over the city. This was the earliest form of graffiti art in the US whereby the artists wrote their nickname followed by their street number on street walls. By so doing, he gained popularity especially in 1971 when the New York Times published an article about the appearance of the unusual name-Taki 183. Other writers who caught public attention during that time were Julio 204, Frank 207 and Joe 136 among others. As more youth joined the art, writing started moving from the streets to most of the subways, trains and lay ups.
The reasons that led to the rise of graffiti art
Many aspects propelled the urban youths to embrace graffiti art. The initial factor that led to the increase in graffitists was their search for popularity. Different youths tried to compete based on the number of times their names appeared on the streets. Additionally, it was and still is a form of expressing the artistic talent of youths not only in the urban centers but also in the rural areas. Graffiti art was a major form of self-expression. The artists communicated their concerns to the public through their writing on the walls as well as the streets. It also acts as a link between people regardless of their racial, lingual and cultural differences. Some graffiti artists viewed their work as a ritual transgression against a repressive economic and political order. Another factor that motivated graffiti artists is the fact that most of them perceive themselves as revolutionaries in reacting against the established art market and gallery system. They embark on their artistic works to give the art gallery system a new meaning. Some of the artists view their works on both public and private places as a statement against the western ideas of capitalism and private property among others. Additionally, street walls and the interior of trains provided readily available canvas for the expression of their artistic talents. Most of the youths during the 1970s were involved in gangs. Graffiti art provided a positive means for expending their energy.
The evolution of Graffiti art
As aforementioned, graffiti art began with the simple form of writing ones name on the streets and the interior of trains. The artists during that time embarked on making ones tag/name unique. This led to the development of numerous scripts and calligraphic styles. A tag refers to a monochromatic writing style that one would use. Writers used stars, flourishes among other designs to enhance the uniqueness of their tags. Some of the artistic designs that the writers used were strictly for visual appeal while others while others had some significant implications. For instance, the writers who proclaimed themselves as queens and kings in graffiti art used a crown in most instances. Historians argue that the most famous tag was the ‘STAYHIGH 149’ in which the artist employed a smoking joint as the crossbar for ‘H’ as well as a stick figure from The Saint, a television series.
The next development after the tag style was the ‘tag scale’ in which writers began to render their tags in a larger scale. The advent of the spray paint gave way for the tag to develop in size and color. The standard nozzle width of the nozzle of the spray paint can was the major aspect towards this development. The spray can differentiated the taggers from the artists. The artists could emphasize in color, form and style more creatively with the new tool that led to the production of a tag as a part of the overall artistic production. The larger tags drew more attention that the standard forms of a tag. Consequently, writers began to increase the letter’s thickness besides being able to outline them with additional colors. The writers later discovered that the caps from other aerosol products were instrumental in providing a wider width of the spray. It did not take long before styles that were more complicated were developed. Such styles include the stamp, which was a little harder as it involves the use of straight lines to produce a 3-D effect of the letters. This discovery led to the discovery of the masterpiece.
The ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ in graffiti art were the sole masterminds of the production of the masterpiece. A masterpiece is a large multicolor work. In graffiti art, a production refers to a piece that is usually on the scale of a mural and involves either original or familiar cartoon characters in addition to the graffiti artist’s name (Steer 123). Researchers argue that it is difficult to know the person who did the first masterpiece. However, contemporary artists give credit to SUPERCOOL 123and WAP of Bronx and Brooklyn respectively. In the masterpiece, the writers incorporated some designs that decorated the interior of the letters. First they used simple polka dots and then later employed stars, crosshatches and checkerboards among others. The use of these designs was limited to the artists’ imagination. It did not take long before the writers began to render their masterpieces the entire height of a typical subway car thus named them the top-to-bottoms. An important development of the masterpieces was the addition of color, scale and design, which still strongly resembled the tags from which they were developed. The advancement in graffiti art brought about a competitive atmosphere among the various artists and writers. This led to the development of actual styles that would depart from the tag-styled pieces. The styles included that use of curls, arrows, connections and twists that adorned the letters in the masterpieces. These additions became increasingly complex which later became the basis for mechanical or wild styles of lettering. Other styles that accompanied the development of masterpieces are the bombing and throw up styles. The throw up is a piecing style derived from the bubble letter. Throw up king included IZ, DY 167,TEE and IN among others.
In the mid 1970s, in his efforts to promote graffiti art, Hugo Martinez founded the United Graffiti Artists (UGA). This brought together several artists from New York. It selected the top-notch artists from all over the city and initiated the presentation of the works of Graffiti artists in a formal context of art gallery-The Razor Gallery. This formed part of the early public recognition of Graffiti art. Following this art gallery, the artistic potential of the subway artists started to feature more often in the New York Magazine. This recognition led to an increase in the number of graffiti artists. This in turn yielded new form of creativity in the late 70s and early 80s. The styles that graffiti artists developed over that period include round popcorn, wild style that refers to an intricate, interlocking type of calligraphy that is rather difficult to read, 3-D lettering, computer and golithic lettering. Other styles comprised of fading for the blending of colors and the use of cartoon characters. The style cars emerged once again. It was the last wave of the bombing style before the initial efforts of the Transport Authority to eliminate graffiti art.
During the early 80s, graffiti art recorded a decreasing trend. The transport Authority carried out train yard repair limiting the availability of surfaces for the artists. Additionally, the crack of the cocaine epidemic in the early 80s played a major role in the decline of the art. The environment of the streets was no longer conducive for the graffiti artists due to the increase of insecurity in the cities. The government also initiated laws that prohibited the sale of paint on the streets, which was a major blow to many graffiti artists. Additionally, the government increased the severity o f the penalties against graffiti art. The Metropolitan Transit Authority greatly impaired the development of graffiti art during the early 80s. It developed the anti-graffiti budget that led to the closure of yards and lay ups. They fenced and closely guarded most of the areas graffiti artists preferred painting. The authority initiated the use of more sophisticated fences, which it repaired immediately once damaged. These challenges frustrated the graffiti artists. Despite the vigorous anti-graffiti efforts of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the style gradually flourished and spread all over the world.
Commercialization of graffiti art
Graffiti art is going through a form of convergence. Its commercialization has grown extensively along with the development of the artists themselves. This explains the reason behind the act of many organizations’ recruitment of graffiti artists. Research has shown that the works of graffiti artists not only bring about the ‘street cred’ to organizations’ brands but also lend an air of exclusivity to their products (Weinstein 26). One of the international companies that have embraced graffiti art is Nike Inc. It has employed one of the renowned graffiti artists who include Mr. McGur Stush and Stephen Powers (ESPO). Another organization that has invested in graffiti art for its products is Kidrobot Inc. Paul Budnitz, the owner of Kidrobot, says that the company’s products are the work of more than thirty graffiti artists. He adds that his toys are unique enough to win the attention of celebrities and moms around the globe. Kidrobot teamed up with Steuben Glass and came up with a 20-inch crystal ‘dunny’ designed by a former graffiti artist. In 2001, Louis Vaitton’s graffiti bag that featured raw painted lettering by a graffiti artist, Stephen Sprouse, was a must have item of the spring collection (Weinsten 35). Other applications of graffiti art include the designing of the clothline for the North Face’s store in Japan currently which is under the jurisdiction of Mr. McGur. He has also collaborated with another organization, Levi Straus and Company, on limited edition Jeans for the Japanese Market ( Weinstein 40).
Organizations based on digital technology have also been instrumental in commercializing graffiti art. In Japan, the creation of Toshiba wall papers include the works of graffitists. Altari Inc. is looking forward to the production of a video game called ‘Getting up: Contents under Pressure) using graffiti art for use in play station consoles. It brings together artwork as well as the experience of more than fifty graffiti artists including the renowned graffitist Mr. McGur. The development of the Apple Inc.’s Ipod is another example of how organizations have incorporated graffiti art in digital technology.
Most of the graffiti artists argue that they prefer keeping or rather maintain their retail products scarce. This tactic boosts not only the buzz on the streets but also increases the prices of their products significantly. Nike Inc. is a good example of the organizations that employ this strategy in the marketing of their graffi-developed products. Additionally, Fashion designer Mark Ecko also instructs his chief graffitist, Stephen Powers, to design limited pieces for his high-end Cut and Sew Line for the fall season. In the automobile industry, there are colorfully painted cars and low-riders, which are some of the newest artistic expressions of graffiti art. The tattoo art is one of the ‘off-springs’ of graffiti art in fashion especially among youths around the globe. The biggest promotional aspect/vehicle for graffiti art around the globe has been the hip-hop phenomenon.
The General Globalization of Hip Hop Culture
Over the years, hip hop has gained world prominence because of its continued strong impact on the society especially among the youths. Artists have used the several aspects of the culture to voice out various controversial as well as political issues. For instance in the early 80s, Grandmaster Flash produced a song about freedom of the oppressed in the society. Later, Grandmaster Melle brought out his opinions about drugs through a song, “White Lines: Don’t Do It”. Other artists that voiced out the injustices that the African Americans faced during the 90s were Spike Lee and Public Enemy through their productions, “Do The Right Thing” and “ Fight The Power” respectively. Up to date, Hip Hop still remains to be an international realm through which artists express their feelings about their poverty, crime and violence among other social issues through urban-themed movies, song lyrics and informal conversations
Globalization of the hip-hop culture is one of the extremely lucrative sectors as far as the music industry is concerned. Many of the international hip hop artists have capitalized on marketing their products which not only include their music but also hip hop clothing and jewelry. Some of the rappers own Television shows and commercials which many people can access through the internet. The global hip hop market has invested in creating fashion media. Most of the artists have have become enterprenueral role models for most youths to emulate. They also offer employment to thousands of youths around the globe. Some of them have established non-profit, charitable, altruistic organizations that assist the poor people in the society.
Some contemporary artists have developed an off-culture perspective of the hip hop culture. They focus on creating injustices through ugly images of materialistic, capitalistic and misogynistic ideals of femininity and masculinity on the internet especially social networking sites (Brunson 8). This has led to the propagation of crimes, violence, gangster persona as well as drug. Examples of hip-hop productions that portray such evils in the society are ‘Scarface’ and ‘The Godfather’ that glamorize gangster lives.
Among the several aspects of hip-hop culture, graffiti art has undergone significant development of the decades. It developed from the writing and tagging of names to the artistic development of masterpieces. Despite the challenges that it has faced, graffiti art has flourished all over the world. This has been instrumental in providing the cohesion between the several aspects of the hip-hop culture, which have gained significant attention in the world.
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