A Museum To Carry Hip-Hop's Message
Hip-hop's roots can be traced to an underground movement created by young African-American artists, rappers, dancers, and club DJs in the Bronx in the '70s. Its innovative combination of street-level poetry and high-tech beats underlined its potential accessibility. In 1988 The Recording Academy instituted a Best Rap Performance GRAMMY category in acknowledgement of the genre's growing impact. By the '90s, hip-hop had become a part of mainstream American culture, influencing music, fashion, dance, and literature. The genre had spawned a revolution in the way music is made, listened to and understood.
While museums such as the GRAMMY Museum have dedicated exhibits to hip-hop, the New York-based Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum [http://hiphophof.tv/] will celebrate not only the genre's music, but all aspects of hip-hop culture and its roots that are deeply entwined in the African-American experience.
"The Hip Hop Hall of Fame [Museum] will include a restaurant, arcade, concert lounge, community and corporate state rooms, a gift shop, and a museum with interactive exhibits that will explore the movement through the '70s, '80s and '90s," says J.T. Thompson, the museum's founder. "We're also going to feature the music's African and Caribbean roots and a lot of community outreach and education. We'll be open in the morning for school kids on field trips, open for regular visitors in the afternoon and have concerts in the evening, then do the same thing all over again the next day."
Thompson says the museum will begin renovating its headquarters in late 2012 with a grand-opening celebration to follow in late 2014 or early 2015. He also envisions expanding the franchise to cities all around the globe in the next decade.
Born in New York and raised in Los Angeles, Thompson was immersed in hip-hop culture. He first envisioned a hip-hop museum in 1992 while working on the L.A. Gang Truce Alliance, an organization he founded with community activist Daude Sherrills.
"The city was torn apart by the Rodney King riots," says Thompson. "The opinions of [younger African-Americans] were not being heard. I wanted to create a venue for our community to share our own stories."
While he was in the process of putting together a series of concerts to raise money for at-risk youth, he established the Hip Hop Hall of Fame and began work on creating a hip-hop TV network.
"With the exception of ['Yo!] MTV Raps,' there was nothing representing our community. We produced a Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards TV show [at the Victoria 2 Theater in Harlem] and got syndicated by the African Heritage Network [and] Baruch/BET."
In 1994 and 1995, Thompson aired high-profile Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards shows on BET, but circumstances beyond his control made it impossible to continue. "After the show in '95, Tupac got killed and it made it hard for promoters to put on shows. We got a deal with Showtime in '97, and then Notorious B.I.G. was killed. There was no hip-hop on TV for the next five years. We were victims of circumstance. I lost my investments and the momentum for the hip-hop museum slowed."
Although he had to put the museum on hold, Thompson never lost faith in his vision.
"Hip hop isn't just about music," he says. "It also deals with education, culture and bringing credibility to our communities. The original intention wasn't just singing and dancing, but spreading the news of the street in ways people can understand. It inspired people to get up and do things to improve their lives."
Thompson's faith has paid off as plans are now in motion. In June Thompson announced the beginning of an international campaign to fund the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum. On July 30 the organization announced its 2012 Hall of Fame Inductee Class in New York, in addition to showing preliminary designs for the museum's Manhattan location. Among the inductees are Afrika Bambaatta & Soulsonic Force, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, the Sugarhill Gang and Mercedes Ladies, among others. The organization also announced details for a new Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards induction ceremony and concert scheduled to take place in New York in November. The events will be filmed and featured in a documentary, This Is A Journey, which will present a history of the genre from its beginning to present day.
Hip-hop's impact continues to grow on a global scale. Today, there are Balkan, Arab, African, Brazilian, South American, and Japanese rappers — all influenced by the early beats emanating from the Bronx.
"The impact of hip-hop has been phenomenal," says Easy A.D., museum curator and a member of the Cold Crush Brothers. "When [the Cold Crush Brothers] went to Japan in 1983 to promote the Wild Style movie, we visited Yoyogi Park. Everyone was dressed like '60s rockers. After the tour, they all had on hip-hop gear and they could mime the words to everything we were playing. Today, Japan's DJs, break dancers and graffiti artists are at the forefront of hip-hop culture."
"Even country music has rappers now," says Thompson. "Because of its inclusive nature, starting with the rock collaborations of Run-D.M.C. and going on to gospel, country and R&B, the impact of hip-hop has been enormous. No matter what cultural background or country you come from, you know you can use hip-hop to get your message out and change the world.
"We'll see more world-changing collaborations as we continue to evolve. The Hip Hop Hall of Fame [Museum] will be at the forefront of preserving, documenting, archiving, and showcasing the history of hip-hop and pushing forward the message of hip-hop culture."
(J. Poet lives in San Francisco and writes about Native, folk, country, Americana, and world music for many national and international publications and websites.)