The “Queen Curator” Pinning Hip-Hop in Downtown Durham

The “Queen Curator” Pinning Hip-Hop in Downtown Durham

The “Queen Curator” as she is best known, walked into Beyu Café Monday morning assertively demonstrating queen like behavior. Before Crystal was able to accompany me at the bar, her popularity and roots within Durham’s thriving community of young Black professionals, required her to quickly converse with two to three people who sought her attention. I ran to my car to retrieve the audio recorder and upon my return she was both ready and prepared. Earlier I requested for Crystal to wear apparel related to her brand for our photo-op and she came through! Dressed comfortably in clean white chucks, an Underground Collective Tee and her locs freshly twisted, she was spewing out Black girl magic! Our process in aiming for the perfect shot was rather organic. Not only did Crystal look the part, her spirit embodies her passion for hip-hop and the work she does in the community.

 Crystal Taylor . . . "The Queen Curator"

Crystal Taylor . . . "The Queen Curator"

Over the past four years, Crystal has curated hip-hop centered events at the Pinhook, a music venue located downtown Durham. Her accomplishments include, “Yo NC Raps,” “That’s the Joint Open Mic,” “The Underground Collective Beat Battle,” and most recently Durham’s FIRST “Beats and Bars Hip-Hop Festival”. Crystal’s innovative curation, marketing abilities and passion for hip-hop sets Durham apart from it’s neighboring cities like Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Charlotte. 

 As we focused on the presence of hip-hop downtown and the importance of this, Crystal conveyed gratitude for the Pinhook singling out the owner Kym Register in particular, “[Kym] is like a sister I never had, I never knew I wanted . . . [Kym] is one of those people [who] wants everyone to do well . . . be happy  . . . be safe . . . be respected and [Kym] loves to learn”. 

Kym and Crystal’s relationship began via email a little over four years ago when Crystal was aiming to locate space to host a beat battle. It took the two a little over a year to actually meet in person, but the lack of early physical interaction did not hinder a strong sisterhood from developing. From the beginning Crystal has always felt apart of the Pinhook’s family opposed to a third party affiliate simply renting out space. She calls the staff her cousins and describes the venue as a “safe space” like one’s grandma’s house. Expressing her loyalty to the Pinhook she reveals that she will always want to be affiliated with the Pinhook in whatever she does. For Crystal, it is a major accomplishment to have space specifically for hip-hop on Main Street, a central location for Durham natives and visitors. Acknowledging that her identity as a Black woman making major decisions in hip-hop whether on a local or national level is rare, Crystal insists “can’t no one tell [her] anything”. We both agreed that having the presence of women in hip-hop is an amazing thing and needed. 

 Black Girl Hip-Hop Magic . . . 

Black Girl Hip-Hop Magic . . . 

As far as the future, Crystal has huge plans for Durham’s hip-hop scene. 2016 was amazing and 2017 will be even better. It is clear that she is strategic about the artists she offers a platform to and explained that the purpose of her team, The Underground collective, is to “put people on to [artists] they have no idea about”. She boasts with excitement, “Durham will be this place you can come to where people will know the hip-hop scene is downtown . . . it’s going to be an amazing thing”. And for the Pinhook’s contribution towards this goal, Crystal says she plans on staying in the Pinhook as long as she can, and with laughter adds, “until [Kym] kicks me out and she probably won’t ever kick me out . . .[Kym] has always been supportive and one of my main cheerleaders”. 

 

 
The Underground Collective Upcoming Events
  • December 1st, 2016 8:00pm @ The Pinhook The Closeout
  • January 13th, 2017 8:00pm @ The PinhookThe UGC Beat Battle
the close out.jpg

Why an Exhibit on Hip-Hop in Durham??

I have adventured on a new, unfamiliar, exciting journey and am both willing and interested in inviting everyone on this ride with me :)

The museum exhibit (The Listening: Documenting Hip-Hop in Durham) is tentatively scheduled to open August/September of 2017 and the documentary has a target date for 2019. My goal is to keep everyone updated on this process and provide what I like to view as "behind the scenes" access to some dope conversations with dope ass Durmites (Durham Natives for those who don't know). I was encouraged by my Intro to Documentary instructor to keep a field journal, and that process has been cool and super helpful, but I feel selfish keeping all of these magical hip-hop moments all to myself. It makes sense to start the first blog off with explaining "Why Durham?" especially since I am a fairly new transplant (I moved here in August of 2014). 

The universe being real magical and shit. . .

I am originally from New York City, the birthplace of hip-hop (Aye!) and specifically grew up in Jamaica, Queens (Supthin and Linden Blvd.) Queens in general is the home to a large number of hip-hop's greatest contributors to the culture--A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Mobb Deep, LL Cool J, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Ja-Rule, Lost Boyz, Noreaga...just to name a few. At a young age I was automatically surrounded by hip-hop and hip-hop artists through my father's participation in the culture as both a DJ and inspiring rapper. It wasn't rare for the Lost Boyz or Fredro Starr from Onyx to pop up at family BBQs. And in 1996 I got to feel like the coolest kid ever when my father was in AZ's "Sugar Hill" video sitting next to both AZ and Nas. At six or seven years old I had no idea how much of a lyrical genius Nas or AZ was, I just knew my dad was on BET and the song was popping (Miss Jones was currently on the radio and she was singing on the hook). As I got older I learned that 50 Cent referenced and in a sense paid "homage" to my father on his track "Ghetto Qu'ran" from his unreleased debut album Power of the Dollar. From being forced to be an audience of one for my father's random freestyle sessions to watching him DJ at the infamous 130th street block parties, I was soaking up hip-hop in the most organic way possible and had no idea 20 years later it would all come full circle and be the focal point of my career. 

  Vintage Production (Flex and Jazz)

 Vintage Production (Flex and Jazz)

 1996, AZ's "Sugar Hill" Video Set (Jazz, AZ and Nas)

1996, AZ's "Sugar Hill" Video Set (Jazz, AZ and Nas)

 The universe being all magical again with this random message that slid in my inbox

The universe being all magical again with this random message that slid in my inbox

After living in a place for almost four years where hip-hop spaces did not exists, my random arrival to Durham was refreshing--I was grateful, I became observant and immediately plugged in. If there was a hip-hop related event I showed up. I saw something unique about this city that I feel cannot be duplicated in larger cities like a NY or LA.  For example, although New York is the birth place of hip-hop there isn't a particular hub or community of hip-hop heads to thrive on a local level. Most events are commercially sponsored by Hot 97, Power 105 or BET. The size of the city also removes the communal feel. Whereas Durham thrives in all five elements of the culture (DJ, MC, B-Boy/B-Girl, Graffiti & Knowledge) most of the time within walking distance and is community oriented in a way that allows for collaboration to take place. More importantly, the city is welcoming and sooooooo Black!! Not to mention, three Durham based scholars/artists have been recipients of the hip-hop fellowship at Harvard University, the oldest Ivy League institution. Most recently the fellowship was renamed after Nas (Nasir Jones), hip-hop's lyrical God! 

There are so many layers to the bigger project of documenting hip-hop in Durham in general (Museum Exhibit, Documentary Film, Audio Doc, Podcast...there's so much that can be done). Nothing is written in stone and a different aspect of the story unfolds with each conversation I have. One of my main goals is to debunk this notion that southern hip-hop is monolithic and show how communities interact with hip-hop outside of rap.  When people typically think of cities that have contributed to the culture or have a thriving presence of hip-hop in their city, the focus is always on major cities like New York, LA, Atlanta, Chicago and Texas. NC in general and Durham specifically is always erased from the conversation, but the truth is Durham is so hip-hop. 

"The function of [hip-hop] is to teach one to think intensively and critically. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education" -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.