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Preserving the past

Hip-hop artists convene for posterity

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Preserving the past
Image from “Show ’Em Watcha Got” on display at the Boston Public Library. Images courtesy Brian Coleman

On Saturday, May 19, artists, producers and DJs from Boston’s hip-hop history will convene at the Boston Public Library to preserve their industry memorabilia for posterity. “Show ’Em Watcha Got Mass. Memories Road Show: The Hip-Hop Edition,” in collaboration with UMass Boston, aims to acknowledge the often-relegated artistic genre and to create a bank of historical documents of the movement.

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Image from “Show ’Em Watcha Got” on display at the Boston Public Library. Images courtesy Brian Coleman

Image from “Show ’Em Watcha Got” on display at the Boston Public Library.
Images courtesy Brian Coleman

Everyone is encouraged to bring three items with major significance to Boston’s hip-hop movement. All the photographs, tapes, clothing, posters and other pieces of history will be scanned, digitized and added to the statewide archive hosted online by UMass Boston, along with accompanying stories of each piece.

Artist Akrobatik, a Dorchester native, participated on the planning committee and will attend the event on Saturday. Currently, Akrobatik performs with a collective called The Perceptionists and teaches a class on hip-hop history and culture at UMass Boston. “Because hip-hop has only been around for 40 years, we have the ability to archive the whole scene,” says Akrobatik. He’s managed to whittle down his memorabilia to three major items: a flyer from a 1999 concert at the Middle East when he opened for Eminem, a photo from a 1990 stage performance and the cover art from his debut EP in 2000.

The community gathering allows for a greater discussion, both about the artistry behind the hip-hop sound and the social oppressions that have kept the Boston movement down. This convention falls during the 20th annual Hip-Hop Appreciation Week, May 14 to May 19, just a month after Kendrick Lamar’s album “Damn” won the Pulitzer Prize.

“Show ’Em Watcha Got” isn’t just celebrating musical artists. Creators from every corner of the hip-hop ecosystem, from graffiti artists to dancers, will be recognized.

Rob Stull, an illustrator, comic book creator and owner of the Ink on Paper studio, was part of the Artists Without Limits group in 1983 Boston. The graffiti-crew-turned-art-production-company partnered with local area promoters to make artwork to advertise music, spoken word and dance. Stull plans to bring a flyer from a 1989 Shinehead concert, a flyer design from a Boogie Down Productions show and a jacket with a purple rose design from the ’80s.

Image from “Show ’Em Watcha Got” on display at the Boston Public Library. Images courtesy Brian Coleman

Image from “Show ’Em Watcha Got” on display at the Boston Public Library.
Images courtesy Brian Coleman

Hip-hop emerged strongly among black and Latino communities in New York in the 1970s. Based on philosophical tenets like unity, wisdom and respect, hip-hop has always been and continues to be a tool for conflict resolution, community building and empowerment for young people in disadvantaged communities. National institutions have archived big-name artists of the genre, but for Boston in particular, the small-time community artists who weren’t able to achieve fame in this environment are equally important to the history.

In addition to the physical documentation, the storytelling is highly anticipated. Organizers hope a big crowd will come out from the community to share experiences and talk future progress. “I think it’s gonna be like a high school reunion, like a family reunion,” says Akrobatik. “We all have so much to catch up on.”

Running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the library’s central branch, the event is free and open to the public. Anyone interested in hip-hop is welcome.

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