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Clip: Smithsonian's Doors Open to a Hip-Hop Beat

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  • Carl Z.
    Smithsonian s Doors Open to a Hip-Hop Beat By BEN SISARIO Published: March 1, 2006 Grandmaster Flash
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2006

      Smithsonian's Doors Open to a Hip-Hop Beat

      Published: March 1, 2006

      Grandmaster Flash gave his prized Technics turntable. Ice-T offered
      vintage tour T-shirts and rare CD's. Afrika Bambaataa gave a trove of
      jackets, caps and jewelry in his trademark Afrocentric style.

      All will go to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of
      American History in Washington, where they will reside alongside the
      flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the Woolworth's
      lunch counter from Greensboro, N.C., where four black students sat for
      civil rights in 1960.

      At an emotional and at times rowdy news conference yesterday at the
      Hilton New York, a group of hip-hop pioneers gathered beside the
      dark-suited, white-gloved Smithsonian staff to announce a plan for a
      major new collection devoted to the music. Called "Hip-Hop Won't Stop:
      The Beat, the Rhymes, the Life," it is to be a broad sampling of
      memorabilia, from boomboxes and vinyl albums to handwritten lyrics and
      painted jeans jackets, as well as multimedia exhibits and oral

      "Now whenever anybody asks me about my music," Ice-T said, he would
      direct him — with a torrent of blunt epithets — "to the museum."

      Brent D. Glass, the director of the museum, said the project was begun
      in recent months with seed money from Universal Records and was still
      in its earliest stages of planning. But he said that he and his
      curators believed the time had come to recognize hip-hop, with its
      straight-from-the-gut raps and minimalist funk, as a significant
      cultural force that had spread all over the United States and,
      increasingly, the world.

      "American music is the soundtrack to American history," Mr. Glass
      said. "Hip-hop has been a part of American music for more than 30

      With help from the music industry, the museum has been soliciting
      donations, and most of the initial contributors were present: in
      addition to Ice-T, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, Russell
      Simmons, DJ Kool Herc and the dancer Crazy Legs have opened their
      archives, and were clearly proud of the recognition.

      "Nobody expected this thing 35 years ago to be mentioned in the
      Smithsonian conversation," said Kool Herc, one of the prime
      technological innovators in the early days of hip-hop in the Bronx,
      who was still trying to decide what to donate.

      The National Museum of American History is not the first major
      institution to collect hip-hop materials. The Experience Music Project
      in Seattle has also built a sizable collection, and in 1999 the Rock
      and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland organized an exhibition of hip-hop
      memorabilia that traveled to the Brooklyn Museum.

      Mr. Simmons, the impresario who was a founder of the Def Jam label,
      said that at first he had feared that hip-hop's inclusion in a major
      museum would mean it had lost its power and novelty. His initial
      thought when contacted by the Smithsonian, he said, was "It must be

      But in an opinion echoed by nearly every speaker, Mr. Simmons
      suggested that as hip-hop aged it was in danger of losing its
      connection to its roots and that younger fans and performers would
      profit from direct experience of the music's history. Hip-hop, he
      said, is "the only real description of the suffering of our people."

      Museum officials say that the collection may take three to five years
      to develop and that they are still approaching musicians about
      donations. When complete, they say, the collection will be used for a
      long-term exhibition. The museum also plans scholarly symposiums to
      discuss the content, as well as a traveling show.

      Afrika Bambaataa, who helped integrate hip-hop with electronic music
      in the early 1980's on recordings that remain influential, praised the
      museum in his familiar declamatory tone for its attention to
      "factology" in representing the music's history.

      "Brothers and sisters," he said, "this is beautiful that the
      Smithsonian Institution is recognizing hip-hop culture for what it
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