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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 August 2006, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
Bronx museum to showcase hip-hop
By Damian Fowler
BBC News, New York

Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herk
The museum will focus on the pioneers of the genre
New York City Council has allocated $1.5m (800,000) for a hip-hop museum in the Bronx. But its contents are causing controversy in the musical movement's birthplace.

Hip-hop is a source of pride for leaders in this much-maligned part of New York, and they are keen to institutionalise this piece of their heritage. It is believed to be the first museum dedicated to hip-hop.

"This is where it all started on the streets of the Bronx. It's an urban creation," says council member Larry Seabrook, who is the force behind the museum.

"Only two forms of music are uniquely American, jazz and hip-hop. This will be an opportunity for people to learn about it, to view it and to listen to it."

But defining what kind of hip-hop will be represented has already become a political issue.

Lil' Kim
Controversial stars of today's hip hop like Lil' Kim will not be represented
Leaders in the Bronx want to distance themselves from modern-day hip-hop culture, which they say has become tarnished by turf wars and lyrics which promote misogyny and violence.

"We're not talking about gangsta rap," says Seabrook. "We're talking about hip-hop."

Council members are keenly aware that gangsta rap and public money might be a bad combination. Local politicians have quickly dissociated themselves from the controversial behaviour of stars like Lil' Kim, The Game and 50 Cent.

"Anybody can be a thug," says Seabrook.

Instead, he insists, the museum is intended to memorialise what hip-hop really is. Hip-hop was a cultural movement initiated by inner-city youth in the Bronx in the 1970s.

It arrived during a financial crisis, when funding for music classes in schools had been pulled. With widespread poverty and violence on the Bronx's streets, hip-hop provided an important outlet.

The pioneers of hip-hop include musicians like Doug E. Fresh, the originator of the "human beat box", and innovative DJs like Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herk and Afrika Bambaataa.

Back in the spotlight

Some of these early hip-hop artists are now actively involved in developing the museum, which is still in the planning phase.

"I think this museum is a good opportunity to venerate these guys," says Adam Matthews, senior music editor at hip-hop magazine the Source.

"They didn't get the million-dollar windfall and the big endorsements that the stars get today. For those guys, it's been tough."

Hip-hop has changed dramatically since the early days in the Bronx. According to some critics, it has not always been for the best.

"We've created a situation in hip-hop where we admire the business leaders more than the artists," says Matthews. "But we can't say, 'Oh, it would great if it was like it was back then.'"

Despite the concern over gangsta rap and whether to incorporate it into the hip-hop museum, it's important to look at the big picture, advises Matthews.

"You have to consider the statistics. As hip-hop has become progressively violent, the streets have become safer," he says.

Whatever the content of the hip-hop museum, its curators will have to tread carefully through a minefield of lyrics and ideas - some of which are bound to cause offence to somebody somewhere.

Councilman Seabrook hopes the museum will be a part of a bigger hip-hop complex, featuring a studio and a theatre.

The plan is to open in the Bronx sometime in late 2008 or early 2009.

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