Preserving The History Of Hip-Hop

Craig Wilson grew up in the building where hip-hop was born back in 1973. Now, he's leading an effort to build a museum to the music. Wilson talks to host Guy Raz about preserving the history of hip-hop.

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GUY RAZ, host:

There are museums dedicated to just about everything: art and film, sports, dinosaurs, rock 'n' roll, Elvis. But right now, nowhere in America can you find a museum dedicated to this:

(Soundbite of song, "Rapper's Delight")

SUGARHILL GANG (Hip-hop Group): (Singing) I said a hip hop the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don't stop...

RAZ: Well, Craig Wilson is trying to change that. He's raising money to build a new national museum of hip-hop, with branches planned for Harlem and The Bronx, the neighborhood where rap is born, and Craig Wilson is in our New York studio.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. CRAIG WILSON (Co-founder, National Museum of Hip-Hop): Thank you very much, Guy.

RAZ: So if a skeptical person were to ask, why a hip-hop museum? What would you say?

Mr. WILSON: My first reaction to that question is always, why not? And I say that because if you look at a lot of the other museums that are created, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you know, the Country Museum, the Experience Music Project, Grammy Museum, they're there for a reason, and that reason is they need to preserve the art form. It's the same thing with hip-hop.

As a matter of fact, hip-hop is much bigger than just music anyway. Hip-hop is made of four original elements. Rap is the musical portion, graffiti art is the fine-art portion, DJing is the technical portion, and break dancing is the dance portion. And all these four elements, you need them together to make hip-hop, and I think that's where a lot of people get it twisted is they think hip-hop is the music, but no, hip-hop is the culture.

RAZ: One of things I saw you quoted talking about was this idea that young kids who are listening to sort of big rap stars, like Jay-Z or Nas, who's going to be on our program later on, is that they don't really - they're not really aware of where that music came from. They don't really know or understand the foundation of that music. So what do you - how do you sort of explain it to them?

Mr. WILSON: A lot of these kids, you know, a five-year-old, they're only going to know Lil Wayne, Lil Wayne, Lil Wayne, and Lil Wayne is dope, but there would be no Lil Wayne or Soulja Boy or Missy Elliott or even Nas if there was no KRS-One, if there was no Rakim, if there was no, you know, Grandmaster Flash.

(Soundbite of song, "New York New York")

GRANDMASTER FLASH (Rapper): (Singing) New York New York big city of dreams. Everything in New York ain't always what it seems. You might get fooled if you come from out of town. But I'm down by law and I know my way around.

RAZ: What do you imagine the museum to look like?

Mr. WILSON: This is not a facility where you're going to come in and see a bunch of Adidas hanging on the glass and, you know, a boom box. That's not what this is. This is a fully interactive, highly technological, absolutely interactive museum. For example, the graffiti department, which is our biggest department, you know, when you, you know, come in, and you see the train car, the full-size train car, and you know, we let you tag that train. Instead of doing it outside, where it breaks the law, you do it inside the museum, and this way, we still cultivate the culture and cultivate the art form and still keep it authentic.

RAZ: Anyone from the industry gotten in touch with you and said, yup, I'm on board?

Mr. WILSON: Sure. Right now, we have endorsements from everyone from Russell Simmons all the way down to KRS-One and Chuck Dee, and a lot of people want to see this happen. The industry wants to see it happen, the culture definitely wants to see it happen. The hip-hop fans want to see it happen. So we're doing it.

RAZ: Craig Wilson is the co-founder of the National Museum of Hip-Hop. Craig, thanks so much, and good luck.

Mr. WILSON: Thank you, Guy.

(Soundbite of music)

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