The Universal Hip Hop Museum operates a small lab for exhibits at 610 Exterior St., as it awaits its grand opening across the street in 2024. On Tuesday, the museum will present its third exhibit — [R]Evolution of Hip Hop. The interactive exhibit focuses on the years 1986 through 1990, which according to chief curator, Paradise Gray of the 1989-1995 Hip Hop group X Clan, is considered the golden era of the genre.
“This is the meat when some of the most important albums of all time were released by some of the most important artists. Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, KRS One,” says Gray as he continues down the list of legendary names.
The plaque on the wall instructs visitors: “put on your shell-toe Adidas Superstars and take a step back [in] time.”
Groups are then led into a space the size of a small shipping container and sequestered in darkness with the exception of one radioactive-green light that reads “PUSH IT.” “Push it real good,” jokes the tour guide Kylerr Bucano, son of the museum’s founder, Rocky Bucano.
The music begins and multi-colored LED lights begin to shine and dance in rhythm with the beat as the space converts into a disco. After a few minutes, visitors are let out the end opposite they entered and met with a spray-painted mural, graffiti and digital screens with special spray cans one can use to put up their own tags.
The Dapper Dan Lounge sports plush seats and a sofa with a glass-top coffee table in the center of the room. The table holds ticket stubs, pins and flyers of groups like Run DMC and Public Enemy. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the larger-than-life boombox with its speakers replaced by screens that visualize the notorious East Coast/West Coast feud in hip-hop. One side sporting east coast performers and the other side, the west. The exhibit will also feature a live DJ booth, encouraging people to let loose and dance.
“This was a labor of love for everybody – it is a community effort and this is what makes it so special,” says Martha Diaz, archivist and associate curator. She and the staff express their thanks to the roughly 30 volunteers of artists, curators, educators and community members that helped bring this work to life. The museum welcomes groups of all ages to join in on the fun and history. “We love children’s groups,” says Renee Foster, director of communications for the museum.
When asked if any special guests would arrive at the opening, Gray replied, “If you want a sneak preview of what it’s going to look like, take a look at the groundbreaking ceremony we had last year.” That ceremony, which took place May 20, 2021, saw the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Fat Joe and LL Cool J. “You guys have to come to find out,” Gray added.
The current installation of the [R]Evolution of Hip Hop exhibition will remain open during Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary in 2023 and will have a final installation prior to the 2024 opening of the museum’s permanent home, according to Foster.
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This story was updated at 2:20 a.m. on June 28.