For those who never thought that hip-hop would take it this far—think again. Nearly five decades ago, New York birthed the genre’s pioneers—legendary lyricists, turntablists, graffiti artists and break dancers—and continues to witness its perpetual power and growth. It’s no wonder that every corner of the world has been influenced and inspired by the liberated gritty expressionists who gave voice to the economic, political and social injustices of the marginalized. What was once deemed a fledging urban art form has transcended and infiltrated every medium. From the hood to Hollywood; the streets to the boardroom; tagged trains, walls and metal bodega gates to domestic and international art galleries; and from emceeing at park jams to commanding political podiums, hip hop’s impact remains infinite. So commemorating its Golden Age with the support of New York Mayor Eric Adams and the Universal Hip Hop Museum, with 50 events leading up to hip hop’s August semicentennial makes sense. On February 26, 2023, the five elements of hip hop converged as multi-generational loyalists and luminaries such as Video Music Box creator Ralph McDaniels, attended the private, invite-only Beats, Rhymes & Relief foundation’s “Toast to the Culture” black tie and sneaker ball.
Across the Manhattan Bridge only 15 minutes from Soho, City Point Brooklyn Studios 13,000 square feet pulsated with classics spun by DJ Jazzy Jay, Red Alert and Cold Krush’s Tony Tone. Mounted on an elevated stage, the triple threat alternated on the wheels-of-steel, gifting attendees with a quantum leap through rap’s wonder years. The venue was adorned with a floor-to-ceiling “Boycott Black Murder” mural displaying images of the Black lives lost to police brutality, city backdrops to create an ambiance for the Dynamic Rockers. Still it was The Black History IS Hip Hop Art exhibit presenting nostalgic photographs of Bboys & Bgirls by Joe Conzo, iconic rapper Queen Latifah by Ernie Pannicoli, vibrant graffiti by Graf Artist, Easy, TKid, Kit17 and live art by Eric Orr and IZK to be auctioned before night’s end. Orr, who in 1996 self-published the premiere hip-hop comic book, an anti-drug tale called Rappin’ Max Robot stood in the midst of the crowd, painting “Elements,” a futuristic robot displaying the culture’s five elements. “The marriage of music and art began long before the inception of hip hop and will always be hand-in-hand regardless of the genre," explained Orr. "I hope to leave behind something positive and visually appealing for the growing hip-hop community and communities [worldwide.]”
Award-winning photographer Pannicoli too hopes to leave an indelible mark in hip-hop’s history. “No one thought that hip-hop would make it. Many told me I was wasting my time documenting hip hop’s cultural icons,” said Pannicoli, who celebrated his 76th birthday that evening with a cake, gifts and lots of love from those he’s immortalized in images. “Without us America would have no culture and has no culture. From us came everything—brotherhood and sisterhood. It’s why we must to learn love ourselves more than they hate us. The power and energy we have is [unstoppable],” he shared.
Likewise Beats, Rhymes and Relief founder Rameen Aminzadeh has no plans of slowing down or stopping his fundraising effort until he reaches his goal of $250 million. This party with a purpose will be one of many that will donate funds to 50 organizations working in violence prevention, food and housing security, criminal justice reform, health and wellness as well as youth engagement to bring a holistic approach to healing the community. knows that some consider his goal too ambitious, but he begs to differ. “I see this as the beginning of a collective power of stakeholders…and a return to hip hop’s roots—peace, love and unity. I hope the 50thanniversary is the rebirth of that movement and will continue to be a catalyst for change in the Black and Brown communities and elevate the five elements to build positivity.” One of Aminzadeh’s collaborators from Brooklyn-based fashion boutique Da Spot NYC co-owner Michelle Cadore and CEO & Designer of Yes I Am, Inc., recognizes the magnitude of Aminzadeh’s end game. “When hip hop began as an expression of liberation while calling out social injustices many did not think it would have a lasting impact. [It’s the reason] Da Spot NYC's Black Creatives and Culture Fest was so proud to…commemorate the 50th Anniversary,” she said.
The evening’s fits—a rainbow of strapless, backless, mock-neck gowns, bedazzled and traditional tuxes accessorized with fashion-forward high-top and low-top designer footwear—created a colorful kaleidoscope of innovative style. Even NYC's Mayor Eric Adams opted for a pop of color with raspberry blazer and black slacks while Ice-T opted for an all-black-everything ensemble and presented Adams with an award for his commitment to the hip-hop industry. After a standing ovation, Mayor Adams addressed the crowd to reiterate hip-hop’s indelible influence: "If you look at the seat of power in New York right now [we] are hip-hop babies. [Public Advocate Jumaane] Damani Williams—Hip Hop. [Attorney General] Letitia James—Hip Hop. [Congressman] Hakeem Jeffries—Hip Hop. [Mayor] Eric Adams—Hip Hop. DA [Eric Gonzalez] in Brooklyn—Hip Hop. DA [Alvin Bragg] in Manhattan—Hip Hop. Bronx Borough President [Vanessa L. Gibson]—Hip Hop. Brooklyn Borough President [Antonio Reynoso]—Hip Hop. Committee Chairs—Hip Hop. Hip Hop made us. Don't let anyone take away what you have accomplished. We may not be the deejays, but we are the people that are running this city today. Hip Hop is running the city today."
The celebration was hyped by a special dance show hosted by Pop Master Fabel including the Dynamic Rockers, a Bronx-based, break-dancing group launched in 1978 featuring BGirl Nikki V, Indio, Mr. Ocean, Rinto, Kid Break, Vitamin D, Yum Yum, Tiny the Rugged One and Kid Jam Rock. A member since 2003, the Rockers’ Vice President Edwin “Indio” Garcia has one hope for the group’s legacy: “To continue to be a driving force and impact change through breakdancing in the community with the youth. The youth are the future and if we teach them who they are and how they are [uniquely] designed they will shine bright and be that light of the world.” His protégé and prospective BGirl, Nicole “Nikki V” Vazquez, is an agile 13-year-old from the Bronx, who was introduced to hip hop by her dad and training as a Rocker since she was five. Currently, she’s awaiting a surprise initiation into the group by battling the entire DR crew. Despite the perception that breakin’ is a male sport, her gender has never been an issue. “I’ve never experienced anyone…look at me differently because I’m a [female]. The BGirl scene is strong with more females battling at a high level with complex moves. I don’t worry about what’s [considered] male-dominated. I break because I love it,” she shared
It’s that incessant love from the children and its forefathers that ensures hip hop’s future. According to rapper-turned-actor Ice T the children are not only the future but where hip hop began. "[Hip hop] it was a culture invented by children and it's still here,” he said. “It's turned into something bigger than it ever thought it would be—movies, television, myself—and it was always based off love, peace and having fun. That is what hip hop is all about."