Rhyme and Reason

A new exhibition takes a deep dive into the Hip-Hop revolution

Forty-five years ago, Hip-Hop was “born” in the Bronx and other parts of the country—and life has never been the same since. 

Over the years, what started as revolutionary youth culture and form of self-expression has become much more, influencing such diverse fields as fashion, dance, the visual arts, technology, communications, poetry, and even philosophy. Hip-Hop has captured the imagination of people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities, yet its massive, boundary-breaking impact is still not fully understood. So what better time than the present—with Hip-Hop nearing its fiftieth birthday—to celebrate this game-changing artistic movement?  

A new exhibition at OMCA—RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom, on view from March 24 to August 12—looks at how Hip-Hop has left an indelible imprint on the way we live today. “This is a story that has not been broadly told,” says René de Guzman, director of exhibition strategy and senior curator of art. “No cultural form has been so widespread, so community-positive. It really has shaped the world, and we are all better for it.”

From the earliest days, de Guzman says, Hip-Hop provided a way for people and artists to assert their presence, develop skills, and excel in life; it also built community. These social benefits inspired diverse individuals and groups to succeed. In fact, Hip-Hop has become such a force in mainstream art and culture that you need look no further than the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, with its exuberant Hip-Hop score, to see just how far its influence has spread. 

RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom tells a multifaceted story through a variety of media and disciplines, including video, photography, artifacts, apparel, and interactive elements. Special emphasis is given to Hip-Hop’s deep roots in California, and Oakland in particular, which gave rise to some of the movement’s leading innovators and thought leaders. Visitors can engage directly in creative processes through art-making, DJing, dancing, rhyming, and more.

In conceptualizing the exhibition, de Guzman and the team worked closely with a variety of stakeholders and experts, including Adisa Banjoko, the Oakland-based founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation; independent curator Susan Barrett; MC and educator Jahi; dancer Mika Lemoine; and Hip-Hop historians Eric Arnold and Davey D. 

“In this exhibition, we want to get at the philosophy of Hip-Hop,” Banjoko explains. “Hip-Hop is about breaking all the rules to create a new system of cultural exchange, and it has altered our history.”

“We want visitors to see how Hip-Hop has become a powerful cultural community,” de Guzman adds. “A big part of the Hip-Hop story is about striving to excel, even with limited resources, and becoming better and better at being who you are. It’s about forging a community that ultimately drives positive change.”

Photography: Courtesy of Barrett Barrera projects+gallery (Jay Z Chess Not Checkers).

RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board and members of the Donor Forum.



Discover Hip-Hop’s deep Oakland roots, and the unexpected story of its journey from the streets to mainstream pop culture in OMCA’s new exhibition.

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