Style Wars & Wild Style: Preserving Hip-Hop Culture in Film

3 min readApr 28, 2019
Pictured: Dondi Painting in New Lots Train Yard, (1980) photographed by Martha Cooper — from Afrovisualism on Instagram

My introduction into hip-hop was about 12 years ago history, was the Style Wars and Wild Style, when I discovered them for the first time on Youtube. Years ago I was just getting into hip-hop, after watching these I was instantly hooked because I watched them back to back.

I wanted to know everything about the history of hip-hop.

Through the years, I revisit these films to remind myself of the impact they have. It still blows my mind that both films came out the same year, and documentary and a film,and both exist in the same universe of New York city.

Style Wars (1983)

Style Wars is the first-ever graffiti documentary, directed by Tony Silver and produced in collaboration with Henry Chalfant.

After watching the Style Wars film many times, I consider it to be a cultural representation of graffiti as an artform.

What I love about Style Wars is how passionate the artists are, they way the speak about their craft is so genuine. They display what hip-hop is all about, young artists creating art together and becoming better artists by mentoring each other.

Throughout the film you will see the difference in perspectives between the writers and the NYC public officals, how a subculture influences society and vice versa.

Kase2, Skeme, Dondi, Seen, Futura, Dez, Zephyr, Taki 183 and many other graffiti writers are featured in the documentary.

Most of Martha Cooper’s photography from the late 1970s and early 1980s is featured in the graffiti bible known as Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant.

Wild Style (1983)

Wild Style, directed and produced by Charlie Ahearn, is the story of how hip-hop came to be from the perspective of the actual hip-hop pioneers, playing themselves in the film.

The film is a cinematic representation of the elements of hip-hop, (MCing, Breakdancing [B-boying], and DJing, and Graffiti [turntablism]) in motion.

This film also features the famous footage of Grandmaster Flash displaying his skills on the turntables.

Other appearances such as writer and MC Fab Five Freddy, DJ Grandmaster Flash, graffiti writers Lady Pink, Zephyr, The Rock Steady Crew, The Cold Crush Brothers, and Queen Lisa Lee of Zulu Nation.

Both of these films preserve the history of early hip-hop as a subculture, before commodification. I highly recommend you check out these films.

Watch the the full film for Style Wars, here.

Watch the full film for Wild Style, here.

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The originator of Black Aesthetic Continual Theory. Crate-digging for samples & links. Moodboarding on the decks.