Hip Hop needs a museum, desperately. Raised at 1889 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York, Craig Wilson’s whole life has been spent immersed in the culture. “I grew up literally with and when Hip Hop was created,” the self-proclaimed B-boy and onetime battle emcee told HipHopDX. Wilson has devoted the four years of his life to give the culture’s four elements an interactive home to educate, and show the rest of the world that we can do it ourselves.
From his 23rd Street office in New York City, Wilson spoke to DX by phone this fall. With information he deems false circulating in the media, Craig spoke about unifying the pioneers of the culture for his cause, and convincing elite artists that supporting the National Museum of Hip-Hop is not only in their best interest, it’s their cultural responsibility.
In the wake of an early September New York Times article, Wilson asserted that he has artists on board. After the article published, and portrayed a lukewarm KRS-One on the museum’s development, Wilson called the veteran emcee/producer and Temple of Hip-Hop leader. According to Craig, KRS (a/k/a Kris Parker) emphasized his support despite the newspaper’s portrayal. “[KRS-One said], ‘Whatever happens, we’ve got to stick together and make sure this [museum] happens.’ He saw the [New York Times] article and said, ‘It’s making us look like we’re not doing anything, and we’re not gonna go nowhere. Never mind that, that’s not the deal.’ Wilson added that in addition to the words, KRS-One took action. “And then he pledged $50,000, just himself. ‘Here’s 50.'” As the Times piece claimed that the museum presently had less than $10,000 in funds, the Teacha’s support was a message to the media and the artists. Wilson deduced, “That being the first significant pledge that we’ve gotten, it’s nothing [in the grand scheme of things], but it’s a lot, ’cause it came from KRS-One. I guess it makes sense that he’s the first to do it.” He added, “I’m hoping that this will put a lot of pressure on a lot of other artists, because this is something that all the artists should be coming together to give money to this cause. It’s a no-brainer, ’cause we’re tryin’ to preserve y’all – this culture. But Kris stepped up. ‘Yo, I’m puttin’ 50 in, what’s up?'”
While Wilson argued that the newspaper piece used false information, it’s not pride that’s making him identify those errors. He’s quick to acknowledge the challenges he’s faced and remains battling over the last four years. “I don’t want to make this sound bigger than it is. Yes, I do struggle to do this. Yes, I don’t get paid to do this,” said Wilson sharply. “The only way that I can do this is I went ahead and did my investments and made sure that I had whatever I needed to at least breathe, so I could devote myself to this.”
Part of the issue at hand is that museums have been discussed before, but ground has never been broken. Partly due to his growing up around the culture, but also due to his overall objectives, Craig Wilson says that the National Museum of Hip-Hop stands apart. “The difference between all the other [museum] attempts that [the pioneers of Hip Hop] were critical of and mine is, I’ve been doing this for so long, and they see [that] I’m not stoppin’. They see that there’s no other motivation except for the preservation of the culture. [People around me know that] ‘Craig doesn’t make any money doin’ this, Craig does this from the heart.’ It’s not even something I gotta say, you can see it.” Like any artist in this culture knows all too well, it’s about proving yourself. Now, the museum has a charter, 501C tax status and more. “I knew that I had to pay some dues to do this, but that’s Hip Hop.”
Among those noticing Wilson’s dedication and sacrifice are a who’s-who of early 1970s Hip Hop forefathers. The National Museum of Hip-Hop has these men standing beside Craig on the council. “Afrika [Bambaataa] is on my council again,” he said, along with Bam’s Universal Zulu Nation. “[Grandmaster] Flash and the Furious Five, Kool Herc and the Herculoids, Rocksteady Crew, Crazy Legs, and Caz’s [Cold Crush Four] crew. That’s the pioneer foundation right there. That’s the pioneer council. There will be money that will be funneled, just to take care of the foundation, to take care of the pioneers.”
With challenges in creating the museum itself, Craig Wilson plans to demand support from larger companies profiting from the culture to support its founders. “We have to hold these corporations that use Hip Hop accountable for the rape of the culture. That’s what it is, word is bond. I think that the museum, as an institution, [has a bigger] vision than just coming in and seeing a pair of Adidas [sneakers] and a boom-box and bouncing. That’s not really what all this is about. We’re trying to create a positive, worldwide movement, which will basically involve the unification of the culture. Doing that, we need to take care of our own.”
The concept of “taking care of our own” can be a troubling one. We have all watched the controversies facing Vh1’s Hip Hop Honors, who has honored 1990s artists while pioneers remain not only without induction, but often cannot attend the New York annual event. Facing a lot of pressure from artists, Craig Wilson says that this culture was built upon the people, and the people will always decide who is honored in his museum. “It’s based on the fans, not the artists. So it’s not gonna be an artist coming to me telling me [we need inducted]. Nah, I don’t wanna hear that. What do the fans want? ‘Cause without the fans, none of this exist.”
While the location of the National Museum of Hip-Hop remains to be determined (though Wilson insists it will be in New York City), he has a revolutionary vision for the contents of the learning center. “This is a lot less of an artifacts-exhibiting museum, and a lot more of an interactive museum. As a musologist, I’m kind of revolutionizing museums, period,” boasts Craig. “You gotta understand: normally, a museum is the study or preservation of artifacts of a culture that’s dead. [Laughs] I don’t even have to say it, Hip Hop is so ridiculously alive and evolving that there’s no precedent for this museum. We’re creating a new way of doing museums.” More than an archive, the NMOH will function as a hands-on education center. “Of course there’s gonna be exhibits. But to give you an idea of how we do things, our museum will be broken into departments – each department representing an element of Hip Hop. Anytime you go into one – for instance, you go into the graffiti department, we’ll have a huge, digital wall with a can. We’re talking to both Microsoft and HP about developing this software where you can use a can of paint to come up with a digital piece on a digital wall without any aerosol at all. Save it, go home, pull it up on the website, and finish it on Illustrator.” Beyond just working in curriculum and educating the youth, Wilson reminds us that this type of approach coincides with Hip Hop’s own tenants. “This is an interactive museum; you’re coming here to be and live Hip Hop, not to see it.”
Asked about any headway made as far as the location, Wilson remains unsure. With international appeal, the NMOH is best if easy to access. Revealing that he’s looking closely at Harlem and Upper Manhattan, Wilson says that to keep the museum in the borough of its pioneers, he wants proper location. “If it can’t be right there by Yankee Stadium, then it’s not gonna happen.” He noted that local politicians have not been supportive of such demands, and Wilson refuses to compromise the museum’s overall agenda.
To expedite the process, Craig Wilson and the National Museum of Hip-Hop have launched a new website, and a pledge campaign, called Donate-A-Dollah (or D-A-D for short). “We need to show society how big our posse is. I created ‘Donate A Dollah’ ’cause only in Hip Hop is the posse so big that a dollar goes a long way,” says Wilson proudly. “We’re so many, so deep, even if we really did come up with a dollar each, not only would we have our museum, museums, but we’d also show society how big we really are and that’s really one of the main focuses behind the D-A-D campaign.” This pledge places great responsibility on the man who’s put a part of his life on the line for the project. “The culture is there, they just really need a leader to unify them.”
Pledge a dollar of your support and get more information on the National Museum of Hip-Hop here, at NMOH.org.