Graffiti has always had a strange relationship with hip-hop. The accepted theory is that graffiti art was created spontaneously with hip-hop’s other elements, sometime in the early 1970s. The truth is that graffiti or public name writing as I refer to it, is more like the adopted sibling of hip-hop, brought into the family, and has a history that stretches back more than a hundred years prior to the rise of hip-hop music.
Most graffiti writers in the early-1970s were more likely to be jamming out to Led Zeppelin in the yards than be at Sedgwick and Cedar, but as hip-hop grew to prominence during the late-1970s, it drew graffiti writers closer to the music and dance that was coming to define New York street culture. By the early-1980s, it was inspiring hybrid artists that merged graffiti writing and rapping and gave a voice to the long anonymous graffiti writer.
While it is widely known that many prominent hip-hoppers got their hands dirty putting in work on the streets and trains. Most did not reference their connection to writing in much detail besides the occasional “I used to tag my name up” line you got in various songs. However some emcees took the opposite route and put it on the line representing how they felt about graffiti writing in song, these songs laid the foundation for the sub-genre of Graff/Rap.
Graff/Rap is different from other sub-genres of hip-hop because of its longevity in the culture. Unlike other sub-genres like Crunk or Horrorcore, its relevance is not confined to a local or a trend. The records that make up this genre span the history of hip-hop’s recorded music and come from artists around the world.
With that in mind, not all of the songs on this list are Graff/Rap. However, most are.
Task Force – Grafforiginees 1999 | Mark B Presents TASK FORCE, New Mic Order
TASK FORCE dropped this graff-rap gem in 1999 taking listeners a ride through London’s graffiti underground.
Promoe - These Walls Don’t Lie
Swedish based Loop Trooper, Promoe hit with a dope song plus a video, with fresh prince-esque graffiti animation and a flashmob of dancing spray cans that gets you in the mood to burn.
Loop Troop - Ambush in the Night
Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five - Beat Street (1984)
Grandmaster Melle Mel penned and recorded this ode to ficticious graffiti writer Ramo for the finale of Beat Street. In truth he poeticly illustrated the real life conditions that inspired of a generation of writers to take their craft to the next level. Rrrraaaahhhh.
The Artifacts - Wrong Side of the Tracks | Between a Rock and a Hard Place | Big Beat (1994)
El The Sensai and Tame One along with DJ Kaos tear up this T-Ray produced track that introduced them to the world. Both Tame and El get major daps for multiple hip-hop quotibles in this iconic graff-rap joint.
Pack FM - Click Clack Spay
This Deacon the Villain produced track from the album “whutduzFMstand4was has Pack taking the listener on a step-by-step breakdown on a typical bombing mission. Featured in Marc Ecko’s Getting Up videogame, and has an exclusive introduction by NYC graffiti legend Chino BYI.
KRSONE- Out For Fame | KRSONE (1995)
KRS produced the beat and the rhymes for this 1995 classic. The hyped intro has Kris asking Fat Joe for a fat cap in the train yard. When the beat drops KRS brings to light the desire and plight of graffiti culture as he expands on its origin and importance.
On this introspective track Slug deals with the inner turmoil of an alchoholic writer.
The Literates - Graff Life
The Literates rep LA lovely in this melodic tale of West Coast graff exploits, complete with a Robert Duvall and Sean Penn sample from the movie, Colors.
The Blackout Band – Graffiti
Far to the left of graff-rap there is the sub-genre of Hansonesque / pop / graff / rock which is dominated by The Blackout Band. Your welcome.
DJ Melrok feat. Bukue One - Beatiful Crime Hard 2 Burn #2 Soundtrack (2003) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjApUDbfnY8
This epic has Bukue pulling a four-color joint in thirty minutes, and shouting out MTN paints as his tool of choice. He also takes some time to speak on the ethical issue of writing on churches, small businesses and private homes.
Futura 2000 (ft. Mick Jones of The Clash) - The Escapades Of Futura 2000
Back when Hip-Hop was emerging it shared a short-lived stage with Punk Rock.
This collaboration between graffiti’s forward thinker Futura 2000 and Mick Jones of the Clash is the true originator of the graff-rap genre, with Futura telling how it is for writers in NYC during the early-1980s, while Mick provides the live riffs.
Lordz Of Brooklyn - Tales From the Rails
Tommy Tee - Aerosoul | The Return of the DJ Vol. II
Tommy Tee mixes a spectacular collage of vocal samples from STYLE WARS and WILD STYLE over bass heavy boom bap beats with a stunning display of turntableism.
Yuin Huzami – Writers
Diktion One - Graff Art Crime
Melborn, Austrailia native Diktion reminices on his switch from graffiti to emceeing.
Company Flow - Lune TNS | Sound Bombing Vol. 1 (1997)
Big Juss and the Co-Flow boys dropped this 3rd rail ode to NYC masters, kicking the whole joint off with a shout out to style master Phase 2.
Aerophon Crew – Graffiti
Bogotá natives Ruzto Takuma Saks deliver a powerhouse track representing South American writers.
Black Flag - Spray Paint The Walls
33 seconds of awesome from Mr. Rollins and the BLACK FLAG gang.
Black Thought / Quest Love - On The Go Video – Freestyle
Long before they rocked Late Night, the Roots crew held it down on the Philly streets with the triple OG Espo while he was dropping a burner. Check out this live freestyle / paint session for On The Go Repeat Offender Hip Hop Graffiti Video Magazine.
Rammelzee vs. K-Rob - Beat Bop
Although the lyrics don’t state it this record is all about graffiti beef. The culminating product of a disagreement between graff-rap grand wizard of weird Rammelzee and pop art darling Jean Micheal Basquiat. The two had words when Rammelzee accused Basqiat of being a fraud, but then decided to squash it by collaborating on the creation of Beat Bop. Rammelzee provided the words over a K-Rob produced track and the artist formally know as Samo did the cover art. Initially issued as a test press, the original vinyl 12” is considered to be the holygrail for crate diggers.
J Walter Negro & the Loose Jointz - Shoot The Pump | Zoo York Records
Graffiti don ALI was the mind behind this early hip-hop classic, which gave step-by-step instruction on how to open a fire hydrant i.e. shoot the pump, including using an empty spray can to direct the water. The record was the first released in the 1980s on the ZOO YORK label.
Meyhem Lauren - Got The Fever | Self Induced Illness (2010)
Lo Lifer Meyhem Lauren rips through this Icerocks produced track. Reflecting his days gone past of bombing. The video features live bombing footage from some of NYC’s most notorius contemporary writers.
Loop Troop – Spray Can Stories | Wax Cabinet (1996)
The Troopers came on the scene with this graff-rap classic that paints the picture of crew loyalty and a mission gone awry.
Lee – Skill Building Trade | Songs In A Sallow Man’s Key (2012)
Lee gives props to DC graffiti kings SMK and SEK, while eluding to the connection between graffiti’s secret society and the ideas of enlightenment and sacred geometry held by the Free Masons. SMK provides the cuts for the hook on this Speaks produced head nodder.