Rap pioneer and Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D has been named chairman of the celebrity board for the Universal Hip Hop Museum (UHHM), Billboard has learned exclusively. His appointment is the latest step forward as the museum prepares to break ground in the Bronx in December 2019 and open its doors in 2022.
Citing Chuck D’s legacy as one of the “well-respected MC’s in the culture of hip-hop,” Universal Hip Hop Museum chairman of the board Kurtis Blow adds, “The credibility he brings to our team is mammoth. He also understands the importance of the UHHM and vows to let the world know via a star-studded celebrity board in the near future. Flame on!”
Blow and Universal Hip Hop Museum director Rocky Bucano also note that the museum has recently secured $20 million in initial funding and is beginning its next phase of critical fund raising. The 50,000-square foot venue will be housed in a 25-floor high-rise at the new Bronx Point development (69 East 149th Street in the South Bronx), walking distance from Yankee Stadium. Ralph Appelbaum Associates —which designed the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture —has been commissioned as the UHHM’s interpretive design team. Mike Ford and Hamilton Anderson Associates (Motown Historical Museum) have been enlisted as the architectural designers.
Dedicated to preserving and celebrating rap/hip-hop’s global history, present and future, the UHHM will offer visitors a curated immersive experience encompassing the culture’s five elements: DJ’ing, emceeing, breaking, visual arts and knowledge. In addition to digital collections and virtual exhibits, the museum plans to present interview sessions, pop-up experiences, award shows and various educational programs and activities. Helping Blow, Chuck D and Bucano spread the word is a crew of UHHM cultural ambassadors that includes Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy.
A recent press release announced the future arrival of a neighboring project, the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum & Hotel, in Harlem, New York. It’s slated to break ground and open in 2020-21. Notes Bucano, “We wish everyone trying to expand the evolution of hip-hop the best. We just know that we’re focused on what we can do.”
In the following interview, Bucano, Chuck D and Blow share that focus:
Rocky, how did idea for the UHHM come about?
The idea came out of a unique opportunity almost six years ago. I was managing the New York Gauchos youth basketball program and we were approached by real estate developers looking to create additional space for the Gauchos. It came down to two opportunities: to either fund an ice-skating rink or a mixed-use space with an entertainment aspect.
It took us about four-and-a-half years to find the best opportunity. We’ve been awarded 50,000 square feet of space in a mixed-use, affordable housing complex in Bronx Point. Hip-hop is 45 years old now, and it’s the only cultural genre that doesn’t have its own space to preserve and celebrate its history. Cornell and Harvard have hip-hop archives; the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is devoted to the African American experience in totality, not just hip-hop. The UHHM will be dedicated solely to hip-hop.
Kurtis, how did you become involved?
Rocky and I are old friends from the ‘70s. I remember him as a pioneering DJ with a crew that was tight and underrated. I was a fan of his before I started making records. We met up again when Rocky pitched me on his museum idea. Once he asked me, it was a no-brainer to come on board and help out. It’s such an important and meaningful project for hip-hop, music in general and the city. My goal is to inspire and motivate. That’s my job in this whole thing. We have 25-30 people sacrificing and donating their time to this, people with families and [day] jobs. I’m just honored and blessed to be a part of it.
Chuck, why did you sign on?
Hip-hop is possibly the last remaining DIY genre, and we need to bring it up to speed in its administration. I’ll hopefully be a magnet for others to offer their services and help build the museum into a vital space. The museum will be a solid base of recognition of the past. But it will also be involved in hip-hop’s [ongoing] definition, protecting it and making it viable for the future. The celebrity board’s role will be that of a collective with the energy of many helping to propel hip-hop well into the 21st century.
Rocky, what are the next steps moving forward to the groundbreaking?
We’re fortunate to have the support of the city and state. UHHM recently secured $20 million in initial funding to help with construction of the core building itself. Then we have to raise roughly another $50 million over the next several years to finish everything else. We’re reaching out to all the companies and corporate entities, including record labels, that have embraced and benefited from the hip-hop culture. We’re also working with the architects and exhibit design teams to start matching the actual programming with the visitor experience to ensure that we accurately document the major stories and events in hip-hop history. We’re currently asking for donations of artifacts that rep the culture as well that will be warehoused [until the opening].
The UHHM reminds me of Detroit’s Hitsville, the studio where the Motown sound was recorded with the Supremes, Temptations, the Four Tops and others. After the studio closed, it was turned into a museum. Now everyone from around the world comes to Detroit to relive the Motown sound. That’s similar to what we’re doing. What better location than the birthplace of hip-hop to build a museum to celebrate and curate its history?