US Stamps

Tribute to hip-hop culture on four new U.S. forever stamps

Jun 18, 2020, 11 AM

By Michael Baadke

The four original elements of hip-hop culture are portrayed on four new forever stamps from the United States Postal Service.

The nondenominated (55¢) stamps will be issued July 1 in a pane of 20. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no first-day ceremony on the issue date.

New York City is the designated first-day city.

“A dynamic youth culture emerged in the mid-1970s at playgrounds and community centers in African American and Afro Caribbean neighborhoods in New York City,” according to the Postal Service. “The term ‘hip hop’ refers to four creative activities that developed together: rapping, DJing, break dancing, and graffiti art. Even before hip hop music hit the radio airwaves in 1979, teenagers developed hip hop for neighborhood fun, for storytelling and to speak out about social issues overlooked by mainstream society.”

The four stamp designs feature photographs by Cade Martin, each depicting an individual involved in one of these four elements.

Each stamp is captioned with HIP HOP and also identifies the individual or activity shown: MC (rapping), B-BOY (break dancing), DJ (disc jockey) and GRAFFITI ART.

In a Nov. 26, 2019, blog post for artist representative Heather Elder, Missy Hunter wrote about Martin’s work with the Postal Service and the individuals in his stamp photographs.

“The DJ, MC, and Graffiti Artist talent were sourced from the Washington, D.C., area of working hip-hop professionals, while the B-boy came from Philadelphia,” Hunter wrote on the Notes From A Rep’s Journal website.

Martin’s high-contrast black-and-green photographs are highlighted with two duplications of each central image, one in red and one in green, against a yellow backdrop.

“The bold, digitally tinted images on the stamps are intended to appear in motion,” according to the Postal Service.

The stamp design and typography were created by USPS art director Antonio Alcala. According to Hunter, Martin and Alcala became acquainted after the photographer reached out to express his admiration for the 2016 Star Trek set of four stamps (Scott 5132-5135), which Alcala designed.

The elements of hip-hop are outlets of creative and social expression that developed as a cultural movement in the Bronx, N.Y.

DJ Kool Herc, a young immigrant from Jamaica who has been described as the founding father of hip-hop, used two turntables playing the same record to repeat a favorite drum break again and again to create an extended dance experience. Agile and inventive break-dancers, called “break-boys” and “break-girls” by DJ Kool Herc, developed all-new moves to take advantage of those extended breaks. The resulting impact on modern dance continues today.

The MC (master of ceremonies or mic controller) is the voice of a hip-hop crew, often styling rhymes in a rap punctuated by the hip hop music beat.

Though graffiti art has a long and varied history, in the context of hip-hop culture it adds a backdrop of bold and highly stylized graphics applied with aerosol paint. The individual expression of graffiti also can be seen as an element that helps bond a neighborhood.

“Over the next several decades, hip hop grew into a global musical and cultural force,” the Postal Service said in its remarks about the new issue. “Not only are hip-hop artists found in every corner of the world, but each scene also brings its own contributions to the art form and tells its own local stories.”

The stamps are offset-printed by Ashton Potter USA in panes of 20. A spacious margin across the top of the pane includes the inscription HIP HOP in red and black.

The new set is the second U.S. stamp issue to acknowledge the powerful impact of hip-hop culture.

The Celebrate the Century stamp set commemorating the 1980s issued Jan. 12, 2000, includes a 33¢ stamp with the caption “Hip-hop Culture” that shows a break-dancer (Scott 3190o). Imprinted on the back of that stamp is this detail: “Created predominantly by African-American and Latino youths from the South Bronx, hip-hop culture — including rapping, break dancing, DJing, and graffiti — spread across the U.S. and world, influencing dance, music, language, and fashion.”

Two similar pictorial first-day cancels, one in black and one in four colors, each show a break-dancer similar to the dancer on the new B-boy stamp. The black postmark can be obtained for free on collector-supplied envelopes, and both postmarks will be used on first-day covers sold by the Postal Service.

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