Hip-hop has always been about more than just the music. The intertwining of music, culture and Blackness emerging in the 1970s gave way for DJs in the South Bronx to introduce a new sound to the streets.
“When I moved to East New York, I was the youngest one, even in my friend group,” Tony Atwood, a New-York based former DJ, told In The Know. “Growing up, you saw block parties or people going to DJ. I was fascinated by that as a kid. All the cats would walk around in our neighborhoods with their boom boxes on their shoulders, and one of them would be DJing and another would be rhyming.”
Today, hip-hop is not only isolated to the “boogie-down” Bronx, or even to fragmented areas in the country. From Jay-Z to Tupac Shakur, Kanye West to Kendrick Lamar, you can find a little bit of the hip-hop movement in every pocket of Black America.
Houston’s Third Ward — home to the city’s hip-hop and rap scene — has had its battle with underground sound (like H-town’s notorious ‘chopped and screwed’ sound) and mass notoriety, with celebrities like Beyoncé repping the city every chance she gets.
To preserve the sacred connection of Houston’s contribution to the hip-hop culture, Shelby Lane Stewart is on a mission. Stewart is in the process of launching Houston’s first Hip-Hop museum, a 501(c)(3) “created to educate and showcase the history, soul and style of Houston, Texas,” Stewart told In The Know.
Below, In The Know talked to Stewart about why hip-hop museums are needed, the need to preserve Black culture and how others can get involved.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a native Houstonian. I’ve lived here most of my life. I left to attend school in New Orleans, Louisiana, at Dillard University, and I have two degrees in communication.
When did you first fall in love with hip-hop? *”Brown Sugar” voice*
Music has always been a huge part of my life — it’s always meant so much to me. I played a few instruments when I was younger, so I understand it deeper than just the average person. I understand instrumentation, lyrics production, all of it. My parents were never huge fans of hip-hop, but they loved jazz and R&B. From there, I developed my own taste in music. I always want to learn. So I’m always searching for something new.
Outside of the music, I have a few other hobbies. I love to read. I’m currently reading a book on Jay-Z right now.
What made you want to start a hip-hop museum?
My strong love for hip-hop music, along with the love I have for my city, brought me to the idea. I was in one of my classes and I was just thinking out loud, and I said, “It would be really dope if Houston had a hip-hop museum.” Since then, my advisor and a few others have been helping me bring my idea to life. Hip-hop (and music in general) have helped to shape my life. Music is my life. It makes you feel something. There are so many songs that I can pinpoint to certain times in my life, whether good or bad.
Hip-hop has had such a large impact on the city of Houston and the rest of the world. The music industry wouldn’t be what it is without Houston. We collectively changed the culture, and it’s time that we get credit for it. Where did you think “drip” and “sauce” actually came from?
So often America picks off of Black culture without crediting the source. Why did the genre need a museum and a historical marker?
A museum is important mainly because it’s important as Black people to preserve the culture and legacy for generations to come. Life waits for no one, so it’s important that our culture lives on, but it’s important that we (Black people) can live on to tell the story.
Also, Houston has done so much for hip-hop and the culture as a whole. We need to be recognized for it. It’s also time for these artists to be commemorated. They deserve it.
Hip-hop is more than just a sound, it’s a culture.
Hip-hop is definitely a culture. There are a lot of different aspects to hip-hop music, and that’s what culture is: It’s not defined by just one thing. Hip-hop has a social and political significance in history. A lot of hip-hop at a certain point in time (and even today) is a direct reflection of artist experience and reality.
People have attempted to hijack our culture. America has profited for a really long time on the Black experience. It’s always ghetto until it’s proven trendy.
Talk us through the process of building the hip-hop museum. What’s not seen?
Oh wow, this is a great question. What a lot of people don’t know is that I’ve done a lot of things behind the scenes for the museum to make it as legitimate as possible for people. All of the appropriate paperwork was filed ahead of time, I have a website and a logo. I’ve done a lot of reading and research as well. Starting a non-profit was not an easy task, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When all completed, what will be in the museum? How have you had to shift the building of it during COVID?
At the root of it all, I just want to create a space for people to learn more about Houston hip-hop and culture. There are a lot of stories that get lost in the shuffle for hip-hop history. I want to tell those stories. I think a lot of people know Houston for the big names, but it’s important to tell everyone’s story. As far as building, we’ve slowed down a little bit on the process, but we do plan on having a few pop-up events so that we can give the public something during all of this. I’m still holding out hope that we can be open by next year.
Hard question, but who are your favorite hip-hop figures?
This is a SUPER hard question! I do my best not to idolize anyone, but I do have a few people that I look up to in the industry. Outside of the music, they really seem like really solid people: Curren$y, Rapsody, and Bun B. (In no particular order). Also, it goes without saying, but I’m a big fan of Beyoncé.
Anything else you want to add?
I really want people to know that I’m doing this for my community. I not only want to create a space for people to educate themselves on Houston’s hip-hop history, but also to cultivate a space for current Houston talent. I want to see more people follow their dreams. Working on creating this museum has taught me a lot about myself. I want to see everyone pursue their highest dreams. I think it’s really important for young creatives to know that they can make it out of Houston. It’s possible.
If you liked this story, check out This makeup artist pays homage to female hip-hop artists on her face.
More from In The Know: