The National Museum of African-American History and Culture’s second annual hip-hop block party celebrated the 50th birthday of the genre. The event, “Hip-Hop at 50: From the Block to the World,” featured an array of live performances, interactive exhibits and panels dedicated to presenting the rich history and surrounding culture of this beloved genre.
Hosted at the Smithsonian in early August, the block party coincided with the somewhat controversial birthdate of hip-hop. Historical accounts point to DJ Kool Herc throwing a back-to-school party in the Bronx, NY on Aug. 11, 1973, where he pioneered the turntable “break-beat” technique, thus birthing what we now know as hip-hop.
Hip-hop fans draped in thick rope chains and rapper-themed tees gushed over the event. One attendee, Kemi Fasheun, shared that she attended in celebration of hip-hop and to explore the various exhibits. “I’ve been a fan my entire life. I’m a huge Lauryn Hill fan, “The Miseducation” is where it started, and it grew from there.”
There were even some attendees that traveled from out-of-state to experience this celebration, highlighting the event’s significance.
“We traveled from Texas just to be here, and to see all my Black people,” Wausheen Mayes said of his family. The museum’s mission of celebrating African-American culture and the date marking a milestone in an often-critiqued and controversial genre of music amplified the magnitude of the celebration. Over 16,000 people attended the event, more than double the attendance of last year’s celebration.
Attendees were able to view some of the museum’s usual exhibits along with themed interactive galleries and displays inside. The “Hip-Hop x Pop-up Sneaker Display” showcased the history between rap and sneaker culture.
Guests were given the chance to create their own graffiti tags and bling. The “Rhymes & Rebounds” panel featured 2023 National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) champion and rapper Flau’jae Johnson in a conversation with journalist Justin Tinsley about the intersection of hip-hop and basketball. Photo booths and themed merchandise were present throughout.
The museum’s flavorful Sweet Home Cafe was transformed for the event. Menus included classic soul food, a vegan popup and a dessert station that featured hip-hop-themed cupcakes. DJs from Def Jam Recordings spun classics from various genres and kept attendees dancing.
Outside, the main stage featured a rotation of renowned DJs and performers. Famed musical director Adam Blackstone performed some jazz-inflicted renditions of classic hip-hop samples, then welcomed go-go legend Sugar Bear of E.U. to join him on stage.
“Jazz is one of the foundations of hip-hop, so I like to bring it full circle,” Blackstone said. “As a man under 50, hip-hop is all I know. It’s taken me across the world on many stages, so I’m excited to be here in DC and represent hip-hop, jazz, blues, r&b, and gospel, all of it.”
J.PERIOD then took the stage for a ladies-first edition live mixtape featuring rappers Monie Love, Mumu Fresh, and Remy Ma. The legendary Queen Latifah also surprised the audience with a performance of her hits. Legendary DJ Kid Capri closed out the night with an electric set that traversed all years of hip-hop set to the backdrop of the Washington Monument.
Eventgoers, from hip-hop diehards to casual fans, enjoyed themselves. Two attendees, Valencia and Irving of Mississippi, echoed that this was an epic celebration of Black culture. “We had a wonderful time, we’re coming back next year with more people for sure!”
Copy edited by Alana Matthew