THE BRONX — An old school rap battle has erupted over the legacy of hip-hop.
Two would-be rap museums — one in Harlem and the other in The Bronx — are battling to become the city's first.
And reminiscent of hip-hop's beginnings, each is also claiming it's more authentic than the other.
“It’s the only, not the first. The only. There is no other,” said Universal Hip Hop Museum Executive Director Rocky Bucano, referring to the hip-hop museum that the city's Economic Development Corporation announced last month will be part of a mega-complex along the Harlem River that it's calling Bronx Point.
“All I know is that hip-hop is born in The Bronx. It would be sacrilegious to have a museum of hip-hop anywhere else in the world but The Bronx,” he said, though he once considered putting it in Newark, according to The Real Deal.
While the Bronx Point plan still needs to clear the City Council, the EDC put out a press release calling the museum, the "nation’s first brick and mortar hip-hop museum" and its backers took a victory lap at a news conference at the construction site last week.
If all goes as planned, the museum — which has Kurtis Blow as its chairman, Ice-T on its founding board of directors and LL Cool J as an honorary advisory board member — would open by 2022.
But if you ask the man behind the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum, that will be long after his doors open.
The Harlem-based organization announced in June that it had won a bid for its own museum to preserve, archive and showcase hip-hop music and culture from an unspecified location on 125th Street. It is scheduled to open by late 2020 or early 2021.
“Let’s be honest, there's only gonna be one hip-hop museum in the whole world and you’re talking to them now,” Founder and CEO J.T. Thompson said.
His organization is in final negotiations on a contract for a plot of land and is hoping to close by the end of the year, he said. He plans to break ground by the end of 2018 on a complex that will not only include the museum but also a hotel and shops and other entertainment.
He said that he congratulated the Universal Hip Hop Museum founders when he heard about the Bronx Point project but still claims that “we were always the first.”
"They say they’re the first but they don’t even own the development project over there,” Thompson said.
“The Hip Hop Hall of Fame wanted to be in control of its own destiny," he said."And that’s what hip-hop is all about. Hip-hop is about socio-economic empowerment.”
Both projects have been through several iterations — and they are not the only two.
In 2006, former Bronx City Councilman Larry Seabrook, who was convicted of embezzling taxpayer money, directed the City Council to allocate $1.5 million in capital funding to help start a hip-hop museum in the northeast Bronx, part of a community center and development project, according to the New York Sun.
The Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum got its start producing hip-hop music awards shows, Thompson says. Shows that were disrupted when advertisers pulled their funding after Tupac Shakur was killed in 1996 and then again after The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in 1997.
But they were always intended to help raise money for a museum, he said, an idea he borrowed from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Several locations have fallen through for one reason or another over the years.
The Universal Hip Hop Museum thought it found a home in the Kingsbridge Armory but the developer who had agreed to incorporate the project lost the bid for the site. There were other potential sites floated before the Bronx Point developers contacted Bucano in search of a cultural institution anchor for its project.
It may have lacked a home for years, but it never lacked pioneers behind it. Grand Wizard Theodore — credited with inventing the scratch — is one of those who proudly rep the Universal Hip Hop Museum.
Theodore, a South Bronx native, said that he's fine with hip-hop museums in other boroughs "as long as people know that this museum is gonna be the first hip-hop museum ever and if you want to really know about hip-hop, this is the museum that you’re gonna have to come to. Period."
Renee Foster, chair of fundraising and development for the Universal Hip Hop Museum, also had a "the more the merrier" attitude.
"I can’t think that there should be less institutions to honor the culture. That’s my mindset about it," she said. "We can’t have too many. But we’re gonna be first.”
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