A Political History of Hip-Hop: South Bronx to the Arab Spring Exhibition at IMA

With American hip-hop dominating the radio and record sales, many would be surprised to know that France is the second biggest (behind the USA) consumer and producer of hip-hop music in the world.

In a unique new exhibition covering political, cultural and musical themes, the Institut au Monde Arabe in Paris have traced the multicultural genealogy of hip-hop  from old school rap of New York’s South Bronx to the streets of the recent Arab Spring via France in ‘HIP-HOP, du Bronx aux rues arabes‘.

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With hip-hop music now a global phenomenon with incredible commercial power and influence, it’s hard to imagine that just a few decades ago it emerged on the margins of American society.

While these days the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z  dominate the radio and headline popular music festivals alongside old-school rock bands and contemporary pop singers, the origins of hip-hop are far from today’s commercialised industry.

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Hip-hop music and culture began in South Bronx in the late 1960s with the Block Parties of the Ghetto Brothers and DJ Kool Herc, although the term wasn’t coined until the 1970s. It reached France in the 1980s, when groups and rappers such as MC Solaar, Sûpreme NTM, IAM and Akhenaten (who is curating the exhibition) rose to prominence.

More recently, rap music and hip-hop is credited with giving a voice to youths across Arabic countries during the Arab Spring, as they protest against racism, poverty and political inequality through music.

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The collection on display at the IMA for this exhibition is vast, including early hip-hop era clothing, vintage photos of the New York boroughs and Paris’ Stalingrad station, film clips, rare vinyl LPs, documentaries and more.

With historical work from American, French and artists from the Arab world throughout, the culture surrounding hip-hop is also explored and celebrated, with particular focus on dance, graffiti and basketball sneakers, while emphasising the importance of expression and political protest in hip-hop music and culture.

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In addition, Thierry Planelle has created an original soundtrack for ‘HIP HOP, du Bronx aux rues arabes’ and a ‘wall of free expression’ will be installed on the front square for graffiti art.

HIP-HOP, due Bronx aux rues arabes is on display until July 26th. 

Where: Institute au Monde Arabe, 1 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 75005 Paris, France

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