A political history of hip-hop: from New York’s South Bronx to the streets of the Arab Spring.
From the South Bronx to the boisterous streets of the Arab Spring: in its new exhibition, the Institut du Monde Arabe traces hip-hop’s multicultural genealogy. Beginning with old school rap and the genre’s first commercial hits, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugar Hill Gang and ‘Paid in Full’ by Eric B & Rakim, the IMA’s exhaustive show includes rare vinyl LPs, early hip-hop era clothing, documentaries, film clips and an impressive collection of vintage photos of both New York’s boroughs (circa 1980) and the sprawling urban waste around Paris’s Stalingrad station. The show could have done without the rinky-dink cardboard cutouts, but on the whole ‘HIP-HOP’ is an ambitious and meticulously researched exhibition, chronicling the evolution of a cultural movement from its origins on America’s socioeconomic margins to the global commercial phenomenon it has now become.
The show celebrates hip-hop culture, paying tribute to its many facets (dance, graffiti and even the commodity fetishism around basketball sneakers), while also emphasising the genre’s political functions. Examining the role of Arab hip-hop in the revolutions of spring 2010, the IMA portrays hip-hop as a richly subversive mode of expression with ‘consciousness-raising potential'. And yet, in its idealistic and somewhat narrow treatment of hip-hop's political genres (Public Enemy, NTM, Afrika Bambaataa, Dee Nast etc.) the exhibition glosses over a whole decade of commercial 'gangsta rap', ultimately failing to address the form’s mass-market appeal: the extent to which its supposed ‘subversiveness' has been appropriated and commoditised on a global scale, for the sale of clothing, headphones and other merchandise.