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Hip Hop (culture)

50 years of hip-hop: This NYC landmark wants you to hear it in surround sound.

Anna Kaufman

Hip-hop turns 50 this year and lines to celebrate are around the block. Museum displays, high-profile tributes, documentaries − the music genre born of the Boogie Down Bronx is celebrating half a century in style.

This week, a new exhibit in New York threw its hat in the ring. To mark the dawn of hip-hop in all its industry-making, genre-melding glory Hall des Lumière is putting that history up on the walls (literally.)

The converted bank in downtown Manhattan debuted “Hip Hop Til Infinity" this week, an immersive experience complete with projections and surround sound. The display is part of a growing trend of ‘step inside the art’ style presentations hosted by museums and cultural centers.

“This is something you haven’t seen hip-hop be presented in as of yet, an immersive experience,” Jon Colclough, the VP of Creative Strategy at Mass Appeal which helped co-produce the event said. “Usually, you see the Van Goghs and Gustav Klimpts and these very world-renowned masters but to us − hip-hop − these are our giants. These are our masters, these are the people that we feel are deserved of being presented in spaces like that.”

Hall des Lumières' new exhibit "Hip Hop Til Infinity" celebrates 50 years of the genre.

A 'visual mixtape'

The exhibit is meant to be a “visual mixtape” celebrating hip-hop’s godfathers (and godmothers) and the radical art form they created.

Heavy beats play in the background as patrons take in projected images of block parties and spray-painted subway cars. New York in the '70s, widely acknowledged to be the birthplace of hip-hop takes on a life of its own as black-and-white stills of b-boys flash over Hall des Lumière's stone walls.

Hall des Lumières' new exhibit "Hip Hop Til Infinity" celebrates 50 years of the genre.

Downstairs, further into the well of the bank, a mini-doc outlines the origins of the genre. It’s narrated in part by Questlove, the famed DJ who directed this year's star-studded hip-hop Grammy tribute.

Like any great invention, there’s some debate over who was first and how they were first. The 50-year anniversary is tied to a 1973 block party hosted by DJ Kool Herc in the Bronx. Herc, who was influenced in part by the "toasting" culture in his birth country of Jamaica, pioneered the “breakbeat.” It's a method that uses two records to drag out the beat, giving the illusion of a longer dance break so party-goers can show off their moves.

Also on the lower level is a room playfully entitled "Lock your sh*t up" that houses hip-hop artifacts. Copies of VIBE and WAXPOETICS magazines are laid out still in their plastic covers with artists like Nicki Minaj and Ice Cube gracing the glossy covers.

Hall des Lumières' new exhibit "Hip Hop Til Infinity" celebrates 50 years of the genre.

Hip-Hop across the map

Back upstairs, tape rolls over decades of hip-hop culture. From Nas to Rakim to Mos Def, clips play back-to-back and patrons in different sections of the hall bob their heads periodically in recognition of the rhymes.

Tim Ceci, the managing director of Hall des Lumière says the point of the exhibit is to foster a “sense of discovery.” He hopes visitors will understand like he did the rich history of the hip-hop movement and “discover the depth and range of artists.”

Depth and range are certainly operative words. After origins were covered, the video projection takes visitors on a national tour of hip-hop making stops in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, and Miami.

Hall des Lumières' new exhibit "Hip Hop Til Infinity" celebrates 50 years of the genre.

Each region twists beats in a different way creating a unique cadence and putting a singular spin on the sound before the rhymes come in to provide some specificity.  

Kaneisha Woods, 31, said she thought the visual elements were "beautifully done." A UGK fan from the South she said she was "excited to see how this grows in the other locations." Woods was in attendance with Emily Hausman, 37 who also thought the exhibit was "very comprehensive" but did add that she would have liked to see more female rappers represented.

'Hip Hop Til Infinity' will leave New York in a few months and go on the road. Until then residents of the Big Apple can attend and be enveloped in the sounds of the genre.

Hall des Lumières' new exhibit "Hip Hop Til Infinity" celebrates 50 years of the genre.

“Hip-hop is a culture it’s something that informs people’s way of life and how they see themselves in the world and that’s everything from the clothing to the way you walk, to the way you talk," Colclough says.

The point of the exhibit isn't just to blast the music it's also "Presenting the culture in spaces and places that make you look twice, presenting the art form and our pioneers and our legends in hallowed halls” he adds.

How can I visit "Hip Hop Til Infinity"?

The exhibit will be at Hall Des Lumières, located at 49 Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan from August 2 to mid-September. The next city the exhibit will visit has not yet been determined.

Tickets are on sale now with adult pricing at $42 a person and children under 18 at $20.50. There are special rates for veterans, college students, and seniors as well.

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