Before Yo! MTV Raps & Rap City, There Was Graffiti Rock. Its Creator Details the History (Video)
Michael Holman’s name remains relatively unknown in mainstream discussions about Hip-Hop culture, but there are plenty who recognize his contributions and achievements, and rightfully so. The man behind the short-lived but historic Hip-Hop television show “Graffiti Rock” is also a longtime artist, writer, filmmaker, and overall Head whose experiences in New York City during Hip-Hop’s infancy helped promote the local flavors to a larger audience. Friendships with Fab Five Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat introduced him to the art scene which, at least in their oeuvres, was inextricably tied to youth and street culture, much like Hip-Hop. While writing for the East Village Eye in the ’80s, Holman interviewed Afrika Bambaataa and in the subsequent article, included Bambaataa’s term “Hip-Hop,” making him the as-of-yet unchallenged first journalist to use it in print.
As incredible as those contributions were, his career includes even more, as reported in Red Bull Music Academy’s recent feature “Early Hip-Hop Evangelist Michael Holman on New York, Basquiat and ‘Graffiti Rock.'” The piece is an excerpt from a recent RMBA Radio interview. According to the article, Holman “managed the legendary New York City Breakers b-boy crew and produced a multitude of live Hip-Hop shows in the early 80s” and his list of accomplishments doesn’t stop there. Holman went on to “produce seminal Hip-Hop film Beat Street, penned the b-boy primer Breaking and later wrote the screenplay for (and appeared in) Basquiat,” the award-winning documentary exploring the life and legacy of the late artist. He’s also an accomplished teacher, lecturer, children’s television programming developer, art critic, and “key piece of the hip hop and ’80s arts scene puzzle.”
In the interview, Holman recounts anecdotes about his life and career particularly as they relate to New York City and Hip-Hop history. On meeting Fab Five Freddy, Holman shares “I’m reading a little notice in The Village Voice and it’s a blurb about this group called the Fabulous Five, a graffiti aerosol confederacy, sort of a mob outfit. It was an interview with Fab Five Freddy, who joined the group later.” Eventually, the two connected and would forge a relationship that revolutionized the way the New York City art scene embraced Hip-Hop culture, most directly through their Canal Zone Party, which is where the uptown aesthetics of the Fabulous Five met the eyes of the downtown, high-brow art world.
When asked about “Graffiti Rock,” Holman shares a generous amount of insight into the show’s back story, beginning with the show’s inception being part of his “bringing the Hip-Hop movement downtown.” The show was born out of an event Holman helped organize featuring Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, and Ikey C performing at what is now Webster Hall in downtown Manhattan. It took place on September 15, 1981 and according to Holman, “It was truly the first time that Hip-Hop culture as we would understand it in the ‘80s, with all of its elements, would ever be performed in front of a live audience, even before it was happening in the Bronx.” Based on the success of that event, he wanted to figure out a way to share it with a larger audience, and thus “Graffiti Rock” entered its nascent phase.
“I was lucky enough to apply for and receive permission to air on the public access networks here in Manhattan,” he explains. “I had different Hip-Hop TV show configurations, all airing in or around 1982. One was called ‘The 9:30 Show,’ one was called ‘On B-TV’ and the other one’s called ‘TV New York’…some of them had studio audiences that were dancing, like ‘TV New York.’ It was the first Hip-Hop TV shows anywhere in the world.” After reaching those benchmarks, the creation of what would become his most landmark TV accomplishment seemed to fall into place. “Then we got a lot of mom and pop investors who put in $10,000 each and we raised a couple of hundred thousand dollars to create ‘Graffiti Rock.'”
As many might know, the show only lasted for one episode, but Holman nevertheless had a detailed and distinct vision for the show’s expansion. “I wanted to make ‘Graffiti Rock’ a vehicle that would speak to that age group not only in New York but all over the country. I felt that if I could capture the imagination of that age group that I would create a whole new generation of Hip-Hop fans and artists that would last another 20 years,” he admits. He goes on in great detail to explain why the show didn’t last longer which involved the fact that “Advertisers wanted to make sure that you had enough of a reach to enough markets, and we had a hard time with that because a lot of the station managers felt that Rap was a passing fad in 1984.”
To read the insightful excerpt in its entirety, head to Red Bull Music Academy.