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The hip hop guide to New York City

Fifty years ago this month, hip hop burst on to the scene at a block party in the Bronx, igniting a musical and cultural revolution that has swept through every country on earth. No wonder its New York hometown is putting on quite the show, with a spread of concerts, exhibitions and tours to celebrate this momentous milestone – check out our hotlist of the ones not to miss

Illustration: Martin O'Neill


Dr Dre, Biggie Smalls, Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott are just a handful of the titans of hip hop – a genre that today is nothing short of a phenomenon, permeating every culture and country on the planet with big beats, sizzling lyrics and utterly mesmeric melodies. Its beginnings, however, were a little more unassuming. On a late summer’s evening in 1973 in the heart of the Bronx, 18-year-old Clive Campbell, who went by the stage name of DJ Kool Herc, threw a house party with his sister, all in the name of raising some cash for her to amp up her ‘back-to-school’ wardrobe.

Renting the first floor of their Sedgwick Avenue apartment block, they drew up promo flyers to spread the word, charging women 25¢ and men 50¢ at the door, with Herc as the star act. Little did the pair know that their makeshift event, and Herc’s experimental DJ set, looping drum and percussion breaks on vinyl, would become a sensation, sparking the birth of hip hop and the musical revolution that followed. 

This year marks hip hop’s 50th anniversary, and still the revolution continues, with New York as its inspirational blueprint. If you’re a local or just passing through this year, check out the hottest events celebrating the landmark movement in the city where it all started…

The Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx opens fully next year

The Universal Hip Hop Museum 

Built specially to celebrate and preserve the genre’s history, the Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx, just south of the Yankee Stadium, is set to open in 2024 on Sedgwick Avenue, where DJ Kool Herc first hosted that auspicious house party. Already running pre-opening exhibitions (see below), the museum will lay on techy interactive experiences alongside displays of hip hop through the ages, showing rare interviews, handwritten letters, tour footage, jewellery worn by artists and vintage party flyers. Whether you’re a heritage fan or a modern hip hop hedonist, consider this your new happy place.

Stay up to speed

[R]Evolution of Hip Hop: 1986-1990

This pre-opening exhibition now on at The Universal Hip Hop Museum dives deep into the golden era when hip hop first hit the big time in the late 1980s and early months of 1990. It saw the likes of Rakim, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane redefine the definition of an MC, and Marley Marl, Prince Paul and the Bomb Squad sampling sounds and chopping beats, establishing the building blocks of hip hop as we know it today. You’ll be transported back to where it all began, with nods to the birth of streetwear (think the days of Dapper Dan’s prime), and the wider culture chronicled by outlets such as Video Music Box, Word Up Magazine, The Source and The Arsenio Hall Show.

Explore hip hop’s golden era

Graffiti Hall of Fame at a Harlem school

The Hush hip hop tour

Paying homage to those that came before is ingrained in hip hop culture, so much so that Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA once called the failure to do so “the only real crime we had in hip hop”. Hush’s tour does exactly that, educating attendees on the genre’s evolution and growth through a mix of interactive walking and bus rides, exploring the influence of its four key elements – DJing, MCing, graffiti and dance. Each tour is led by musicians whose lives have been shaped by hip hop. If you show up on a lucky day, you might even be treated to a chat with major league hip hop legends such as Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, Raheim and Lady K-Fever. Take your pick from a range of tours around Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn or Harlem – all the while being serenaded by hip hop bangers, of course. 

Get up close to hip hop’s history

Hip Hop 50 Live at Yankee Stadium

The official 50th birthday concert will be one for the history books. Coinciding with the day it all began chez DJ Kool Herc in Sedgwick on 11 August, this is one epic line-up, with headliners running from Run DMC to West Coast giants Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg, the man DJ Kool Herc himself, The Sugarhill Gang, plus younger pioneers, from Lil Wayne and Lil Kim to Eve, Lupe Fiasco, Slick Rick and T.I.

Snap up your tickets

RZA of Wu-Tang Clan (Getty Images)

Wu-Tang Clan and Nas at the Barclays Center 

Few things could be more iconic than seeing Wu-Tang Clan and Nas perform live in New York in the 50th year since the birth of hip hop. It’s a bucket-list moment for most die-hard hip hop heads, and one that could very well be your reality, as the legends bring their co-headline show, with De La Soul as a special guest, to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on 27 September. As far as reunion tours go, this is one you will not want to sit out. 

Swipe some seats