Explore Hip-Hop Highlights in the Collections of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

By NYPL Staff
July 13, 2023
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

In 1973 at a house party in the South Bronx, DJ Kool Herc isolated and repeated the percussive “break” in the tracks he was spinning, creating one of the first instances of hip-hop as people would come to know it. In the next 50 years, hip-hop would expand worldwide, growing into a vibrant culture that transcends the bounds of genre and industry.

Explore highlights from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s various collections documenting the early roots of hip-hop and its global impact on music, fashion, literature, and film.

A small cassette cover with the words "Wild Style" in graffiti
Cover of the 1983 Wild Style Cassette

Photo by Jonathan Blanc/NYPL

Wild Style

NYPL's 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop Library Card features images from a cassette book of the original soundtrack of the 1983 film Wild Style by Charlie Ahearn, considered the first hip-hop movie. The library card’s art is inspired by the cassette book which was produced by Kaz Kuzui and includes photos of soundtrack producer Fab 5 Freddy and luminaries of the earliest days of hip-hop. The "Wild Style" mural created by artists Zephyr, Revolt, and Sharp serves as the art for the front of the card, while the back of the card depicts the original soundtrack cassette which is available in the Schomburg Center’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound division.

Part narrative musical and part documentary, Wild Style stages hip-hop and graffiti pioneers (Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Lady Pink, Patti Astor, Lee Quiñones, and more) to play themselves in a story dramatizing hip-hop’s roots in the Bronx and its evolution throughout NYC.

Included in the soundtrack’s cassette book are photos of the earliest days of the culture—graffiti on NYC streets and subways, performances from the genre's first luminaries, local parties, and early hip-hop beat-breaking.

Selections from the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division

In addition to providing the inspirational collection materials for the Wild Style Hip-Hop 50th anniversary library card theme—based on the cassette book of the original soundtrack for the 1983 film Wild Style by Charlie Ahearn (considered the first hip-hop movie)—here’s a brief curated selection of just a fraction of Moving Image and Recorded Sound hip-hop- related resources. Other notable collections include portions of the Fab 5 Freddy papers, and the following: 

A conversation with DJ Kool Herc, hip-hop pioneer, on the occasion of his 60th birthday

DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican-born American DJ who is credited with originating hip-hop music in the early 1970s in the Bronx, is interviewed by Kevin Powell, political activist, writer, and entrepreneur, on the occasion of Herc's 60th birthday. The interview delves into Herc's early life and his emergence as the founder of hip-hop in the Bronx. 

Hip-Hop Education Center collection, 1979–2014

Producer, educator, and archivist Martha Diaz formed the Hip-Hop Education Center (HHEC) to formalize and promote hip-hop-based education. Its primary holdings are from the Hip-Hop Odyssey (H2O) International Film Festival, which Diaz founded in 2002 to showcase hip-hop films, music videos, public service announcements, and related media from around the world for artists, educators, and the broader community around its home at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. 

The Hip-Hop Education Center collection consists of 446 moving image recordings and 41 sound recordings created from 1979 to 2014. The moving image portion of the collection includes short and feature-length films, music videos, and performances. The recorded sound portion of the collection includes individual songs, albums, and motion picture soundtracks.

Beat Street

A 1984 film centering three friends who dream of breaking out of their South Bronx existence and find a ray of hope in the form of a local composer/choreographer who takes an interest in their individual talents. Directed by Stan Latham. 

Style Wars

A 1982 documentary exploration of the subculture of New York's young graffiti writers and break dancers, showing their activities and aspirations and the social and aesthetic controversies surrounding New York graffiti, including dramatized conflicts between graffiti artists and the city, as well as among the graffiti artists themselves. Directed by Tony Silver.

Films at the Schomburg: Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer

Photographer Jamel Shabazz has documented the growth of hip-hop in New York City since the 1980s. The documentary Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer is a portrait of his life, career, and impact as a photographer, educator, and visual artist. During this recorded program, after the original screening, Shabazz and filmmaker Charlie Ahearn held a conversation followed by a question-and-answer session.

Big Phat Ones of Hip-Hop. Volume 1

A compilation of hip-hop music videos, circa 1995.

Bling: A Planet Rock

Travel to war-torn Sierra Leone in West Africa where hip-hop celebrities meet the victims of the blood diamond industry, and learn about its connections to hip-hop. Directed by Raquel Cepeda.

Say My Name

In a hip-hop and R&B world dominated by men and noted for misogyny, the unstoppable female lyricists of Say My Name speak candidly about class, race, and gender in pursuing their passions as women in hip-hop. From hip-hop's birthplace in the Bronx, to grime on London's Eastside, emerging artists like Chocolate Thia, Invincible, Jean Grae, and Miz Korona, to world-renowned pioneers like MC Lyte, Erykah Badu, Estelle, and Monie Love, these are women turning adversity into art. Directed by Nirit Peled.

My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women and Hip Hop 

A documentary exploring the issues and art of women hip-hop artists from the 1980s through 2010. Directed by Ava DuVernay. 

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

A look at the conceptualization of masculinity in hip-hop culture. Pays tribute to hip-hop while challenging the rap music industry to take responsibility for too often perpetuating destructive, deeply conservative styles of manhood that glamorize sexism, violence, and homophobia. Narrated by Byron Hurt; with commentary by Russell Simmons, Mos Def, Fat Joe, Chuck D, Jadakiss, and Busta Rhymes among others. Directed by Byron Hurt.

A hand on a turntable
Photo from the Wild Style Cassette Book. © Pow Wow Productions, Ltd. Charlie Ahearn

Hip-Hop Archive Project Files

The Schomburg Center's Hip-Hop Archive Project documents the early movement of hip-hop from the mid-1970s. This collection consists of primary source resource materials such as oral histories with journalist Harry Allen and the Awesome 2 (Teddy Tedd, and Special K); promotional materials for Echo Park, "Hip-Hop Nation: Roots, Rhymes and Rage," and "Hip Hop Appreciation Week." 

There is also information about the Zulu Nation and KRS-One's Temple of Hiphop; a complete run of the International Graffiti Times; the Kid n Play comic series; and various journals, magazines, newspapers, articles, books, theses, and dissertations on hip-hop from various collectors including James G. Spady and James Top.

Selections from the Photographs & Prints Division

Go deeper into visual hip-hop history and study highlights of the Photographs and Prints Division’s collections. Photography collections depict the earliest decades of hip-hop’s rise in New York City, pioneering performers, DJs, music business figures, and concerts, and candid shots of the booming beginnings of graffiti and rap culture. 

Talib Haqq, A Pictorial History of Hip-Hop


*early depictions of New York-based rap performers, DJs, music business figures, and concerts, from 1983 to 1985; including artists like Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, L. L.Cool J, Whodini, and the Fat Boys, among others. 

Jamel Shabazz Photograph Collection 


*Hip-hop street style and other influences, largely Brooklyn based, captured by Jamel Shabazz 

Hip-Hop Archive Project Photograph Collection


*An A-Z archive of press-related photos featuring some of hip-hop’s notable stars

Joe Conzo, Hip Hop Collection 


*Depictions of hip-hop artists and fans, in the Bronx and Harlem, New York City, from 1979 to 1984, consisting of group portraits of hip-hop artists.

Of note are views of the group Cold Crush Brothers in their rap battle with the Fantastic Five, held at the Harlem World club in Central Harlem (1981). Among other performers depicted include the Cold Crush Four, Kurtis Blow, and Afrika Bambaataa, as well as Joe Conzo on the set of Wild Style.

Graffiti that spells out "Graffiti 1990 Style"
Photo from the "Wild Style" cassette book. © Pow Wow Productions, Ltd. Charlie Ahearn

Selections from the Art & Artifacts Division

Works by Hall of Fame Graffiti Artist, James Topp 

A member of The Odd Partners (TOP) graffiti crew during the 1970s, our Art & Artifacts Division has a selection of James Topp’s mixed media works.

Selections of posters and flyers in our Music Poster Collection

Posters manufactured between the 1870s and 1980s. Music posters in the collection are primarily advertisements for concerts. Some are posters of musical entertainers, musicians and cast ensembles in theatrical musical productions. Posters represent entertainment in popular musical genres. 

Selections from Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division

A hand holds up a flyer that reads "Jungle Rock City" on the top.
Selections from the Hip Hop Flyer Collection.

The Hip-Hop Archive Project Files

Launched around 2014 by former division curator, Steven Fullwood, the Schomburg Center's Hip-Hop Archive Project aimed to engage activists, writers, collectors, and scholars in documenting the early movement from the mid-1970s. 

Fab 5 Freddy Papers

Fab 5 Freddy is an African American director, TV host, graffiti artist, and a key personality in the history of hip-hop culture. Tracing his multidisciplinary career from the 1980s to the early 2000s, this collection provides further insight into his public personality; business and recreational activities; and creative endeavors in the fields of writing and art.

Bill Adler Hip-Hop Research Collection

Bill Adler is an American music journalist and critic who specializes in hip-hop. He was director of publicity at Def Jam Recordings between 1984 and 1990, and subsequently co-authored the book Def Jam Recordings (2011). This collection mainly consists of printed matter about hip-hop artists, topics related to hip-hop, and hip-hop record labels.

Jean Blackwell Hutson General Research and Reference Division

In 2021, two of the Center’s reference librarians, A.J. Muhammad and Tracy Crawford, compiled an incredible list categorizing the division’s vast hip hop holdings in an article published by Library Journal.

Coming soon:

Collections to be processed at the Center include the De La Soul Collection featuring promotional materials, group photos, advertisements, design, and artistic direction administrative documents, and the Hip-Hop Flyer Collection.