Hip-Hop Revolution | Museum of the City of New York


The Museum of the City of New York is one those great institutions that never quite gets the attention–and, so, the crowds–it deserves. Which, if you're a regular NYC museum-goer (overly) familiar with the mob scenes at MoMA, the Met, and the new Whitney, isn't a bad thing at all. Located in that majestic Georgian Colonial-Revival building up on 103rd (and right across the street from the also pleasantly uncrowded Conservatory Gardens in Central Park), MCNY offers generous, fascinating takes on all aspects of NYC living, past, present, and future. The fantastic Designs by Paul Rand show is still on view, but equally good is the Hip-Hop Revolution exhibition, which features photographs by three of the scene's most famous early chroniclers, Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo, and the legendary Martha Cooper.


The Museum of the City of New York Presents Hip-Hop Revolution

Hip-Hop Revolution features more than 80 photographs taken by this illustrious trio between 1977 and 1990, though there's a clear and welcome emphasis on the early years, when the confluence of a new style of singing (in the form of rapping), dancing (breaking), and DJing (scratching), produced a sound and a scene that simply had not existed before. I was fortunate enough to attend a panel discussion by the three photographers, at which Cooper told her classic story about her famous break-dancing picture, shown at top. Cooper was working for the Post in 1980 when the photo was taken, and apparently her editors had sent her to Washington Heights to cover a "riot" in the subway. When she got to the transit police station a group of young teenagers were just being released; turns out they had been break dancing on the platform, which the NYPD had interpreted as fighting! Cooper followed them out and asked the kids, who called themselves the High Times Crew, to show her what they had been doing, and so the earliest known photograph of break dancing came into being.          


Martha Cooper, Janette Beckman & Joe Conzo at the Museum of the City of New York

Joe Conzo also has a bunch of great stories behind his iconic images of some of the first rap shows (though they weren't called that then) in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan. Conzo ran with the Cold Crush Brothers and the Rock Steady Crew at the time–they were his neighborhood friends–and he happened to have a camera as well as the willingness and talent to use it, and that's why we have these photos today. Janette Beckman was an established music photographer in the late 1970s a Brit who knew a lot of the early punks, but when she came to New York City she got involved in the Hip-Hop scene, and shot the likes of LL Cool J, EPMD, Queen Latifah, Biz Markie, Salt-N-Pepa,and Run DMC. Other pioneers such as Afrika Bambaata, Kool Herc, Marley Marl, and Grandmaster Flash are also represented, as are plenty of anonymous b-boys looking fly in those amazing styles. If you haven't been to MCNY in a while, it makes for a great reason to spend an afternoon in that neck of the Upper East Side/Central Park woods.        


For More Information on Hip-Hop Revolution at the Museum of the City of New York

Hip-Hop Revolution will be at the Museum of the City of New York through September 27. The MCNY is located at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue, and is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.


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