Block party at an African-American museum highlights the history of hip-hop and rap
The radio personality kicked things off as the museum celebrated the first anniversary of its Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap.
Last August, the museum released the anthology that chronicles the growth and influence of hip-hop. The project began as a collaboration between the museum and Smithsonian Folkways, the Smithsonian’s nonprofit record label, as a way to tell stories about African-American music and the experiences that inspire that music.
The anthology itself is a multimedia collection that includes 129 tracks on nine CDs spanning from 1973 to 2013, and features hip-hop artists such as Grandmaster Flash, Roxanne Shanté and Sugarhill Gang. The anthology also includes a 300-page book with essays by hip-hop creators.
Work on the anthology began in 2014, before the museum opened, with an executive committee made up of key figures from the music and hip-hop community, such as rappers Chuck D and MC Lyte, historian Jeff Chang and artist and writer Questlove.
Visitors both inside and outside the museum came out on Saturday to enjoy the genre, take part in dance lessons by break-dancing group Culture Shock DC, attend a panel discussion on the history of hip-hop and rap and, of course, jamming to music.
“What a great opportunity to have this festival in the birth month of hip-hop,” rapper LL Cool J said in a video presentation. “Hip-hop culture is important and it is an integral part of American culture in general. We are committed to elevating and celebrating hip-hop culture in all its aspects.
Midge Kay said she remembers seeing hip-hop first sprout at block parties in the Bronx. She said at the time she and others didn’t believe the style would survive, but said it was crucial that events like the block party celebrated the importance of hip-hop and rap. . Kay said she still has a lot of LL Cool J music on her phone.
Hip-hop as a genre began in the Bronx, with August 11, 1973 considered its official birth date. At a party on that date, Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc, developed “the breakup”, isolating the rhythm track from one record and expanding it using two copies of the same record on his two deck system. With record breaking breaks and scratches, Herc extended the beat, making the track long enough for the break dancers to keep dancing and Herc himself to start rapping to add flavor to the track.
“We know the history of jazz, but it’s important to see how hip-hop evolved. Music is a unifier,” said Kay, 59. “We continue to see music evolve, and like life itself, if you don’t evolve, you get left behind.”
Dr Dwandalyn Reece, curator of music and performing arts at the museum, told a panel that hip-hop is infused into everyday life, deserves more attention and needs to be preserved.
“We had the civil rights movement, we had the Harlem Renaissance, it’s no different,” Reece said. “It deserves to be preserved and future generations deserve to learn from it.”
Kevin Young, who became director of the museum in January 2021, said the motivation for the anthology was to give a sense of the larger culture that hip-hop has created and represents. Young said he hoped visitors would learn about the origin of hip-hop and how far it’s come since its inception.
“I think hip-hop really hit its stride in the late ’80s and early ’90s with people talking about the culture, but it’s still evolving,” Young said. “A big part of what we think of the museum is how central black culture is to American culture, and hip-hop does that.”
Young said the collaborative effort in creating the anthology is credited to those who led the early hip-hop movement.
“I think the community is almost leading the way with hip-hop and you have to think about those people who were pioneers and leaders in hip-hop,” Young said.
There have been no changes to the anthology since its release last year, but Young hopes to continue, adding more songs, so people can continue to teach and learn about hip-hop.
“Part of this long conversation about the meaning of hip-hop is important. People have been very responsive to the anthology,” Young said. “Like all great art, what works well lasts. There are parts of old-school hip-hop that feel fresh to me and I think that’s the lesson I take from it. Be layered. Be complicated. Move people, both physically and emotionally.