Style Wars is truly a classic. Some would argue that it characterizes the true spirit and energy of hip-hop culture; with DJs, MCs, b-boys and graffiti writers. KRS-1 was quoted as saying “If you want to know what hip-hop is really all about, see a film called Style Wars.” I couldn’t agree more.

Style Wars, originally released in 1983, won the Grand Prize for a documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and was even aired on PBS. But all that aside, it was representational of the early beginnings of hip-hop culture, and more importantly the graffiti writers, who were bringing a new form of art to the masses via the New York subway system.

Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant gave viewers an in-depth look into the lives of these new artists; the struggles that faced them and the bonds that held them together. City Pages describes Style Wars as “A unique and unforgettable look at the romance of anonymous fame: kids risking their lives to go ‘all city,’ hurdling high-voltage third rails and wedging themselves between moving train cars to get their names in large letters, zooming through other neighborhoods.”

While the writers were busy bombing the trains, Ed Koch (the mayor of New York at the time) was busy trying anything and everything to prevent them from painting the trains. They tried everything from “washing” the trains in a highly toxic acid-solution to eventually barricading the trains yards with giant fences and guard dogs to keep the writers out. They were also faced with the on-going problem of police brutality.

The 2-disc set was released for the twentieth anniversary of the film and has a digitally re-mastered soundtrack with classics from Grandmaster Flash, The Treacherous Three, The Fearless Four and others. It also has interviews with Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant and some original outtake footage.

The second disc has 32 artist galleries with new interviews, trains and rare photos with Crazy Legs, Daze, Dondi, Doze, Duro, Iz the Wiz, Seen TC5, Rammellzee, Zephyr and many more. It has guest interviews with Guru, Fab 5 Freddy, DJ Red Alert, Goldie and Martha Cooper. Disc 2 also has tributes to Dondi and Shy 147 and another feature entitled “Destroy All Lines”, which is a 30 minute loop of over 200 train cars and burners. It also features music from Def Jux artists such as El-P, RJD2, Aesop Rock and others.

Style Wars is about the roots of hip-hop and graffiti, dating back to the earliest writer, Taki183. After seeing this film, you will have a better understanding of how hip-hop culture came to be and the driving force behind it.

Style Wars (1983)
Dir. Henry Chalfant and Tony Silver
Stars: Cap, Frosty Freeze, Kase 2, Ed Koch, Crazy Legs
Genre: Documentary

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