On Friday, Dec. 6, the immersive AI exhibition in the Universal Hip Hop Museum opened its doors to the public. Appropriately located in the South Bronx, the exposition is hosted inside a Bronx Terminal retail space on Exterior Street.
Acting as a time warp meant to evoke nostalgia, and as an educational space for young visitors who only know hip-hop as the billion-dollar industry it is today, the exhibit displays memorandum from 1970s hip-hop culture. However, this is only the first set of floor plans for the showing. Parallel to hip-hop’s constantly shifting views and focus, the exhibit will also adjust its overall feel by depicting hip-hop in different decades.
“We’re starting in the ‘70s, and it’s a rotating exhibit because we’re gonna be here for three years,” confirmed executive director of the museum, Rocky Bucano, in an interview with Spectrum News NY 1. “So, this’ll be up for about six months and then we’ll introduce the ‘80s, and then the ‘90s, and then today’s music.”
Titled “The [R]evolution of Hip Hop,” the exhibition will remain open until the Universal Hip Hop Museum officially unveils in 2023. The new projected opening date intentionally aligns with the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip-hop. An evident play on words, hip-hop both evolves while remaining a revolutionary component of American culture. Specifically, Black American culture.
Although hip-hop’s role in society is evidently mainstream, it started off as an underground and rebellious takeback of the African American diaspora’s storyline. The opposite of the clean and polished sound and images promoted by Motown and R&B music, it was equally as pro-black and loud as the Civil Rights Movement. Its expression was raw and uncut. The pioneers of the movement were only teenagers who didn’t have their minds on making millions. Their initiative stemmed from the need for a form of escapism to forget about their environment and socioeconomic status. When your neighborhood is literally up in flames, any young soul is going to yearn for a way to reclaim their power.
Hip-hop gave young kids a voice. Or, to give the conversation some more profundity, the voiceless gave themselves a voice. Those who had the most energy and faced the largest repercussions, due to an inner-city system that continued to disempower them, decided to foster a form of empowerment. Ever gone to a party in the hopes of forgetting your most poignant concerns? That relentless emotion was the fuel behind hip-hop’s birth. Passion followed shortly after and led the way into its expansion outside of local neighborhood socials and clubs. It aligned perfectly with their internal feelings and eventually turned into a larger message broadcasted to millions across the world.
Obviously, times have drastically changed. Hip-hop is no longer a baby being cradled by other babies. It’s a billion-dollar industry that tops the charts at a higher rate than pop music and rock ‘n’ roll. The largest competitor for hip-hop is the country genre, which creates quite the incendiary combination for both profits and popularity when paired together.
Once anything hits the ground running, progress and change are inevitable. Like Jay-Z is known for saying, “People look at you and say, ‘you changed,’ as if you worked that hard to stay the same.” Even though not everyone is on board with the sound and messages conveyed in hip-hop today, it’s made impressive accomplishments in less than half-a-century’s time. Am I a fan of the mumble rap that’s leading hip-hop in the U.S. today? No, but that’s not all hip-hop is releasing at the moment, either.
It has lost the same cultural component that fostered it. That’s because the culture referred to back in the late ‘70s is different than the one shouted out today. Today, it’s one defined by comments on reaching a level of success marked by material possessions and wealth. Although rapping about finally “eating” makes sense, it lacks the depth that’s since been replaced by achieving fame.
Fame ultimately made the difference for hip-hop, shifting it and the culture. However, this isn’t anything unknown or new. Whatever changes people will cause change in the things they’ll work on collectively. It’s not all bad, either. The real negative is the lack of authenticity.
Yet, unlike other art forms, hip-hop’s history seems to remain shrouded in enigma. Except for the basics, such as the Bronx being its mecca and notable figures like Diddy, Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas and Swizz Beats taking hip-hop to a new level of stardom, the entire account that was hip-hop before all that remains hidden from the public.
The entire community comprising the executive board of the Universal Hip Hop Museum has been catching wind of this for a while. Just like rock ‘n’ roll has its headquarters to display its most pivotal moments, hip-hop has decided it’s time to do the same.
“We have to have organizations and cultural institutions that are responsible for the documentation of our culture,” said Bucano during an interview with “Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning.” “That’s our mission, that’s our purpose. If we don’t tell our stories, we’re going to leave it up to other people to tell our stories.”
“And they will tell the story from their own perspective,” added Nana Ashhurst, chairwoman of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, who was also present during the interview. Other supporters and committee members of the museum include Nas and Mass Appeal.
The culture, the music, the fashion and style, the dancing, the danger and successes, along with the sentiments of hip-hop’s inception are all meant to be housed within the museum. Although the official archive is still under works by the curatorial team, it appears the list of exhibit artifacts and memorabilia is already started. It is confirmed that relics such as handwritten lyrics by Tupac and Kurtis Blow, along with thousands of vinyl records and cassettes, will be exhibited.
So, where will the Universal Hip Hop Museum be located? Announced not so long ago, the official location is Bronx Point, a residential and retail project residing just north of the 145th Street Bridge along the Harlem River in the Bronx. The official groundbreaking ceremony is planned to happen this winter in 2020.
It will take up approximately 50,000 square feet of space by occupying the first two floors of the edifice. Being a mixed-use building, the residential portion was also created with the intent to establish more public housing units in the area. Visitors will be able to continue enjoying AI immersive exhibits, including an imitation DJ booth, museum recording studio, and see their very own iPad drawings projected onto the building. Guests will also be able to step on stage with some of hip-hop’s icons in a virtual reality theater.
These features are included within the small-scale exhibit used to build anticipation for the big launch. “The [R]evolution of Hip Hop” exhibit is free and open to anyone who’d like to stop by. However, reservations are necessary and can be made by clicking here.
It’s time that hip-hop had an official place to call its own. So far, the museum’s raised over $20 million toward its efforts but still needs to gather $60 million more. Donations are still being accepted through Spotfund and UHHM’s website.