The birthplace of hip hop will soon be the birthplace of the world’s first museum celebrating the genre.
Hip hop royalty converged on a large tract of empty land in the South Bronx, overlooking the Harlem River, for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Universal Hip Hop Museum on Thursday. The event drew a who's who of legendary hip hop artists including Grandmaster Flash, Slick Rick, Chuck D, Nas, LL Cool J, and Fat Joe. City and state officials joined the hip hop luminaries to plant shovels on the ground for the $80 million, 52,000-square-foot museum financed through city, state, and private monies.
The ceremony paid tribute to hip hop, whose origins began at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, just over two miles from the museum site at 50 East 150th Street, between Melrose and Mott Haven. For its pioneers, hip hop was born out of a need for expression, coming as the Bronx was ravaged by disinvestment and raging fires that decimated neighborhoods.
“There was a time no one gave a f--- about the Bronx. Nobody cared,” Grandmaster Flash said. “Here we are, almost 48 years later.”
Conceptualizing the museum began a decade ago, when Rocky Bucano, the museum's executive director, sought to honor rap and its roots in the Bronx. The museum will touch on the five pillars of hip hop: DJing, breakdance, graffiti art, knowledge, and MCing.
"It's a long journey, but a very worthwhile journey to see what should have happened already is finally happening," Bucano said. (The museum was originally expected to be completed by 2023, but the pandemic pushed the projected opening to 2024.) "The museum represents the creativity and the free expression that came out of this community and now has become the most powerful art form in the entire world."
Bucano's tenacity earned him a shoutout from LL Cool J, crediting him for keeping the museum's concept alive. LL Cool J, whose golden age hip hop song, "Mama Said Knock You Out" propelled him to stardom and eventually an acting career, also credited hip hop for giving him a voice.
"This was like the first time where I felt like, 'Wow, like it's possible to be powerful, it's possible to be be somebody, it's possible to have meaning in this world,'" LL Cool J said. "Hip hop is one of those things that gave my life meaning."
That was seconded by Fat Joe, who grew up in Forest Houses in Melrose as hip hop music saturated his neighborhood, called the museum "long overdue."
Bronx-bred hip hop artist Slick Rick was also on hand calling the museum and its location fitting for hip hop.
"It's a good thing that it has such powerful relevance and it started here and to this billion-dollar industry," Slick Rick said.
The museum will be housed inside a $349 million affordable housing development project constructed on an undeveloped piece of city-owned property. Five years after making the land available for lease, the city Economic Development Corporation chose private developer L+M Development and Type A to co-develop the project dubbed Bronx Point. The 22-story project is expected to build 542 units of affordable housing along the waterfront, part of a massive revitalization of the neighborhood that includes a major redesign of the waterfront courtesy of the city Parks Department.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., a lover and historian of hip hop, couldn’t contain his excitement seeing the creation of a hip hop museum.
"We expect that when a family from Australia, or Japan, or Germany, come to New York City that their kids are gonna say, 'yeah, we want to go to New York City, Mom and Dad, but we also better go to the Bronx and see the hip hop museum,'" Diaz Jr.