Hip-hop is a global phenomenon that emerged from the streets of New York City in the 1970s. But what were the influences and inspirations behind this cultural movement? In this article, we will explore how kung fu and graffiti played a role in shaping the early hip-hop scene.
Kung fu is a term that refers to various martial arts from China. In the 1970s, kung fu movies became popular in the US, especially among urban youth who identified with the themes of resistance, empowerment, and self-expression. Bruce Lee was one of the most iconic stars of this genre, and his films inspired many hip-hop artists and fans. Fab 5 Freddy, a graffiti artist and hip-hop pioneer, said: “Bruce Lee was a major influence on me and my generation. He was a rebel who broke all the rules and created his own style.” It was also a time of the youth of the city when they sought out actual Kung Fu Sifu. The Martial Arts scene exploded in the 1970s and this helped to proliferate the arts in the Western world.
Graffiti is a form of visual art that involves writing or drawing on walls or other surfaces, usually without permission. Graffiti artists use spray paint, markers, stickers, or other tools to create their signatures or messages. Graffiti emerged as a way for marginalized youth to express themselves and claim their space in the city. Graffiti was also a competitive and creative activity that challenged the norms and authorities. As one graffiti artist said: “We were outlaws, but we had a cause.”
Hip-hop is a culture that consists of four elements: DJing, MCing (rapping), breakdancing, and graffiti art. These elements were born in the Bronx, where DJs like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash experimented with mixing and looping records to create new sounds and rhythms. MCs would rap over these beats, using rhymes and wordplay to tell stories or boast about their skills. Breakdancers would perform acrobatic moves on the floor or on cardboard boxes, often mimicking kung fu moves they saw in movies. Graffiti artists would tag their names or messages on subway cars or walls, creating colorful and intricate designs often with messages found in music and sometimes influencing music with their messages.
The connection between hip-hop, kung fu, and graffiti is not only aesthetic, but also ideological. All three forms share a common spirit of rebellion, innovation, and self-expression. They also reflect the social and political realities of their time and place, such as poverty, racism, violence, and oppression. Hip-hop, kung fu, and graffiti are ways of coping with and transforming these conditions into something positive and powerful.