“They never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.” That famous line from the Notorious BIG’s 90’s classic song “Juicy” was met with cheers each time it was said on Thursday night during “50 Years of Hip Hop: NYC to the World,” the inaugural benefit gala of The Universal Hip Hop Museum (UHHM).
The message in that line and its magnitude reverberated throughout the packed room at the elegant Cipriani in Manhattan as hundreds gathered to celebrate 50 years of hip hop, the genre’s global impact, and to honor some of those who have made key contributions to the industry.
Hip-hop greats like Kurtis Blow, Doug E. Fresh, Talib Kweli, Easy A.D. of The Cold Crush Brothers, and Treach of Naughty By Nature came out to support the UHHM on its big night.
As guests entered the space, signature aspects of hip-hop culture touched every part of the experience, from a large model re-creation of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue to an artfully curated cocktail reception where videos from iconic hip-hop songs were projected on the walls, to exhibits featuring hip-hop memorabilia from pioneers including Kool Herc, LL Cool J and Run DMC as well as rose adorned tables with golden centerpieces of basketball hoops, record players and sneakers.
Author and professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson opened the evening’s program. As someone who has written several books on hip-hop culture, Dyson reflected on how far the genre has evolved since its 1973 founding.
“Did you ever think with the downturn of the economy, with the post-industrial urban collapse, with the Bronx being bombed and Brooklyn going its way that New York would be the epicenter of another renaissance, a new Langston Hughes, a new set of poets?” Dyson asked his audience. “These young people were demonized by society because they didn’t possess a degree, but they had a profound degree of intelligence.”
Executive director of UHHM, Rocky Bucano, shared his gratitude for the support of the inaugural gala as well as the importance of it and those being honored.
“Tonight, we come together not only as enthusiasts of music but as a united community celebrating a culture that transcends borders, languages, and backgrounds,” Bucano said. “The Universal Hip Hop Museum’s inaugural gala is a platform to honor those who have shaped hip-hop’s journey and to forge connections that will carry its legacy into the future,” he added.
Anchored in the birthplace of Hip Hop culture, the Universal Hip Hop Museum broke ground in the Bronx in 2021. It is described as a place where audiences, artists, and technology converge and create educational and entertainment experiences. With a slated soft 2024 opening and grand opening in 2025, the aim of the UHHM is to “celebrate and preserve the history of local and global Hip Hop music and culture past, present, and future.”
Among the UMMH black tie gala honorees were Sylvia Rhone, CEO of Epic Records, Lisa Gomez, CEO of L&M Partners, DJ Derrick “D-Nice” Jones, Microsoft President Brad Smith, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer. Schumer, a longtime Democratic New York senator, worked to secure the UHHM with $5 million in funding to support its construction and opening.
“Hip Hop changes lives, and Hip Hop saves lives,” said Bucano.
The evening ended with a surprise performance by De La Soul, which got everyone in the audience on their feet. A soft opening of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum is scheduled for late 2024, followed by a grand opening in spring 2025. A joint venture between Gomez and L&M Developers, the 53,000-square-foot building will include unprecedented exhibitions and artifacts, two theaters, affordable housing, and a restaurant.