This is the first episode in our new series THE KEEPERS—stories of activist archivists, rogue librarians, curators, collectors and historians—Keepers of the culture and the cultures and collections they keep.
We begin at The Hip Hop Archive and Research Center at Harvard. In the late 1990’s the students of Dr. Marcyliena Morgan, Professor of Linguistics at UCLA, started falling by her office, imploring her to listen to hip hop. They wanted her to hear this new underground sound and culture being created, the word play, the rhyming, the rapping. They wanted her to help them begin to archive this new medium. “Hip Hop *is *an archive," they told her. Dr. Morgan wasn’t an archivist and she didn’t listen to hip hop. But she listened to her students and saw a new kind of soundtrack emerging from the cracks.
Bit by bit she opened her office and her resources and began to collect the history and material culture of hip hop. Some 15 years later the Archive has gone from her office at UCLA to Harvard, where she and Professor Henry Louis Gates founded The Hiphop Archive & Research Institute at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute whose mission is to “facilitate and encourage the pursuit of knowledge, art, culture, scholarship and responsible leadership through Hiphop.” Along with gathering everything about hip hop for preservation and study, the Archive created the Nasir Jones Fellowship for scholarly research in the field, named for Nas, one of hip hop’s titans, and the “Classic Crates Project,” a collection that aims to archive 200 seminal hip hop albums in the same Harvard music library that houses the works of Mozart, Bertolt Brecht and Edith Piaf. The first four—Nas’ “Illmatic,” “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “The Low End Theory” by a Tribe Called Quest have been inducted into the University’s Loeb Music Library.
You’ll hear from Professor Marcyliena Morgan, Nas, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Nas Fellow Patrick Douthit aka 9th Wonder, The Hip Hop Fellows working at the Archive, an array of Harvard Archivists, and students studying at the Archive and the records, music and voices being preserved there.
And we take a look at the Cornell University Hip Hop Collection, founded in 2007, through a sampling of stories from Assistant Curator Jeff Ortiz, Johan Kugelberg author of “Born in the Bronx,” and hip hop pioneers Grandmaster Caz, Pebblee Poo, Roxanne Shante and more.