Hip-hop Research

Rap/Graffiti Connections: Miss-T and Basket

In my research preparation for a conference on the role of girls and women in popular music (my theme being women in Russian rap), I remembered that I had found out about a connection between the first famous Russian graffiti artist (Basket) and the rapper Miss-T.

In short, Miss-T was part of a 2000s girl group called “Distant Light.” However, I suspect at some point Miss-T wanted to go solo. But at this point she had received help on lyrical skill and technical points from Master Sheff who then pointed her in the direction of rapper Legalize (husband to female rapper Simone Yori Makanda). However, somewhere the relationship didn’t quite work and soon she needed some more help. Reaching out to (now well-known) graffiti artist and then member of the group Bad Balance, Miss-T asked Basket (or in Russian Баскет) for help in shooting a music video. In this post, I want to explore some of these details and illuminate myself on what this famous collaboration really was.

The Important Part

Miss-T’s journey to rap is not the traditional way. Rather, after having visited American, she became incredibly interested in the Russian hip hop scene. Sometime after, she connected with someone named Trek (not sure who this is). Nevertheless, after some communication Miss T and her group were sent to a training course to learn about breakdance, rap, and the art of hip hop. Here is where Miss T’s connection to Basket comes in. Miss T was sent to the “Bad B Hip Hop School” which, if I understand correctly, just means that she studied with the members of Bad Balance. According to her old website, she learned how to graffiti with the laissez-fair style of teaching by Basket. As the website notes,

” She bombed the walls of Moscow with graffiti, for which she got into the police. Basket just showed the walls, gave out balloons [cans of paint], and in the morning checked the result.”

What she actually learned, I’m not entirely sure. A search for evidence of this bombing (or illegal spray painting one’s initials or insignia on trains, walls, etc) gives you nothing. So this relationship is all but a memory for those involved and her art may still be there somewhere in Moscow to this day. However the relationship between Basket and Miss T goes a bit deeper.

Recording a Music Video

After having gone through this training of sorts, Miss T went back to Sheff and said that she still needed help with lyrics. So he pointed her towards Legalize who, although a notable rapper in his own right, didn’t quite make texts that were mutually enjoyed. What these were I have no idea although Legalize’s 2003 track entitled “Dr. BLEFF calls her out in overt detail. It can be assumed that their relationship was not a good one, and soon after she was pointed in the direction of Basket.

The video was aired on the television show “12 Angry Spectators,” although I’m not sure what the video is called. More research is needed to uncover what the track was called but the process inspired Miss T to finally branch out on her own. She would soon release the track, “I am Miss T,” and her name would forever be imprinted within the annals of Russian rap history. The track was even recorded on the compilation album, “Hip-hop info No. 8” (2001).

That’s all for now. While small, the relationship is historically important for the legacy of female Russian rap!

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!

Dearborn Graffiti Hip-hop

Explore My City: Dearborn Graffiti Culture Pt. 1

Having been given the time to explore some projects while waiting for Ph.D application results, I figured I would exploit it by exploring my city, albeit from a drastically different perspective.

Having now dedicated my life towards studying Russian hip hop culture, I have found myself relating to the graffiti which I walk past in a vastly different way now. Rather than being scared or perturbed at its presence under a bridge, I see it as a place of community, a place of refuge for members of a society that is drastically misunderstood in the everyday societal landscape. Many see it as meaningless and without any sort of substance, pollution on a wall that needs a good cleaning. However, look a bit deeper and one can find the names (or tags) of different people, collectives, and groups who come together in secret to share in a bonding experience that many of us not within these communities couldn’t possibly understand. The hip hop community is not one of isolation or rejecting society for a utopian alternative but rather changing the society one lives within, albeit very slowly, awakening the senses of people to the beauty of these cultural spaces that seem so foreign upon first glance. In this post, I’ll share some photos and thoughts about one spot in Dearborn, Michigan where I currently live in order to demonstrate the richness of these subcultural spaces. Spaces which are often seen but ignored, observed during one’s commute but never understood. In these spaces, a language is shared among participants, a common dialect which one cannot be taught but must learn to read through shared experience and mutual participation. A profound, sometimes humorous and sometimes crass, expression of very real emotions and thoughts, graffiti is a way to share thoughts publically yet privately as well. Encoded within the sharp lines, beautiful swirls, dripping edges, and bubble letters, artists “write” (create graffiti) their world on concrete and walls with no expectation of praise or adoration from anyone outside their community, their cultural family.

Let me show you Dearborn from a different perspective.

The place I explored today was a bridge over a river which opens up into a marshy wetland where a relatively new(ish) water treatment plant was built. The construction took great care in preserving the wetland biome that exists there in order to help maintain the ecosystem and the life that dwells in these natural geographies. But ignored (by me really up until today) was a concrete bridge built ages ago which cars pass routinely on their way out of Dearborn, to the grocery store, coffee shop, or really wherever else one needs to go. Overlooked and ignored, a forest to the left of the park has a path that runs through it which many use to walk their dogs, get a bit of respite from the sound pollution of suburban life, or just to walk and collect their thoughts. Yet, at the head of the path, if one chooses to go right, the bridge stands, a path running under the bridge’s left side allowing passage into the marshland from the bottom. Here, graffiti begins. As you can see, the diversity in the language and colors shown proved to me how popular this space is to those in the graffiti subculture. A look at the layers of paint reveals a well-attended history to this place, although during winter it is (to my knowledge) rarely visited. While it’s clear that some “writers” simply do it to pass time and as an empty recreational sport, it was clear that others took profound pride and showed deeper amounts of care in what they put on the wall. A piece of themselves, their art and tags reflected who they are and what they stood for, what they believe, and what they want to be or are perhaps.

There was a large chasm between the beginners, the recreational ‘writers,’ and perhaps the more experienced. Those with far more chops took up more space, not always, presenting their graffiti persona in big letters and multi-colored displays for those in attendance to the wall to see. Asserting their rightful space, these anonymous graffiti artists claimed this place as their own for a short time. As the pictures show, although a tag took up space it was never for too long, and as time went by smaller tags would arise, covering the tags yet themselves covered over in the course of time. Some ‘writers’ obviously didn’t spend too much time on their drawings and tags, while it was clear that others cherished the time and took the time to think about (perhaps even plan out and sketch) what they were going to write on the wall, evidenced by the shadowed lettering in the first photo. I can’t help but think about the intended audiences for these pieces. Who were they writing for? Was it just for them, or were they or art they part of a larger movement of subcultural youth trying to find themselves and assert who they are on the walls of a space only the interested may actually come to, understood by even fewer? What would it feel like to spend your time on something which only a fraction of the population will actually see? Do they share their work with their family, friends, or is it kept a secret which only one’s graffiti family knows? Where do they buy their paints and are they part of a larger graffiti community? One of the more pressing questions is when do these writers “bomb” these spaces, and are there times when more than one group is tagging and “bombing”? Judging by the wear and layers, it seems that this place is both old and popular.

I could identify some trends to the tags that you’re seeing, although many were left unidentified as I couldn’t quite decipher if some were tags or just spur of the moment tags. I was specifically looking for evidence of visitation, some sign that these people were regular attendees of this space in order to gauge the development of their tag and how they chose to express themselves through it on the wall. I was able to identify several:

  • LTC
  • NERZ
  • Common Tate W
  • Flips
  • Pink Dot
  • Volk
  • NARD
  • CHRO

The personalities associated with these tags can only be assumed but based on the photos and observations, LTC, NERZ, and VOLK are somehow related to each other as their tags show up in the same places regularly. Further, Flips seems to be a leading figure in this space, as his tags are numerous and ostentatious a times, leading me to believe that he may consider himself “King” or the main influence. Common Tate W’s tag is quick and unassuming, leading me to believe that his presence is one of haste and perhaps not all together connected with the rest of the graffiti community in this space. Others like Volk are also numerous and sometimes close to the first group, leading me to believe that a group of friends visit the place and have formed a collective of some kind. What these friends look like and their ages cannot be speculated and only assumed. NARD’s tag was infrequent but was present, and CHRO’s tag was also present but on the other side of the river exclusively.

Lastly, I want to draw your attention to the right two photos. In the center photo, you can see the tag DEW written. However, it’s not the fact that it’s there but (if you look closely) that it was rewritten over a faded version of itself in black. This is fascinating and proves to me that this bridge has served as the premiere place for a very particular set of “writers” who have established this place as their subcultural meeting spot, affirming their belonging in this space by rearticulating their geographical ownership via their tag. The usage of blue as opposed to black is fascinating to me too, perhaps a utilitarian idiosyncrasy or something much more profound. The right photo is also interesting, although for completely different reasons. As you can see, the swastika was scratched out with red spray paint, although if the person who originally did the swastika was the one who crossed it out cannot be said. What can be said, however, is the care that was put into making it, as the swastika is two colors and not poorly done meaning that whoever put it there had meant to do so with some intentionality. Who this person was and their intentions can never be known but it can be said that its disfigurement indeed meant something, doubly so as it was crossed out twice by perhaps two different people.

As you can see, this location serves as a conduit for expression. Not by one person or one type of person but a whole network of disparate voices vying for attention via their personalized expressionary methods. While for some graffiti might just be a fun pass time, for others it was clear that to “write” and to “bomb” means far more than simply spraying letters on a wall. It means sharing something deeply personal with the world, even if the world will never see it. You know, the writer knows, the community knows it’s there. And perhaps that’s all that is needed. The self-recognition that I did it, that my name is immortalized on a wall on Earth somewhere, and that if I die my name will go on, even if just in the minds of a few.

Peace y’all.

Graffiti Hip-hop

One of Russia’s First Graffiti Artists: Oleg Basket

Russian graffiti culture is a fascinating avenue often separated from accounts of Russian hip hop culture in academic literature.

However, given my ongoing project there is an expressed need to understand the history of graffiti art in Russia. In order to not bore you with all the details and semantic jargon that make up the Russian graffiti language, I will look at one of my main voices and developers of the subcultural artform. I’m talking about Oleg Basket, considered to be one of the first major voices in the Russian graffiti landscape, having begun in the 90s right at the time when hip hop was first becoming a cultural phenomenon.

Oleg was a member of one of the first breakdancing-rap groups in Russia, Bad Balance. At the time, MCing, rapping, and breakdance were all kinda blurred together, and if a group did one think they probably were thinking about or doing the other elements of hip hop culture too. It’s no surprise that Oleg was a member. But from this participation came the popularizing of graffiti culture, events being held which brought the community together and gave participants a sense of authentic fraternity during some of Russia’s most challenging developmental moments. In 1994, the Center of Hip Hop Culture opened in Moscow, the emanant DJ Vlad Valov hosting classes there.[1] By the late 90s, Russian graffiti culture had grown to such a degree that there was a diverse ecosystem of different groups testing each other’s skills and venues and events created where such teams could come together. In the late 90s, subway “bombing” (quick graffiti of public spaces) became a cultural norm, and as Russian society was undergoing its first post-Soviet trauma, youth were echoing this feeling of uncertainty on the walls and spaces of Russian society.[2]

At the turn of the 21st century, the group called “Rus Crew” was formed. As recounted by member Worm, a second-generation member, the group was formed by Anton Make (Make), Philip Tek (Tek), Ilya Kamar (Kamar) and Lesha Se (Se). Oleg was a second-generation member along with Worm. The group’s focus was showing to the world that Russian graffiti culture is not delayed or insufficient. Rather, by using the word “Rus,” the group could convey the legitimacy of the Russian graffiti culture to others.

“The name of our team “RUS” was a message from us to colleagues and like-minded people around the world. The news that we are from Russia and that everything is in order with our style here. That we are not smearing paint on the wall with our bast shoes.”

Worm (Petrograff 2019)

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