Hip-Hop Comes to the Smithsonian

Multi-year Initiative to Gather Broad Collection on Hip-Hop Culture and Culminate in Comprehensive Exhibition
February 27, 2006
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. During a special ceremony in New York today, pioneers from the hip-hop community donated objects to “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life,” a major collecting initiative by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. 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 today from Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, Ice T, Fab 5 Freddy, Crazy Legs and MC Lyte (who could not attend) 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. Initial funding from Universal Music and support from Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam and the Chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, has allowed the museum to officially launch the project and begin the collecting process. 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. Rap, rhythmically spoken verse over a beat, has roots in rhythm & blues and funk as well as African, Jamaican and Latin music. Artists sample music that already exists but assemble it in new ways that haven’t been thought of before. “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 few years, the museum plans to reach out to the community 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. The long-range vision for “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop” includes a comprehensive exhibition for millions of museum visitors and a companion traveling display. 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. Learn more about the “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life" project here. The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage through exhibitions and public programs about social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum, located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000, (202) 357-1729 (TTY).