Rhythms, Rhymes, & Visionaries: The Universal Hip-Hop Museum
The identity of Hip-Hop culture has long been vital and significant to the re-imagination of Blackness (Note: the brown community also contributed to this culture) through visual art, music, dance, poetry, theater, and literature that has truly transformed this artistry of self-expression and freedom dreaming into a radical vision. This musical production, which emerged in 1973 in the Bronx, New York, has not only challenged the lens of American society but has offered an escape from the political and social issues of poverty, policing, and racial inequity that have long stifled the hopes and aspirations of Black life. Thankfully, within this escapism, one can engage with these impactful, complex mixes of art, styles, and sounds of authentic storytelling at the one and only Universal Hip Hop Museum (UHHM) - The Official Record of Hip Hop.
Approximately thirteen years ago, Executive Director Rocky Bucano founded UHHM along with a group of iconic entrepreneurs like Kurtis Blow, Shawn “LG” Thomas, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Mickey Bentson, Joe Conzo, Jr., Grandmaster Melle Mel, and many, many others who played a vital role in the groundwork of this devotion to Hip Hop. According to SenYon Kelly, current Operations Manager and Co-Curator of [R]Evolution of Hip-Hop Exhibit, this collection of individuals, “...were pioneers in their own right,” thus further propelling the importance of recognizing and “...preserving the rich history…” of Hip Hop over the last fifty years. She has been passionate about the archives of culture since age six, proudly describing this fascination as “...a love of [hers] for a very long time.” Such fondness resurfaced in the year 2017 after connecting with Bucano to start her volunteer work at UHHM, thus reigniting the memories of her youth.
Throughout my conversation with Kelly, it remains clear that UHHM desires to maintain a permanent space to celebrate the music that has embraced the intersecting identities and influences that continue to touch the hearts and souls of its consumers nationally. Kelly passionately shares, “To be able to have people create something because of lack or the strife of their community, [and] to come from rubble to a multi-million dollar business,” faithfully validates Kelly’s claim, “We never gave up!” The term “universal” within the museum’s title alone exemplifies the impact, the movement, and the storytelling and the culture of Hip Hop that “...has always been about community, having fun, being resilient,” as Kelly eloquently puts it.
If one ever finds themselves in the Bronx, paying a visit is highly recommended to fully experience the current [R]Evolution exhibit that will conclude this upcoming September to focus on their new Travel Exhibit to make this art form accessible to all. It is safe to say this museum serves to be a stomping ground for the Hip Hop creatives, legends, and pioneers who were once rejected and forgotten, which therefore demonstrates to the people that the accomplishment of carving out this space was, in fact, possible. And thanks to The Universal Hip Hop Museum and its wonderful founders and contributors like Bucano and Kelly, we can see this as truth.