Time was that the participants in Buffalo’s active street culture – from graffiti artists and B-boys to rappers and DJs – were happy enough to float beneath the radar.
After all, being underground is pretty much the entire point of graffiti, and appealing to suburbanite sensibilities isn’t the prime objective of most of Buffalo’s hardworking rappers.
But over the last few years, through events such as the Buffalo Infringement Festival, the Art of Hip Hop, Music Is Art and other festivals, the city’s simmering street culture has begun to poke its head above ground.
The latest and perhaps most comprehensive look at Buffalo street culture since the dawn of the century is Cuts & Breaks, a vast and ambitious survey of hip-hop, break dancing, graffiti and other art that has risen up from the street rather than floating down from a museum or gallery.
The whole affair gets under way at 7 p.m. Friday in the Vault Arthouse, a community art space that has become one of the city’s busiest and most diverse venues for underground or otherwise alternative art and music.
The first Cuts & Breaks, held in 2011, combined newly painted pieces of graffiti in the space above the Vault with performances from rappers, DJs and break dancers. This year’s version will be even larger, with the added aim of serving as a historical survey of Buffalo street culture stretching back at least 10 years.
“It’s basically going to be uniting the four elements of hip-hop and street art and basically putting it into perspective,” said Vault director and exhibition co-curator Kevin Cain. “So when you come to the show you will leave with a further understanding of the hip-hop scene in Buffalo and how it has progressed over the past decade.”
Notably, the show will feature a performance from DJ Optimus Prime, a legend among local and national DJs who has mentored several younger artists also performing at Cuts & Breaks.
“If you ask just about anyone that’s been following this stuff for generations, he’s the guy who literally brought the wax here to Buffalo,” co-curator and Vault second-in-command Jeff Maciejewski said. “If there’s a Grandmaster Flash in Buffalo, it’s Optimus Prime.”
Hip-hop artists Keith Concept, Prime Example, Koolie High and many others will perform, along with dancers from the Differential Flavor Crew and elsewhere. Concept, a fixture on the local hip-hop scene who has been performing for at least 10 years, said he sees Cuts & Breaks as an opportunity to begin to repair the bad rap hip-hop has picked up in this community (it’s frowned upon in many local music venues) and to help aspiring artists make stronger connections with one another.
As in the last version of the event, Maciejewski and Cain have lured a handful of graffiti artists off the street to transform the second-floor space of Wasteland Studios into a kaleidoscopic graffiti gallery. The downstairs space will also feature canvases by graffiti artists, photographs and installation art related to Buffalo’s street culture.
Though some of the artists in Cuts & Breaks may know one another or cross paths at shows, most rarely have the opportunity to show off their work in the same venue.
“That’s why this show is so important, because it gets everybody together,” Cain said. “All these individuals working hard on their own, working together to create this large show, which represents the history, the hard work.”
“It’s a very insider’s game,” he said. “And thankfully enough, all the guys that are on the inside let us peek in.”
What: Cuts & Breaks
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: The Vault Arthouse, 702 Main St.
Tickets: $10 in advance or $7 at the door
Info: 348-6127 , or search Cuts & Breaks on Facebook