New York Celebrates 50 Years of Hip-Hop

From a display of Jay-Z lyrics on the Brooklyn Library’s front to a concert of rap pioneers at Yankee Stadium, New York is commemorating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, a genre born in its ghettos and now dominating worldwide.

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A sprawling exhibition within the library examines the career of one of Brooklyn’s most famous sons, documenting his climb from “a street-smart hustler to a globally revered music mogul.”

Shawn Carter, the musician, wrote about doing drugs in the Marcy Houses housing project where he grew up before becoming a billionaire rapper whose marriage to Beyonce established one of pop culture’s most famous couples.

“I’ve never really been to a lot of exhibitions,” said 31-year-old warehouse worker Jamarly Thomas, joking that he goes by “Jay-T.”

“So to witness something like this from my favorite rapper is pretty mind-blowing. For a lot of African American kids coming up here, he can set an example for them that they can be bigger,” Thom-as added.

The free exhibition, developed by Jay-Z’s entertainment firm Roc Nation, opened on Friday and is dubbed “The Book of HOV,” a reference to one of the 53-year-old’s nicknames.

Jay-Z’s hits include “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” in 1998 and “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” in 2001.

He also pushed the frontiers of rap, particularly with his megahit “Empire State of Mind,” and he owns the record for the most number-one albums on the Billboard 200, with 14. Only the Beatles have 19 more.

Over the weekend, long lines formed as admirers rushed to see the exhibition or register for one of thirteen Brooklyn Library cards imprinted with the artist’s record covers.

The tribute precedes the opening of another immersive retrospective about the history of hip-hop at the Hall des Lumieres on August 2 as the Big Apple marks half a century of the genre with a slew of events.

– ‘Amazing’ –

Although early elements of hip-hop expression existed for many years prior, musicologists trace its inception to August 11, 1973.

On that day, Jamaican-born DJ Clive Campbell, known DJ Kool Herc, broke new ground on the bottom floor of a low-income building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.

He played the same record on two turntables, isolating rhythm and percussion sequences to lengthen the beat, a key component of hip-hop music.

Lil Kim, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Run DMC, and The Sugarhill Gang, whose song “Rapper’s Delight” is widely regarded as the first commercially successful hip-hop single, will also perform.

“When we first started, nobody was interested in hiring a hip-hop DJ, or getting an emcee or getting some breakdancers,” said Ralph McDaniels, hip-hop coordinator for the Queens Public Library.

“To be celebrating 50 years is amazing because there was no value on this,” he told AFP.

Other concerts, block parties and graffiti and breakdance sessions are scheduled to take place across the Big Apple.

– ‘Recognition’ –

The hip-hop movement was born as a way for African Americans and Hispanics to escape poverty and discrimination.

Then, few people would have predicted it would become a billion-dollar phenomenon that inspires not only music, but also sports and fashion.

Another sign of how far it has come: this week, Sotheby’s offered a ruby and diamond ring worn by rapper Tupac Shakur, the Harlem-born icon of California’s West Coast who was murdered in 1996. It is estimated to sell for up to $300,000.

Back at the Jay-Z exhibit, Brooklyn-born Amanda Brown said she was happy the rapper was being honored with the retrospective while he is still alive.

“Singers that did a lot don’t get the recognition until they are gone so this is nice,” the 28-year-old told AFP.

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