Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life

Multi-year initiative to gather broad collection on hip-hop culture and culminate in comprehensive exhibition  

Some 30 years after it emerged from the neighborhoods of the South Bronx, N.Y., hip-hop has evolved into a pervasive and global cultural phenomenon. In 2006, the National Museum of American History launched a major collecting initiative, “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life.”

The museum’s multi-year project will trace hip-hop from its origins in the 1970s, as an expression of urban black and Latino youth culture, to its status today. By collecting from the hip-hop community, the museum will build an unprecedented permanent collection that will document the undeniable reach of hip-hop and commemorate it as one of the most influential cultural explosions in recent history.

“Hip-hop has reached well beyond its urban roots to diverse national dimensions and has been an integral part of American culture for almost 30 years,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. “The National Museum of American History is committed to telling the story of the American experience, and with the significant contributions from the hip-hop community, we will be able to place hip-hop in the continuum of American history and present a comprehensive exhibition,” he added.

Through “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop,” the museum plans to collect objects from all aspects of hip-hop arts and culture—music, technology, sports, graffiti, fashion, break dancing and language—including vinyl records, handwritten lyrics, boom boxes, clothing and costumes, videos and interviews, disc jockey equipment and microphones, personal and business correspondence, and posters and photos.

“Born out of poverty and the need to draw attention to social conditions, hip-hop, is amazingly creative and embodies innovation and invention,” said Marvette Pérez, curator at the National Museum of American History. “The genre is fluid and transforms itself continuously. This music speaks to people across the world as it is easily adapted to the music and language of other countries, however, the genre is sometimes misunderstood and misrepresented due to the content,” she added.

Over the next three to five years, the museum plans to reach out to the hip-hop community across the nation to gather additional objects and oral histories. An advisory panel, made up of artists, producers, scholars and others will assist in defining and refining the project. The museum also will host a number of public programs and scholarly symposia to further explore the content. Watch this space for news!

During a special ceremony in New York on February 28, 2006, hip-hop pioneers Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, Ice T, Fab 5 Freddy, and Crazy Legs participated in a press event announcing the Museum's initiative. Several of these hip-hop greats, including MC Lyte, were the first to donate objects to “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life.”

The long-range vision for “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop” includes a comprehensive exhibition for millions of museum visitors and a companion traveling display.

Staff will be seeking financial support from individuals, corporations and associations to fund the project.

The National Museum of American History is committed to exploring the entire breadth of American history. To do so, the museum preserves some three million artifacts, including Duke Ellington’s unpublished music; costumes from Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Celia Cruz; and instruments used by Prince, Tito Puente and Herbie Hancock.

Related Links:

  • Press Release: "National Museum of American History Displays Recent Hip-Hop Acquisitions," July 7, 2006
  • Press Release: "Hip-Hop Comes to the Smithsonian," February 28, 2006

To Donate Objects:

If you wish to donate objects to the collection, please contact the museum at hiphop@si.edu or (202)-633-3613.

To Be a Sponsor:

This multi-year project to build the collection and to develop and construct the exhibition will cost approximately $2 million. If you wish to be part of this exciting new initiative to bring hip-hop to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and would like to provide financial support, please contact the project at hiphop@si.edu or (202)-633-3613.