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Afrika Bambaataa Supports Hip-Hop Museum in the Kingsbridge Armory

By Patrick Wall | September 5, 2012 9:05am

KINGSBRIDGE HEIGHTS — As the developers of two competing plans to redevelop the long-vacant Kingsbridge Armory jostled for support late last month, one of the firms revealed a secret weapon — the legendary DJ Afrika Bambaataa, who threw in his lot with the one who wants to help create a hip-hop museum inside the historic fortress.

Bambaataa and developer Youngwoo & Associates' mixed-use proposal for the site focuses on a Bronx museum devoted to hip-hop culture, which burst to life in the borough decades ago and has since spread around the world — and perhaps beyond.

“Hip hop has gone from the hoods of the United States to the rest of the whole world,” said Bambaataa, 55, a pioneering Bronx DJ known as the “Master of Records.” He added, “as we become intergalactic beings in the near future, we see hip hop going from planet to planet.”

The hip-hop museum is one piece of the plan by Youngwoo & Associates, called Mercado Mirabo, which also envisions a six-screen movie theater, food court, weekend market, rock-climbing wall, gym and youth sports programs filling the 575,000-square-foot armory.

The other proposal, to put a massive nine-rink ice sports center into the space, recently garnered the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which requested new proposals for the site in January, will choose a winning bid by the end of the year, according to an agency spokesman. Then the project will go through the city’s lengthy land-use review process, which ends with a City Council vote.

Youngwoo asked Bambaataa to come up with ideas for the museum this summer after hearing from community leaders and residents that any entertainment complex so near the birthplace of hip hop should pay homage to the art form, said Adam Zucker, the firm’s director of business development.

The interactive museum Bambaataa imagines would trace the history of hip hop from the global force it is today back to its “true-school era” roots in the 70s and 80s Bronx, then even further in the past to the first proto-rappers.

“We want to take it all the way back to Mother Goose and the nursery rhymes,” said Bambaataa, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee and visiting scholar at Cornell University.

The museum would incorporate the many genres and offshoots of hip hop that have developed over time in the US and abroad, as well as non-musical elements of the culture, such as dance and graffiti, Bambaataa said.

The Mercado Mirabo proposal calls for a 75,000-square-foot piazza on the ground floor that could accommodate the weekend market as well as sports games, dances and art exhibits.

Bambaataa said the museum could host hip-hop events in that space, such as gatherings of the Universal Zulu Nation, which he founded, or the annual DMC World DJ Championships.

Other hip-hop luminaries would also be invited to help shape the museum.

Bambaataa’s team mentioned originators such as Kool Herc, KRS-One and Chuck D. Youngwoo suggested entertainment mogul Russell Simons, academic Cornel West, and Jay-Z.

So far, Bambaataa’s development team includes Cutman LG, a DJ who co-hosts a weekly radio show with Bambaataa, and Rocky Bucano, vice president of the New York Gauchos, a Bronx-based youth basketball league. Bucano also made a separate agreement with Youngwoo to run a Gauchos program in the Armory if their proposal is chosen.

Bucano said funding has yet to be secured for the museum, but would come from grants and private investors.

“There’s so many wealthy people that came out of hip-hop culture [who] we can approach,” Bucano said. “It’s their just due to give back.”

The idea for a hip-hop museum is hardly new.

In May, the organizers of the Hip Hop Hall of Fame awards show, which began in Los Angeles in the 1990s, revealed plans to create a physical museum in Midtown.

Several years ago, former City Councilman Larry Seabrook, who was convicted of corruption charges in July, secured $1.5 million in capital funding to open a hip-hop museum in the northwest Bronx.

And since 2005, a former financial analyst named Craig Wilson has struggled to find a site for the National Museum of Hip-Hop, which has a state charter and nonprofit status, but no home.

Wilson recently spoke with Youngwoo about the museum, but said he has “concerns about putting an institution of that size and scope in The Bronx.”

Still, he wished Bambaataa’s group good luck.

“At the end of the day, we’re all moving toward the same end,” Wilson said. “If they get ahead, hip hop gets ahead.”