LifestyleStacy M. Brown

Groundbreaking Scheduled for Universal Hip Hop Museum

Hip-hop music has come a long way since its formative years in the early ’70s led by a band of innovative sound masters who forged new ground: DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa, Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J., The Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow.

Now, nearly five decades later, the ever-evolving genre joins other forms of music that have shaped the American songbook — from rock ‘n’ roll and jazz to country and the Motown Sound — with a permanent “home” — a museum.

The groundbreaking for the historic Universal Hip Hop Museum takes place later this month — fittingly in the place where most agree hip-hop’s origins can be traced: New York City.

Officials promise that patrons will receive an untainted view of the culture’s past by using leading-edge virtual and augmented reality technologies for an immersive online and offline experience not found anywhere else.

The museum announcement also comes with news that affordable housing giant L+M Development Partners, Inc. has struck a major hiring deal with Laborers’ Local 79 — one of North America’s biggest labor unions committed to hiring local workers from within its home base of New York City.

According to Real Estate Weekly, the deal will give the job of building and renovating 3,200 affordable apartments in Harlem, East New York and the Bronx primarily to people who live in the aforementioned communities, paying them $40 per hour as well as providing both healthcare and retirement benefits.

“With this agreement [which includes the Universal Hip Hop Museum], we’re setting a new precedent for how to build permanently affordable housing with union labor, hire locally and create more pathways to the middle class in low-income communities of color,” Mike Prohaska, business manager of Laborers’ Local 79, told Real Estate Weekly.

LL Cool J, Chuck D, former Def Jam president and chairwoman of the Board of Trustees for the museum, Nana Carmen Ashhurst and entertainment manager Rocky Bucano, each expressed their delight.

They talked passionately about the fledgling 50,000-square-foot structure that will grace the Bronx.

“I’m just happy to be supportive of this museum and it’s definitely needed — our culture needs it,” said LL Cool J, one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time who currently stars in the hit television show “NCIS: Los Angeles” and heads the hip-hop-dedicated channel Rock the Bells Radio on SiriusXM.

“The reality is, this is something we need desperately — something we’ll need 200, 300, even 400 years from now,” continued LL Cool J, whose real name is James Todd Smith.

“We have to control our own narrative. This is not a popularity contest. It’s about people like Rocky and Carmen who put in the work. They need to be recognized and need to get that respect.”

“Rock the Bells Radio serves the same purpose that the Universal Hip Hop Museum does — it serves our culture.”

“I recently saw a cover of Rolling Stone that featured Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift together. I want to see Chuck D on the cover with Megan Thee Stallion,” he said.

For Chuck D, who has traveled the world with Public Enemy and other artists and runs Enemy Radio, being a part of the Universal Hip Hop Museum is all about being attentive to the culture.

“I pay attention to and learn from people who lay the groundwork,” proclaimed Public Enemy’s frontman, whose real name is Carlton Douglas Ridenhour.

“With Nana Carmen being president of Def Jam, and following her lead, that’s the way of the future,” Chuck further explained.

“I trusted Kamala Harris with my vote — not an 80-year-old president. I’m a floor general. You have to have that final narrative of what you do. When you understand art forms, having that conversation and the final word is what it’s all about,” he said.

Perhaps best remembered as the first and only woman president in the history of Def Jam Records, Ashhurst helped grow the Russell Simmons-founded label from nine to more than 141 employees.  She also helped expand Def Jam to include offices in London, Los Angeles and New York.

“It is important that the history and culture of hip-hop be told by those who created it, lived it, and continue to change the course of popular culture throughout the world,” Ashhurst remarked.

“At the Universal Hip Hop Museum, we are curating artifacts and stories to tell the full truth of hip-hop, ensuring that we, the hip-hop community, tell the history.”

Bucano chimed in that he’s delighted to have Ashhurst as chairwoman.

“She is the best and most qualified to serve in this capacity. Her strong leadership skills and philanthropic experience are just what the museum needs as we prepare to break ground,” Bucano said, adding that he’s also grateful to hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow who serves as chair emeritus for the museum.

For more information about the Universal Hip Hop Museum, go to www.UHHM.org.  

WI Editor D. Kevin McNeir contributed to this story.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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