The Smithsonian Is Making Hip-Hop History

The Last Poets, Douglas 3. Part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture's collection.

The Last Poets, Douglas 3. Part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture's collection.

It's easy to forget that hip-hop came to life only forty years ago. Now, the Smithsonian is creating a landmark anthology that will explore hip-hop as a social and musical movement — from its house-party roots in the 1970s to the pop culture force it is today. Back the project here.

This week, Dwandalyn R. Reece, Curator of Music and Performing Arts at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), shared highlights from hip-hop history. 

Hip-hop 101: Seven influential years in hip-hop history

1973
Clive "DJ Kool Herc" Campbell throws a back-to-school party for his sister Cindy in the rec room of 1540 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, NY. That night, hip-hop is born. 

1989
Hip-hop gets its own category at the Grammys. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince win Best Rap Performance for "Parents Just Don't Understand." 

1991
NWA becomes the first rap group to claim the top spot on the Billboard 200.

Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash

1992
Def Jam founder Russell Simmons launches Def Comedy Jam on HBO, which paves the way for an edgier brand of stand-up comedy. 

1993
Wu-Tang Clan releases their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), through a unique deal with Loud Records that lets individual members sign solo deals to the record labels of their choosing. It creates a new paradigm in the hip-hop record business.

1995
Outkast is booed while accepting the New Artist of the Year award at The Source Awards. Andre 3000's statement resonates throughout the hip-hop world: "But it's like this: The South got something to say. That's all I got to say." The South had officially arrived.

2007
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five becomes the first hip-hop group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

Watch list: Five essential hip-hop docs

Style Wars (1983) 

Rhyme & Reason (1997) 

Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2005)

Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

And You Don't Stop: 30 Years of Hip-Hop (2004)

Five iconic hip-hop artifacts you can find at the NMAAHC

Eazy-E. Photo © Al Pereira.

Eazy-E. Photo © Al Pereira.

S1W Uniform
In the words of Chuck D and Yusuf Jah, S1W (a.k.a. Security of the First World) "represents that the black man can be just as intelligent as he is strong. … We're not third-world people, we're first-world people; we're the original people.”

The Last Poets
This pioneering group, along with artists like Gil Scott-Heron, laid the foundation for hip-hop with their combination of message-driven spoken word poetry and percussion.

Photograph of Eazy-E
West coast rapper Eazy-E repping Compton while in New York City, 1990.  

"Ladies First” Track Sheet
Producer Mark James, a.k.a. Mark the 45 King, used this while recording tracks for the song “Ladies First” with Queen Latifah and Monie Love. The song has become an anthem for women all over the world, and is one of the most iconic moments in hip-hop history.   

Microphone Box used on Video Music Box
In 1983, Ralph McDaniel’s local NYC program Video Music Box became the first series to heavily feature hip-hop music videos.

"Ladies First" track sheet. Part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture's collection.

"Ladies First" track sheet. Part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture's collection.

A version of this piece originally appeared in our Handpicked Happening newsletter, where Kickstarter creators share their recommendations for things to read, watch, and listen to. 

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