Adam Bradley co-curates Grammy exhibit celebrating 50 years of hip hop

Published: October 17, 2023
Adam Bradley outdoors in black t-shirtPhoto by Stephanie Yantz

UCLA College | October 17, 2023

“Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit” at the Grammy Museum, which runs through Sept. 4, 2024, celebrates the genre’s 50th anniversary. It is co-curated by Adam Bradley, a UCLA professor of English and African American studies and founding director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (RAP Lab) at UCLA.

The immersive exhibit explores music, fashion, activism and more to allow visitors to make hands-on connections with the past, present and future of hip-hop culture. Artifacts on display will include the Notorious B.I.G.’s iconic red leather jacket, Chuck D’s handwritten and illustrated lyrics and more, while a “Sonic Playground” will allow visitors to try their hand at DJing, rapping and sampling.

Bradley, a bestselling author and literary scholar who co-edited “The Anthology of Rap,” explores song lyric in popular music as an innovative and influential literary form. Through the RAP Lab, he invites scholars, students and community partners to spark critical conversations about society and politics. The lab is a key player in the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies’ campuswide Hip Hop Initiative, which aims to establish UCLA as a center of gravity for hip-hop studies on the West Coast.

“Hip-hop was born in New York, but it also came of age right here in Los Angeles,” Bradley said. “It’s fitting that we’re celebrating this milestone of music and culture among the people and places that helped shape hip hop as we know it.”

Here, he picks one signature recording for each decade since the dawn of the hip-hop era:

1970s  The Sequence, “Funk You Up” (1979) Most people know about the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” the first rap hit. Fewer know about the Sequence, the first female rap group (and the first rap group from the South) signed to a label.

1980s  Schoolly D, “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean)” (1986) Schoolly D hailed from West Philadelphia, but his vivid rhymes and spare beats on “P.S.K.” went on to influence the sounds and stories of Los Angeles-based artists from Ice-T to N.W.A.

1990s  Digital Underground, “Same Song” (1991) Digital Underground is best remembered for their novelty hit “The Humpty Dance.” A year later, “Same Song” came out with a guest verse from an artist who would go on to global fame: Tupac Shakur.

2000s  MF DOOM (recording with Madlib as Madvillain), “Figaro” (2004) The late DOOM is among rap’s most enigmatic figures, almost always appearing in public with his signature mask. His lyrics on “Figaro” are off-beat, funny and razor sharp.

2010s  Earl Sweatshirt, “Grief” (2015) Earl Sweatshirt has deep Bruin ties (he attended UCLA Lab School and his mother, Cheryl Harris, is a longtime member of the faculty of the law school). On “Grief,” he displays his deep introspection and lyric virtuosity.

2020s  Cordae and Juice WRLD, “Doomsday” (2023) Recorded just before Juice WRLD’s death at age 21 in 2019 but not released until this past summer, “Doomsday” is delightfully old school (the two rappers go back and forth, trading lines and rhymes) and unmistakably new, too.