The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop

Museum of History & Industry, Jazmyn Scott, and Aaron Walker-Loud
Seattle, WA

The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop was on view at MOHAI from September 2015 through May 2016, curated by community members Jazmyn Scott and Aaron Walker-Loud. This exhibit began as a partnership between Scott, Walker-Loud, MOHAI, and the Black Heritage Society to present a day of Hip-Hop music, dance, and history in February 2014. The public response was phenomenal and wholly unexpected with nearly 1,000 attendees, which prompted partners to collaborate on a major initiative: an eight month, inclusive community-driven exhibit with accompanying programs that focused both on the art of Hip-Hop and on the social equity issues often explored by its artists.

The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop had two goals:
1. Explore the history of Seattle Hip-Hop and highlight the movement’s impact on other cultural expressions, demonstrating that in Seattle, Hip-Hop is a multi-faceted expression of community and distinctive from other regional Hip-Hop cultures,
2. Strengthen community by maintaining an open forum for people of different cultures, backgrounds, and abilities to explore their potential for learning and empowerment through Hip-Hop culture.

Both goals were accomplished through the exhibit and program development process, which was a community-wide initiative from the start. Community curators Scott and Walker-Loud reached out broadly and deeply, collecting oral histories, insights, and artifacts to reveal a true but refreshingly new history. Over 64 Seattle artists directly participated in programmed events and another 50 individuals loaned artifacts for display, few of which were previously available to the public. First-person stories allowed visitors to connect with compelling personal narratives as they moved through boldly designed displays of artifacts, video footage, images, a major new work of graffiti art, and music. Interactives encouraged visitors to create their own tracks at a mixing station and learn breakdancing moves on a dance floor.

The exhibit’s target demographic was the very community that rallied to make it possible. Hip-Hop was born in Seattle’s Central District, a neighborhood that has recently undergone pronounced gentrification. When Seattle Hip-Hop emerged in the ‘70s and ‘80s, nearly 65% of Central District residents were black. Today, the population has dropped to less than 20% and many residents feel much of the neighborhood culture has been lost in transition. By showcasing stories of the genre, The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop captured parts of this neighborhood culture, and in the words of one volunteer, became a kind of community center.

At its core, Legacy reminded visitors that the Hip-Hop experience, while unique in many ways, is a powerful example of creativity, innovation, and pride—a story that resonates strongly with Seattleites of all backgrounds. The exhibit helped create entry points into Hip-Hop culture for people of all ages or demographics, so far serving nearly 31,000 visitors, 49% free of charge and 5% with discounted admission (projected 30,000 visitors). Legacy also drew broad attention to our community’s Hip-Hop culture through Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn’s proclamation of November as Hip-Hop History Month, honoring the important contributions made by Seattle Hip-Hop artists.