Museums, galleries, corporations, politicians, magazines, and many, many others have tried to chronicle the history of hip hop in a significant way. However, many of these attempts come off as tone-deaf, aiming to commodify a culture born out of freedom and empowerment, doing a disservice to both themselves and hip hop by misrepresenting and misappropriating it. In 2018, years after hip hop has been brought into the mainstream, gone worldwide, and defined American popular culture for over 20 years; accurately depicting the history of hip hop is more important than ever. At the Oakland Museum of California, they have tirelessly consulted with hip hop historians, practitioners, and community members to assemble their latest exhibition, RESPECT: HIp Hop Style & Wisdom. They have assembled art, fashion, rituals, relics, and a number of other incredible pieces of hip hop history to host a dynamic view of this monumentally significant culture and movement.
The exhibit provides historical context, underlying principles, and contemporary examples to narrate hip hop's journey from New York City to Oakland and beyond. They curated not only a fantastic picture of hip hop music, but also its cultural connection with the worlds of graffiti, cars, skateboarding, chess, and various forms of afrocentric art. In addition to many others, the show includes original art from Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, Martha Cooper, Apexer, Hank Willis Thomas, Nick Cave, Jamel Shabazz, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as relics like LL Cool J's sweatsuit, skateboards adorned with paintings of Too $short, Casual, and Hiero, Grandmaster Flash's original DJ equipment. Whether for the art, interactive dance classes, music, chess, or historical objects, this exhibit is worth exploring for both the casual fan and die-hard enthusiast. ––Eben Benson