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).
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.
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.