timtimes / Flickr / Creative Commons

One of the primary topics emcees rap about, aside from their own skill on the microphone, is hip hop itself—the music, the fashion, what hip hop is and what it isn’t.

It’s a tautology that, as far as I can tell, is practically non-existent in other forms of music. Rock and roll dabbles in the occasional self reference, but the act is nearly compulsory in hip hop. If every emcee’s first verse is about how amazing they are, their second verse is about how much they love hip hop.

erikjacobs / Flickr / Creative Commons

In a small, largely abandoned village along the coast in Belgium, the walls are covered in graffiti. What began as an effort by the few remaining locals to turn the town of Doel from a neglected company town into an artists’ colony has become something else entirely. The town now receives several thousand tourists annually, gawking at the bizarre setting. But they also take in many more vandals who are eager to exploit the obvious lack of regulations and absence of police.

ivva / Flickr / Creative Commons

When it comes to our cities, we all have an edifice complex.

Fletcher Powell / KMUW

I’ve spent a lot of time practicing the art of seeing graffiti. After a few years, my eye is now automatically able to seek out those sweet spots on buildings or signs where graffiti ought to be—and in the right parts of town, it usually is. I’m good, but there are still times that graffiti, or something pretending to be graffiti, will surprise me.

StrongArmSteady-> (themebereal) / Flickr / Creative Commons

The railroad as a part of Frontier Mythology has long since been surpassed by more modern versions of the story, but the truth is, it almost functions better as nostalgia.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas / Flickr / Creative Commons

At its most basic, "tagging" is the act of writing your name on a wall, on a newspaper stand, on a lamp post, or, let’s be honest, anything else that doesn’t belong to you.

The medium doesn’t particularly matter: marker or spray paint will do. In a pinch, and on the right surface, maybe even a ballpoint pen. The point is to put your mark where it wasn’t before, and to put it in a place where other people will see it.

And, like everything else in graffiti, the most important point is to do it with style.

Charles Henry (amarilloposters) / Flickr / Creative Commons

In the late 1940s, a Midwestern salesman named Edward Seymour was looking for a better way to demonstrate his line of aluminum radiator paint to prospective buyers. Seymour and his wife hit upon the idea of combining the paint with a can of propellant, so they could spray the paint quickly onto a radiator’s surface and not have to spend the time using more tedious methods.

The idea of putting a propellant and something else into a can wasn’t new. Bug bombs specifically targeting malaria-infected mosquitoes were used in the Pacific during World War II.

jimkster / Flickr / Creative Commons

Gangs have been writing graffiti since at least the early 20th century, and the reasons have remained remarkably stable: identifying turf boundaries, roll calls to identify gang members, and enacting conflict with rival gangs.

This type of graffiti differs dramatically from the general kind of graffiti we’ve talked about so far, most notably in the distinct lack of style, which is much to the chagrin of many dedicated graffiti writers.

Denis Bocquet / Flickr / Creative Commons

Graffiti is always a political act, whether overtly or accidentally. The very nature of vandalism requires some kind of confrontation between a disruptive actor and established structures of the status quo.

While throwing a brick through a window is also vandalism, it differs from graffiti in that it is a subtractive form of vandalism—that window is no longer there—while graffiti is inherently additive: structures become augmented with new political or social meaning.

Zack Gingrich-Gaylord / KMUW

In order of increasing intensity: Graffiti can be tags, throwies, burners or pieces.

Tags are those quick stylized signatures, a note left behind or a harbinger of bigger graffiti to come.

Throwies can also be called fill-ins—these are often two-color works, solid letters with an outline and shading, often closely resembling the tag, only larger.