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A Legendary Hip-Hop Archive Finds a Home in Harlem

And all you’ll need to see it is a library card.

In the 1970s and 1980s, New York City was the epicenter of hip-hop music and culture. Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite, Brooklyn-born director, visual artist, and ambassador for the genre, played a significant role in hip-hop’s transition from an outer-borough sound into a mainstream, global phenomenon. The original host of Yo! MTV Raps, the channel’s highest-rated show at the time, Braithwaite must have known something lasting and important was afoot. He documented and collected ephemera from hip-hop’s earliest days in a variety of formats: VHS recordings of rap music videos and shows, photographs, handwritten notebooks, and much, much more. Recently, the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem has acquired Braithwaite’s multimedia archive in full—to the tune of 120 boxes of material.

“His tentacles were everywhere in that early period [of hip-hop], from the late ’70s through the ’80s,” says Shola Lynch, curator of the Center’s Moving Image & Recorded Sound Division. “What’s amazing about the materials in his collection is that he is reflective of the entire community at that time and had some sense of documenting it … pre-cell phone, pre-social media. These photographs are his personal snapshots … he just happened to be hanging out with everybody from Queen Latifah to P. Diddy to Biggie Smalls.”

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Tags: #hiphop, #libraries, #music
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