CLEVELAND You might not think a suit worn by jazz great
Cab Calloway would belong in a rap
exhibit, but "Roots, Rhymes & Rage: The Hip-Hop Story" reveals that the
young history of hip-hop has strong ties to its musical and cultural
"We feel this exhibit has something for everyone," said Santina
Protopapa, education program director for the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame. "Hip-hop is a global phenomenon. Its language and dress have come
to define much of contemporary pop culture."
The exhibit, which opened at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
last November and will run through August, features more than 50
costumes and includes artifacts from
COLOR="#003163">Run-D.M.C. COLOR="#003163">Flavor Flav
COLOR="#003163">Run-D.M.C., a clock donated by
COLOR="#003163">Flavor Flavand even a few pairs of funky old
Most of the artifacts are on loan from the artists or their estates.
"Once the exhibits shift to New York it will be expanded," Protopapa
said. "Hip-hop originated in New York and we're sure more artists from
that area will contribute to the collection."
But the Cleveland exhibit didn't receive short shrift. The exhibit spans
three floors of the museum and is organized into different sections: the
Block Party, the Roots, the Golden Era, Controversy, Outrage & the Rise
of Gangsta Rap and Pop Goes the Culture. The latter underscores the
genre's pop success, from MC Hammer
and Vanilla Ice to genre moguls
Sean "Puffy" Combs and
COLOR="#003163">Master P. The display also pays tribute to
the Sugar Hill Gang, whose "Rapper's
Delight" recording, released more than 20 years ago, was hip-hop's first
COLOR="#003163">Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
COLOR="#003163">Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five,
Afrika Bambaataa and other hip-hop
pioneers, whose live performances are near-legendary events, are only
featured to a minor extent. But that does not diminish the exhibit's
effect and scope.
"Roots, Rhymes & Rage" clearly shows the economic influences the music
has had in the last decade. Hip-hop has risen from the backbeats of
urban streets and now is affecting every aspect of contemporary pop
culture, from merchandising and sales to fashion.
Jennifer Grodin, a hip-hop fan who made the trip to the exhibit from
Dayton, Ohio, was surprised to see how extensive the displays of hip-hop
"I had no idea how vast this exhibit was," Grodin said. "I like how they
have integrated some of the lyrics into the displays and the clothing."
Grodin, like many other viewers, was drawn to the gold ring once sported
by Tupac Shakur and a red leather
coat and tan suit worn by the Notorious
B.I.G. Both artists were victims of unsolved drive-by
The exhibit also features a film, "Style Wars," the first documentary
about hip-hop culture, produced by Pittsburgh native Henry Chalfont, a
photographer, and his partner Tony Silver, a filmmaker. It chronicles
the war between New York's subway graffiti artists and city officials.
Get To The Basics
Overall, the exhibit begins ostensibly with an exploration into the four
principle elements of hip-hop: DJing (cutting and scratching), MCing,
graffiti art and breakdancing. This presentation includes an interactive
video for viewers. There are even photos of former president Ronald
Reagan with the New York City Breakers.
Most provocative is the section that explores hip-hop's political and
controversial messages. Here, among other things, are legal appeals from
2 Live Crew's infamous obscenity
trial, and a letter from the FBI that addresses
COLOR="#003163">Ice-T's "Cop Killer" recording.
"Obviously we couldn't present the entire hop-hop culture in one
exhibit," said Protopapa. "But our aim was to do service to the genre.
We feel everyone has been able to take something from the exhibit."
Preceding the exhibit's opening in November was a three-day hip-hop
conference sponsored by Cleveland State University's black studies
department. There, Chuck D,
COLOR="#003163">KRS-Oneand journalist/activist Harry Allen
held workshops and panel discussions on the origins and evolution of
This September, the exhibit will travel to the Brooklyn Museum, with
other cities expected to follow.