The Smithsonian is launching “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life,” an exhibit dedicated to honoring the culture of hip-hop and its place in American history.
Artists are to donate hip-hop relics to the museum. The initiative hopes to collect items from the 1970s when hip-hop originated in the Bronx, N.Y., to the present day. The museum is not just collecting things, but it also hopes to tell stories. The museum anticipates spending a portion of its funds recording oral histories from artists.
Naturally, organizers don’t know what to expect, and although they gave recommendations, there seems to be no limitations on what donors can give. Grandmaster Flash gave a turntable and hat; even more personal items, such as a diary belonging to MC Lyte was donated.
Hip-hop is more than a few interesting beats; it is not simply a genre of music. The main elements of hip-hop include the art of the emcee, disc jockey, break dancing and graffiti. But hip-hop culture is ever-evolving, and it includes many other characteristics, such as double Dutch, political activism and hip-hop slang.
Hip-hop is a holistic culture and way of life. More importantly, it is an expression of struggle. Hip-hop has a cause to educate and resist whatever forms of oppression the participating artists feel.
Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Records, was a bit skeptical of the project, worrying that something will be lost by placing a few items into a display case. Hip-hop, he believes, belongs to the streets, and it comes from people who see neither recognition nor opportunity.
When museum curator Marvette Perez says things like “I would love to see more jewelry, more bling-bling,” that reduces hip-hop culture to something material, and it takes away from the real wealth that hip-hop brings to this country.
The social conflicts that gave birth to hip-hop cannot be ignored and emphasis shouldn’t be placed on the “big names.” By doing this, the Smithsonian can give justice to presenting hip-hop culture.