Graffiti Hip-hop Russia

The [Brief] History of Graffiti Culture in Russia

Unlike rap culture, Russian graffiti culture grew into itself by the 2000s. However, my research (aided by an online friend) has shown that the 80s and 90s were an instrumental period for graffiti. As I work on a research project dedicated towards understanding the development of Russian graffiti culture, this blog post will look at the barebones of the history that I have so far in order to make sense of the key players in its historical legacy. Films, groups, and publications were dedicated towards graffiti, much like rap culture. I’ll share some photos as well so you can get a sense of the changing landscape and aesthetic of Russian graffiti culture through the years. So let’s go as I tell you the history of Russian graffiti culture.

Period One: The 1980s

Graffiti culture is said to have been introduced into Russia by two main individuals. The Russian graffiti artist named Basket from Moscow and a Latvian individual named Kris.[1] Basket is accredited with being one of the first graffiti artists to make a name for himself in the rap world, having designed cover art for many albums during the 1990s. Among his many accomplishments, his creating the “crew” or group RUS in 2000.[2] Basket was also integral in an early Russian hip hop journal called “Hip-Hop Info,” coming as the art director from 1990 to 2000, whereupon soon after the website was formed, an online version of the journal.

Tag of the group RUS (2000-), PC: Not Found Gallery “Names

Period Two: The 1990s

Much like rap, it was during the 1990s when graffiti culture in Russia really took off, aided by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Yeltsin’s pro-European/pro-progressivity stance (much like Peter the Great).

During this time, the lexicon of Russian graffiti was beginning to be formed, and nationally-specific words and terms for beginners, experienced taggers, bombing, and the like further substantiated the culture of Russian graffiti.[3] The first-half of the 1990s was a time of experimentation and development, Basket taking up his place at Hip-Hop Info, while in the rap world groups like Bad Balance, Bachelor Party, Black Economy, Black and White, and many others were defining the atmosphere of “first-wave” Russian rap. Festivals like White Nights and others helped to cement the community of Russian hip hop, while venues, music videos, publications, and distributive channels were transforming the landscape. Channels were also being created to further disseminate hip hop culture to the masses like Hip-Hop Info.[3] The second-half of the 1990s is when the real party started, however. The first graffiti-infused festivals and dedicated graffiti festivals were held, “Colorful City” one of the first in Moscow. Outside of RUS, other Russian crews began to form including the famous group ЗАЧЕМ and НЕМЫ.[4]

The official tag of the WHY group, PC:

As the 90s went into the 2000s, again graffiti culture in Russia underwent a massive explosion in its size and diversity. According to the account of Larri, who was directly involved in the scene, the second-half of the 90s was punctuated by inspiration from abroad and domestically. Around the time, in 1999 the first graffiti dedicated journal called Outline was formed.

Period 3: The 2000s

The 2000s is considered by many artists as the most prolific period for Russian graffiti culture. Having had now at least ten good years of development under its belt, with domestic groups, artists, and collaboration with rap artists and the wider culture of hip hop, graffiti artists now had their own culture to be proud of. During the 2000s, many other groups were formed that are still heralded as the leaders in the culture including GO VEGAS, MDT, BTK, FACTS/SAR, and ISK. The GO VEGAS group’s leading theme is cultural distancing from the norm, creating tags and art that is only understandable to those within the group. One writer goes so far as to call them revolutionaries in their adamant rejection of endorsing the hegemonic consensus.[5] BTK, however, is understood as being one of the oldest graffiti crews in Russia.[6]

Source: Discogs

During the first-half of the 2000s, many “second wave” (if we consider the 1990s as the “first-wave”) groups were making a name for themselves like ЗАЧЕМ AND SAR, while rap’s relationship with graffiti would again expand. Many different types of festivals would feature and/or foreground graffiti like the annual Coffee Grinder festival and then later the festival called “Snickers Urbanya” (2000-2010).[7] The culture would receive another massive development when graffiti films began to be picked up by the Russian graffiti culture. One of the first American graffiti films, “Style Wars” (1983) was integral in showing the humanity of the hip hop subculture. In Russia, one of the first films to feature a Russian graffiti crew (ЗАЧЕМ) was called GOP STOP Graffiti (2004).

By the second-half of the 2000s, graffiti-focused festivals began to held like Paint Methods. But during this period, many who had joined the graffiti culture were beginning to exit the scene either due to age, criminality, or disinterest. Nevertheless, GO VEGAS were expanded their work with rap and soon began producing their own albums and tracks. In 2005, the graffiti scene was again revitalized with the release of the video game, “Marc Ecko’s Getting Up.”[8] By 2007, GO VEGAS was working with groups like Black Economy, and the subgenre of “graffiti rap” was born.

Our story ends here, but there’s more to share. Stay curious my friends!

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