This is the second of a two-part series featuring The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop exhibit at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). You can read part 1 here.
On February 13, in honor of Black History Month, the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) held a special celebration as part of its featured exhibition, “The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop.” The event featured live music performances and a panel of artists and activists who discussed the intersection of the current civil rights movements such as Black Lives Matter with hip-hop.
When talking about hip-hop, what the first thing pops into your mind? Rappers? DJs? Well, hip-hop is more than just a music genre. This is something that Aaron Walker-Loud of Big World Breaks and Jazmyn Scott of The Town Entertainment, the curators of the exhibit, want people to understand. Both have a rich background in hip-hop, and they’re showing the story of Seattle’s unique and authentic hip-hop scene to the public.
“Some people think hip-hop has become too commercial. This exhibit is a good opportunity for them to learn and access the truth,” said Meris Mullaley, the gallery program’s coordinator. She said the event is meaningful because it shares local history by showing different stories from various artists and production agencies, which helps other messages be heard.
During the event, panelists Nikkita Oliver, Jace Ecaj of the Black Stax, Renaissance the Poet, Amir Islam, and Elmer Dixon spoke about the culture and history of Seattle hip-hop. It was a local culture created in the traditionally African-American neighborhood in the Central District during the 1970s and 80s. Many of the panelists had personal stories to share.
“At that time, we didn’t have space to perform, so we made one,” said Oliver, a Seattle-based creative teaching artist. “Hip-hop makes us worthy and allows us to do cool things!” Oliver said contemporary Seattle hip-hop has become more than just a source of hope to help people survive the struggles and pressure of life. It also provides a unique, inclusive language that lets people express feelings and the find the strength and power to challenge the system.
“Comparing local hip-hop with that outside of Seattle, Seattle hip-hop is unique, ‘cause people care more about their community and love the culture here,” Renaissance the Poet said. He said rather than following the mainstream and emulating others, local hip-hop artists focus on the love of the community and creation.
Nowadays, hip-hop’s influence reaches across different countries. “Inclusion is one of the most important features of hip-hop. People move in and change the dynamic,” Renaissance said. “I listen to many hip-hop songs with languages I don’t understand, but I can feel we are the same.”
However, Oliver added, sometimes people misunderstand what hip-hop is about. “Everyone can be included,” Oliver said, “but they need to be taught the rules first.”
In other words, people need to do some exploring for themselves in order to discover the authentic spirit of hip-hop. That is, in essence, the mission of “The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop” exhibit: to help people learn more about what hip-hop actually does in the community and how it reaches all over the globe.
On March 15, MOHAI will host another special event connected to the exhibit, Hip-Hop As a Vehicle for Activism. Panelists will include Northwest hip-hop artists speaking about how they use their art as a vehicle for self-expression and progressive action. Visitors can also also enjoy the recurring Saturday Spin event, where local DJs perform in the Walker Gallery every second Saturday of the month.
The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop will be open until May 1, 2016.