Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop at the Library for the Performing Arts

By Danielle Cordovez and Benjamin Moreno, The Library for the Performing Arts
July 13, 2023
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
A hand holding a trading card with Fab Five Freddy on the cover
Yo! MTV Raps trading card featuring Fab 5 Freddy.

Music and Recorded Sound Division at the Library for the Performing Arts

Fifty years ago, on August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc took his unparalleled style of mixing funk and soul records and launched a sound that came to be known as hip-hop. The music, fashion, and style went beyond just culture—hip-hop became a way of being in the world. The New York Public Library has launched a campaign celebrating the anniversary of hip-hop culture with a special-edition library card and events and programs around the city. 

As part of that campaign, Danielle Cordovez and Ben Moreno at the Library for the Performing Arts have put together case installations throughout the building, entitled It’s Yours!, exploring the archives of the Music and Recorded Sound Division that mark the milestones and impact of hip-hop. It's Yours! showcases classic hip-hop albums, influential women in hip-hop and beyond, and archival objects that demonstrate the range of hip-hop’s impact on the world.

The case installations are on view at the Library for the Performing Arts starting July 22. Below, we offer a taste of what you can see and learn, but pay us a visit to check out more!

The Classic Hip-Hop Album

The classic hip-hop album has several identifiable elements such as fresh lyrics, great production, and stylized rhythmic beats. More importantly, hip-hop has a sense of uniqueness that sets it aside from other music. This cultural movement has pushed boundaries in a singular fashion and broke with the established norms of the time. Hip-hop was the creation of music that spoke to the needs and desires of the community that these artists were coming from. Finally, a classic hip-hop album is made with skill and thoughtfulness—it’s the kind of album that is bold enough to push the envelope and create its own lane. 

It’s Yours! highlights a handful of the classic albums. Here are a few, with Danielle and Ben’s favorite songs.

The Low End Theory
A Tribe Called Quest
September 24, 1991
Jive Records

The Low End Theory is the second studio album by American hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. Famously creating a minimalist sound that combines bass, drum breaks, and jazz samples, the album deals with heavier concepts: the name describes the essential percussive and bassy sound as well as the status of Black men in society.  Lyrically, the album features social commentary, wordplay, humor, and interplay between Q-Tip and fellow member Phife Dawg. What sets this album apart from the rest is the quality of the production and engineering which raised the bar to a new level.

Our Favorite Song: “Scenario” 

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill
August 25, 1998
Ruffhouse Records and Columbia Records

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Hill’s debut solo album, can be seen as a blueprint for the next generation of neo-soul artists. The pace of the album tells a story that feels like a conversation with a friend. Mixing soul influences with R&B, hip-hop, and reggae unlike any before, the album’s lyrics touch upon Hill's pregnancy and the turmoil within her former group the Fugees, along with themes of love and God. The title was inspired by the film and autobiographical novel The Education of Sonny Carson, and Carter G. Woodson's The Mis-Education of the Negro—seminal works in Black culture.

Our Favorite Song: “Everything is Everything”

First Ladies of Hip-Hop

From the beginning, women have played a crucial role in the development and evolution of hip-hop. Despite facing sexism and other obstacles within the industry, female artists have successfully created their own space and made significant contributions to the genre. Female pioneers such as Roxanne Shanté, MC Lyte, and Salt-N-Pepa were trailblazers who demonstrated their lyrical abilities and challenged gender norms in the male-dominated industry, paving the way for future generations of female artists. 

Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah has significantly contributed to the industry with her feminist anthems and socially conscious lyrics. She has earned multiple Grammy awards and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Matron "Mama" Morton in the musical Chicago. In 2006, she became the first hip-hop artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Our Favorite Song: “Ladies First”

Salt-N-Pepa broke into the music industry as one of the first all-female rap groups. The group elevated hip-hop by rapping about taboo topics such as sex and their thoughts about male bravado. Their hit song "Let's Talk About Sex" launched a global campaign for practicing safe sex instead of avoiding conversation about it.

Our Favorite Song: “Express Yourself”

Hip-Hop as Metaculture

Hip-hop is unquestionably influential. Through its 50-year history, it has grown from an urban underground movement in the Bronx to a global phenomenon profoundly influencing American culture. The influence of the hip-hop movement extends beyond music, dance, art, and fashion. Hip-hop has become part of the meta culture, which refers to the collective consciousness and references found in mainstream culture—making it an essential component of the modern cultural landscape.

Yo! MTV Raps trading cards

A series of trading cards was produced by MTV in 1991 to promote the musicians featured on the show Yo! MTV Raps, and educate young people about hip-hop artists. The set has 150 cards featuring photographs with information and fun facts about the artists. The Library for the Performing Arts is the only library in the world that has the complete set!

Beat Street
Directed by Stan Lathan
Orion Pictures

Beat Street, a film released in 1984, is considered a classic that captures the essence of early hip-hop culture in the South Bronx during the 1980s. The movie and its accompanying soundtrack were produced by Harry Belafonte and feature music from renowned hip-hop artists like Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five, Jazzy Jay, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic, Treacherous Three, and Doug E. Fresh.

Banksy Wu-Tang forever!
Benny Cruz

This artwork is a print made from a photograph of the site where the famous Banksy painting, "Girl with a Balloon," self-destructed after being sold at an auction. Benny Cruz references "36," the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album 36 Chambers, and pays homage to deceased member Old Dirty Bastard with "R.I.P., O.D.B." at the bottom of the print. Additionally, instead of the "Girl with a Balloon" image, the artist has replaced it with the Wu-Tang logo.

Check out these objects and many more at the Library for the Performing Arts, and get your Wild Style library card, celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop at this or any NYPL branch.