A Sneak Peek Into New York’s New Hip Hop Museum

Taylor Michael

In advance of the museum’s opening, a series of rotating exhibitions in the Bronx Terminal Market offers a preview of what’s to come

Lobby of [R]evolution of Hip Hop: 1986-1990 including Slick Rick's throne and Coolio's bike (all photos Taylor Michael/Hyperallergic)

New York Hip Hop heads are waiting with bated breath for the Universal Hip Hop Museum’s (UHHM) opening in 2024. In the meantime, museum curators have developed a series of rotating exhibitions housed at their temporary location in the Bronx Terminal Market. [R]evolution of Hip Hop, which started with the global movement’s origins in the mid-1970s and now focuses on Hip Hop’s golden era, previews the archival materials and storytelling techniques the museum will showcase in its permanent gallery spaces. 

On view during Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary, the current iteration of the exhibition is focused on the years 1986 through 1990 and explores the moment the genre crossed over into mainstream culture. Regional rivalries, sneaker culture, and Yo! MTV Raps are some topics covered with artifacts like Slick Rick’s throne, a Wild Style letter D painted on galvanized steel, Dapper Dan custom-made jackets, and Rappin Max Robot, the first Hip Hop comic book created in 1986 by artist and designer Eric Orr with the help of Pop and graffiti artist Keith Haring. Visitors can also download tailored Spotify playlists through Breakbeat Narratives, a collaboration between the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality, Microsoft, and the museum. This interactive quiz uses artificial intelligence to provide deep-dives into specific Hip Hop subgenres such as Jazz or Feminist Rap.

XClan “Black Watch” flag and memorabilia, along with Ice T’s jacket, Public Enemy and Yo! MTV Raps archives on view at [R]evolution of Hip Hop: 1986-1990

Hip Hop historian, UHHM curator, and former rapper Pete Nice told Hyperallergic that the museum built its collections through the kindness of fans and contributors. Nice’s materials, the personal archives of Paradise Gray (a curator at UHHM), and donations from peers, such as DJ Kay Slay, Lynn Saunders (MC Lady L), and Hip Hop photographer Michael Benabib, laid the foundation.

“Paradise Gray had a great collection that he had amassed in his career from growing up with DJ Pete Jones, being in graffiti crews in the Bronx, and as one of the members of the group XClan,” said Nice about Gray’s memorabilia, which spans from 1979 through the 1990s.

Bombox with video clips from West Coast (L) and East Coast (R) concerts on view at [R]evolution of Hip Hop: 1986-1990

Along with expanding the collections, the museum is working to raise funds for an endowment to purchase archival materials and support its robust programming plans. Some special exhibitions Nice thinks the museum could produce include a deep dive into the evolution of aerosol art (graffiti), a retrospective on DJ Kay Slay, whose mixtapes spearheaded the career of iconic rapper Nas, a screening of legendary documentary Wild Style, or an analysis of Souljah Boy’s career and the rise of the viral internet Hip Hop star.      

“We’re going out and tracking down a lot of the memorabilia and artifacts to bring back to the museum,” said Nice. “People might have Word Up magazines, their old cassette tapes, the clothing they used to wear to jams; these things are relevant and important. Everyone, even if you weren’t Run-D.M.C, can contribute.” [R]evolution of Hip Hop: 1986–1990 is on view through June 2023.


Open Learning newsletter