SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
TRAVIS GOSA: Good morning. Now hold on here. I thought we were at the second day of the Born in the Bronx conference here at Cornell University. Did I walk into the wrong hall? I don't know if I'm speaking the hip hop this morning. I said, good morning, hip hop.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
TRAVIS GOSA: And so I know many of you have been enjoying the celebration here at Cornell University. We've had the opportunity to hear firsthand the development of hip hop since the early '70s, 1973. I know many of you may claim to be hip hop fans, right? I see we have some hip hop heads down in the front row, right? These are not just the people who forewent the after party, right? This may be people who just went to the after-after-party, not the after-after-after-after-party, right? Oh, it's the underage, right?
I wanted to see if there were real lovers of hip hop with us this morning, right? Now I'm not talking about those of you who went out and downloaded the Carter III CD off the internet. I'm not talking about the folks who have three responses to Soulja Boy on YouTube. You might have your own Soulja Boy dance. That's not what I'm talking about.
When I talk about people who love hip hop, I'm talking about people who love all five elements of the culture, people who love the voices of youth who are sometimes dispossessed, disenfranchised by capitalism, by politics of abandonment, people who love the movement of the African diasporic rhythms, people who love the reclaiming of public space by bombers and taggers, people who love the knowledge that it's created through hip hop culture. So that's what we mean when we say we love hip hop.
This morning we have a fascinating panel discussing what happens when hip hop is archived. How do we keep the study of hip hop real and relevant? So this morning, we want to address the who, what, where, and whys of archiving hip hop. Why should we archive hip hop? What gets into an archive? What are some of the challenges that may face us when we move ahead in this endeavor? Who controls this archive? What gets in and what doesn't? Is there a particular narrative of hip hop's history that we're going to privilege over another? So this more we want to hit some of the hard issues addressing the academic and journalistic study of hip hop culture.
And I think a point of fact, we may be at a unique benchmark in time when it comes to not only the American experience, but also an historic moment in hip hop. In many ways, I'm torn personally as a hip hop academic, whether or not we should be archiving hip hop. It seems kind of late for that. When hip hop first developed its roots in the 1970s, early '80s, academia didn't want to mess with hip hop.
But now we may see that universities have caught the vapors. Do you guys remember that line? The vapors? Biz Markie. Or perhaps more currently what Mike Jones says on his breakthrough CD, you know that line? Back then, hoes didn't want me. Now I'm hot, hoes all want me. This is how I feel about the university's sort of approach to hip hop. It seems increasingly trendy and hip to do hip hop related research. It seems like everyone is having courses that invoke the spirit of hip hop. Everyone is doing hip hop related research.
But at the same time, there may be a contradiction in all of this-- that hip hop is now under attack. Not just under attack by parents, politicians, the police, public policies that forbade the organization of black and Latino youth in public spaces. I think hip hop is also under attack as people are beginning to question whether we still need hip hop, let alone hip hop scholarship.
There was a new book written by this conservative scholar John McWhorter, All About The Beat, the subtitle being Why Hip Hop Can't Save Black America. And for those who haven't seen this book, it's a intellectual drive-by on hip hop intellectuals. In this book, he makes the argument that hip hop is just about the beat. Those who go out and try to claim hip hop as an intellectual endeavor are barking up the wrong tree.
All this talk about signifying and deconstructing narratives, people who embed politics and power in the voices and movements of dispossessed youth are intellectually masturbating. This is what we hear. So I think there's a contradiction in all of this that we don't want to ignore-- both the popularity and continued seizing of hip hop, but also the backlash for it.
And so we want to begin this discussion by having a brief set of remarks. First, we have Johan Kugelberg, famed collector and author born in the Bronx. We have with us Gabriel McKee who is a chief archivist here at Cornell University. Also on the panel is Vernon Mitchell who is a PhD candidate in the Department of History. We have joining us from Binghamton University Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman who is an assistant professor of English. And I am Travis Gosa coming to you all the way from Williams College. And so can we first have a few comments? We'll ask some questions. And then we'll open it up to the audience so you can ask questions about the archive, how you might get involved, questions you have about the content. But first, let's hear from the panel in terms of your interest in hip hop, what views you have on archival work, and any issues you want to put on the table beginning with--
JOHAN KUGELBERG: All right.
AUDIENCE: One at a time.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: My name's Johan Kugelberg. I helped put this book together. It's called Born In The Bronx-- A Visual Record Of The Early Days Of Hip Hop, featuring photography by Joe Conzo, foreword by Afrika Bambaataa, the flier artwork of Buddy Esquire. Timeline, my good friend Jeff Chang. And in doing this book, which commenced around 1998, I thought that the field of-- there wasn't enough done in the field of early hip hop studies. And it was fascinating to me that this absolute grassroots, self-starter, do it yourself culture, which was started by only like 200, 300 people in the South Bronx spanning a few decades, turned into this multimillion dollar business and one of the strongest forces of the pop culture.
I wasn't around back in the day at all. I was in Sweden of all places. I'm Swedish originally. And I grew up with skateboarding and punk rock. That was my thing when I was a kid. But when I was introduced to the very earliest hip hop records and some of the imagery through Charlie Ahearn's amazing book Yes Yes Y'all in the late '90s, I wondered why there wasn't more done.
I'm a recovering record executive. I used to be a big fancy record executive for a couple of labels. So I've done extensive work with not only new artists in the field of rock and roll or hip hop or disco or indie rock or what have you. But I've also been one of those guys who has been going into the vaults finding old records that have been out of print and then putting them together in like CD packages of boxed sets or what have you.
And I worked on a major blues boxed set years and years ago and was absolutely shocked to find how much of the history of country blues and delta blues ended up in dumpsters in the '40s and '50s, how the entire archives of extremely famous and prominent record labels would just be thrown out, how master tapes of these like precious, precious slices of African-American everyday life would also just be tossed out because they didn't want to pay for a storage space.
And there are horror stories like you guys wouldn't believe. You know, there's instances where something like 45 hours of John Coltrane live recordings went down the tubes because somebody at Atlantic Records had forgotten to pay the rent for a storage facility in New Jersey. So I'm looking at hip hop through these glasses. And I'm realizing that the equivalent is that if I do my best to find and protect these very ephemeral materials now in the late 1990s, I'll be a bit ahead of the curve. It'll be like gathering country blues in the late '40s or collecting Dada and surrealism in the mid '50s or something like that. The gals and the fellows are still alive. You can still talk to them. You can hear what they have to say. You can scan their photographs and raid their precious memories.
So I asked my wife, how do you feel about if I devote the next 10 years to basements in the South Bronx and Co-op City and Mount Vernon looking for old gig fliers and old snapshots and old records and cassette tapes? And then I'll cart them all off to a great university in a few years hopefully. Sure, go ahead, she said.
So that was my journey. And my journey took me to Katherine Reagan here at Cornell who was the first person I met who really truly from a library perspective got the importance of this like this. And literally, in our first meeting, we were talking about things like this. We were talking about the symposium. We were talking about how to archive these materials properly, you know like online presence, how to bring it into curriculum.
So the line I used yesterday when I was yapping over at the other building was that Cornell's mouth didn't write any checks that their ass couldn't cash. So I'm very, very happy to be here. And I'm really pleased that we have managed to safe keep these materials so academics like Travis can discuss and argue and figure out the meaning of them for how many years it takes, 10, 50, 100.
I also want to introduce my absolutely brilliant coworker, Gabriel McKee, who I was introduced to by my good friend Michael Laird, who's in the audience, who also introduced me to Katherine Reagan. And Gabriel is a trained librarian. I am an untrained dilettante. So it's very good for the untrained dilettante to be introduced to the methodology of the trained librarian. And I think it would be great, Gabriel, if you could talk about this from your perspective.
GABRIEL MCKEE: Absolutely. So my background in the collection, I've been working with Johan for 18 months, though it feels like longer than that sometimes. 23 years. And I've really been immersed in the contents of this collection for a year and a half now, and really just diving in and seeing what's there. So I came up here to Cornell to kind of get the knowledge out of my head that I'd gotten out of his head and into the library catalog. I probably know more than anybody except Johan about what's in the collection, and sometimes more than him. So let me talk now about some of the challenges that this material presents to us.
First of all, we have the sound recordings. There are 1,000 sound recordings in the collection, though this was expanded earlier this week with the donation of another collection to, is it 7,000 now? Something like that.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: I think it's [INAUDIBLE]. I think we're up to about 11,000.
GABRIEL MCKEE: 11,000. OK, so an awful lot of sound recordings. And on the surface, these seemed to kind of describe themselves. They have labels. But in addition, they don't necessarily have all the information that you need to know why they're important. Something doesn't necessarily say this came out three months before the record everybody says is the first hip hop record. The record doesn't say this is the break beat that everybody was using in August 1977. That information isn't present on the materials. You really need to kind of know what it is to really know why it's important.
There are also an awful lot of live recordings. And some of the information we have on those is vague. We know where they are, and we know what year they're in. But we don't know the date. So we might be able to connect those to some photos we have or some fliers we have. But we don't have quite enough information to bring everything together.
So we also have Joe Conzo's archive of photographs. This was fun to work with, but also difficult to work with. We had about 900 photos. And they arrived in absolutely no order. The negatives survived kind of by miracle. And they were printed up as the negatives were found in boxes basically. And so you had photos from 1977 brushing shoulders with photos from 1982 in the same folder. So I was fortunate enough to be able to work with Joe Conzo who could tell us the faces, places, and dates of things. But once again, some of that information was vague. He might know the years, but not the month or date. He was pretty good about knowing, obviously, who the people were and a lot of the places. But it's kind of like a jigsaw puzzle getting all this information together and finally getting everything in order.
We also have something like 500 fliers. And like the sound recordings, these kind of seem to be self-describing. They've got a lot of information. They all have a who, when, and a where. But you can't always count on all the information that's on there. A lot of the times, there would be a month and a day, but no year. And we were able to use perpetual calendars to kind of figure out when things fall. But sometimes, we'd have, oh, this could be '76, or it could be '82. And we'd have to kind of fall back on, well, what's it look like?
In terms of the places, venues would change names sometimes. You'd have a lot of venues that had only one show. And that just seems a little odd. Why would there only be one flier for something that we've heard from people is a major venue? And then you have things like is Randy's Place a club, or is it some guy's apartment in the projects?
So in terms of the who, most of the fliers, or probably half or so of the fliers, are signed by the artist, which is great. And in addition to that, we have some original art by Buddy Esquire, the flier king, who was a really amazing artist who put a lot of these fliers together. But a lot of them aren't signed. And we'd like to know who put them together. We don't have that information.
In terms of the artists, they say who's performing. But a lot of the times, they'd also say invited guests. That's who they wished would show up. And so you can't necessarily assume that if Afrika Bambaataa's name is on there, it means Afrika Bambaataa was going to be there. So these are all gaps in the information that can be filled if the collection is used. We need scholars, and we need pioneers, people who were there, and people who wished they were there to put all the information together and really complete the picture for us. Our goal is to get as much information available to everyone as we can so that people can really get a complete picture of the early days of hip hop.
I also want to talk about a problem with the scope of the collection. And this is really just a question I'm putting out there because I don't know necessarily what kind of solution this could even have. But we've talked about the four or five elements of hip hop. There's DJing, emceeing, B-boying, and graffiti writing. This archive really focuses on the musical aspect. And I wouldn't say it excludes, but it doesn't completely address the dance and visual arts aspects. Obviously, the photos by Joe Conzo who just came in and the fliers are visual arts. But there's not too much on graffiti writing. And beyond a few photographs, there's not too much on dancing.
But how do you even collect something so ephemeral as a dance or a mural that could only exist until the city painted it over? You can have photographs. But they're static. In the case of dance, it doesn't really capture the energy of somebody actually dancing. And a photograph of a painted train can't really capture the majesty of a 40-foot mural with a print this big. So I don't even know where to begin to actually get a real picture of what those aspects of hip hop are. But hopefully, we can get towards some kind of answer to those and fill in some of these gaps.
VERNON MITCHELL: Good morning.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
VERNON MITCHELL: Wake up everybody. Before I say anything, let me give a special shout out to Bronx Guild High School who's out here.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: We know it's early. We're very happy that you're here.
VERNON MITCHELL: Right. But I mean, I think you all represent why this conference is taking place, why we're here, why Cornell even has the archive to begin with. Because I think my involvement is making sure that this is not something that stays looked upon as some type of old, archaic thing. I think someone said yesterday, Sean Eversley Bradwell talked about hip hop being old, or blowing off the dust necessarily. And I think this is something, for me, and I'm sure for everyone else, it's a living culture. And it has to be something that's accessible. It has to be something that is not allowed to be appropriated or reappropriated, if you will.
My involvement too is, to borrow from the theorist Eric Lott-- his book Love and Theft talks about the black exotic. So this has become something that is looked upon not as something old, but as something rare that's not engaged. Hip hop is not just a movement. It's not just a culture or a lifestyle. It's part of America. And I think that's the slice of Americana, the same way we look at blues, rock and roll, gospel music, Negro spirituals, and even African rhythms before that, Bluegrass music. All these things have been contributed to what hip hop is now. And this is the next form of Americana again that we have to, again, be careful about in the most Hegelian sense in terms of finding truth.
And I think that people may lose sight of what Afrika Bambaataa talked about yesterday and the fifth element of hip hop in terms of knowledge. And for me as a historian, it's always about context. Can we can contextualize everything that we see so that the fliers we've talked about-- how do we address the issue that we don't have the dance? We don't have the graffiti.
The other representations, and then, again, the knowledge is having students here from Bronx Guild speak to that notion. So for me, it's how do we reach back and do it in a way that is careful, that is understanding, but then at the same time, and in the true sense of hip hop, still pushes boundaries? I don't know that had the collection been somewhere else, would you have had a conference. They might have just had a press conference. There wouldn't have been a hip hop conference where, arguably, we created hip hop history to a certain extent with what we've assembled here for this weekend, these past few days.
And then, I guess, beyond that, the history part of it, the hip hop part of it for me is being a fan. I think that excitement is still there from the first time that I started breakdancing to Planet Rock in St. Louis, Missouri. So that's a different thing too is that I come from the Midwest where-- is hip hop just New York? No. I mean, it's like saying jazz is just Congo Square, New Orleans. I think that's wrong too, despite what Wynton Marsalis might want to have you think. Hot music was being played all over the place.
But I think that hip hop, like politics, is increasingly local. But there is a convergence of ideas that allows us to commune and begin to move the art form, the culture, the movement forward. I think that's what we have to continue to ask ourselves and, again, to go back to what Bam was talking about. To me, probably the most important element is the knowledge.
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: Good morning. Happy to see everyone here so early, especially not just the day after Halloween. But there's a record show going on in town. And if you didn't already know about it, I'm not going to tell you where it is so I can get there first. I've got to build my own archive this weekend. I took Grandmaster Caz's words seriously yesterday about writing some stuff. So I have done some riffing on archives. And I wrote a little bit little something to share with you this morning about archiving.
First, I need to start out by confessing something to everyone here. I am a scholar of African-American literature and popular music. But it's been a really long while since I've written anything directly about hip hop. And that's namely because, ironically, hip hop led me into the archives and wanting to know more about the past. And I appreciated that yesterday about the talk, about thinking about how hip hop doesn't just move us forward, but it invites us to think differently about the past.
So thinking through representation of hip hop as black noise, of course a shout out to Tricia Rose, led me to trace the genealogy back to Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, a concert singer and freed slave from Natchez, Mississippi, whose voice was considered so threatening to the white social order that police manned the lobby of the MET at her first performance in New York City in 1851. She was singing opera. In considering how hip hop makes some noise, creating new knowledge while disrupting the powers that be, I again traced counter memories, this time to the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 1870s, the first black performers to sing songs composed by slaves on the American public stage.
So I've been in the 19th century for a long while now. So talking about hip hop as dusty is kind of strange to me. I've been examining the roots of what I call America's sonic color line. And various archives, both physical archives and digital archives, have been very powerful tools for me and for the kind of work I do as a scholar, enabling me to link our present moment with the historical power structures that continue to haunt and challenge us. I'm going to tell you though-- and this is probably not news to anyone here-- that it remains much easier to research the dominant culture. Those archives are everywhere.
Archives speak silent volumes about who is valued in US history and culture and determine to a large degree whose stories get told and how. Archives like the one we're here to celebrate and to spread the knowledge about is really a rarity. They are a rarity. And when they do exist, the access to them is also often very circumscribed for a whole host of reasons.
For me, working at a public institution, I've had to compile a lot of my own research on the fly using my own dime, taking advantage of the wealth of private institutions-- I'm not going to name any names because sometimes it's been a little on the under-- to supplement the scarcity of my public institution. The archives of black culture that are as vital to my research as the air that I breathe are treated like frills that my institution simply cannot afford. I ask myself, why is that?
In asking such questions about archives and power and access, my literary training inevitably comes out. Thus the writing. The strongest links, though, that literary critics share with hip hop artists are a love and respect for words and our ability to break them down. I can't help but refer to the Oxford English Dictionary to help me deconstruct the power of language. So as I've been thinking through the whole idea of archive this week and my own experiences with archives and in archives, I was surprised to find three root meanings of the term. It comes from the Latin word archivum, which denotes, one, a magisterial residence, two, a public office, and three, government. Three meanings that I think can really help us frame a discussion about the significance of Cornell's acquisition of some of hip hop's important early material culture.
So one, archive as a magisterial residence. And this phrase suggests a grand house, a place of elegant shelter from memory that befits and bestows grandeur on what is housed inside. For those of us who love hip hop, who think it, create it, listen to it, write about it, and sustain it, the establishment of this archive at Cornell's magisterial residence is a potential victory of sorts, some long overdue props that theoretically guarantee hip-hop story will be told for future generations. However, I want to say that inclusion in the magisterial residence of cultural memory does not on its own guarantee quality remembrance or immortality. I've had the pleasure of touring Cornell's musical holdings before today.
And on my last visit, I found the papers of blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, AKA Lead Belly, in a really lonely and overstuffed file cabinet. And I was told that few people know about it or ever come to see them or use them. So they're here if you want to make some appointments now. Magisterial residence is awfully close in sound and meaning to the master's residence. And we are wise to remember Audre Lorde's admonition about the master's tools not being able to destroy the master's house.
At the rebel crossroads of desire and necessity, hip hop itself already is a sonic archive of current events, of forgotten or de-valued history, culture, style, pleasure, music, and the names of those who have passed. Hip hop questions the politics of how knowledge is produced, remembered, and mobilized. As my USC colleague [? Amani ?] Johnson recently wrote to me, "For an archive to be truly hip hop, it needs to challenge if not upset the notion of an archive as well." So I pose the question today to all of us. Will Cornell's magisterial residence operate as a hip hop archive, or will it remain an archive of hip hop?
And this leads me to the second idea-- archive as a public office. A public office is something that's accessible to and serves all members of a community. Transforming an archive of hip hop into a hip hop archive requires a committed, equitable, and transparent engagement with the public beyond Ithaca or the university sphere. And there's a great wealth of materials here. And I think it will do a lot of good.
And I want to share one of my most profound archival experiences I've had in my life that had nothing to do with my scholarly research. Instead, it came when my mom, who's a hairdresser from rural California-- I'm west coast-- visited me while I was on a fellowship at the Frederick Douglass Institute at the University of Rochester. This is a couple of years ago. And she had just found out that someone really special to her had passed, her middle school music teacher. It was a really important time in her life.
And by one of those lucky coincidences, his papers, a few of his papers, were housed at the Eastman Archive in Rochester. And so, you know, I used one of my first scholarly powers, my fledgling credentials to arrange for her to visit the papers of her music teacher. And this moved her very, very deeply very, very much. And she wasn't trying to get tenure. She wasn't facing an article deadline. She just wanted to see the name of someone who was really important to her recorded somewhere beyond her own memory. And it mattered very much to her that part of her story had traveled beyond her little town of Norco, California, farther than she had ever imagined her story and her memory would travel.
And thankfully, the archivist was open to my mom's scholarship. I've seen it go the other way. I've seen it go really differently at other archives I've been to. I've been sitting their researching at the Library of Congress just fuming listening to the librarians laugh at people who stopped to check on a family name or to find out more about the person that they were named after. No credentials, no access, right?
So in thinking through the potential of this new archive as a public office, I wonder how it will define and engage with the multiple needs of the public, including hip hop communities past, present, and future. Part of the liberating force of hip hop remains the fact that, as KRS-One once put it, anybody can or should be able to rock the turntables, grab the mic, plug it in, and begin. But the only reason my mom got to visit the archives was because her daughter was pursuing a PhD, a fact that brings me to the third resonance of the term-- government.
Invested with power and authority, the establishment of Cornell's archive holds out once again an important opportunity for scholars to take our roles as mediators of culture more seriously. How will we govern this collection? As its keepers, or as its gatekeepers? What kinds of stories will we tell? Whose stories will we silence? As mediators of this archive, will we advocate for and invest in new relationships with artists, fans, and other scholars? Or will we revel in the privilege of putting on the white gloves? And will this notion of governance somehow impair the living art of hip hop?
The title of this roundtable suggests a lot of anxiety that perhaps the birth of this archive indicates the death of hip hop as a contemporary artform, or that the archive will somehow govern or discipline hip hop. To this specific charge, I suggest that maybe we might be taking our governments a little too seriously. Hip hop did not ask academia to be born. And should it change into another living art form, it does need academia's permission to do that either. To cite KRS-One once more, 50 years down the road, you can spark this. 'Cause we'll be the old school artists. And even at that time, I'll say a rhyme, a brand new style ruthless and wild.
But even as I sample the old school-- or I guess the second wave of the old school-- I recognize that one way to keep this archive relevant is to recognize its partiality, to continue adding to its collection, moving far beyond the notion of origins in both time and space. There are multiple hip hop histories, as everyone on the panel's pointed out. From my beloved west coast to communist East Germany, from the dirty south to Cuba, or in the Bronx right now at this early morning moment. So even as magisterial residences, public offices, and sites of government, archives are not museums. They represent potential stories to be told, not fixed, imposed narratives. And I look forward to conversing with everyone here about the power of this potential and the ways that we can avoid some of the pitfalls of the archival tradition in this particular case. So thanks.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. Could we have a round of applause for the panel.
So in everyone's introduction, you began diving into the question of the politics of archiving. And so I want us to spend a little bit more time making it a bit more complex right. Let's problematize this a bit more. In terms of inclusion, privilege, and control. So my first question to the panel, how do we decide what's important enough to be included in the archive? what aspects of hip hop are we privileging? What aspects of hip hop may we be downplaying? And who's going to control all of this? To the panel.
VERNON MITCHELL: Well, I think that how we look at hip hop and the governing of its archiving has to be as organic as the culture and the movement itself. It's something that's continually being fluid. There is feedback from persons like Johan, from Gabriel, from any number of people, from scholars, pioneers themselves that we still are fortunate and blessed to have with us to be able to provide the feedback as it begins to change.
I mean, because what may be important now may be different six months from now, two years from now. I think we have to keep that at the frontmost understanding as we begin to do this. Because if we don't, then you lend yourself for it to be something that, as you pointed out, are we archiving hip hop, or does it become an archive of hip hop? How do we, again, keep this element, this slice of Americana, as I said before, alive? And I think that's how you keep it alive is continually dealing with the organic nature of the art form, the culture, the movement. But also apply it to the archiving of that same entity.
GABRIEL MCKEE: Well, I think this is a collection that can and should grow. And I think there should be a lot of voices saying what gets to go into it. Johan devised his cut off date of his period of interest as 1982, which is where it changed basically as--
JOHAN KUGELBERG: It went from a performance based to a recording based culture around '82 with the increased success of Run-DMC. So I thought that that was a natural cut off point for my collecting. Because I didn't want to cast my net too wide. And I also am consistently interested in culture, popular culture, on the margins. Because that's where edges overlap and new ideas sort of happen spontaneously out of necessity. And that's why DIY culture and self-starting culture is so consistently fascinating in the field of popular culture-- because you make something out of nothing. It's alchemy really what went down in the Bronx in the mid '70s.
There's a lot of talk now in 2008 of like this 30-plus year perspective on hip hop and punk, on parallels between the two. And I have a couple of comments about that. I think that hip hop is a lot more punk than punk is number one. And part of the reason why I think that is that the early days of punk rock, these tiny scenes, whether they were in LA or whether in New York or London or wherever they were, were completely immersed in self-documenting white, middle class thought. There was somebody at the venue taking photographs of who was there and keeping a copy of the guest list and keeping a copy of the show flyer and maybe even making a recording of the event.
Because this is white, middle class expression. And that means that it was consistently self-aware even as it happened. In 20 years, this might be important. In 50 years, this might be super important. Hip hop was about Saturday night. And these events happen night after night after night. Because, you know, it was letting off steam. It was having a party. It was meeting gals, meeting guys. It was everyday life expression. That, in turn, means that you've got to go through a lot of basements in Mount Vernon to even find 10 original hip hop fliers. Because hip hop was never self-documenting. The very ephemeral artifacts that we have of the roots of this truly important force of popular culture are as rare as it gets.
And as I say that, your mention of exotica earlier hits me in the head like a big old rubber mallet. Because it makes me wonder as a historian and a collector if it's the chase, if it's that this stuff is so rare that it's motivating me because of the rarity of it. Then I slap myself across the cheek and go, no, it's because it's great. But you have to remember that in the year 1979, which is sort of year zero of hip hop on vinyl, it's about 60 or 70 records that came out. Most of those came out before "Rapper's Delight," which was a worldwide smash hit, sold millions of copies, and basically turned rap on vinyl into novelty music. Because the rap was like "The Twist" or the Hula Hoop or Crazy Frog. It became novelty music because of that.
So in 1980, then you have like 400, 500 records coming out of African-American artists rapping on record. And those records are hyper rare as well because nobody wanted "Rapper's Delight" part two. So these are records that didn't really sell. I'm only talking about the vinyl now. And records that didn't really get national distribution. And it's records that were actually published and distributed by small scale ghetto entrepreneurs. Because the white record business didn't start knocking on doors until three, four years later. That's the ephemeral nature of the vinyl.
The ephemeral nature of the flyers is that these show flyers were handed out in school yards, on subway trains, on street corners. If you handed them in at the door, you'd get $1.00 discount. So it was almost like they had like the built in obsolescence of just disappearing. When it comes to original punk flyers from '77, '78, you can look at Ebay any day of the week and get offered like 100 of them because like all of these gals and fellows kept a few for posterity. I don't think I've ever seen an original hip hop flier on Ebay ever.
And you know, the photography, the paintings, how Gabriel address graffiti murals, we are very, very lucky to be here today. Because we are ahead of the curve considering just the passage of time and us all being a part of a mortal coil, which means that the legends are still alive. The people who were there, who made this happen, who were the alchemists, are still alive. They'll hopefully talk to us. When they perform, their vitality is kind of still insane as we saw last night.
So think of this as if we would have been able to hang out with and interview Son House and Charlie Patton in the '40s. The reason that Cornell has the glorious Lead Belly archive is the great luck that Lead Belly was mentored in the ways of the music business by John Lomax and Alan Lomax.
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: He also had to serve as their butler.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Yeah, yeah. Well, that's how they discovered him was that way, right?
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: No, in prison. He was in Angola prison when they were doing archival collection for the Library of Congress.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: But he basically hung out with archivists [INAUDIBLE].
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: If you consider butlering hanging out. I don't know if I do.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Forced hanging out.
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: And he recorded for Smithsonian Folkways too.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. Thank you. So I want to pick up on something that Johan had raised. He mentioned the seminal dates of 1979 and also '82. So I want to just throw out the elephant in the room with all of this with the next question. So some have argued that the first death of hip hop was a transition from live performances to the recorded medium of vinyl in the late '70s, early '80s. Hip hop was being packaged for mass distribution and mass white and mainstream appropriations. Here's the question. What do we say to those who view the academic archiving of hip hop as yet another death, and by extension, another form of mass appropriation of quote unquote "black and youth culture"?
GABRIEL MCKEE: Well, as anybody who was here last night can attest, hip hop is alive and well. It can take care of itself. What we're really collecting in the archive, you could say, isn't hip hop. It's what hip hop leaves behind. It's the evidence of what hip hop once was to go alongside the living example of what hip hop is now. So where hip hop really dies isn't in the archive. It's in the dumpster if we let this kind of stuff get put there. The basements and storage units that could very, very easily get emptied out and thrown away is really where it could die, not in a place where it's being well cared for, and really more importantly than that, where it's being presented to people who are interested in it and who want to learn from it.
It's really up to the users of the archive whether or not it dies here. If you want it to die, don't use it. If you want it to stay alive, use it. And I think there's an opportunity here for this collection to see unprecedented levels of use. I think it appeals to a very, very broad range of people. And it's going to be pretty widely available. A lot of it's being digitized and should be available online. So I think this archive is kind of the opposite of the death of hip hop. I think it's kind of bringing hip hop back to life in a way.
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: And to add to that, I think that not only did that move to recording culture allow for a mass white appropriation. But it also enabled the huge global travel of hip hop. And there's been a lot of important benefits that have come out of recording. I think everyone in this room also has come to hip hop not just through performance, but also through recordings. So it's allowed the kind of legacy to build as it moved from the margins to the mainstream.
And I really like the idea of digitizing. And that is a way to access not just the stories of artists, but also how can we bring and treat and take seriously the stories of fans and the stories of participants in the culture who gave their fliers at the door, who weren't performing on stage. And I think hip hop, one of the things it has done so well, is it has really blurred those boundaries between fans and artists and scholars. One can be all three of those things at the same time. So how can we maybe challenge-- keep hip hop alive by using more unique methods of collecting things? Can we have access for people to leave recordings on the website, or to send in their written histories, or to have students around the country collecting oral histories?
And in some ways, we don't know what is going to be important to folks in 200 years. And in some ways, allowing for-- digital files can be stored relatively easily for oral histories. So allowing folks to continue to sort it out, what's important, I think is going to be key to really think about how we can not just use older methods of collection, but having it be more interactive and allow for a multiplicity of people to tell their stories and make it really interactive.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. Thank you. And so I think when we talk about archiving hip hop, as was said yesterday, that sometimes we conjure up images of cold museums where you're told to be quiet, not to touch. Some might imagine that archiving hip hop means sending it to the old, dusty stacks. So here's the question. How is this archive going to capture the loudness, the movement, the anger, the interaction aspects of hip hop? What technical aspects of the archive are going to be important in terms of access, in terms of space? Will we be able to touch the fliers? Will we be able to listen to the music as loud as we want? Or will it be a quiet place to come study?
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Quiet [INAUDIBLE].
GABRIEL MCKEE: Well, I don't know too much about the specific facilities that are available for it. But a record isn't music until it's played. So again, that kind of comes back to what I was saying before. The archive is as alive is its users want it to be. I know that Cornell has plans for an active curriculum with these materials being used in the classroom.
And similarly, to the facilities-- I don't know too much about the specific access policies-- but I know that generally speaking, and the catchword in the library world is providing access. You want people to use what you have. And I think it's pretty easy to say for any hip hop fan that you can have a rationale for wanting to learn the history. And so I think this should be pretty well available to anyone that really wants to use it. So yeah, I think it's there and just waiting for the vault to be opened.
VERNON MITCHELL: Yeah, in terms of the anger you talked about, I think that's where context comes into play. I think while you have access to, as Gabriel pointed out, the things left behind by hip hop, you begin to push the envelope on persons like Robert Moses. You think about, what's that name mean? And I don't mean the civil rights freedom fighter from the '60s. You have to begin to place persons, historical characters like him into context so that you begin to understand how the Bronx became South Bronx in the early, mid '70s. So again, context is going to be increasingly important.
So as we all from the academy to the streets begin to make the archive itself has to be kind of malleable, amorphous maybe to a certain extent. We do this that we don't lose sight of the larger things. But at the same time, we don't get lost in that. Because I think understanding the dispossession is the beauty of the whole thing, just like with the blues and other American art forms that have come from that. They've been born, alchemy as Johan pointed out, is born out of oppression.
So you have to talk about the oppression and how it helped to transform and how it was allowed-- well, I wouldn't say allowed. Well, maybe. How it was allowed to happen. And despite public policy, citizens, regular folk, still transform their personal experience, their everyday experience, their community experience to make a communal movement towards a very humanitarian existence. Just because we don't have doesn't mean that we can't be. So I think that that's an important thing to think about in terms of capturing the anger, which I think is a good point to look at.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Community activism and self-starter popular culture are aspects of the revolution of everyday life. And it's if one is attempting to micromanage the notion of fighting the power is that throwing a party in a park in 1976 in the Bronx is kind of as strong a statement of the happiness of being alive and the revolution of the celebration of self that can possibly be implied. And that's part of what I mean with the alchemy of the very early days of hip hop. Because it's not making gold out of lead. It's making gold out of nothing.
TRAVIS GOSA: And just to follow up on this last point, for those who have read the book Prophets of the Hood by Imani Perry, she refers to hip hop as a outlaw culture. And so if we take for granted this has been and continues to be an outlaw culture, how does real hip hop continue to live in the academy? Some people say hip hop lives in the street. It doesn't live on the radio. It doesn't live in universities. How can we maintain that authenticity or realness of this culture while interacting and preserving it at Cornell University?
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Can I start that?
GABRIEL MCKEE: Please do.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: I'm from Sweden. I grew up in like a little cave with like an elf as a friend as a small child close to the Arctic Circle. So my idea of what real hip hop is is automatically as an absolute outsider. And you know, I'm such an outsider that I'm unsure whether I would even be able to contextualize what it is.
Sam, my son, who's in the audience today, and who worked on the hip hop archive together with Gabriel this summer, started to sort it and figure all that stuff out, a few years ago, like maybe like four or five years ago, a couple of hip hop legends had been over at my house. And we'd had a meeting about the work we were doing and so forth. And they leave. And Sam walks over to me and goes, dad, those guys, do they think you're down? And I'm like, hell no. Not even close. You know, before they're at the elevator, they're making fun of the way I dress, the way I talk, the way I think, everything.
And that's cool. That doesn't matter. Because they think I'm honest in my pursuit of preserving this heritage. And that means that people like me or Gabriel or Katherine or Sam or whoever, it's not about us thinking that we have any kind of notion of what constitutes real hip hop or what constitutes the purity of the form. All we can do, what we can do, is what Gabriel said, is that we can preserve the residue and the ephemera that's created as this culture keeps steam rolling on.
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: At the heart of that question-- and I agree with that. And I think that there's sometimes kind of a knot at the middle of this authenticity question where in terms of when we talk about archiving black culture, it's something that we can't capture. We can get their vibrancy. We can't get the loudness. We can't get the authenticity. And you know, there's this idea that the dominant culture is somehow infinitely preservable. And teaching about slavery, I've had many, many students say, I can't possibly understand slavery. I wasn't alive then. I've had yet to have someone say, I can't understand Shakespeare because I wasn't alive in the Renaissance, right?
And you know, I think that in terms of history, you know, we're not trying to recreate the past. We're trying to remember the past through this archive. And you know, the Declaration of Independence, theoretically, was outlaw culture too. And we're not questioning preserving that document and our power to remember it. So I think in terms of hip hop, we need to think a little bit differently about this idea that black culture is somehow uncapturable or unable to be archived. And you know, I think partly changing the nature or thinking about archiving differently could be part of the solution to that. But in the meantime, I think that--
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Why the choice of the word outlaw culture though?
TRAVIS GOSA: And so in the Perry book-- I don't want to miscategorize her work-- but she looks at hip hop as being in line with the marginalist tradition in black culture, with the idea that societal institutions, the police, the mechanisms of production, make people of color outlaws. But then people begin to take on sort of the outlaw culture of the cowboy, the I guess now, the thug outlaw. And so the contradictions in that when the outlaw becomes popular in society, she claims sort of traps sort of protest and resistance because it's almost in a way in which people have become sanctioned. It's OK now in this space to be outlaws. But you know, it's still under sort of dominate control.
And so I wanted to pose one more question to the panel before we open it up. And I think this gets to the social and educational significance of this type of archive. And so I'm very happy to see so many high school students in the audience. So here's the question. So can we reflect upon the influence of hip hop in academia for increasing enrollment of students of color, getting people interested in pursuing college education who may otherwise not see themselves represented in academia? Do you think that this archive will help increase minority enrollments-- black, Latino, Native American enrollments? And if so, is the promise in teaching, research, recruitment, or retention? How might hip hop sort of help address some of the issues of educational college going?
VERNON MITCHELL: Well, I think that that's always an issue. And part of my involvement in this panel and with the collection, especially the conference, was not that it became come to Cornell. We have a hip hop archive. That's not a selling point. And I think that has to be where we continue to keep it organic. And I keep going back to this because I think that's important.
Ownership in terms of authenticity is like saying, what's really black? You know, I think you went through the same situation here. So in terms of how do we make this palatable to black and brown and everything else-- because hip hop is worldwide now just like-- if you go to Japan and see Wu-Tang, you might think you're in Shaolin for real. But the idea is that we continue to push those boundaries and make it something that is transformed by the communities in which the university decides it wants to serve.
Because that's part of this too. And those who are working on behalf of the university, whether it's from this panel to the archivists themselves, to shape a program to address the needs that are inherent in that. Or in many ways, I know now you see commercials where they show the golfer Phil Mickelson. And he shoots the shot-- I play golf. But he shoots the shot from the edge of the green. He says, I used math to do that.
Well, if you think about engineering, that's hip hop. I mean, if you listen to Tony Tone, they were talking about the speakers they put together. The images you saw, that's math. That's engineering. Philosophy is happening. Wordplay, wordsmiths, that's English. So it again goes back to how university and those affiliated with university and those of us who are here challenge the institution to live up to what hip hop really is. And I think that's something that should be a fluid conversation. And I think in that way, you can begin to address the needs of those who have stereotypically been dispossessed.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: When it comes to the community activism and the community outreach though, wouldn't come to Cornell, we have a hip hop collection be kind of good?
VERNON MITCHELL: Well, yeah, but you can't rest on that though.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: But how would you phrase it though?
VERNON MITCHELL: I don't know. I mean, I think some of that is providing the music or aspects of the culture. Because I'm sure if you show the fliers to the students here from Bronx Guild, it's like this is a flier. Grandmaster Cas was there. OK. You have to do something more than just say that. How do you make it alive? How do you allow these students to take ownership of that, to internalize what's happening?
GABRIEL MCKEE: But on the other side of that, since so much information about this collection is going to be online, if you have a 15-year-old kid who's never thought of going to college, who types into Google one day what was the first hip hop record, and Cornell University comes up as one of the hits, that my plant a seed in his mind. I certainly don't think that should be the end of it. But I think there is a way for that to be definitely a recruitment tool.
VERNON MITCHELL: Yeah, I'm not saying it can't be a recruitment tool. It's how do we allow it to be a recruitment tool? How do they shape-- I think about the ball of clay. You have the archive there. And when I first found out, I was like, man, to be an undergrad and know this was here. I mean, you can start almost a whole department on not just popular culture, but on hip hop by having this collection here.
This is really a godsend to a certain extent. But how do you transfer it to other people? I understand that. We understand that. I'm sure people in the audience understand that. Maybe they don't. But how do you begin to get people to have that understanding I think is the key part. Just saying that we have a hip hop collection, even with the Google thing, I think those things are helpful. But you have to do more than that. To me, those are like the word of mouth type things that happen.
And hip hop is word of mouth too. I don't want to take anything from that. But we have to be proactive in that regard to bring in students who reflect what we believe is the best and sometimes the worst in hip hop. Because sometimes you're gonna deal with people that are on the fringes, that may not have otherwise had opportunity. So by having this thing that represent them, they say, hey, this is me. I'm from South Bronx. I understand this. That could be the next Mark Anthony Neal, the next Chris Rose.
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: I was just going to say that I think that's important too. That in the digital world, that we don't lose sight of the power of human relationships and human networks to build that knowledge. One, I think through curriculum across university so hip hop doesn't just get isolated within a music department or within Africana. And then K through 12 curriculum that allows students not just to kind of see the materials, but actually get to use them and do the kinds of critical thinking that it invites you to do, that we don't just chew it up. We let students really write history and not just learn history. And I think back to kind of community, that scholars have a responsibility to find out what's going on in their communities and find a way to tie that in.
When I was working at USC, co-teaching a black popular culture course, we worked with Ben Caldwell at the KAOS Network out at Leimert Park. And pretty soon, our students in our course were going to Project Blowed on Thursdays. Students from-- the KAOS Network is like a hip hop performance in our community space. And you know, they were starting to offer summer scholarships through the Getty. And those kind of relationships can be very, very powerful. And I think this archive allows for that to really start here in Ithaca.
VERNON MITCHELL: I think that the other thing, real briefly, I think is important-- and I thought about this off the top of my head. I worked as a graduate scholar at the Martin Luther King Papers Project. And I shared this with some of the panelists earlier. I remember coming across a receipt that Dr. King had for a dinner he paid for. He used American Express by the way. Why is that important? Well, really, it's not. It doesn't tell us what he had or who he paid dinner for, anything like that.
The reason I bring that up, is that at the Papers Project at Stanford, they have a liberation curriculum where they bring in high school teachers. And these teachers have to apply to get into the program. The reason I bring that up, again, is to say that it was mentioned yesterday on the panel that we have to meet the students where they are. And I think part of that accountability has to be at the secondary level as well. So there is part of this curriculum that's developed that challenges teachers to begin to have communion with hip hop, to partake so that when they see their students, I kind of understand what you're talking about. We can begin to address this education holistically from a different standpoint. Because I now understand from whence-- the culture from which you come from as a [INAUDIBLE]. So I think that's also important that. It's not just academy. It's not just the student. But we have to really engage the teachers as well.
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: And that we engage them on a footing that's equal. Because I think a lot of times the university treats secondary teachers like they're secondary. We need to tell them what they need to do to get students ready for us when it really needs to be an equal interchange. And the thing that they did at Stanford was they catered the liberation curriculum to the teachers. What do you need to know? What are your students asking? And how can we use this wealth of information we have about this historical figure to help you? Because sometimes, Dr. King's name didn't even come up in some of the things they do. And to me, I think that's good because I don't think that he would necessarily want that anyway.
So with hip hop, I think the same thing has to happen. I mean, the fact that you mentioned Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Cas, or Joe Conzo, or Johan, whoever, it's about the furthering of the life, the art form, the culture, the movement. And to a certain extent that I could take to its farthest extension is to say the furthering of America. That you are providing, I think, a holistic education.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. Thank you. So we want to leave time to--
JOHAN KUGELBERG: One more comment. And another component of what you guys was just discussing is the dialogue between us who are finding the stuff and you guys who are using the stuff.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. And so can you give the panel one more round of applause?
And so I know you all have questions and comments. So if you could line up at either mic to take questions. And so when you do ask your question, could you please state your name, where you're from, and keep your questions brief. And so starting on my right.
CHRISTIE Z. PABON: Peace. I'm Christie. Z. Pabon, Tools of War. I work with a lot of pioneers and legends. And I think that what I hope for academia especially is to-- the legends and pioneers like Cas said briefly on the [INAUDIBLE] yesterday, the best of them don't go around looking to be acknowledged because they knew who they are. Cas has a term called "lioneers." Lioneers are those bogus ones who come out and tell you that they are pioneers. But maybe they're not.
So what I hope for academia is that there's a lot of cross-referencing and checking to avoid getting bogus archives and bogus information. But I also hope that rather than just using Can't Stop Won't Stop or Yes Yes Y'all, which are immense books, that you don't use just those to go me cool DJ AJ or people that you don't even see sometimes in Harlem, that you come out to the events if you can and the jams and the things that happen in New York City and elsewhere to meet these pioneers and legends who don't come to the panels.
And they're so special. And they're so-- I think some academia could probably befriend people and help them get their archives together, or god-willing Cornell can offer support for-- I can think of one person who was really poor. And whatever he had in his archives and storage went away. And I can't even begin to imagine what was lost. So maybe there's a way to offer some support for those people. Like, hey, you know, let me help you digitize this or whatever. But befriend them and stay with them instead of just saying, OK, well, I already talked to Tony Tone. I'm out. You know what I mean? So those are my hopes for everything. Peace.
TRAVIS GOSA: Yes.
Sure. I want to really concretize what you're claiming is the challenge here to make this alive. I'm a staff developer in the Ithaca City School District. And I got some notes because it's a little complex. But to answer your question, I absolutely respect hip hop. And that's why I want the opportunity to get some insight here from some folks. So I'm a staff developer in the school district. And my job is to work with educators, community, and families around issues of equity.
SPEAKER 2: And so coming from some of the stuff I heard yesterday, hip being knowledge, and hop being movement, a number of us are working in collaboration trying to put King's last book, Where Do We Go From Here-- Chaos or Community-- into context for young people in their lives today in Ithaca. And so we have a group of us coming together-- educators, young people, some families, and some artists of all different kinds.
We're going to watch Echoes of Brown which is a 50th year commemoration of Brown where young people express what they think about sort of artistically in the broad sense. The plan is to engage young people in looking at King's book, and particularly the issues of racism, militarism, and materialism, and to have the artists, and then the Southside studio that we now have access to, to then inspire the young people to do what they want to do regarding social justice right here in Ithaca.
And so, of course, as I'm sitting here yesterday, it becomes clear to me that a piece of what we need to do in that work is to get these young people up to the archives. And so the question is what will they do when they're there? In other words, they come up to the archive. We've read some of Chaos or Community. We've watched Echoes of Brown. We've engaged in some discussion of what is it like to live in Ithaca today. Now we're at the archive. I'm hoping that we're there to be inspired. And I'm hoping that we're there so that hip hop helps bring relevance to the '67 book. Then what? What do we do there?
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: That's a really good question. I think that part of it is asking students, tell me what you think it was like in 1978 in the Bronx. I taught high school myself before I went back to the academy for six years. And a lot of what I would do even archivally at that stage-- and I'd give them photocopies of archival materials from the Puritans and not say anything. Say, you're an anthropologist. You found this box of materials. You tell me what you think is going on here. Who were these people? What were they like? Instead of saying, the old narrative we've all heard about the Puritans in Plymouth Rock and all that.
We'd start out with these people talk so much about God. But yet they have slaves. We'd start off with that question instead of getting to it. So just allowing them to write their own histories when they get back to your classroom about what they see or thought or what was important to them in the materials and just letting them be open to their own inquiry.
SPEAKER 2: What I would ask you guys is I don't want them coming back and writing-- I don't want them changing Ithaca. I mean, literally.
JENNIFER STOEVER-ACKERMAN: Maybe have a night where they could share those stories, what they found, and invite their folks, and invite people at the school. Stage their own event when they get back.
VERNON MITCHELL: Yeah, I think that that's part of it. First of all, let me commend you for using that book. A lot of people forget about King and his last work. But in some ways, you're trying to facilitate movement. And in some ways, you can ease it along. I think in other ways, you can't. And I think the students have to take ownership of that. I don't think you say, OK, here's history. Here's context. Here's this. Now, uplift yourself. It didn't really happen like that. So I think what's been suggested is to keep it-- and I keep saying organic.
It has to be the same way for them. What do they think about when they see this? When you talk about the very communal nature that arose and still exists when you see the pioneers around each other? How do they help us? What does that mean to the student? Because what King is talking about in that book is how we create the beloved community. What does that mean? But how do the students define that for themselves? Because it's going to change. And I think hip hop, the way you're trying to incorporate it into your curriculum you're putting together I think is brilliant. But I think you have to let it do its thing, if that makes any sense. Let the students take ownership of that.
And so when they come to archive, what do they see? They see the next phase of the movement. After King is assassinated, this next culture comes from that. All right? So I think that, again, them taking ownership and defining the parameters-- and probably the thing to point out too, one of the problems that we see-- we've pointed out the problems that King talked about. In many ways, those same problems exists today. But how do those students begin to identify for themselves, well, this is my issue, Professor such and such, or Mr. or Mrs. such and such, whoever the teacher is, or for yourself. I missed your name. I'm sorry.
But how do I as a student at Ithaca High School see myself in the broader community? These are what the brothers and sisters were doing in South Bronx. These are what the brothers and sisters were doing in the American South. My issue is X. It speaks to Y because of whatever they find is there. And I think that's where you as an educator, as a facilitator for that change, begin to provide the whole new context for what hip hop is, what King was trying to do, and for what you're trying to do for your students to address issues you see happening in the community.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. Thank you. And hopefully, we can begin to address such questions at 11:15 with Professor Mark Anthony Neal. So I want to take two more.
CHARLIE AHEARN: Hi. I'm Charlie Ahearn. I made a movie called Wild Style.
I just wanted to open up a can of worms that Johan and I, hanging out together. And we talked about all kinds of stuff. And last night, I just brought up what-- by the way, I have to say I'm totally in awe of this entire thing that's going on here with Joe Conzo's photographs, with Johan's incredible drive to get this collection into this with what Katherine's doing. And I'm really impressed and very inspired by this and everything else that's going on.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Let's talk about the problems.
CHARLIE AHEARN: What was the obvious thing that when I was sitting through everything last night and listening to everything, the elephant in the living room that's not being talked about is the whole extent of graffiti-style writing, et cetera, and how that laid an entire foundation of a kind of open rebellion in 1970 in New York City that has spread around this planet as a visual culture, which is unparalleled. I can't think of any parallel visual culture on this planet which has been so ubiquitous on a planetary scale of something that started with a kind of open rebellion, a kind of struggle of people from the underclass to make a mark, to give a voice.
And I realize that it's an incredibly difficult ephemeral thing to document or to put in an archive or even to reference in an archive. And people here are doing what they do. Like Johan says, I'm doing what I'm trying to do, what I've got to contribute. But I'm just saying as a picture of hip hop and where it came from, I feel like it's a huge--
JOHAN KUGELBERG: We desperately need documentation of graffiti.
CHARLIE AHEARN: --hugely important foundation for the entire world in which it grew up in.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Charlie, have you seen Danny Dan's collection?
CHARLIE AHEARN: Who?
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Danny Dan, the Beat Man.
CHARLIE AHEARN: No.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: A friend of Joe Conzo's who for years and years have been preserving-- he's been digitizing everybody's old fading four by six snapshots and like Polaroids. And do you remember when you like went to the drugstore to get your photos, and there was like strange little square photographs? Danny Dan has been keeping all of this stuff for years and years and years. And he is always buzzing around right around here in my head when I think about the Born in the Bronx archive and when I think about the real problem of graffiti and graffiti art and the lack of it as of yet. So you know, I can only categorically agree with you. It's also a huge drag that as of yet, there aren't any really substantial books on the subject. And the 149th Street website may be amazing. But that's also something that is not updated with the speed or frequency that it needs to be as this thing, as this true [INAUDIBLE].
CHARLIE AHEARN: It's also something-- the same way that you spoke of being interested in something recorded before it became so-called commercial, from my view point, I look at the entire thing of hip hop as music saying, well, that's commercial. It was something that could be marketed. And this other culture was something that could not actually be marketed. And it really was an outlaw culture literally. It has so many strikes against it for it to be in existence.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Well, it's 35 years ago. And it's the same problems that to an extent are surrounding the stencil art underground in the UK like the four or five years, except that the fellows who were doing the trains in the early mid '70s didn't do like train silk screens to be sold in galleries [INAUDIBLE] underground.
CHARLIE AHEARN: They did do snapshots, some of them. And there are many photographs from that. Anyway, I've said enough. I just want to say--
JOHAN KUGELBERG: You said it well.
CHARLIE AHEARN: Thank you and congratulations.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. Thank you. Yes ma'am.
PRECIOUS: Hi, my name is Precious. And I had a question about how y'all letting [INAUDIBLE] all the stuff that y'all put together, you're letting it stay in Cornell. Yeah, Cornell. I think that's what the college is called. And I was thinking that, don't y'all think it's better to let all the stuff stay in the Bronx where they were raised and born from?
JOHAN KUGELBERG: You're spot on. Before I met Katherine, before the material ended up here, I literally walked around knocking doors going, here, look at my stuff. Wouldn't it be great if it is here, including a Bronx-based university that shall remain unnamed, and including a Bronx-based museum that shall remain unnamed. They didn't care.
PRECIOUS: OK, thank you.
MICHAEL LAIRD: Michael Laird, University of Texas at Austin. This is not a question, but just a reminder. Cornell's rare manuscript collection is open today for viewing from 1:00 until 5:00 to--
SPEAKER 3: [INAUDIBLE] There you go.
MICHAEL LAIRD: I would like to remind the gentlemen from the Ithaca school system that there you will see six large silk prints of Joe Conzo photographs with a small selection of the 500 basically unique examples of fliers. And then what you cannot see is to the very right is a copy of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, one of five known copies. So what we have here is a context, a very, very interesting one, in which that document provides a kind of beginning, which is extended in the collection that Johan Kugelberg has painfully assembled.
SPEAKER 3: Painstakingly.
MICHAEL LAIRD: Well, painfully and painstakingly because he was the one who was digging for years. Anyway, to the gentleman from the Ithaca public school system, this is where the students can go to find curiosity, seek inquiry, and generate answers. And it's available at 1 o'clock. Thank you.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. Thank you. And so we have one time for just one quick question here before we wrap up.
SPEAKER 4: I'm bum-rushing the mic. [INAUDIBLE] Prince from South Africa. I have a question relating to archiving and performance. And I'm just wondering about hip hop traditions. There are books in the last three to five years that have been published. And authors like Jeff Chang, Oliver Wang have included with them mixtapes that speak to the contents of those texts. I'm just wondering what the possibilities are for the archive to work with performance, taking some of the material and performing them in mixtapes, or finding possibilities for public performance where that material is taken back to the communities of origin.
Because an important theme has been keeping this archive alive and not have it kind of stagnate.
JOHAN KUGELBERG: Katherine, do you want to just mention the student-generated Born in the Bronx stage show that happened earlier this year?
KATHERINE REAGAN: Yeah, right here on this stage, the students-- word of the collection arriving here spread. I have to say that I've never seen an academic community rally around an archival collection like this one has done for this campus. And as Jennifer mentioned earlier, this really is truly a cross-disciplinary magnet. I've had architects. I've had artists. I've had people from the dance department. I've had people from the music department, one of whom is already building a syllabus in the spring around this collection. It's called Researching Hip Hop-- Cornell University's Hip Hop Collection. And the goal is to teach students original research skills based on this collection.
And I think that speaking as a curator now and not a scholar, but as somebody addressing some of these practical questions that have come up, our goal is, of course, global access for this collection. We are highly sensitive that we are in Ivy League upstate New York. And therefore, it makes our responsibility even greater to push this out so that everyone has access to it. We can't do it immediately because there's thousands of pieces in the collection. And it will take a little bit of time. But we expect within the next year or two, this will be open to everyone.
And of course, getting as many people locally in to see the originals as well. We teach more than 200 classes and tours every year for all levels of students in the rare book and manuscript division. And our job is to balance access with preservation. So to the question of can people handle and rifle through the fliers, well, we judge that on a case by case basis. Because of course, if you let thousands of people a year rifle through the fliers, they will disintegrate. Hence digitisation. But showing people the originals so they don't lose a sense of what the artifact itself looks like-- a digital image is a flat thing. It's not the real thing itself.
So those are just my few comments. And I just want to thank everyone on this panel. You've done a great job. You've raised some really interesting questions. And I really leave it to all of you to make use of this collection and to keep it alive and to approach it with all of your questions.
TRAVIS GOSA: Great. Thank you.
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Why should we archive hip hop? What gets into an archive, and who controls it? Is there a particular narrative of the genre's history that will be privileged over others? These questions were asked by Travis Gosa, assistant professor in Africana Studies at Williams College, who moderated a panel on the academic and journalistic study of hip hop.
Panelists included Johan Kugelberg, collector and author of "Born in the Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip Hop"; Gabriel Mckee, archivist of the Born in the Bronx collection; Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr., Ph.D. candidate in the department of history at Cornell University; Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman, assistant professor of English at SUNY Binghamton. The discussion took place on Nov. 1, 2008, in the Alice Statler Auditorium, as part of Cornell University Library's Born in the Bronx hip hop conference.
The two-day conference celebrated Cornell University Library's acquisition of "Born in the Bronx: The Legacy and Evolution of Hip Hop," a collection that documents the early days of hip hop with recordings, photographs, posters and more. Events on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2008, included music, performances and lectures by several of hip hop's founders, and roundtable discussions led by prominent speakers from the hip hop and academic communities.