Skip to the content

Preserving the Culture: An Archivist’s Reflection of MoPOP's Online Hip-Hop Collection

What many may not understand about this collection is that it goes far beyond just the music.

It also includes elements of fashion, dance, art, and social and political commentary that are all integral parts of hip-hop culture. This collection is not only a celebration of the genre's rich history, but also a testament to the ways in which hip-hop has influenced and continues to influence various aspects of our Black and Latino lives. I never knew I had the skills to be an archivist. I thought a fancy degree was required to learn about preservation and care. However, archiving is something we have all done in one way or another, similar to how your grandmother keeps pictures, outfits, and numerous family heirlooms. Archiving is the process of keeping things safe and secure to share with someone you care about. That's precisely what I did with MoPOP's hip-hop collection, maintaining and extending the truth and history of hip-hop’s early years in order to share them with all the people who come across the online collections vault. My goal with archiving this collection was to give people a deeper understanding and appreciation of hip-hop culture beyond the stereotypes and misconceptions that have often been attached to it. I want readers to take away a sense of the creativity, innovation, and power that lies at the heart of hip-hop, and to recognize the contributions of Black and Latino voices to this genre.

I've always been connected to the depths of hip-hop culture, not only as a fan and hip-hop scholar but as a Black woman from the South. Therefore, when I received the opportunity to work on archiving 1,300 hip-hop artifacts, I felt compelled to tell my story and the story of so many Black and Latino folks who laid the foundation of what we know about hip-hop. Through the archival of hip-hop, I thought I would know everything I needed to know. However, it wasn't as I initially thought. Walking into a museum space and seeing artifacts on the wall only provides a small context of how the visitor sees and experiences them. My work was in the back, preparing for an online experience. I asked myself how I would be able to do that, considering the numerous questions I had to navigate with the collections and curatorial team. I had to find out the who, what, when, where, and why behind many artists, producers, styles, lyrics, albums, singles, record labels, party flyers, photos, photographers, jewelry, food (yes, the Funky Cold Medina Grape Drank), awards, oral histories, dancers, equipment, and DJs to convey what everyone around the world would be able to see. For instance, did you know that Neo-Soul artist Angie Stone was a rapper who went by Angie B, a member of the southern female rap group The Sequence? Or did you know that not all the members of Wu-Tang appeared in the album art of their debut album "Enter the Wu (36 Chambers)," and only the members of Wu-Tang know who officially were behind the mask and appeared for the shoot. That's what my days were like: researching and uncovering history, fun facts, and forgotten stories of the people, places, and moments that shaped the early years of hip-hop culture.

One of the most surprising aspects of working on the online hip-hop collection was the opportunity to purchase additional artifacts. I discovered that the online collection had a 20-year gap and I felt compelled to enhance it by including more artifacts that represented women or highlighted iconic 90s fashion. My goal was to not only showcase the collection's strengths but also to expand its scope. As a result, my team and I scoured the market for interesting pieces such as the Cardi B Femme It Forward concert bodysuit, P. Diddy's press kit, and the Gerri Summers custom Profile Records jacket. Expanding the collection was an exciting challenge, but my motivation went beyond merely adding more items. I wanted to infuse the collection with more nuance and complexity, highlighting the diversity of voices, styles, and contributions within the hip-hop community. As I researched and archived the new additions, I sought to weave a compelling narrative that captured the evolution and impact of hip-hop culture and fully complemented the earlier pieces in the collection. I learned through this experience that building a comprehensive and engaging collection is an ongoing process which requires constant attention and creativity. By seeking out new artifacts and incorporating diverse perspectives, I was able to create a richer and more nuanced understanding of hip-hop's past, present, and future to share online.

However, not every day was exciting or easy. Archiving 1,300 artifacts was a complex task and writing descriptions day in and day out posed a serious challenge. For instance, many original hip-hop flyers had dozens of performers and acts and finding information about most of them led to many dead ends. Additionally, measuring was an unexpectedly significant part of the process. Who knew I would build a strong relationship with a tape ruler? There were so many artifacts with various dimensions that I ended up creating a "Dims Party" with my manager to help with all the measurements. The one great thing about taking measurements was I got to step away from the screen and interact with the actual artifacts. For instance, I held Master P's AMA Python Suit, Grand Master Flash's Kangol hat, and even the box of Lady Pink's spray cans because I had to measure the tiny spray caps. There were so many exciting discoveries, and it was an honor to handle them in a way that connected me to the history of the people who originally owned them. Yet, as the days passed, the most rewarding process of working on this collection was expanding my knowledge of hip-hop in ways I never could have imagined, leading me to build relationships with other hip-hop archivists, curators, fans, and OGs of the genre. I became fascinated with the depth and richness of MoPOP’s collection and inspired to research, write, and learn more in order to share all of the interesting facts and details of hip-hop's growth and impact.

As a lover of hip-hop culture, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share this archive as we highlight the importance of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. For me, hip-hop represents a powerful form of self-expression, storytelling, and community-building that has been created and sustained by marginalized voices, and I have poured my passion and knowledge into creating an online hip-hop collection that truly speaks to my personal connection to this genre as a Black woman. This important collection represents a comprehensive curated archive of hip-hop culture that spans decades and showcases the evolution of this art form. Through this collection, I’ve captured the raw energy, passion, complex history, and resilience of hip-hop culture and the stories of the people who have shaped it. It is a genre that has not only been second-guessed but also stigmatized, yet it remains a powerful force of artistic and cultural expression that has inspired people all over the world. The release of MoPOP’s online hip-hop collection is a critical moment to highlight these stories and showcase the beauty and complexity of this culture, and I am honored to be a part of that process.

Online Collection Vault

About the author

Adeerya Johnson (She/Her)

Adeerya Johnson is MoPOP’s digital collections archivist of the early hip-hop collection from Atlanta, Georgia.

As a hip-hop scholar and academic, her interests include hip-hop feminism, southern hip-hop studies, and Black popular culture. Her desire and career goals in hip-hop studies is to conduct research that aims to offer contemporary perspectives on Black women's identity, dance cultures and history in the American South through what she calls, Dirty South Feminism. Her scholarly contributions and to the field of hip-hop studies are facilitating public lectures on southern hip-hop, women and hip-hop feminisms, writing on hip-hop for Gumbo Magazine, and lectures on the impact of gentrification on Black life in southern hip-hop.

In early 2021, MoPOP was successfully awarded a Hidden Collections grant from the Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR). With funds from the CLIR grant, Adeerya Johnson was hired as the digital collections archivist. As she works on this two-year project she works at amplifying historical scholarship within the field of hip-hop studies by giving researchers, scholars, fans of the genre and the general public access to previously inaccessible hip-hop artifacts.