Category Archives: History

A Soundtrack Below the Tracks: Busking and Public Performance in Krog Tunnel and Atlanta.

While doing our weekly survey on August 26th, we observed an individual playing a brass instrument while passing through the tunnel. This sound permeated throughout the tunnel and was an entertaining variation from the regular sounds of cars, footsteps, and quiet chatter that usually echo in the tunnel. Around a year ago, the tunnel actually had a public piano installed by a local non-profit, Play Me Again Pianos, which supplies and maintains hand-painted pianos to public spaces and businesses. This piano has since been retired, but we were able to capture its sound in use last September. Although these two musicians were simply passing through, there is an entire culture and economy around performing in public spaces for an audience. Street Performance, also known as busking, is the act of performing in a public space, sometimes for tips or other gratuities. 

Person playing piano in the tunnel. September 17, 2022.

You can often see these folks on the BeltLine, occasionally downtown, and outside large gatherings. But the Krog tunnel seems to be a venue that isn’t being utilized. It is already implied that it is a space of unrestricted self-expression, there is ample space for passing and stationary pedestrianism, and the space is equipped with a unique set of spatial acoustics. In fact, there seem to be several spaces throughout metro Atlanta. that could be utilized for performance, but aren’t. So why aren’t performing artists using the space? The answer to this could lie in laws regarding public solicitation and noise that are often shrouded in legal jargon. This diminishes opportunities for valuable creative expression in metro Atlanta. 

Audio of a person playing the horn in the tunnel. August 26, 2023.

Busking and street performance without a permit is legal in Atlanta as long as they maintain noise levels, do not verbally or explicitly solicit money from viewers, and perform within a certain window of time during the day (Atlanta, Ga.- Code of Ordinances. Ch 74, Article IV, Sec. 74-129). 2017). However, as with any metropolitan area, there are differing expectations of how space should be used. Businesses, residents, and other onlookers can report the performance as a noise disturbance. If the performer has a tip jar out, this could be misinterpreted as panhandling. Additionally, past codes have outlawed or greatly restricted public performances.  A 1993 city ordinance cracked down on street vendors without permits and, in some interpretations of this, street performers were included under this umbrella (Atlanta, Ga.-Code of Ordinances. Ch. 30, Article XXXIV, Sec. 30-1482). This specific ordinance requires a $50 street permit in order to sell food or merchandise outside of a business zoned to do so. One subsection of this ordinance includes “street music” as a service that requires a permit. Despite a separate ordinance stating that street performance is free and legal, this conflicting measure states otherwise. This was an issue that even the ACLU spoke out on.

In the years since several ordinances on panhandling have been passed, some with conflicting definitions of what panhandling is along with varying levels of enforcement; another law that street performers were occasionally grouped in. In 2013, an amendment to Atlanta’s existing panhandling laws included a statute that prohibited solicitation within 15 feet of any entrance. This includes businesses, private and public buildings, parking garages, and festival entrances (Atlanta, Ga.-Code of Ordinances. Ch. 106, Article III, Sec. 106-85. 2013). This greatly impacted the types of spaces that performers were presumably safe to perform in, as buskers were still at risk of being persecuted under solicitation laws. Following the passage of the “aggressive panhandling” code, two buskers were arrested after performing with their instrument cases open and accepting tips. One was a 20-year-old trombonist outside of Turner Field (now Center Parc Stadium) named Eryk McDaniel and the other was a Brooklyn Violinist in a MARTA station who went by the name Johnny Arco. McDaniel spent the night in custody, and Arco spent six nights in custody, according to a Creative Loafing Article written about the arrests. At this point, even some city council members acknowledged that the literature surrounding street performance was confusing and that it should be made more clear that the act is legal within certain behavioral parameters. However, the ordinances that risk street performance being criminalized still remain within the extensive code of ordinances. All of these codes have accumulated into varying and inconsistent reactions from law enforcement agencies to isolated situations, often not in favor of the rights of the performers. This unpredictability and lack of communication about the content of the laws have likely scared street performers from exhibiting their work anywhere but the spots where they are habitually safe from harassment. 

There are some programs that strive to bridge the gap between the legality of impromptu public art and performance and varying codes and ordinances. The city of Decatur has a permit program for busking and performers in order to maintain safety for performers and patrons and ensure space for performers in the city’s many public/private spaces. This program is facilitated by an arts alliance and is not an official ordinance. MARTA’s ArtBound program is the agency’s visual and performance art program and regularly schedules musical performances throughout stations. Like graffiti, busking has inherent ties to American railroads and commuter trains. However, this program doesn’t encapsulate the spontaneity of true busking: performers are discouraged from performing for tips (as they are paid by the agency) and are not scheduled to perform on the trains, only in station concourses. Nonetheless, these performances can still bring a new life to the regular activity in streets and train stations, as traditional busking would. 

Live music can change the spirit of the environment it’s in, a change that can be interpreted as a welcomed shift, or a public nuisance. The benefits of allowing creative expression within reasonable parameters outweigh any rare instances of folks using their time and talent to create negativity or “disturb the peace.” For many, seeing a public performer was their first interaction with live music. Busking also gives new and seasoned musicians the opportunity to see how their work sounds or feels to perform in front of strangers. Additionally, busking can be a way of celebrating and rewarding pedestrianism, and points of social connection in the urban landscape. These performances aren’t necessarily something you can interact with in an automobile. Music, undoubtedly, is a force that can make people come together and realize we share more in common with one another than not. And in a city as musically inclined as Atlanta, more music and more sound can have the power to increase community pride and participation. In the context of the tunnel, busking could be a sort of sonic graffiti, as it temporarily and easily draws the attention of the pedestrians that pass through and adds to the multi-sensory experience of the tunnel.  

Graffiti Is Hip Hop: Celebrating Hip-hop’s Cultural Impact and Ties to Graffiti Culture on its 50th Anniversary

This summer artists, cities, museums, schools, libraries and other cultural and historical organizations celebrated hip-hop and its cultural contributions for its 50th anniversary. The summer was packed with observances the pay homage to the cultural movement such as festivals, like the popular SummerStage seasonal concert series in NYC and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture annual Block Party in D.C.; retrospective programs, such as The Book of HOV exhibit at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch and the Hip-hop turns 50 reading list and Bay-area Hip-hop archive at the Oakland Public Library; and commemorative transit cards from MARTA and MTA

Hip-hop has been one of the most widely spread African American cultural productions and social movements of the 20th century and the entire 21st century so far. As a genre that developed in the modern media age, the general public has watched it evolve into the contemporary iterations and sub genres that make up a sprawling family tree of sorts. A tree whose roots and branches make palpable imprints on the forms of arts and culture we enjoy today. This spread and popularity is not only evident in the characteristics of current pop- and sub-culture, but is also backed by in-depth statistical media analysis. In 2015, researchers at the Queen Mary University and Imperial College in London published a report that analyzed the frequencies, tones, and harmonic patterns of charting songs in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts from 1960-2010. They found that songs representing elements that the researchers categorized under hip-hop, rap, and r&b started dominating charts starting in 1991. This influx of rap-related music tags was the largest revolution in their period of research, with researchers stating that “The rise of rap and related genres appears…. to be the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts in the period that we studied” (Mauch, et al., 2015). 

On our July 29th tunnel survey, we found large pieces by FDC, Kaos, PFE, and other well known Atlanta graffiti artists that honored Hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. These pieces, located along the highly visible and large Dekalb Ave retaining wall, displayed an extensive ode to hip-hop culture through old-school style graffiti. In addition to the large pieces, there is usually at least one reference to hip hop (lyrics, iconography, ads, or material culture) in the tunnel at any time. Though the anniversary pieces were clearly hip-hop themed, the act of tagging and writing itself is an element of and an homage to hip-hop culture. Though modern iterations of hip-hop and graffiti may seem like two separate art forms that developed independently, they are historically and inherently tied to each other. Of course, the act of graffiti has been around for centuries, but its contemporary rise, evolution, acceptance, and commercialization coincides with hip-hop’s rise to mainstream culture. 

Five Hip Hop 50th anniversary murals as seen from Dekalb Ave. Digital Photographs, July 29th, 2023. Krog Codex Archive, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Hip-hop in its earliest forms could be described as the fusion of subcultures of the African and Caribbean Diaspora that were prominent in urban epicenters — e.g. the Ballroom Scene, African American poetry and story-telling, Jazz, and Disco —  with electronic music that was being developed in the U.S. and internationally. Colloquially, we tend to think of hip-hop as the predecessor and blueprint for contemporary rap. But hip hop describes a collection of cultural production, which includes four pillars; MCing (lyricism), DJing (audio), breakdancing/b-boying (movement dance), and graffiti/writing (visual). Other facets of this youth-led subculture include fashion, language/slang, and knowledge of the movement and its influences. Within the vernacular of the culture, folks who participated in the graffiti aspect of the movement were often called “writers.” There writers would throw-up, etch, bomb, or simply put, write, their unique tag on workable surfaces. Other modes of street art, like murals, installations, and posters put up without permission are distinguishable from writing and graffiti, but can still overlap. Writing was widely practiced within and outside of the community and several hip hop music pioneers were writers before emerging themselves in the world of music production.

Tribute to late Hip-Hop producer and MC, MF DOOM. Digital Photograph, June 17th, 2023. Krog Codex Archive, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.

According to Hip-hop folklore, the hip-hop sound was performed for the first time at a dorm party in Bronx, NYC in 1973 by DJ Kool Herc. Kool Herc himself was a prolific writer before the genesis of the genre, who used the tag/moniker “CLYDE IS KOOL” and ran with a crew called the Ex-Vandals. In the same year, graffiti received its “big break” in the form of a highly publicized gallery exhibition organized by the United Graffiti Artist collective.

DJ Kool Herc speaking on the party that sparked the birth of Hip-hop and showing off some of his techniques on the turn tables.

The early hip-hop and rap community crowned graffiti as its aesthetic, as it represented creative expression in the increasingly postindustrial urban environment of 1970’s NYC. The association of the two mediums is evident because of their geographic proximity to each other. But the bridge between hip hop and graffiti was pioneered by Fab 5 Freddy– a street artist and a hip hop producer who coined the four pillars/elements of hip-hop (mentioned above) and eventually became the first host of Yo! MTV Raps. Through collaboration with fellow visual artists, up and coming hip hop musicians, and other cultural movements in the 1970s-80s (such as the No Wave genre, video artists, and the popular bands Blondie and The Clash) he played a huge part in uplifting and advancing hip hop out of local obscurity into charting music. 

Excerpt from Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor. Fab 5 Freddy meets Blondie (with Basquiat and The Clash)

The birth of hip hop is an example of marginalized creatives using music as an agent of empowerment, the same way writing claims space in the absence of ownership and autonomy within a space or community. Writing and hip hop were also, simply put, created out of an urge to impress and creatively collaborate with peers. Hip-hop, and more specifically writing, are disciplines generated out of the lack of permission. Hip hop producers and lyricists made an entire genre out of toying with mainstream and obscure sounds that weren’t what big labels and radio stations were looking for. And graffiti, of course, was seen as an act of destruction and is outright illegal in most contexts. 

Segment from MOCAtv’s Art in the Streets series featuring Jean Michel Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy speaking about the Fun Gallery in NYC.

The history of Hip-hop is well documented and there are many scholarly sources with great information on its history and origins. In terms of monetary success of artists, hip hop has also fared better over time. But this contrast is not a point of strife between the two art forms; instead there is an understood solidarity and appreciation of each other. Throw-ups, Wildstyle, and Anti-style, among so many other styles are intrinsic to, and illustrative of hip-hop. Graffiti is hip hop. Graffiti helped spread hip-hop culture and vice-versa. This creative boom and subsequent spread over time to the Western and Southern United States, proliferated both subcultures. Creative spaces like the Krog Tunnel, where the art form can be practiced without prosecution, emerged much later in its history. Nonetheless, Krog Tunnel has been part of Atlanta’s Hip Hop milieu. It’s not uncommon to see up and coming artists filming music videos in the tunnel, notably a 2015 Young Thug video. 

Sample breakdown of A Tribe Called Quest’s Bonita Applebaum by Tracklib

For more comprehensive and visually impressive accounts of hip-hop and rap’s evolution, we recommend Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor, a graphic novel series that recounts individual stories from the early days of hip hop as well as an upcoming graphic history novel by Walter Greason and Tim Felder, The Graphic History of Hip Hop. An intersection of rap and hip hop lyricism synthesized with spatial data in Atlanta can be explored on Rap Maps, a project by a fellow Map Lab cohort here at Georgia State. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang is one of the most comprehensive histories of early hip hop and traces many artist’s history and association with graffiti. Additionally, The New York Public Library System is participating in this summer’s celebrations and has lots of great information on Hip Hop’s history as a performing art. 

Works Cited

Mauch, Matthias, Robert M. MacCallum, Mark Levy, and Yong-Yeol Ahn, 2015. “The evolution of popular music: usa 1960–2010”, Royal Society Open Science(5), 2:150081.

A Brief History of The Krog Street Tunnel

Pillar 25, 26, 27, and a Road Divider as seen from the Opposite Side of the Tunnel. 35 mm Photograph, January 22nd, 2022. Krog Codex Archive, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.

The Krog Street Tunnel is best known as Atlanta’s hub for street art. It is frequented by established artists, people exploring graffiti as a medium, spectators, and commuters. Structurally, it is a two-lane underpass that runs below Hulsey Yard, a rail yard operated by CSX. In substance, it is a fluid, living art gallery. It has become a point of pride for the surrounding neighborhoods and a must-see attraction for folks visiting the area. It’s also free. There’s no cover to enter this gallery and there’s no commission to show your work here. The art in the tunnel is highly visible and perpetually changing. On any given day, artists are posting murals, stencils, tags, wheat-pasted posters, political statements, mosaics, curse words, stickers, phone numbers, and advertisements. You can come back the next day and observe a completely different collection of pieces.

Birth of Venus and Tags, Spray Painted on the West Side of Krog Street Tunnel. 360 Photograph of Pillar 12, January 22nd, 2022, R0011247_20220122234401.12. Krog Codex Archive, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia. 

The Tunnel’s rich visuals and prominence pose several questions on legality and creative freedom. The tunnel has become a neutral territory where residents and tourists alike can use its walls as a community resource. In this space, it is artistic expression, outside of it, it is vandalism. Krog can be labeled as so many things: an experiment in the decriminalization of certain petty crimes, a gathering place for creatives, a selling point for real estate development, a testament to community autonomy, or just a neat phenomenon of density. Krog Street Tunnel is a mirror of unrestricted and authentic public attitudes and creativity and is an integral piece of Atlanta’s cultural fabric.

Krog Street spent most of its early history in the late 1800s as an industrial roadway in Inman Park. The street’s namesake, Frederick Krog, opened the Atlanta Stove Works factory (now Krog Street Market) on the corridor in 1889. Because of Inman Park’s reputation as a wealthy suburb and proximity to railroad lines and downtown, other factories and storefronts agglomerated in the area. Across the railroad was the close, but separated, Cabbagetown neighborhood. There, the towering Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill (now the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts) operated in the same time frame as the Stove Works factory. Demand for working-class and company-owned housing stock in the two neighborhoods increased as factory employees grew in numbers. Through this, these areas began to develop the character that is still observable in their built environment

Concurrently, the demand for access to jobs by workers in growing suburbs nearby rose. A link between the immediate areas north and south of the railroad became more necessary for the workers and the companies who wanted to increase their workforce. In response to the demand, in 1912, CSX constructed an underpass that connected Dekalb Avenue in Inman Park to Wylie Street in Cabbagetown. The tunnel has sustained itself as the only direct connection for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians traveling between the two neighborhoods since.

The Fulton Cotton Mill and the Stove Works factory were both decommissioned in 1978 and 1987, respectively. These closures induced a massive economic decline in these neighborhoods, amidst similar circumstances in other parts of Atlanta.

During the late 60s to late 80s, residents took notice of the graffiti that proliferated in the tunnel. It was discouraged and even viewed as an indicator of a criminal element moving into the neighborhood. In the early 2000s, neighborhood officials pledged to allow graffiti in the tunnel after a general acceptance of this form of creative expression. This acceptance could be attributed to the value placed on art and aesthetics by new residents, or because older residents were tired of painting over the graffiti. The “ordinance” was a general agreement to allow 24/7 access to Krog for artists, as long as they are respectful to the residents. Neither the Atlanta Police Department nor CSX, which still owns the tunnel, had approved this rule. As such, its legality is ambiguous. Nonetheless, the tunnel has been used in this fashion for over 20 years now. There have been limited and unsuccessful attempts to halt these activities. In those 20 years, it has grown to become one of the most well-known legal graffiti walls in the U.S. and an active testament to the value of civic creativity.