"South Bronx, South South Bronx..." Ruben Diaz Jr. raps gleefully. The Bronx native and current borough president is letting everyone know where he comes from. It's a little after 11:30am and I'm watching politicians and city officials geek out over rappers— something that will never not be strange. LL Cool J, Nas, Fat Joe, Slick Rick, Chuck D, Grandmaster Flash, PMD and Dave East have joined Diaz and then-Mayor Bill DeBlasio, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and City Council Member Diana Ayala to break ground at the future home of the Universal Hip Hop Museum.
I'm standing in the middle of a construction site. I kick around the dirt, hoping that I wore the right shoes. Bronx Point, located at 50 East 150th Street, will be a $349 million mixed-use development. The Universal Hip Hop Museum is expected to be finished in 2024.
2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. It's mind-blowing that hip-hop is turning 50 years old. That's grown. Like, middle-aged. It could be literally be somebody's Dad. Honestly, it is pretty much the collective parent of today's pop culture... but that's a whole other dissertation.
A few months after the groundbreaking, U.S. Congress officially passed Res. 331 designating August 11, 2021 as "Hip Hop Celebration Day", designating August 2021 as "Hip Hop Recognition Month" and designating November 2021 as "Hip Hop History Month."
"Hip Hop is my life. Hip Hop saved my life. Hip Hop gave me knowledge of self. Hip Hop is who I am, Congressman Bowman (D-NY), who co-sponsored the bill with Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) said. "The celebration of Hip Hop history and the study of it is essential to our democracy, our innovation, our voice, and who we are as human beings."
It's amazing to see that hip-hop made it this far. First Jay-Z gets inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and now this. Imagine that future generations might actually learn about hip-hop in textbooks, the same way we learned about the pilgrims or American Revolution. Hip-hop could be treated as American history and culture and not the outlaw fringe, quick cash grab for companies trying to be cool or red-headed stepchild of the music industry. We're not even going to get into the latter, because we've got limited word count here!
Knowing your history is important. Gen-Z, in particular, often gets a bad wrap for not doing its homework and thinking that they invented hip-hop with SoundCloud. Go back into the history. Dig into the crates (which is easier than ever with streaming) and go listen to classic albums. Respect the OGs. But also, remember that hip-hop is a living, breathing thing. It's not just the old school. It's not just one coast or even, just America at the point. It's a global culture that dictates culture, fashion, lifestyle and politics.
Last week, I was at YouTube Music's celebration of National Hip Hop Month, which featured Slick Rick, DJ Premier, Uncle Ralph McDaniels and others, and industry vet Kevin Liles said something that's been on my mind:
For those of you who don't know, Liles had a storied "started from the bottom" career trajectory from intern to President of Def Jam Records. His career in hip-hop spans decades. Fun fact: I still have a heavily-highlighted copy of his 2005 biography, Make It Happen, on my bookshelf.
If you love hip-hop--whether as a fan or by making an actual livelihood from it--you have the responsibility to contribute to its growth. That doesn't just mean making empowered decisions in boardrooms and corner offices (although that's important too). It's about representation and evolution. The moves we make today--the music we stream, the artists we support, mentoring and promoting underrepresented voices, embracing inclusivity, placing accountability on gatekeepers--has impact. How we use our platforms, no matter how small or large, has influence beyond one post. Just think about it: What we do now is going to literally be in a museum one day.
So ask yourself, what are you doing for hip-hop?
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