The Original Voice of the Ghetto
Earliest recollection of this art in urban culture is said to be from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the mid ‘60s well before the New York birth. CORNBREAD and COOL EARL started ‘bombing’ throughout the city resulting in much local press fame. Later cats like, TAKI 183 from Washington Heights, Manhattan would popularise tagging with his nickname, (TAKI) and street, (183rd St.) to a national level, receiving attention from the New York Times in 1971. Such publicity charged competitive tagging by hundreds of youth across the five boroughs of New York, sparking presidential candidates to press for a 'War on Graffiti'. Such attention only inflamed the crusade further. Other inspired artists developed techniques further. The evolution of the nozzle caps on spray cans enhanced pieces in new flair. The use of narrower width and wider spray with varying sized nozzles allowed the artists to re-develop their style with definitive features such as outlining. The first masterpiece is credited to SUPER KOOL 223 of the Bronx and WAP of Brooklyn. Further flamboyance was added to the format by decorating the interior lettering with first, polka dots, crosshatches, stars and checkerboards. This was called “Design”. Writers eventually utilised the entire surface area of a subway car. These covered pieces were called “Top To Bottoms”. This gave way to new styles in block lettering, leaning letters and blockbusters. PHASE 2 developed Softie letters or Bubble letters. These were the earliest styling of pieces. Soon arrows, curls, twists, adorned letters and tail connections were brought into the sub-culture. This became the basis for Mechanical or Wild Style lettering.
Soon after the strength of interest in graffiti led it to abandoned train yards and subway stations. By 1979 Artists like Lee Quinones, Dondi White and Lady Pink (Sandra Fabera, who considered the subways a rolling canvas) were signing off art on whole train cars with elaborate murals, top to bottom of whole carriages, catapulting the culture to billboard-like notoriety. The New York subway system became the catalyst for this vast urban spread jungle providing the five boroughs with a community centre for each graffito to communicate for all and to both inspire and mark territory. This shaped a noticeboard-like visual spectrum to institute the foundation of inter-borough competition, and scrawling to further something of a disorganised movement arising from the forgotten. During the glory years of the 1970's this culture seemed at the height of its urban underground fashion. A complete way of life was born for those looking for an identity in the ghetto. Graffiti opened the doors for the inventive minds to redevelop this seemingly endless art form. Notable artists brought colour and style to the drab walls of the concrete jungle that formerly oppressed their left-brain intuition. Aerosol art would never reach a creative block. This first spray of hip hop brought the first element to the culture widely celebrated now across the world. Street artists painted a visual warning of what was to follow, an unstoppable youth rebellion of expression. From 1976 to 1979 Henry Chalfant would follow the energy of writers and document pieces across New York's subways snapping his camera at train 'top-to-bottoms' for high-society to embrace much later in uptown art galleries as trend and art to collect. For now this same class would regard this as vandalism. From the shadows of inner-city struggle, soon emerged the soundtrack to a generation of hip-hop.
About this time funk & soul superstar, James Brown was pouring his heart and soul into musically tracking the sign of the times and plight of the black nation of America. Despite his commercial career being in steep decline due to a change in political and racial climate across the country, the synergy of his moves and records became outlaw cult-favourites by a fresh budding hip-hop generation. During this period of burgeoning youth rebellion, tunes like, “Give it Up or Turn it Loose” and “Get Ready” by Rare Earth were classics through most Saturday night dance floors in the Boogie-Down. Rare Earth's latter record was a huge hit due to it being 21 minutes of funk and a two-minute drum solo for rug-cutters and hot-steppers to flaunt their James Brown-esque moves. Young Jamaican immigrant who tagged, CLYDE AS KOOL over the neighbourhood was also known across West Bronx as an athletic talent, embraced the atmosphere the Godfather of Soul gave the people. He would later revolutionise this new brand of expression as would two others completing the trinity of hip-hop with Flash and Bambaataa who were later crowned, the three kings.
The Bronx River projects gave birth to their ruler, Afrika Bambaataa, a Zulu warrior of gang-life in New York City. A fearsome leader hands-down who walked a thousand deep through all 5 points of the city. The only thing bigger than Bambaataa was his name and rep. Inspired by the film “Zulu” Bam envisioned a united black army, the Zulu Nation. Years before this monumental step, as an impressionable teen he would join local protective gang, P.O.W.E.R. for counter-attacking the Black Spades from across the way. He rose the ranks to overruling both POWER and the Spades to eventually unite as one. He became a voice of gangs, forging new relations with other like-minded gangs. He became a Napoleonic Warlord consolidating boroughs of the entire city of New York unto his own command. He ruled the city's biggest gang. He offered his people a way forward and changed the direction of his army toward peace. The receding period of gang warfare developed into the increasing trend of expression, or anything Bam thought was 'cool'. This would be throwing block parties or house parties at his housing community centre. He studied DJing from former Spades, Disco King Mario and Kool DJ D who succumbed to the catching interest made popular over the Cross Bronx Expressway by CLYDE AS KOOL, known now as DJ Kool Herc who threw famous block parties at his local park.