Oakland Museum of California Celebrates 45th Anniversary of Hip Hop with Rare Items from Tupac and LL Cool J

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hip hop exibit
Young Boyz, East Flatbrush, Brooklyn, 1981, photo print. (Jamel Shabazz)

To mark the 45th anniversary of hip-hop, the Oakland Museum of California has unveiled a new exhibit marking four key aspects of the genre.

Now through April 12, visitors who glimpse “RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom” will be able to discover everything from hip hop’s origins on the east and west coast to how it became a form of self-expression.

René de Guzman, director of exhibition strategy and senior curator of art, tapped 50 hip-hop artists, historians and members of the community to inform the interactive exhibition. It traces four different aspects of the genre: MCing, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti.

“Hip hop is not just a music genre or even a cultural activity, it’s a set of values that describe a community,” de Guzman, told Smithsonian.com. “It’s also becoming good at what you do and giving back to the community where you’re from. It’s about diversity and contributions, as well as empowering the community and young people.”

Featuring photography, music, art, fashion, dancing and video along with rare items by rap’s biggest stars — like Tupac’s handwritten essay and LL Cool J’s jumpsuit — there’s also a portion that highlights contributions from the San Francisco Bay Area. They include popping and locking as well as the entrepreneurialism that rappers like Too $hort engaged in by selling mixtapes out of his car because radio wouldn’t play his songs.

De Guzman hopes the exhibit can give visitors ideas about how they can become a part of the culture. Additionally, he notes that the notion that rap is all about gang banging and misogyny are simply inaccurate.

“I’ve heard a lot of people over the years say that hip-hop is misogynistic and about gangs, but that’s usually the commercial stuff that gets overplayed, and it’s a minor part of the whole culture,” he said. “[With this exhibition we wanted to focus on] the wisdom that hip-hop passes along. There are universes of other activities that hip-hop folks feel are the center of their lives that have nothing to do with misogyny and gangs. Hip-hop has evolved from a rebellious youth culture to a cultural benefit, and now that it’s approaching its 45th anniversary, the people who were a part of hip hop’s origin stories are now leaders within the community.”

Tickets for the exhibit are available online for $19.95 for adult non-members of the Oakland Museum of California and must be reserved for specific time slots.

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