The city is an integral part of graffiti and hip hop. Perhaps it is the links between the two that make them both inherently geographical. Best known as part of leftist and socially conscious group Gatas Parlament, the lyrics of Norwegian rapper Don Martin are particularly interesting from a human geography perspective. He raps frequently about the city and graffiti and has been an advocate for both.
Oslo is a segregated city with a strong East-West divide, demarcated roughly by the river Akerselven which flows from Maridalsvannet to Grønland. There are considerable economic and sociocultural differences between the two parts of the city. Simplistically, the West is generally more affluent and ethnically homogeneous and the East poorer, more multicultural, and home to many of Norway’s immigrants. Don Martin, hailing from the East, has been very vocal about these divides.
‘Nilsen’ by Don Martin and featuring Tommy Tee is an excellent example of the geographies of hip hop making many references to places in the East side of Oslo and touching upon everything from gentrification in Grønland and Grünerløkka to issues of identity in the city. Martin raps “Jeg er så Oslo du kan kalle meg for Nilsen, Rudolf, Lillebjørn, Joachim – velg hvilken.” [“I am so Oslo, you can call me Nilsen, Rudolf, Lillebjørn, Joachim – choose which.”]
Don Martin is also known for having been a graffiti writer. For an illegal form of expression, graffiti has a surprising number of rules. ‘Verdisett (enkle tips og huskeregler)’ [‘Values (simple tips and rules of thumb)’] reminds us of the fundamental values and rules of writing graffiti. Some of the most important tips to remember? According to the rap, “aldri bite, prøv å unngå å gå over andre men pieces over throws ups, throws ups går over tags, sølv ryker for farge, men marker aldri over can”. Or, never bite, try not to go over others but if you do: pieces over throw ups, throw ups over tags, silver over colour, but never markers over can. And remember that the rules are completely different for legal walls.