There is no hiding the fact that urban street art has come a very long way since “Julio 204” started tagging his name on NYC trains. Like the trains, the art has continued to move in rapid transit format by means of making stops in every major city worldwide only to suddenly gain allure of making full stops within suburbs as well.
Like any element within a given subculture, the insatiable allure of graffiti art brought with it an undivisive response from youth of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. While “Julio 204″ was going all-city in the sixties, Washington Height’s “Taki 183” was doing his thing to the extent of drawing the attention of the NY Times. “Taki 183″ a New Yorker of Greek origin from his borrough’s 183rd street opened newer avenues and boulevards in context of graffiti having the power to connect alongside a younger generation.
From tagging came a more sophisticated artistic medium via the spraycan’s ominpotent presence gripped within the artist’s palm. What was once a moment of “vandalism” became a meticulous craft that was no longer “hit and run.” Jumping a fence or looking over one’s shoulder was still present however, aesthetic desire to create something more than just a tag on a wall was deemed necessary for the artist for he/she was preoccupied with making and producing an oeuvre that would have time, meditation and colour invested in it.
Undeniably like the MC with a mic in his/her palm, the tagger and artist is a writer. The MC writes his verses and bars in a book rhymes while his subculture contemporary writes and lays out his sketches, notes and writings in his/her sketchbook. The pen and pencil is the foundational tool concerning the genesis of what is penmanship, authorship and artistry. Making poetry with the spraycan renders the artist as a “pure author” who is thus omnipresent within a work while yet simultaneously playing as a ghostly figure–an entity who makes himself heard whilst remaining silent.
The artist moves in the shadows at times and in other moments does his masterpiece in broad daylight. Russian philosopher Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin asserted that “We find the author in every work of art but we never see him as we see the images he depicts,” his allusion coincides with God’s very own presence within the quotidian as He Himself is not seen but is undoubtedly seen from within the images in the very natural realm He has created–i.e. flowers, birds, bees etc. This notion links the author to commonality with God–“like God, the primary author is himself uncreated but creating.”
Despite the aspect of placing the “artist author” as a decentered entity–neglected, alienated and disenfranchised–hence, a stranger in a strange land, he actually acknowledges his existence in a fashion which attributes less credit to him or her than usually prescribed. When Wildstyle’s Zorro opts to remain anonymous it is rather fascinating to note how more notoriety is shed his way, the aspect of curiosity evoked by the mysterious writer behind the mask or shadows does place the artist away from being “decentered.” (I personally also attribute this conceit of mystique around the RZA and his position on not revealing faces on the very first Wu-Tang compilation, he yearned for the allure of the unknown in context of the faces behind the iconic and legendary album.)
Literary theorist and semiotician Roland Barthes places the author as one who “is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child.” The artist was pivoted as observer vis-a-vis his art going “all city” from one borough to the other, in this was a sense of pride but also the sense of astonishment that one’s art was no longer fixed in a fixed location, it was art that was moving, on the go in like manner that commuters within the urban nexus were on the go. Essentially it the outer sides of the subway cars that were to become the canvas of choice–commercializing a name across elevated platforms and tracks across urban districts and neighborhoods in which they were to be seen by thousands of fellow commuters who, in large part, were unable to always make-out the words and letterings.
Indeed, the ideal of tagging on trains at night in vacant yards prompted trespassing however also sparked a frenzy that was to become global. The art was present before hip-hop even had a needle project it’s rhythms out a speaker as funk and boogaloo were beginning to emerge within the score of the artist’s soundtrack. Undoubtedly, the writer was to become the master creator and source of the artistic phenomena that was instantaneously dubbed as vandalism.
In reality, outside the realm of municipal laws the artist was an écrivain, a materialist, a worker with colours and tools who utilizes its signifiers to create what had not existed before. He/she is the “all city groundhog/dark-shadow heart-throb” as mentioned in the “Metal Centipedes” track. While the écrivain commutes the Metal Centipede with a rather critical and tenacious eye, he/she is still gridlocked in a need for exposure while still being invisible within the confines of preserving his/her identity within shadows.
Competing for visibility was an issue for the artist. Wanting to be seen on a prime piece of surface was the desired result however it was in large part due to repetitious falterings on the part of NYC elected officials and members of city council that the city itself started to financially collapse by 60s where everything came to a magnum opus of a debacle by the 70s with a civil servants strike. The strike itself consequently brought forth a garbage crisis in which every street corner was overwhelmed by roaches and rats that began to run the city unlike the politicians.
Indeed the rodent infestation within the tunnels of the metal centipedes were only one facet of the urban disillusionment of the metropolis. Gotham itself was subject to a significant influx in crime and vandalism, which become no more than a weighty tell-tale sign of a urban decline and squalor. Like certain moments in Victorian London, NYC was no longer able to fiscally sustain its most basic of services. Gerald Ford was prompted to leave a message for New Yorkers which bluntly addressed them to cleanse their very own dystopia, in this case it was not the nation that rendered the city the way it was but rather the city itself. Accountability fell upon none other than mayor Ed Koch who opted for an institutionalization of bold measures in context of ameliorating the quality of NYC’s life.
All city was vandalism in the eyes of city hall. All city was “all eye-sore.” Koch hit the trains as they were seen as a “national embarrassment” by having new subway cars manufactured with a new type of surface that would enable city workers to easily wipe graffiti off rather effortlessly. Koch himself, the city’s 105th mayor was actually born in the Bronx like hip-hop and grew up to become a Sergeant after being drafted. Indeed, his approach to cleaning the city’s all-city subway carts were done in war-like mannerism in which he was entirely, Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant and General. With new city by-laws in place for vandalism infractions, the artist was left with the notion of having to work swiftly and intelligently, hence the chorus of “Metal Centipedes”: “burn a wall under pressure…”
The link between hip-hop and graffiti has been present for a while and has been manifest alongside numerous album covers ranging from the underground to the mainstream. There is no denying that certain EP nad LP covers were to become iconic pieces of art in which some are exceptionally known to be collector’s editions. The cover-art for “Metal Centipedes” was actually partially derived from a Rawkus single. We opted to go with the full homage to Rawkus in context of the foundational hip-hop that was released by the label in the 90s. Groups like Company Flow, especially with “End to End Burners” was an inspirational piece that captured a moment in time that I, Mickey Boston, was very nostalgic for. Nostalgia was a precursor to the producing, writing and recording of “Metal Centipedes.”
Recorded in 2011, “Metal Centipedes” is a track that delves back; back on masterpiece artwork done over the years from an era in which hip-hop itself has been subject to extreme rhythmic and lyrical change. The track was not only a tribute to a record label of gifted MCs and artists but also a tribute to those who simply loved the hip-hop that was coming out back in the 90s. A track written and recorded as well as produced in 2011 was the ambition of the project, yet in attempt to have that ’91-97 sound was the goal that was desired to be achieved. To compliment the sound was the cover-art that was also destined to have a 90s feel to it, DJ Conn-Shawnery’s scratches and cuts were also customized to find a proper juxtaposition to the grainy sound that was used in the track’s arrangement.
The track’s closure brings about the sounds of metro/subway to the fore. DJ Conn-Shawnery had the sounds pan from right to left and then left to right with the intent of providing an underground commuter’s feel to the instrumental. In essence, the track is designed more for the commuter with his/her headphones in the subways of Japan, Germany, Moscow, France, Spain, England, United States, Canada and beyond these given borders. With a more younger fan base and audience, the track was a tribute in facet however, also a grounds for having this younger fan-base to connect and hear the hip-hop we grew up loving in the 90s down on the East Coast where it all began. One can simply sit back and vibe to the breakbeat with some of Conn’s political “Boston Tea Party” scratches on it.
The opening of the track is an excerpt from “Style Wars” in which Ken Swift speaks of urban squalor and destitution in the Bronx. The clip itself commences with faces of destitution photographed in black and white. The faces compliment the words of Ken Swift as he describes the world he resides in. DJ Conn-Shawnery selected the excerpt after a group of excerpts were selected and narrowed down. The presence of contemporary politics was also a factor, homelessness within subways needed to be mentioned, all this while Revolutions in themselves were occuring in the Middle-East. Connecting the two themes was as simple as connecting two transim lines and was in apprpriate measure to be done. Essentially, all artists may have tagged somewhere in their careers however, moving towards art was the higher path, the same may be found for poets who somehow may start to leave a social commentary on the world they live in as they may read the newspaper in the train cart they commute from one place to another.