An “audacious dream”: The birth of NYC’s Universal Hip-Hop Museum

New York City — more importantly, the Bronx — is getting its first museum of hip-hop.

Scheduled to open in 2024, the two-floor Universal Hip-Hop Museum will be located on East 150th Street, attached to the Bronx Point development, in the borough that’s legendary as the birthplace of hip-hop. The focus of the museum is to highlight the five pillars of hip-hop: DJing, emceeing, break dancing, graffiti, and knowledge.

LL Cool J and Nas
Nas, left, and LL Cool J attend the Universal Hip-Hop Museum groundbreaking ceremony on May 20, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York.

Currently, UHHM’s executive director Rocky Bucano and his team are collecting artifacts and memorabilia from around the globe. They’ve recently received a donation of massive speakers from the club The Roxy, the original sound system from Pete DJ Jones — who is Rocky’s cousin, and one of the original mobile disc jockeys. The collection also includes an acrylic collage of Eminem on canvas by the artist Borbay, a rare Rocawear Roc-A-Fella black leather tour jacket, a bike signed and used by Snoop Dogg from the MTV sketch show “Doggy Fizzle Televizzle,” and every edition of notable hip-hop magazines. And that’s not all.

This original artwork piece is by Borbay called “Eminem” done in acrylic and collage on canvas.

Microsoft is the Universal Hip-Hop Museum’s technology partner, and Rocky Bucano and his team are also working with a group from MIT, led by D. Fox Harrell, to create a new way to imagine the history of hip-hop — with its own metaverse.

The metaverse, designed and produced by Carnevale Interactive, will debut before the brick-and-mortar museum opens and will feature a subway that serves as a gateway to teleport guests into different areas of the museum’s exhibits. The virtual world will also incorporate NFTs and live performances spaces.

We’re building a unique kind of museum experience. We’re not building the old traditional museum where you’re going to see a bunch of stuff on the wall and you know, looks like old dinosaurs,” Bucano said.”My curator [Adam Silverstein, the museum’s director of archives and collections] says, we’re not building a mausoleum, we’re building a museum. You know, a living, breathing representation of hip-hop culture. Something that is always changing and evolving.”

But it almost didn’t happen. Twelve years ago, the Universal Hip-Hop Museum was just a dream — an “audacious dream,” Bucano said. At the time, he worked as executive director of a nonprofit organization for a youth basketball team, the New York Gauchos, which was looking for ways to expand and turn the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a sports and entertainment complex. Although the plans fell through, it opened the door for another idea for the community: a hip-hop museum.

“At the beginning, it was like a, you know, a slow locomotive. Nobody was excited. Nobody wanted to get involved. And then slowly but surely, as long as I kept pushing the dream in front of people, more and more people became interested,” he said.

And that’s exactly what happened: hip-hop legends Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, Nas, and Fat Joe joined in on the dream. Soon, Michael Ford (a.k.a Hip-Hop Architect) joined the team too, helping put together the architectural designs of what the museum would look like. Finally, the dream was looking more like a reality.

WORD UP! Magazine Issue #1, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1987, one of the prominent hip-hop magazines expected to be displayed in the brick-and-mortar Universal Hip-Hop Museum.

Everybody was like, ‘I get it now, I see it.’ You know they say that seeing is believing, and even though the dream was just on paper, people started to see that, OK, we got a game plan now, we got an architect, we have a vision,” said Bucano.

With the help of Microsoft, they were able to do a tour to garner feedback from other places that contributed to the genre, such as California, Atlanta and Detroit, to see if the idea of a hip-hop museum was feasible. Then they had to find a home for it — a long and complicated process.

The opportunity finally presented itself with the help of Josue Sanchez, senior director of L&M Development Partners and current development partner for Bronx Point. The mixed-used complex will feature affordable housing, a public park, and community and retail spaces, as well as the museum.

The Universal Hip-Hop Museum, which began construction in 2021, is scheduled to open in 2024 as part of the Bronx Point development in New York City.

Along with preserving the legacy of hip-hop culture, the museum also has plans to create educational and mentorship programs to help develop the next generation of hip-hop icons and entrepreneurs. For Women’s History Month, they launched “The Fresh, Bold and So Def” Women’s Initiative, led by the Hip-Hop Education Center, which will address issues like misogyny and racism while honoring and empowering the contributions and achievements of women in hip-hop.

Though the Universal Hip-Hop Museum isn’t set to open until 2024, it has a temporary location at the nearby Bronx Terminal Market that will showcase the “Revolution of Hip-Hop” exhibit, celebrating the genre’s golden era from 1986-1990, which is set to open in April. For more information, visit uhhm.org.

UHHM Promo 2024 by Universal Hip Hop Museum Opening 2024 on YouTube

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