The original “Voice of The Ghetto” before the emcee took the mic and turned up the volume, graffiti started as one of the very first expressive movements of the ghetto uprising and gave artists the impression of New York boroughs as one big free vacant canvas on which to bring both colour and emotion to. From “tagging” on playground walls during the early 1970’s within the emerging cook pot of the Boogie-Down borough to “bombing” on the New York transit authority rail, the youth trapped in a sub-culture of hip hop had yet another way to define themselves in a muddled quest for fame and notoriety. If you weren’t a DJ or an MC rockin’ small park jams and house parties, you were there in fresh Adidas kicks and fur Kangol hats cutting up the floor with your raw spasmodic dance moves in the break of a song. If that wasn’t you, you expressed yourself by way of aerosol art. You were down with the hip hop scene, doing it your way.
Though many of New Yorkers found this offensive and were not appreciative of this expressive art and pigeon holing this simply as vandalism, this adversary only made it stronger and the birth of graffiti took New York by stranglehold. Earliest creation of this art in urban culture is said to be from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the mid ‘60s which pre- dates the New York birth. Started in ‘bombing’ format by two artists, CORNBREAD and COOL EARL, they gained attention from local press by scribbling their names throughout the city. Whether this caught fad in New York City is unclear. The New York subway system became the catalyst for this vast urban spread jungle providing the five boroughs with a community centre for graf artists to post their communication for all to see to both inspire and mark territory. This shaped a noticeboard-like visual spectrum to institute the foundation of inter-borough competition, and scrawl marking of the unheard culture arising from the forgotten.
At this premature stage spray-can art consisted of mostly signature tags with the objective of riding trains and hitting up as many train-cars as achievable. This developed into the train yard where they could hit more subway cars giving the artist more creative freedom and premeditated time for Pieces. The notion of bombing had begun. This became so popular tags were melding into one. A distinctive style was needed to individualise and make a writer’s mark stick out. This brought upon more unique and artistic flair to each signature. Elaborate scripting and calligraphic overtone was added to the artists’ repertoire. Tags were changing into “Pieces” a term given to tags with enhanced block style appeal with flourishes and shadowing, designs now were predominately done for visual feature over strong message or meaning. Crowns were added to signify those who proclaimed to be King. Pieces were enhanced with the evolution of the nozzle caps on spray cans. 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 utilise 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. 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. The voice of ghetto can not be silenced thanks to these superstars of contemporary art, the aerosol MCs.