The hip-hop we know today– the kind that offers out arenas, acquire Grammy awards and gets significant radio airtime– grew from DJing and breakdancing in New york city City.
A new exhibit at Fotografiska, the photography museum in the Flatiron District, traces the genre’s evolution from its early days to today through 200 effective pictures by 57 professional photographers. “Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious,” which opened today, runs through May 21. The exhibit commemorates hip-hop as the prominent category turns 50 years old.
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“There was a time when hip-hop wasn’t mindful of itself. There was a time when it understood itself where we started to see ourselves and understand ourselves through the video and photography and whatever else and that’s what this program represents,” stated Sacha Jenkins, CEO of the company Mass Appeal, who co-curated the exhibition with photography specialist Sally Berman. “What hip-hop is, is a reflection of itself and a response to the environment. … Through hip-hop you can learn a lot about what’s going on in our communities and what needs to change.”
Photograph: By Charlie Ahearn|Grand Master Flash, Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Chris Stein of Blondie and good friend (1981)/ Courtesy of Fotografiska New york city and copyright of the artist
Fifty years ago on August 11, 1973, Kool Herc (aka Clive Campbell) tossed a back-to-school celebration at 1520 Sedgwick Opportunity in the Bronx; lots of call it the establishing party of hip-hop, though Jenkins stated other DJs pre-date this by a bit.
“Youths discovered a way to be creative,” Jenkins said. “Before hip-hip was conscious of itself, it was a way for us to express ourselves.”
The display begins in that unconscious period showcasing stories of daily individuals– not hip-hop stars– in the South Bronx. Photos record graffiti, the Savage Skulls gang posing for an image, artfully painted denim jackets and kids break dancing.
“We didn’t understand what it was, it was just what we did,” stated Jenkins stated. “Eventually hop-hop started to comprehend there was a visual we had constructed as kids in NEW YORK CITY.”
Walking through the timeline of hip-hop, you’ll see a bootleg 8-track of “Rapper’s Delite” by the Sugar Hill Gang, a handwritten invitation to an early hip-hop party and a Village Voice article titled “Physical Graffiti: Breaking is Tough to Do.”
Picture: Josh Cheuse|Beastie Boys Radio City New York (1985)/ Thanks To Fotografiska New York and copyright of the artist
As the display continues, it reveals the movement strengthening into a famed category.
Each borough of New York City used its own spin on the music. “Brooklyn doesn’t seem like Queens, and Queens does not sound like the Bronx and lucrative Manhattan is constantly smashin.’ As for the island of Staten– The Wu-Tang “W” beams from the shanty towns of Shaolin to the remainder of the world,” Jenkins wrote in a text panel at the exhibit.
Photograph: By Jonathan Mannion|Technique Daddy, Miami, FL (2004)/ Thanks To Fotografiska New York and copyright of the artist
However the program isn’t almost NYC. It also spotlights Southern hip-hop and West Coast musicians also, all leading up to the musical leaders of today.
Here’s just a handful of the artists you’ll see in images: Tupac, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Ice Cube, The Well-known B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, The Game, DMX, Ja Rule, Xzibit, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, Sis Souljah, Nas, Approach Man, Talib Kweli, Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, The Beastie Boys, The Roots, Foxy Brown, Eve, P. Diddy, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Erykah Badu, Future, Technique Daddy, Pharrell, Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, Mac Miller, Drake, 21 Savage and Cardi B.
The images develop as the genre develops, from photojournalistic street scenes to glossy magazine-style images.
Photo: Theo Wenner|Future, Atlanta (2016)/ Thanks To Fotografiska New York and copyright of the artist
Images range from well-known pictures you’ve likely seen before to rare pictures. The exhibition spans five decades and 2 stories of the museum. Fotografiska will also provide programming consisting of household workshops, zine making, talks, panel discussions and yoga.
In addition to the exhibition at Fotografiska, there’s another display in The Bronx hip-hop fans won’t wish to miss.
” [R] Advancement of Hip Hop” is on view through the summer of 2023 at Bronx Terminal Market checking out the genre from 1986-1990, called the golden era of hip-hop. The exhibit is put on by The Universal Hip Hop Museum, which is currently under construction and slated to open in 2024 at Bronx Point. A dollar of every ticket offered to the Fotografiska display will benefit The Universal Hip Hop Museum.
Photograph: By Campbell Addy|Megan Thee Stallion positioning for The Cut Magazine (2022)/ Courtesy of Fotografiska New york city and copyright of the artist
Keep an eye out for more Hip Hop 50 events this year, all commemorating of five years of the most influential pop culture motion of its generation.
“Hip-hop is for everyone, and I think that’s a stunning thing,” Jenkins said. “We just should not forget where it originates from and what it truly suggests.”