When Meek Mill released his fourth studio album Championships in November 2018, it was the perfect comeback story. After being incarcerated for nearly five months at a state prison in Camp Hill for a controversial probation violation ruling, the Philly native was finally released in April of that year.
Instead of folding, Mill showed resilience — much like the city he was reared in.
That’s a Philly story worth preserving. Why not in a museum?
While New York was the birthplace of hip-hop, the culture expanded and evolved to other metropolises like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit throughout its history. Fledgling rappers often relocate to these places to jump-start their careers.
Meanwhile, Philly, which has been a hub since hip-hop’s early days, often remains forgotten.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Empire State Development Corp. recently donated $3.5 million to help build the Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx, where the genre originated. The $80 million project, backed by artists such as Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, and Nas, is set to open in 2023 to celebrate hip-hop music and its overall culture.
Artists from other cities have also committed to constructing museums to honor hip-hop subcultures that originated from their hometowns.
T.I. helped launch Atlanta’s Trap Music Museum, repurposing an old warehouse into an interactive experience focused on “trap music,” a bass-heavy southern offshoot of hip-hop. A museum honoring D.C.’s go-go music, a genre originally derived from funk and sometimes an inspiration for hip-hop, is reportedly expected to open in the spring.
So when will Philly get its own hip-hop museum?
Just six years after The Sugarhill Gang released the pioneering track “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, Philly emcee Schoolly D released “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” confronting difficult themes of violence and drug use. In his 2011 memoir, Ice-T not only cited the track as an inspiration for his music down the line, but he also credited it as the first gangsta rap song.
Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff became Philly’s breakout superstars in the mid-’80s, while acts such as The Roots thrived the next decade. By the late ’90s into the early 2000s, Eve had captured the spotlight as a reputable emcee from the city. Jay-Z had signed Beanie Sigel, who belonged to the Philly rapper collective State Property, while other acts such as Major Figgas, Philly’s Most Wanted, and Cassidy garnered attention during this era.
The underground scene that grew in the ’90s eventually gave way to the underground sport of battle rap in the early 2000s. From there, Philly birthed emcees who gained fame thanks to street-circulated DVDs and internet videos that allowed rappers such as Reed Dollaz, Joey Jihad, Quilly Millz, and Mill to build names for themselves outside of the city through their recorded battles.
Philly still has its share of rap stars. Artists like Mill and Lil Uzi Vert are big players in the mainstream, while emcees like Tierra Whack and PnB Rock are on the path to stardom.
With Philly’s storied hip-hop history and contributions, it’s clear that a museum should be constructed in its honor — a project for our arts communities and city leaders to work on. Hopefully that will help this city’s rich music history get the recognition it deserves.