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OMCA Spotlights Local Hip-Hop History

Photograph by Talia Cole

RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom is a new exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California that follows the progression of hip-hop and rap music through the twenty and twenty-first centuries. It explores how rap has influenced culture beyond music, extending into fashion, media, and even language on a global scale.

The show is spread out over a large square footage consisting of several galleries. The show includes a record scratching area, graffiti making stations, a podium made of books dedicated to freestyling, a theater showing a mix of different musical artists, and even a case displaying Grandmaster Flash’s original turntable. Yet this only scratches the surface of what the awe inspiring show has to offer.

There are major works from the likes of Nick Cave, whose famous soundsuits, large elaborate wearable statues, are displayed dramatically near the entrance. Kehinde Wiley, who was commissioned to paint former President Barack Obama’s presidential portrait, also has a piece in the show entitled “Gypsy Fortune Teller,” depicting several African American men on an ornate tapestry. This style of juxtaposing contemporary subject matter with traditional medium is common in his work.

In addition to these big name artists, more local art is also displayed from graffiti, musical, and performing artists. Their work is displayed throughout the show and highlights the powerful influence the Bay Area has on rap culture as a whole.

One of these local artists is Rashidi Omari who helped perform and develop the interactive dancing tutorial section of the show which allows people to learn many of the popular dances of the past through an instructional video.

Omari was glad to see the Oakland hip hop community finally earn the recognition it deserves. “Oakland has been in the hip-hop game for a long time and we’ve contributed a lot, it was good to just see that acknowledged and respected,” he said.

Refa One, a local graffiti artist featured in the show, was glad to see Oakland hip-hop culture appreciated at the museum, but said that there is still a lot of room for improvement. “I would say that it’s a great snapshot of the history of hip-hop in the Bay Area,” he said. “Now understanding it’s at a museum … and it was not something that was directed by hip-hoppers, it’s going to have some limitations.”

This did seem to be the case for some galleries of the exhibition where curation and formality seemed to get in the way of the deeper meaning of the pieces. In spite of this, the interactiveness of the exhibit that forced you to engage, understand, and respect the creative process in a tangible way was truly exceptional. RESPECT is one of the first exhibitions to showcase and exhibit not only the depth of hip-hop and rap culture, but also the importance and influence it has had in recent decades.

Though the exhibition wasn’t everything that One believed the community deserves, he couldn’t help but feel that it was worth it for people to pay the museum a visit.

“We’re breaking new ground in terms of major showcases in this art form,” he said. “There’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve and … a lot of room for growth, but it’s a step in the right direction to be recognizing such a significant movement here and making sure that it’s accessible for the public to engage in.”

The Hip-Hop Style and Wisdom exhibition welcomes everybody to view the. It will be open until  August 12th, 2018. During the summer, all Berkeley High School students should make an effort to travel to the Oakland Museum of California to view the show.

The website states that through video, various mediums of art, music, dance, photography, fashion, and “interactive gallery features” the exhibition will show “how Hip-Hop provides a platform for creative self-expression, activism, positive social change, youth development, entrepreneurialism and education.”

This exhibition is a terrific opportunity to explore and delve deeper into an ever-present part of the Bay Area community and history. Come with family, friends, hip-hop lovers, to this show to learn more about hip-hop and get inspired through local artists.