'Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey' opens at L.A. Live

Hip-hop is receiving its first major exhibition at the Grammy Museum, as “Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey” opened this week in the L.A. Live facility.

The show, which runs at the Recording Academy’s facility through May 4, is especially timely this Grammy Week. Rapper Eminem is this year’s top Grammy nominee, with 10 nods including recognition in the top categories of album, record and song of the year. Earlier this week, hip-hop was feted in the Grammy Foundation’s annual preservation event at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre.

The Grammy Museum exhibit was timed to coincide with the Feb. 8 publication of Aria Multmedia’s like-titled tome, an overview of hip-hop history edited by Jordan Sommers with contributions by such well-known observers as Dan Charnas (author of the well-reviewed new book “The Big Payback”), Cheo Hodari Coker and Greg Tate.

Museum executive director Robert Santelli has long wanted to mount a hip-hop exhibit, but he says he ran up against resistance on the part of the artistic community.

“The hip-hop culture is very hard to penetrate,” Santelli says. “There is a skepticism within the culture, as there was in the early days of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — ‘Well, what are you going to do with our story? How are you going to tell it?’ You basically had to gain the confidence of the people who are voicing this skepticism. That’s what we did with the help of Aria, the book people. We were able to go and make our pitch, for instance, to Eazy-E’s widow, and say, ‘This is what we want to do. This is why we think this is important.'”

With the door opened by the book’s imminent publication, the museum was able to enlist contributions from such high-profile hip-hop players as Public Enemy, N.W.A., Grandmaster Flash and Russell Simmons, who will be the subject of the museum’s Icons of the Music Industry series on Feb. 25.

The Hip-Hop exhibit will include artifacts like Tupac Shakur’s handwritten lyrics, the leather jackets worn by Run DMC in the breakthrough “Walk This Way” video and a set of Flash’s turntables. As ever, though, the story won’t be told in glass cases.

“We use a lot of multimedia, we use a lot of technology,” Santelli says. “You’re going to be able to explore beats. You’re going to be able to understand sampling. Our goal is not to just preach to the hip-hop converts and people who live this culture every day.”

The exhibition will be supported by the museum’s customary panoply of panels, seminars and artist appearances, and Santelli will teach a survey course, which he describes as “kind of like Hip-Hop 101.”

He views “A Cultural Odyssey” as merely hip-hop’s maiden voyage at cultural institutions: “I wanted to initiate the dialog so that at some point some of the other major music museums, or maybe the Whitney Museum of Art or LACMA, pick it up from here,” he says. “That’s really what our intention is here — to open the door, so that people who are not in hip-hop culture can begin to recognize and appreciate the importance of hip-hop culture.”

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