Hip-hop started in the South Bronx, the hardscrabble borough in New York City, and on Thursday, some of the genre’s legends returned to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Universal Hip Hop Museum.
“Hip-hop is one of those things that really gave my life meaning,” LL Cool J, perhaps the greatest of them all, said during the ceremony that included Nas, Lil Kim, Fat Joe, Grandmaster Flash, Slick Rick, EMPD, Naughty By Nature and other superstars and trailblazers.
“It made me feel like I really could do something with my life,” LL Cool J explained.
The $349 million mixed-use project that will sit along the Harlem River waterfront promises a comprehensive history of hip-hop, which many claimed was just a fad. However, with talented artists such as Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Run-DMC, Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim, pundits could not have been more wrong.
Today, it’s rare to find a single or album atop the charts or winning significant awards if it doesn’t include some form of hip-hop. Universities have adopted lessons about the genre, and many of the artists said hip-hop provided them with street-level education and made them wise to many worldly subjects.
“It taught me more than schools taught me, believe it or not,” Nas said. “I’m proud to be here in the mecca of hip-hop, the Bronx.”
Rocky Bucano, the museum’s executive director, Kurtis Blow, Shawn “LG” Thomas, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Mickey Bentson, Joe Conzo Jr. and Grandmaster Melle Mel count among the museum’s founding members.
Dallas Austin, Marq Hawkins, DJ Ralph McDaniels, and National Newspaper Publishers Association President and CEO Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. make up the museum’s advisory board.
The development’s first phase also will provide 542 units of permanently affordable housing to the neighborhood and about 2.8 acres of public open space. The project will also have an array of cultural and community-focused programming, which includes the museum, an early childhood space, and outdoor science programming.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the capacity crowd at the groundbreaking, telling them what Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s smash single “The Message” meant to him.
At the same time, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie also paid homage to hip-hop.
“Hip-hop began in the Bronx, and it is only right that we pay homage by erecting the Universal Hip Hop Museum right here in our borough,” Heastie said. “Today’s groundbreaking marks a monumental moment in hip-hop history. Not only will this be a museum, but it will also become a cultural hub for all of New York City.”