Two weeks ago we got a chance to visit the Cornell University’s Hip Hop Collection in Ithaca, NY. Cornell University is one of the traditional and top universities in USA located on about a five hour drive from New York City. Walking up the hill to the huge campus area one could already sense a breeze of history.
What’s the Cornell Hip Hop Collection (CHHC) then? The story dates back 10 years from now to a Swede called Johan Kugelberg. He had just released the Born in the Bronx book with Joe Conzo, which led him having a huge archive of material from the early days of hip hop. After a talk with the Cornell University together they ended up institutionalising the collection at the campus for preservation purpose. The Cornell Hip Hop Collection had gotten it’s birth.
As the word spread very quickly they started finding people with archives on the same topic. Cornell ended up hiring Ben Ortiz, who’s main job now is to take care of the collection. At the moment CHHC has roughly half a million individual artefacts concerning the birth and growth of hip hop culture from nearly 30 donators.
The names speak for themselves: Afrika Bambaataa’s collection, the director of Wild Style Charlie Ahern’s collection, Crazy Legs’ and Popmaster Fabel’s archives, graffiti legend SEEN’s archive including original sketches, Grandmaster Caz‘ archive with c-cassette recordings on early park jams, original party flyers and posters etc etc. The collection is open to public if you wish to visit and research. But unlike a museum the main purpose is not to be on display but to preserve.
One of the reasons why the collection is one of a kind is the understanding and the appreciation for the cultural value of hip hop coming from such an established institute. There’s no other place on the planet where you can read the original script of Wild Style and see Funky 4+1 and Cold Crush Brothers on some of the earliest recordings of rap concerts ever in the same room.
Seeing Bambaataa’s earliest records from his collection and realising that he had numbered his first couple of thousand can give you a new perspective on what were some of the tracks played in the early park jams. That’s super interesting from the culture and music research perspective as well. And the collection is not there only for the knowledge hungry people today, it’s planned to be archived from the next hundreds of years as well.
Shoutout and a big thank you to Ben, Andrew and Guru for giving us such a detailed tour in Cornell. Walking into the vault was an incredible experience. It put us on a time machine back to the early years of hip hop and boosted the following years with inspiration. Find out more on the collection on their website where you can also find a lot of the material digitised open for public. There’s more to come there but let’s give them a little time, there’s a lot of material to be scanned and recorded.
In case you can’t see the video, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfqiClKw4js