This week I passed by the LA Weekly as one often does in L.A., and I saw the cover and picked it up. I woulda picked it up anyway, cuz friends write for it and its good to see what’s out there, but the cover actually pulled me in, for reasons unknown at the time.  It was of two badass hipsters done in cartoon-ish way (I’m not sophisticated enough in the nuance of cartoon though it could be called comic book style), almost graffiti-esque.  A girl and a guy; she a tattoo laden, bare topped red-headed girl, putting two turn tables away (presumably after a gig) and a guy with long red hair doing graffiti.  One imagines they are at some warehouse as its very grungy, but also not.  Kinda Ed Hardy, you know what I mean?  They are on the run but hip, underground and in the know all the same time.  It was very today.  “Poser danger crowd.”  

I put the paper down and days later an old favorite movie was on TV, Beat Street.  The 1984 classic New York street movie was about the growing but very urban (read: poor and minority) hip-hop, DJ and graffiti experience.  When two turntables and a microphone meant something that only a few kids understood and even less actually lived.  When it meant struggle and art, not St. Tropez and movie star lesbians.  It was also about graffiti and its importance among urban kids, showing it was born from a desire to have an art medium but lacking the money required for expensive large canvases, the kind needed for graffiti.  I didn’t remember much except as a little kid I thought it was great. (Plus it had Rae Dawn Chong in it and I looked like her, kinda, so it was nice to see someone that looked like me in a movie, but I digress.) 

I remembered the movie to be awesome and, watching in full procrastination mode, I saw it was fun, my time wasn’t really wasted; it had story, heart, art, music. Yes, it was slow, after all it was 1983 and before pre-MTV editing standards, but the music and the stories are still compelling.  Mostly it was the music and feel of it that hit me.  All the DJ’s trying to be the best at hip-hop fusion music, trying to break through.  All the street artists wanting canvases to paint on; to be seen as talents not outcasts.  It was a great urban movie about the struggle of an underground art scene and music genre among kids whose very lives were a struggle, but one they were winning with friendship and support and dreams.  And we all know how big those movie and art genres got, which made watching it particularly enjoyable.

Watching this movie I recalled the LA Weekly cover.  Clearly, the urban, underground movement is different now.  It’s mainstream.  Samantha Ronson is the famous DJ of today, there is no Guy Davis in sight.  Of course, many artists struggle to get where they are, but its different when it’s the kid of a famous musician.  Not quite so cool. In fact, I’m pretty sure that means its about to not be cool as a form (legends of the field excluded, of course).  Most graffiti artists that are big now don’t hail from the Bronx, not most anyway.  Their work is shown in galleries in Santa Monica with wine served.  The NY Times did a story about a Bronx famous Graffiti artist dying and how is art was being preserved.  Mostly what I thought about it all is what a difference 25 years makes.

In writing this I recalled how my cousin has a friend from Prep-School that always wanted to be a DJ.   I saw him spinning a few years ago at a graffiti art show by the beach. Not a Guy Davis in sight, but a popular time.

What’s the point of all this? Watch Beat Street if you want to see an old classic Hip-Hop flick. Check out some Graffiti shows/artists.  And seek out the art and music on the rise today.   

Culture Graffiti Art and D.J.'s from the 80's to Today: Beat Street