Just like in the ’80s, when classic rock faded away and hip-hop swooped in, the second floor of the Grammy Museum, previously occupied by an exhibit entitled “Strange Kozmic Experience” that featured classic rock artists such as Jimi Hendrix, now features a new installation entitled “Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey.”
The exhibit, based on the large, photo- and essay-heavy coffee table style book of the same name, focuses not only on hip-hop music, but also on hip-hop as an all-encompassing artistic and cultural movement. It accomplishes this by featuring artifacts and information about the four main elements of hip-hop: DJing, MCing, b-boy/break dancing and graffiti.
The exhibit also features hip-hop fashion from different eras. There’s an entire wall filled with Jordan sneakers, one pair for each year since their 1984 invention. Everlast even donated a wall of sneakers from his presumably enormous private collection to demonstrate hip-hop’s strong ties to fashion culture, especially sneaker fashion.
The most intimate artifacts the exhibit displays are original, handwritten lyric sheets from 2Pac, Eminem, Wyclef Jean and Eazy-E. 2Pac’s lyrics include an intriguing sketch of a gun shooting a microphone, while Eminem’s lyric sheet is filled with scribbles and scratched out phrases. Eazy-E’s sheet, however, is legible and neat, which is somewhat ironic because of the violent and obscene nature of the lyrics.
Also on display from the late Eazy is his signature blue Carhartt suit and Compton hat worn in the video for N.W.A.’s “100 Miles and Runnin’.” That outfit can be found in the West Coast hip-hop case, right next to one of Snoop Dogg’s black jackets.
The exhibit also features interactive materials, such as digital turntables for users to scratch and samplers for museumgoers to make beats.
All of these artifacts and many more were unveiled during a party at the museum Tuesday night, featuring legendary DJ Afrika Bambaataa.
Since the event was about hip-hop, it was easy to spot the celebrities in the building, as the party’s host would get on the microphone in true MC fashion and yell things like “Mike Tyson is in the house!” Among the many celebrities in attendance, besides the Iron Mike, were early hip-hop legends Busy Bee, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Kool Keith.
Busy Bee even gave a short performance to the crowd, performing hits like 1987’s “Suicide” and ad-libbing lyrics about the party.
“Rap is something we do, hip-hop is something we live,” Busy Bee said between songs, as part of a rant about how hip-hop is unfairly criticized.
Going along with that speech, the theme of the party and exhibit was “peace, love, unity and having fun,” a reference to the song “Unity” by Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown, whose daughters were also in attendance.
“That’s the culture of hip-hop,” Busy Bee said.
After Busy Bee’s short set, his former collaborator and main draw of the event, Afrika Bambaataa, manned the turntables.
Much like the numerous artifacts in the exhibit, Bambaataa himself is a piece of history. He’s one of the genre’s original DJs, and his Universal Zulu Nation is a group that promotes positivity and “unity” in youth in an effort to dispel gang violence.
As Bambaataa spun classic hip-hop records, the free drinks had the party attendees loosening up and dancing to his mixes.
The whole scene was reminiscent of the hip-hop history that the museum is currently honoring. Though the backdrop of downtown Los Angeles and the waiters passing around fancy hors d’oeuvres didn’t exactly mirror what things were like in the Bronx in the early ’80s, it still gave some insight into what things must’ve been like when Bambaataa was throwing those original hip-hop parties.
At one point during the night, two LAPD officers showed up, equipped with giant night sticks. Had this been a hip-hop party in Los Angeles 15 or so years ago, an officer’s appearance at a gathering filled with people wearing N.W.A.-honoring “Compton” hats would probably not have ended well.
Tuesday night’s officers, however, seemed more interested in Bambaataa’s performance and the numerous famous faces around them rather than in causing or stopping any trouble.
If the relatively calm presence of the police is any testament, hip-hop is no longer cast off as a lower, dangerous art form, but praised as the cultural odyssey that the museum intends to display.
“Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey” will remain at the Grammy museum until May 4.