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Origins of Hip-Hop and Rap Explored In Smithsonian 'Anthology'

Public Enemy
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Jack Mitchell Archives

Public Enemy

Coming Aug. 20, the co-production features a nine-CD collection and 300-page coffee table book

In advance of its approaching fifth anniversary in September, the National Museum of African American History and Culture — in partnership with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings — has slated Aug. 20 as the release date for the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap.

Described as a “first-of-its-kind collection,” the co-production chronicles the evolution, growth and global impact of hip-hop culture and rap, a genre that was initially dismissed as a fad. That history is told aurally through nine CDs. Spanning 1979-2013 and accompanied by extensive notes about each of the 129 tracks, the collection boasts music from all three major record companies: Sony, Universal and Warner.

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Julia Beverly/Ozone Magazine
David Banner and Ludacris

Complementing the audio component is a 300-page coffee table book featuring 11 essays from music scholars, authors and journalists discoursing on subjects such as women in hip-hop, entrepreneurship and graffiti. Designed by artist Cey Adams, the founding creative director of Def Jam, the book further illuminates hip-hop’s history through hundreds of photographs.

Dr. Dwandalyn R. Reece, NMAAHC’s associate director for curatorial affairs, curator of music and performing arts, is also the anthology’s producer. She tells Billboard, “The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap, created in collaboration with a team of artists, scholars, journalists, creatives, industry insiders and aficionados, reflects the voices of those of the culture while drawing upon a diverse range of perspectives and life experiences. Each track on the anthology was included because our advisors thought in some way that the track contributed to the overall story of hip-hop’s evolution and its impact on society. Accompanied by a 300-page book that includes essays, photographs and other illustrations, the anthology captures the richness and complexity of hip-hop as a cultural and social phenomenon.”

Rappers MC Lyte and Public Enemy’s Chuck D, writer-scholars Adam Bradley and Cheryl Keyes, early Def Jam senior executives Bill Adler and Bill Stephney, artist-writer-director Questlove and producer-educator 9th Wonder were among the key figures comprising an executive committee that began discussing the anthology’s premise in 2014. Over the ensuing seven years, an additional panel of advisors representing all facets of hip-hop culture was also assembled.

In a statement announcing the anthology, Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon director of NMAAHC, said, “Born in the Bronx and raised across the American West and South, hip-hop is one of the most influential genres of music in the modern era. Through beats, dynamic rhymes and pointed lyricism, hip-hop has provided a platform for communities and generations to voice their ongoing struggles and has changed society and culture around the world.”

The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap is the latest addition to the Smithsonian African American Legacy Series, a collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and NMAAHC. More information about the forthcoming anthology and its track list is here.