Cornbread Talks with Philly Painting About His Crucial Role in Graffiti History
Philly Painting’s 7th episode features “the original tagger,” Darryl “Cornbread” McCray, discussing how he began doing graffiti – and how graffiti began because of him.
The self-proclaimed “world’s first modern day graffiti artist” began tagging when “Philadelphia was clean…when the word ‘graffiti’ didn’t even exist.” Cornbread was sent to reform school where he befriended groups of gang members and began writing his name alongside all of their tags. Determined to avoid being “just another writer,” Cornbread became more and more selective about what he wrote on.
This attitude compelled him to make the bold move of tagging the side of the Jackson 5’s private jet. With all of the attention focused on the group, Cornbread was able to get away with the act, thrilled to see his name on the side of a departing airplane.
Media hype accelerated as Cornbread continued to tag in bizarre or inaccessible locales. The more active he became in Philadelphia, the more the city became a graffiti hotspot, soon to be called the “graffiti capital of the world.”
Cornbread acknowledges that today, Philly is the “mural capital of the world.” In his own words, “the Mural Arts Program was designed to beautify the city, to correct what Cornbread fucked up.”
There appears to be a paradoxical sort of bond between McCray and members of Philly Painting – there is an obvious respect for Cornbread, and the crucial role that he played in the history of graffiti. And yet, Philly Painting, initiated by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, has embarked on a “beautification project” that covers the work of Cornbread and other graffiti artists.
Fortunately, McCray sees this as a good thing, admitting that areas in Northern Philly that were once drug-ridden and gang-infested, have become beautiful on account of the Philly Painting team. “You can see the difference, and you can feel the difference,” he says.
Watch the video above to hear Cornbread’s story.
Text: Nicola Parisi