50 Years of Hip-Hop: A Celebration
The Collections of Culture: 50 Years of Hip-Hop Inside Libraries, Museums, and Archives debuted toward the end of last month and will include a mixture of live and recorded programming, such as panel discussions, author talks, and workshops exploring the genre's background and impact on American culture. The two-day summit will be held in Queens, New York, on August 3 and 4, and it will be the culmination of the nationwide endeavor, which was made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
For the past 50 years, Hip-Hop has been a vibrant and ever-evolving culture, capturing the imagination of generations of artists, producers, and fans. This culture has even made its way into libraries, museums, and archives around the world — these collections provide a unique insight into this genre of music.
The first notable collection of hip-hop artifacts was established in 1996 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The collection was created by former student Roger Mayer, who was inspired by the growing presence of hip-hop in his own life. Since then, many other universities have followed suit in archiving items such as videos and audio recordings from various important figures in the hip-hop community.
Hip-Hop also has a prominent presence within traditional museum settings. In 2013, London’s renowned British Museum exhibited “Word Up!”—an exhibition that showcased the impact that rap music has had on pop culture throughout history. This exhibition featured several iconic artifacts related to rap history, including Tupac Shakur’s bandana, Nas’s verse book, and Run DMC’s sneakers, to name a few.
Another significant example is housed within the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of African American History & Culture. This collection features over 500 artifacts ranging from albums to clothing that document the evolution of hip-hop over time and its influence on American culture. Visitors will find everything from Wu Tang Clan t-shirts to Biggie Smalls' handwritten lyrics, among other things, from music industry pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa and Jay Z.
Today there are thousands of libraries, archives, and museums throughout the world displaying collections dedicated to Hip Hop culture — each highlighting different aspects of its development over time. Collectively these institutions help us understand more about this fascinating art form both today and in its past iterations - furthering our appreciation for how far it has come since first emerging onto the scene fifty years ago.
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