The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap


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originally published: 08/21/2021

The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap released on August 20, 2021. A partnership between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the box set and book (300 pages, 11 expert essays, 129 tracks) is the first of -its genre, chronicling the growth and impact of hip-hop from the parks of the Bronx to the larger areas of American experience and global influence.

“Born in the Bronx and raised in the western and southern United States, hip-hop is one of the most influential genres of music of the modern era,” said Kevin Young, director Andrew W. Mellon of NMAAHC. “Through dynamic rhythms, rhymes and sharp lyricism, hip-hop has provided a platform for communities and generations to express their ongoing struggles and has changed society and culture across the world.”

The project is the latest in the Smithsonian African American Legacy Series, a collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and NMAAHC to tell stories about the music of African Americans and the experiences that inspire it. The launch of the anthology comes as the museum prepares to celebrate its fifth anniversary and highlights its continued mission to tell the stories of American history through the African American lens. The anthology details the evolution of hip-hop over four decades through 129 tracks spread across nine CDs, as well as a 300-page book containing 11 essays by leading music scholars, authors and journalists covering topics such as entrepreneurship, graffiti, women in hip-hop and more, plus detailed ratings on each track.

“We wanted the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap be a reflection of the culture, the music, the people, everything that is hip-hop, ”said Dwandalyn R. Reece, NMAAHC associate director for curatorial affairs, curator of music and the arts of the stage and producer of the anthology.

In addition, the anthology features hundreds of photographs spanning decades of history. It was designed by artist Cey Adams, founding creative director of Def Jam.

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In the early years of hip-hop, some critics refused to recognize the art form as music, dismissing it instead as unoriginal and uncreative. As a result, hip-hop spent its first decade of growth as a niche genre that much of the music industry believed was going to die out in no time. Now, as hip-hop nears its 50th anniversary, it is the most popular musical genre in the United States, with notable influence and impact in all aspects of American culture. Arguably one of the last musical countercultures, hip-hop is helping to shape and tell the stories of downtown America.

The Hip-hop and rap anthology is a carefully researched and carefully curated set of essays that tell the story of hip-hop and rap, acting as an extension of the museum’s permanent collections. The project was produced over seven years, from inception to completion, with the care and intent that befits the weight and scope of hip-hop history. Work began in 2014 from an executive committee made up of key figures in hip-hop music and culture, including rappers Chuck D and MC Lyte; writers and academics Adam Bradley, Jeff Chang, Cheryl Keyes, and Mark Anthony Neal; Def Jam’s first senior executives to become cultural advisors, Bill Adler and Bill Stephney; artist and writer Questlove; and 9th Wonder producer and educator. An additional panel of advisers has been assembled with equal representation from all facets of hip-hop culture.

While music is the centerpiece, the anthology delves into the cultural impact of hip-hop and global influence. It is not a compilation of the greatest hits but a tale of the music, culture and heritage of hip-hop. Spanning the musical eras from 1979 to 2013, the final collection of 129 songs is the first with music from the three major labels: Sony, Universal and Warner. Anthology is a contextual education on the origin of hip-hop, its social and cultural impact, its commercial domination and more. It follows on from other seminal collections of the Smithsonian Folkways, the Anthology of American Folk Music and Jazz: The Anthology of the Smithsonian.


Since its opening on September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture welcomed more than 7 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the nearly 400,000 square foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploration, to documenting and presenting African American history and its impact on American and world history.


Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the National Museum of Sound, makes nearly 60,000 titles available in physical and digital format as a Smithsonian’s non-profit label, with a reach of 80 million people per year. A division of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the nonprofit label is dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and better understanding between people through the documentation, preservation, production and dissemination of sound. Its mission is the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948 to document “popular music” from around the world.


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