History Museum to Chronicle Roots of Hip-Hop

Hip-hop artists say they will turn over relics such as vinyl records, CDs and diaries to the National Museum of American History. The museum plans to open an exhibit tracing hip-hop from its origins in the South Bronx to its emergence as a global phenomenon.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has announced an ambitious new project. It's starting a major collection that will trace the history of hip-hop.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some hip-hop pioneers join museum officials to make this announcement. Among them, Afrika Bambaataa;

(Soundbite of Afrika Bambaataa's music)

INSKEEP: Grandmaster Flash--

(Soundbite of Grandmaster Flash's music)

MONTAGNE: And Ice-T.

(Soundbite of Ice-T's music)

MONTAGNE: NPR's Margot Adler attended yesterday's announcement.

MARGOT ADLER reporting:

In a tiny room in the New York Hilton, hip-hop artists, museum officials and the media gathered. Two tables were piled with a few of the artifacts the artists had donated: posters, T-shirts, mixers, boom boxes, records, CD's and diaries. Standing somewhat incongruously in a smart gray suit and gold tie, the Smithsonian's director, Brent Glass, was surrounded by hip-hop artists in bulky coats, black shirts and sunglasses, including Ice-T, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Russell Simmons and Cool Herk.

Glass said it was appropriate that this museum would create and house the collection that would trace hip-hop from its emergence in the 1970s in the neighborhoods of the South Bronx, to what has become a global phenomenon affecting fashion, sports and technology as well as music.

Mr. BRENT GLASS (Director, National Museum of American History Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution): The National Museum of American History is unique. This is the only museum in the country--the only museum in the world--that has the mission of telling the whole story of American history.

ADLER: It is fitting, Glass said, that a museum that houses the Star-Spangled Banner and the Woolworth lunch counter where the first civil rights sit-in took place will now have such a collection.

Mr. GLASS: The history of America cannot be told without America's music. America's music is the soundtrack of American history.

ADLER: Seven hip-hop artists spoke, many spilling out their life stories, and several wanting to explain away misconceptions about hip-hop and to put rap in context. Afrika Bambaataa said rap didn't come out of nowhere. You can take it back, he said.

Mr. AFRIKA BAMBAATAA (Hip-Hop Recording Artist): To Gil Scott Heron, (unintelligible) or the last poets. We can take it back to Cab Calloway with Hi-De-Hi-De-Ho. We can take it back to Sly and the Family Stone if you listen to the Dance to the Music album. You can take rap back to many of y'all who seen the Music Man by Robert Preston when he told about we got trouble right here in River City.

ADLER: And he gave a score of other examples. Ice-T, known for gangsta rap, told the media he himself had come out of a life of crime and had once wanted to be a pimp--that he wasn't glorifying violence, but telling the truth of what was out there on the streets. When you talk to guys in prison, he said, they won't listen unless they believe you are real.

Mr. TRACY MORROW, ICE-T (Rap Artist): You can't be positive until you meet somebody positive. If you dealin' with cats that's robbin' banks, that's all you talk about all day long. The one thing about gangsta rap that's really important, no matter how negative it--they may be, there is a mindset in the street like that.

ADLER: And you can't pretend it doesn't exist. You have to start where people are. The last speaker was an artist named Crazy Legs who said What I am proud of is my son will take his lady and his kids someday to the museum and check out his dad. The project is expected to cost as much as $2 million and to take up to five years to complete. By the summer, there should be a small exhibition at the museum, traveling exhibitions will come later. Museum officials have yet to raise the money which will come from private donors. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of "It's Like That" by Run-D.M.C.)

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