FIfty Years of Hip Hop

Queens Public Library Leads Nationwide Celebration

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Hand holding a copy of the Queens Public Library special edition card, with an image of graffiti art and the words ‘celebrating 50 years of Hip Hop’
Photo: Queens Public Library on Facebook

At Queens Public Library (QPL), a six-month celebration of Hip Hop is wrapping up. Situated just across the East River from the borough that birthed this global cultural movement, there’s no better stage for commemorating this milestone. In March, QPL kicked off a six-month celebration of all things Hip Hop, with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. But the festivities didn't stop there. The library partnered with more than 30 institutions across New York City and beyond to offer a vibrant array of activities. Collections of Culture: 50 Years of Hip Hop Inside Libraries, Museums and Archives hosted dozens of in-person and virtual events like panel discussions, author talks, and educational forums.

From the Bronx to Brooklyn to Queens and Beyond

In New York, the two other major public library systems—Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) and The New York Public Library—along with the Universal Hip Hop Museum and Black Beauty Archives joined forces with QPL to spearhead the celebratory activities. Other core institutions included major libraries in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and a handful of museums from across the United States. (See the full list in the official press release.) An additional 16 partners also hosted events across the country, which helped to widen the reach and impact of the programs.

In Brooklyn, the façade of the Central Library branch of the BPL was wrapped with lyrics from some of Jay-Z’s most famous songs, as part of the Book of HOV exhibit celebrating the rapper’s iconic career. The multimedia exhibit featured art, photos, videos, awards, and other artifacts across eight rooms and more than 40,000 square feet of space. And for native New Yorkers, the exhibit offered an additional perk: the chance to take home a Jay-Z library card. Collaborations like this one offer a creative outreach example; the limited-edition cards have already helped increase membership by more than 14,000 accounts.


The NYPL offered its own special-edition card, featuring art from the 1983 film Wild Style. Visitors to their website can also explore a selection of curated Hip Hop 50 music and video playlists, their 50 Books for 50 Years of Hip Hop book list, digital art collections, interviews, and more.

At LA County Library, programs included a Sip and Paint event, exploring Hip Hop’s influence on art, a discussion about women’s impact on Hip Hop, and a presentation on the intersection of Hip Hop and American Sign Language/Black American Sign Language.

The Philadelphia Free Library got in on the special-edition library card trend with a popular design of their own. You can also check out their Reading Hip Hop book list, and young readers can get inspired with their picture book highlights list.

Staff at the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District collaborated on a list of essential Hip Hop listening from the early days of the genre.

Oak Park Public Library (Illinois) celebrated with a free concert, a t-shirt design contest, and a Hip Hop Through the Ages display, with a focus on women’s contributions to the genre and an accompanying Spotify playlist.

Other events included live performances, listening parties, panel discussions, author talks, fashion symposiums, and film screenings. The six-month celebration culminated in a two-day summit in Queens, which offered workshops from artists working across the spectrum of Hip Hops mediums, including DJs, break dancers, and graffiti artists.

Creating an Archive of a Cultural Movement

QPL's Hip Hop program, which was established in 2015, has also contributed to the initiative by curating a digital archive of the programs. The Hip Hop program has helped preserve Hip Hop's legacy in Queens by collecting artifacts, such as photographs, audio and video tapes, news articles, flyers, and oral histories from people involved in Hip Hop since its origins.

“Hip Hop has been used as a learning tool for many years,” said QPL Hip Hop Coordinator Ralph McDaniels in the official press release. “We are humbled by the IMLS grant and the response we have received from our partners and collaborators, and excited that communities around the country will come together to deepen their understanding of Hip Hop as it turns 50.”