Roots, Rhymes + Rage: The Hip-Hop Story

Open November 10, 1999 - August 6, 2000

Since its humble beginnings in New York City, hip-hop culture – the MC, the DJ, the graffiti writer and the breakdancer – became one of the single most important forms of expression for young people on this planet. 

On November 11, 1999, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum launched the world’s first major exhibition on hip-hop culture. The exhibit filled three floors with interactive computer stations, video installations, rarely seen photos and long-forgotten fashions. It also included hundreds of artifacts representing the whole range of hip-hop artists, from such pioneers as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa to such stars as Missy Elliott, Wyclef Jean, Ma$e, Puff Daddy and others.

The Roots examined the beginnings of hip-hop through rarely seen photos, vintage clothing, audio equipment from the Seventies and early Eighties, a video installation and an entire wall of party and club handbills.

The Golden Era spanned the mid-Eighties through 1990, hip-hop‘s most creative and influential period. This era produced the remarkable rhyme skills of Rakim and Slick Rick, the feminist flavor of Salt n’ Pepa, MC Lyte and Queen Latifah, the agitprop poetry of Public Enemy and the gangsta soundtrack of NWA. A video installation accompanied this section.

Controversy, Outrage and the Rise of Gangsta Rap documented the shift from a largely diverse art form to the subculture of gangsta rap, which came to dominate the radio and garner the bulk of the media’s attention. 2 Live Crew’s infamous obscenity trial and the intense criticism of Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” solidified hip-hop’s presence in mainstream America. By the mid-1990s, hip-hop would lose two of its major icons to tragedy — first Tupac Shakur, then the Notorious B.I.G. were the victims of still-unsolved drive-by shootings.

Pop Goes the Culture underscored the incredible pop success of hip-hop. Beginning with MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice in the early 1990s, hip-hop reigned over the pop charts and influenced both R&B acts, like TLC and R. Kelly, and rock acts including Limp Bizkit, Korn and Kid Rock. Hip-hop’s influence is also clearly marked in the fashion industry, where it enjoys phenomenal popularity among millions of young people around the globe. Hip-hop’s mainstream invasion also extends to language – words like “dis’” and “yo” are now a part of the American vocabulary – and the way Madison Avenue markets to young America.


Exhibit Details