With heightened security in the 80's, subway graffiti slowly died out. In 1989, the last train with significant amounts of graffiti on it was taken off the lines, ending an era. Traveling on the subways in 2003, there is virtually no graffiti to be seen on the outside of trains, and only dim scratchings here and there on the insides. But graffiti lives on, on city walls and other more unlikely places. Recently, there has been a trend towards writing graffiti on freight trains. Nowadays, artists are "getting up" not just in their own city, but across the country, furthering the transmission and mixing of different graffiti styles from all over. Graffiti has also become a way to make money. Graffiti art has been featured in exclusive galleries and has exerted its influence on the world of graphic design. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see graffiti-style or graffiti-inspired art on t-shirts, posters, and CD covers.
Please note, however: subway graffiti is not completely dead. Through the windows, if you are at the walls near the tracks (that aren't underground), there's still plenty of graffiti to be seen. When the subway trains are underground, if you look through the windows in between stations, you can still see a lot of graffiti, some of it older probably, but some of it newer as well. Self expression can be stifled but never completely stopped.
As we mentioned earlier, graffiti is considered one of the four elements of hip hop (along with emceeing, DJing, and B-Boying). These were the four major forms of creative expression that came from the Bronx, NY and spread to the rest of the world. Graffiti represented the visual, emceeing and DJ produced the music, and B-Boying was the dance. In the early days of hip-hop, all of these elements were deeply intertwined. Graf artists were very often B-boys and emcees and DJs as well. At the hottest parties, you might see a writer doing his thing on a wall while the DJ spins and scratches, the emcee revs up the crowd, and the B-boy battling each other on the dance floor.
Hip hop in 2003 is mostly centered around the emcee (or rapper), since the it's the emcee that sells product (in the form of CDs) that the music industry can sell. Graf writers, B-boys, and DJs have faded somewhat into the background, but there's a movement trying to bring them back, which you can see in music videos featuring more dancers, graf writers, and a greater spotlight on DJs who are the ones actually making the beats.
Graffiti was done by writers of all ethnicities. They tended to be young (teenagers, mostly) but some of the hardcore writers from the 70s are still going strong today. Writing was inclusive...if you had the talent. It was based on skill, not the color of your skin, your religion, or anything else that didn't translate to the pieces you made. Graffiti is multicultural, representing the ethnic diversity of New York, the city that spawned it. Hip hop has changed, and has moved far beyond the Bronx, but many of hip hop's founding fathers hope that it can remain a powerful multicultural force in spite of all the commercialism and marketing that surrounds it now.
Graffiti existed (and still exists) as a major part of the urban environment. Young rappers growing up and wandering the city streets still see graffiti all around them. For some, graffiti represents decay, but for hip hop culture, graffiti provided the visual inspiration that encouraged other forms of creativity and expression, such as emceeing. Maybe you don't have to know about every element of hip hop in order to be part of the culture, but you do have to know about it if you want to know what inspired some of the best the hip hop artists of today--who grew up surrounded by graffiti, learning the moves of the best b-boys, and rocking to the beats of the freshest DJs.
We hope this website gave you a new perspective on graffiti, or at least reminded you of things you already know. We think graffiti is an important and powerful artform, and this document is dedicated to all the graf writers out there, past, present, and future.