5. Fab 5 Freddy
One of the first graffiti artists to connect with the hip-hop scene was Fab 5 Freddy. As part of the New York graffiti collective, The Fabulous 5, he was known for painting the sides of subway cars including a reproduction of Andy Warhol’s soup cans on one. Freddy’s crossovers were multiple – from the film “Wild Style“, which captured New York’s hip-hop and graffiti scene, to his 1982 single “Change the Beat”, which featured the much-sampled line “Ahhhhh, this stuff is really fresh”, spoken through a vocoder. He was even referenced on a Blondie single, with Debbie Harry rapping that “Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody’s fly”. Sadly, he didn’t teach her how to rap. He also presented one of the first rap-based TV shows – Yo! MTV Raps – in the late 80s.
4. Missing Foundation
Next up, a group that took Black Flag’s work to the next level. Formed in Germany in 1984 by Peter Missing, the group moved to New York, lost and gained a few members, and started a spray-paint campaign around the East Village. Their logo was only slightly more complex than Black Flag’s, with the upside-down Martini glass becoming known as “The Party’s Over”. But the worst anti-social behavior happened at their gigs, with one at CBGB ending with the band rolling kerosene-soaked oil barrels into the audience. They would have been a classic punk band if only they’d bothered to write some decent songs, instead of just ranting over noise…
3. This is Radio Clash
And now for a real classic punk band, who hit upon the formula of recording catchy songs along with the anarchy and political statements. The Clash were possibly the most successful punk band, with a career spanning a decade and six studio albums. But they weren’t above a graffiti collaboration, with the cover of their singe “This is Radio Clash” being designed by graffiti artist Futura 2000, who was an associate of Fab 5 Freddy. Interestingly, this was the single that demonstrated a little-known link between punk and hip-hop, as music critic Eric Schafer described it as the first British hip-hop single, saying “”It is a magnificent, daring, challenging record that was years ahead of its time”
Dondi was another graffiti artist who was also a huge music fan. Unusually, his graffiti name was a variation of his real name (Donald White), which is a huge risk when you subvert the law like Dondi did. And naturally, some law-subverting is required when painting subway trains, especially when the New York police and the Metropolitan Transit Authority were cracking down like they were in the mid-70s. He was part of the TOP crew (The Odd Partners) and later formed his crew, the CIA (Crazy Inside Artists). His signature pieces were Children of the Grave 1, 2 and 3 – 3 separate pieces painted over two years (1978-1980) and filmed by journalist Martha Cooper. Children of the Grave was the name of a Black Sabbath song, and was painted on the side of subway cars, risking yet more trouble from the police.
1. Clapton is God
And now for the most famous piece of music-related graffiti ever, thanks to a urinating dog. Again, it’s not the most artistic piece of graffiti or the most profound, but the message of adoration from this unknown Clapton fan in 1965 has become an iconic image. At the time, the guitarist was playing with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers after leaving the Yardbirds. And then the message appeared on the wall of a tube station in Islington – “Clapton is God”. The graffiti was photographed just as a dog appeared to relieve itself, apparently unaware that he was being captured for posterity. After the photograph became famous, copycat graffiti sprung up all over London, leaving people in no doubt that he was some kind of deity. Eric Clapton went on to form Cream, a rock supergroup and London’s walls were never quite the same again.