How can a hiphop head not love this book? It's not that the 25th-anniversary edition of Subway Art appears to be double the size of the original and contains 150 full-color images by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfan (the original had 80 images). What really matters, and the reason why any hiphop head would have to love any edition of this book, even if it were miniscule and could be viewed only through a microscope, is it documents the birth of something wonderful, a birth that happened in the late '70s and early '80s: the birth of hiphop culture in New York City.
Those who identify themselves as Western look at the ancient Athenians as a smaller, earlier version of themselves. Greeks in the Age of Pericles had the idea of democracy, the idea of the individual, the idea of reason and its importance. Something similar is at work when a hiphop head of the '00s looks at these photos of graffiti artists on the streets, apartments, and subway tracks of New York. We see ourselves in these people who had an idea of postmodern urbanism, an idea of the power of appropriating pop culture, an idea of what David Harvey calls "the right to the city." These citizens of the Age of Mayor Koch are us in our infancy.
The legendary images of the freshly bombed trains are impressive, but what captures our imagination most are the people who made the art. There is Lady Pink with her favorite colors and a small dog in her hand (her hat, her overalls, clotheslines loaded with wet clothes in her tiny apartment). There is Blade and Lee on the street (Lee's worn-down disco shoes, Blade's lean and hungry look). There is Daze and Skeme entering a train yard (they both wear white socks). There is the beautiful woman on the platform reading a newspaper (her leather jacket has gold studs). These are the founders of the hiphop nation. These are my people.