Hip Hop, Graffiti, Street Art and Corporate America

The urban inspired movement of rejecting values of the mainstream against social issues and politics by claiming public space, tagging, graffiti, street art, in conjunction with visual identifiers like baggy clothes and heavy gold chains characterize this movement. Branded by non-conformity in art, music, language and fashion it began as rebellion following the civil rights movement and today is criticized for a value system that promotes violence and overtly sexist ideals. (Misiroglu 2009)

Take the hip hop styles featuring loose, oversized clothing originating in the inability of poor families not being able to afford clothing very often and were simply bought so the boys could grow into them. But as a counterculture, this was embraced as cool and turned into expensive fashions by mainstream corporations. (Curio 2016)

hip hop 3
Figure 1 Walsh, M. (Newyorkdailynews.com)

Here we see that popular culture, wanting to experience the anti-establishment, purchases the clothing, therefore paying tribute to these systems while remaining oblivious to the meaning and visual signification behind the styles. (Morgensen and Pedersen  2011)

“Corporate America has stolen, repackaged, and sold it back to popular culture. Our children have grown to become consumers of a bastardized variety of hip hop that is devoid of its roots, rather than creators of their own self-expression.” (Khafreg 2013)

The corporate co-optation of hip hop culture has created a situation where self-expression has been eclipsed by excessive exposure to the mainstream. The Mountain Dew advertisement serves this example in that deviance is the dominate connotation, the facial tattoos signify prison and murder, and the loss of a loved one. The red cap signifies gang membership and criminality.

hip hop 2
Figure 2  Khafrej (Source:hiphopforchange.org 2013)

In response to this bad reputation, organizations like Hip Hop for Change are centered on fighting for the hip hop culture against the corporate co optation that has created a situation where the cultures self-expression has been reduced to an insulting and limited narrative. These cultures feel as if Corporate America has stolen a part of their culture by representing hip hop in such a way that has demoralized and criminalized them focusing on sexual exploitation and gangs. When considering the package, the dominate culture has created then sold to mass culture its worth mentioning that the ignorance of mass culture learns from what media feeds them, in turn, creating  a vision of the counterculture that limits their freedom of self-expression to society through bourgeoisie censorship. (Khafreg 2013)

This concept of hegemony is not new, and implicates that the power in mass cultural society through constant readjustments depends on the bourgeoisies’ ability to absorb values and ideals from these subordinate cultures.

Andy Bennett in his book Culture and Everyday Life, draws on Gramsci’s concept of hegemony arguing that the social relations against capitalism and a class struggle can produce forms of self-recognition through commerce and graphic communication. “This in turn has empowered individuals with new levels of expression and creativity resulting in a growing population of cultural articulation.”
(Bennett, 2005)

One way in which this is evident is through hip hop’s critical opening of modernist ideologies constituting empowerment for the African American subculture through street art, music and fashion. The aesthetic of graffiti as an influence in design is acknowledged cooperatively as a consequence of hip hop music that first came about after the black power movement to address political and social issues in the 60s.  Today, typography influenced by graffiti is commonly used by designers and is becoming a part of professional practice. In the history of design the use of street art is included and recognized as a new from a design which borrows from movements such as Dada and interpreted further.  (Schlee 2005)

hip hop
Figure 3 Fairey, S. (Source: Santafeuniversity.edu 2011)

Artists for Positive Social Change – In the image above a group of students worked alongside Shepard Fairey in celebration of the Year of Hip Hop on a college campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This event illustrated how street design operates in the field while exhibiting the artist’s talent, knowledge and the ability to demonstrate a variety of ways that represent and respect the hip hop culture.


Bennett, A., 2005. Culture and Everyday Life. London: Sage.

Curcio, J., 2016. Cultural Cartography. [Online]
Available at: https://rebelnews.com/jamescurcio/cultural-cartography/
[Accessed 15 01 2017].

Curcio, J., 2016. Symbols and Signs. [Online]
Available at: https://rebelnews.com/jamescurcio/symbols-and-signs/
[Accessed 11 01 2017].

Curcio, J., 2016. The Rebel Commodity. [Online]
Available at: https://rebelnews.com/jamescurcio/counterculture-the-rebel-commodity/
[Accessed 15 01 2017].

Curcio, J., 2016. There Is No Movement, Apply Within. [Online]
Available at: https://rebelnews.com/jamescurcio/there-is-no-movement-apply-within/
[Accessed 11 01 2017].

Fairey, S., 2011. Artists for Social Positive Change. [Online]
Available at: http://santafeuniversity.edu/student-work/artists-for-positive-social-change/
[Accessed 20 12 2016].

Khafre, 2013. Hiphop For Change. [Online]
Available at: http://www.hiphopforchange.org/about-us
[Accessed 17 03 2017].

Misiroglu, G., 2015. American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Non Conformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History. https://www.amazon.com/American-Countercultures-Encyclopedia-Nonconformists-Alternative-ebook/dp/B00VA3W28O/ref=pd_ybh_a_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=MWB4R2JHY2EZ9RH1VC4Y ed. New York: Routledge.

Morgensen, K. P. K., 20011. Countercultures of the Future. [Online]
Available at: http://www.scenariomagazine.com/countercultures-of-the-future/
[Accessed 11 01 2017].

Schlee, S., 2005. Fadings: Graffiti to Design, Illustration and Much More. Corte Madera, CA : Ginko Press, Inc.

Walsh, M., 2013. New York Daily News. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/green-bay-wis-ban-baggy-pants-article-1.1402197 [Accessed 27 02 2017].

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