It wasn’t long after its birth in the South Bronx in the late 1970s that hip hop exploded into a global phenomenon. And now, some 40-odd years later, hip hop music and culture is increasingly being taken seriously as a scholarly subject. Nowhere is this truer than at Cornell University, home to one of the largest research archives chronicling the early days of the genre.
The Cornell University Library’s collection of some 50,000 items documents the history of rap music, with a focus on the formative years in New York City. The archive began with the personal collection of Johan Kugelberg, a former record industry executive who amassed a trove of vinyl recordings, tapes, photos, party flyers, magazine clippings, and other paraphernalia from around 1977 to 1985.
From there, it grew to include rare shots from the streets of the Bronx taken by early hip hop photographers like Joe Conzo, Jr.; original drawings and photos showcasing the work of the graffiti artist Richie “SEEN” Mirando; and the legendary collection of LPs gathered by pioneering hip hop DJ Afrika Bambaataa, who was a visiting scholar at Cornell.
The Cornell Hip Hop Collection also recently incorporated the archive of Bill Adler, a former publicist at Def Jam Records who saw the commercial rise of early hip hop stars like LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, and Public Enemy. His compilation of recordings, photos, and press follows hip hop culture as it moved from the streets to the studio, from the boroughs of New York to cities around the world.
Know Before You Go
The Hip Hop Collection is located in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections on Level 2B of the Carl A. Kroch Library (accessed through the Olin Library). The collection is open to the general public by appointment. Visitors can register and request specific items in advance on the library website, which also provides a map and detailed directions for visiting the archive. If you aren't able to make the trip in person, be heartened that much of the collection has been digitized and made freely available online.