New York celebrates 50 years of hip-hop

From a display of Jay-Z lyrics on the facade of the Brooklyn Library to a concert of rap pioneers at Yankee Stadium, New York is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, a genre born in its ghettos and now dominant around the world.

Inside the library, a vast exhibition retraces the career of one of Brooklyn’s most famous sons, charting his rise from “a street-smart hustler to a global revered music mogul.”

The artist born Shawn Carter has written about dealing drugs in the Marcy Houses housing project where he grew up, before becoming a billionaire rapper whose marriage to Beyonce created one of the most glamorous couples in pop culture.

“I’ve never really been to a lot of exhibitions,” said 31-year-old warehouse worker Jamarly Thomas, joking that he goes by “Jay-T.”

“So to witness something like this from my favorite rapper is pretty mind-blowing. For a lot of African American kids coming up here, he can set an example for them that they can be bigger,” Thom-as added.

The free exhibition, which opened Friday and was conceived by Jay-Z’s entertainment empire Roc Nation, is entitled “The Book of HOV,” a reference to one of the 53-year-old’s nicknames.

Jay-Z’s string of hits include 1998’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” and “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” from 2001.

He also crossed rap’s boundaries, including with his megahit “Empire State of Mind,” and holds the record for the most number-one albums of any solo artist on the Billboard 200 with 14. Only the Beatles have more, with 19.

Long queues formed over the weekend as fans rushed to visit the exhibition or register for one of thirteen Brooklyn Library cards stamped with the artist’s album covers.

The tribute precedes the opening of another immersive retrospective about the history of hip-hop at the Hall des Lumieres on August 2 as the Big Apple marks half a century of the genre with a slew of events.

– ‘Amazing’ –

Although early forms of hip-hop expression were bubbling years earlier, musicologists cite August 11, 1973 as the date of its birth.

On that day, on the ground floor of a low-income building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, Jamaican-born DJ Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, broke new ground.

He spun the same record on two turntables, isolating the sequences of rhythms and percussion to extend the beat, an essential component of hip-hop music.

Lil Kim, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Run DMC and The Sugarhill Gang, whose song “Rapper’s Delight” is known as the first commercially successful hip-hop single, are also due to take the stage.

“When we first started, nobody was interested in hiring a hip-hop DJ, or getting an emcee or getting some breakdancers,” said Ralph McDaniels, hip-hop coordinator for the Queens Public Library.

“To be celebrating 50 years is amazing because there was no value on this,” he told AFP.

Other concerts, block parties and graffiti and breakdance sessions are scheduled to take place across the Big Apple.

– ‘Recognition’ –

The hip-hop movement was born as a way for African Americans and Hispanics to escape poverty and discrimination.

Then, few people would have predicted it would become a billion-dollar phenomenon that inspires not only music, but also sports and fashion.

Another sign of how far it has come: this week, Sotheby’s offered a ruby and diamond ring worn by rapper Tupac Shakur, the Harlem-born icon of California’s West Coast who was murdered in 1996. It is estimated to sell for up to $300,000.

Back at the Jay-Z exhibit, Brooklyn-born Amanda Brown said she was happy the rapper was being honored with the retrospective while he is still alive.

“Singers that did a lot don’t get the recognition until they are gone so this is nice,” the 28-year-old told AFP.

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