It was 1984 and New York City was home to a youth culture that was piquing the interest of not only its residents, but also the press. Hip-Hop was steadily becoming an identifiable culture to outsiders, and its unique styles of dance, fashion, music, and language was infectious. Its appeal began to spill over into television and film, including onto the short-lived but landmark series, “Graffiti Rock.” It aired on WPIX 11 in New York City and adopted the format of predecessors like “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train,” where music and dance were performed in front of audiences, both in-studio and at-home.
Despite all of the growing interest in Hip-Hop, “Graffiti Rock” lasted only one episode. The show was envisioned by Hip-Hop pioneer and manager of the New York City Breakers, Michael Holman, and he pulled no punches when booking the talent for the show’s pilot. Run-DMC, Kool Moe Dee, Special K, and singer Shannon made appearances as did the New York City Breakers. As the screenwriter for the documentary Basquiat, Holman was deeply ingrained in the counter-culture burgeoning in neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and the South Bronx, which is evident in the set design and aesthetics of “Graffiti Rock.”
The show included background dancers Debi Mazar (now an actress known for roles on shows like “Entourage”) and Vincent Gallo. The day the show aired (June 28, 1984), the New York Times published a preview that expresses a sentiment felt (and then proved wrong) by many, that Hip-Hop was shifting “from being a community’s private expression to becoming a pop fad.”
Part of the show’s structure was a freestyle battle in which Run and DMC go up against Kool Moe Dee and Special K of the Treacherous Three, with none other than the late Jam Master Jay on the turntables. The outfits are flashy, the crowd is hyped, and the bars are heavy. Check out the battle below for a refresher course in the earliest days of rapper “beef.”