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Graffiti: Rising Up From Rochester’s Underground

March 26th, 2010

The story of the Rochester Subway is not complete without at least mentioning Rochester’s deep-rooted hip hop culture. If you’re less than familiar with Rochester, I assure you, this shizzle is fo’ real. The “Flower City” has street cred, and our abandoned subway tunnel has long been used as a canvas to show off some of our best underground talent…

Take for example young Giovanni McClain—aka Graffiti—who shot parts of this music video in Rochester’s graffiti-filled subway tunnel. This rising rap artist is just 19 years old, was born and raised in Rochester, and although he’s now attending school in Neptune Beach, FL, it’s obvious where he’s drawn much of his inspiration from.

While working on their debut U.S. albums in the early 90's, Missy Elliot and members of R&B group Sugah, lived in the same Rochester studio along with Ginuwine and Magoo who lived upstairs and Timbaland who lived in the basement of the studio.Graffiti is in some very good company. Rochester’s contributions to “higher” forms music and dance are well-noted… Cab Calloway, Chuck Mangione, Garth Fagan, Eastman School of Music, etc. But did you know there are also several Hip Hop artists that have traveled through Rochester on their way to stardom? In the early 90′s artists such as Jodeci, Tim “Timbaland” Mosley, and Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott spent months at a time in Rochester writing and recording their very first tracks with songwriter/producer Devante Swing at the now-defunct Dejilon Studios. Artists such as Tupac Shakur and Ginuwine also spent considerable time here. In fact it’s rumored that Ginuwine worked for a few weeks at a local Foot Locker before he released his first record. Let’s not forget Que Mosley—member of Day26 and contestant on P-Diddy’s Making the Band reality TV series. Hey, it counts.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out this documentary, Beyond Gotham external link, which focuses on Upstate New York’s Hip Hop scene (by filmaker Juse One)…

Some highlights from Rochester…

Graffiti art blankets the interior walls of the abandoned Rochester subway tunnel. Photo taken 9/2008 by RochesterSubway.com.And with the music comes the more visual form of Hip Hop. If you’ve rolled thru Rochester’s inner city streets no doubt you’ve seen writing and murals that look like this. One of the groups responsible for this “street” art is called FUA (From Up Above or Famous Urban Artists). FUA is the dominant local graffiti “cru” and they have national, if not international tentacles. It’s founder, Carlos Perez (aka Evak FUA) was born in Bayman, Puerto Rico and is now a local graffiti, tattoo, and airbrush artist who’s work can be seen in art galleries external link as well as on the walls of the Rochester subway. Rochester even plays host to an annual Graffiti Convention every summer at N. Clinton and Clifford Avenue where each year the numbers of artist participants and spectators grows.

So next time you’re driving down 490 and you catch a glimpse of some of that “colorful” writing beneath an overpass, don’t be so quick to dismiss it as graffiti. There’s a story in that writing. That’s all for now. Please leave your comments below.

More About Giovanni McClain (Graffiti)

Giovanni McClain (aka Graffiti)Giovanni McClain aka Graffiti was born on September 12, 1991 at Strong Hospital in Rochester, New York. He attended Chestnut Ridge school and Churchville-Chili Middle School. His family moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 2002, and he is currently attending Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, FL. He is also a traditional artist who’s drawings and paintings have been displayed in Florida. Graffiti is currently in the second round of the Apollo-like talent show at the Ritz Theater in Jacksonville, FL and will be performing in South Carolina at the High School Theater in Hilton Head. You can see more of Graffiti’s music videos at www.myspace.com/bokgraffiti external link.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 9:24 pm and is filed under Art + Culture, Interviews, Rochester News, Rochester Subway, Video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Graffiti: Rising Up From Rochester’s Underground”

  1. In your reference with Rochester’s “higher” forms of music you mention Chuck Mangione but neglected to mention his brother Gap (Gaspare), jazz pianist, composer and arranger. In the late 1950′s I used to go to the Tommy Hunt’s Cliff Street Grill to hear Jamaica Jive’s trio with Gap playing piano. I’ll forgive you this time for not mentioning Gap. I’m sure it was a mistake. (One more time you bring back memories of Rochester to me. Thanks.)

  2. admin says:

    Patrick that’s funny. Gap Mangione DID cross my mind actually, but he got lost on the cutting room floor. I saw Gap perform just last summer at the Irondequoit Town Hall and it was a blast. I believe he still lives around here. I was afraid if I mentioned Gap I’d have to mention everyone else too… you know… The Skycoasters, Gary the Happy Pirate… all of those :-)

  3. Bob says:

    I’m still holding my breath on a Gary/Graffiti collaboration. Maybe later this year? *fingers crossed*

  4. Monea says:

    Graffiti aka Giovanni McClain had to come back to his roots! His formative years were developed in the Rochester area! Great article! How do you get more info about the annual Graffiti convention?

  5. admin says:

    Monea, I think the Graffiti Convention is only a few years old. Maybe 2006 or 2007 and loosely organized. But I’ve placed some calls to people to try and find out if it’s happening again this year.

    In the meantime, here is an article I found and a few pictures from the D&C (2007).

  6. admin says:

    More info on the Graffiti Convention…
    it’s held as part of the Rochester B-Boy BBQ each summer. Last year it was Saturday, July 25th, from 2pm – 10pm at 914 N. Clinton Avenue. Read more at fua-krew.org. Still trying to find more info on this year’s event.

  7. jayg says:

    FUA (from up above) was formed in 1986..evak is not the originator..the convention came from a weekend in 1997 when peanut & dj too chill held at the village gate..


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