"Hip hop started in the Bronx. This is our greatest export," says Executive Director Rocky Bucano. "It's important for us to celebrate the culture where it started."
Bucano grew up here, and in the 1970s, joined a growing movement of teenagers creating a new culture of style and music. There were the emcees pioneering rap music, the DJs innovating how records were played with turntables, the breakdancers and the graffiti artists. They all joined to create something called hip hop.
In the mid-'70s, Rocky Bucano was Kool DJ Rock, and he connected with some future legends of this new art form.
"Rocky said we doing a museum. I said that sounds great," says Ice T, the hip hop OG who invented L.A. gangsta rap and is now the longest-running black actor on TV. "He said it's gonna be in the Bronx. That's where it should be. I knew it was going to be official."
Ice T joins other icons including Chuck D, LL Cool J, Nas and Slick Rick on the museum's celebrity board. The museum currently lives at 610 Exterior St. in the Bronx and features a rotating exhibit.
"We start with the early origins, the story of the mid-60s to 1979," Bucano says. "In June we will be introducing the early 80s. So every six months we'll be introducing a new era of hip hop."
The museum, which has named the exhibit "Revolution of Hip Hop," also features an interactive A.I. exhibit called the Breakbeat Narratives developed by Microsoft and the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality. Visitors answer questions on a computer screen, and based on their responses, are guided through a customized deep dive into hip hop history.
Like hip hop in the early 80s, the Universal Hip Hop Museum is about to blow up. They've just secured funding and land for a 50,000 square foot location across the street at the Bronx Point Development. The new space opens to the public in 2023.
Instead of rotating exhibits, Bucano says the new museum will be "responsible for preserving and celebrating the entire history of hip hop culture."
"I have this motto that I always say, and I live with it," Ice T says. "If you show me, I'll see. If you tell me, I'll hear. But if you involve me, I'll understand. And that's what we need to do."
"This is something that needs to be done by someone who cares, who knows the history and is willing to tell it honestly."
Don't miss more incredible stories in honor of Black History Month.