In the Late ’70s in the Bronx, PHASE 2’s Party Flyers Created a Visual Language for Hip-Hop

In the South Bronx in the 1970s, hip-hop culture was just beginning to form at large musical gatherings called jams. In abandoned buildings packed with people, a group of DJs developed techniques like sampling, breakbeats, scratching, cutting, and backspinning. But news of a jam didn’t spread by word of mouth alone: Low-fi, photocopied flyers made from Letraset, markers, cut-up photographs, and glue were distributed by hand, traveling fast along the uptown streets. Geometric shapes and action lines merged with collages of artists performing, conveying the energy of whatever night—perhaps emceed by The Sugarhill Gang, Doug E. Fresh, or DJ Kool Herc—was being promoted.

A large portion of these flyers were the work of PHASE 2, a young artist from the Bronx who was becoming known as one of the best aerosol writers in the city, and who could often be found DJing, dancing, or rapping at the local nights. Recognizing a lack of promotional material surrounding jams, PHASE 2 asked hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash if he could design a flyer for an upcoming event. The rest is history. His flyers went well beyond pure promotional material, drawing influence from Art Deco, Jack Kirby comic books, Romare Bearden paintings, and manga. While April Greiman was initiating the “New Wave” on the West Coast, PHASE 2 was having similar impulses on the east, pushing legibility, breaking the grid (as if a grid mattered to him to begin with), and working predominantly with sans serif type. In the mid ’80s, PHASE 2 began art directing and co-editing (alongside founder David Schmidlapp) the notorious street writing and subway art publication IGTimes. Its international distribution brought New York–style writing to city streets worldwide. Today, PHASE 2 works as a fine artist, creating skateboard decks and prints, and most recently working with vinyl.

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