The Museum acquired Bill Adler’s Eyejammie Hip-Hop Photography Collection in 2015, which provided the impetus to create the recent exhibition, “Represent: Hip-Hop Photography.” The Eyejammie Hip Hop Photography Collection consists of nearly 500 images from more than 40 photographers and is the most extensive collection of hip-hop images held by the Museum.

In 2018, hip-hop culture permeates aspects of pop-culture, various music genres, sports, and modern society. Created in the Bronx, New York, in the 1970s, hip-hop is nearly 50 years old. The local, youth-based art form, has grown into an international phenomenon over the years. Using four elements of hip-hop (MCing, breakdancing, graffiti and DJing) as an organizational tool, four exhibition areas were created to highlight aspects of hip-hop: identity, community, activism and creativity.

Two photographs of groups of women side by side. The black-and-white photograph on the top shows a crowd of women with their fists raised in a black power gesture. The color photo on the bottom shows a large group of female rappers sitting on a stage.

(Top): John H. White
Crowd of women with raised fists, ca. 1975
Gift of John H. White/Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist
© John H. White

(Bottom): Janette Beckman
Female Rappers, Class of ’88, 1988
From the Eyejammie Hip Hop Photography Collection
© Janette Beckman

Hip-hop, like so many things, is part of a broader socio-cultural context. By choosing images from the museum’s permanent collection and pairing them with images from the Eyejammie Hip-Hop Photography Collectiondiptychs were created to make connections between the past and present. The relationship between these photographs broadens the context and cultural significance of hip-hop in American society. Moreover, hip-hop is about adaptation and innovation, and a remixing and reinterpreting of ideas. These works “represent” that notion through the photograph’s reinterpretation of history.

Two epigraphs on the first panel embody the point of the exhibition. One epigraph comes from William Shakespeare: “What is past is prologue”; the other comes from Jay-Z: “I’m not looking at you dudes, I’m looking past ya.” Both are artists and poets. One is a historical figure and the other is a contemporary artist; and like the spirit of hip-hop, both highlight a connection and relationship between poetry and hip-hop. These phrases illustrate links between the past, present, and future and show that hip-hop did not originate in a vacuum.

"Represent: Hip-Hop Photography." The Eyejammie Hip-Hop Photography Collection.

"Represent: Hip-Hop Photography." The Eyejammie Hip-Hop Photography Collection.

Walter Larrimore; National Museum of African American History and Culture

Also included are a few objects that speak to the creativity and culture of hip-hop. There is a subway door full of graffiti on loan from photographer Jamal Shabazz, featuring one of his own images on the door's window. Shabazz documents everyday life in New York and has been capturing images of hip-hop culture since its inception. The pre-release mixtape of Nas’s "Illmatic," a studio demo of Mobb Deep’s second album, Big Boi’s Air Force Ones and some old school hip-hop party flyers, combine to show the various elements of hip-hop.

The interactive table in the center of the space shows more images from the Eyejammie Collection, including excerpts from the films “Wild Style,” “Graffiti Rock” and “Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives.” These further demonstrate the impact and evolution of hip-hop culture.

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