Re-Play: The First Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Fun

Pop and Lock along with The Strong as we celebrate the first 50 years of hip-hop.

Whodini Ticket (1988) by BGP & BAPThe Strong National Museum of Play

“Don’t sweat the technique” Eric B. & Rakim

Founded amidst the fallout from the assassinations of leaders of the civil rights movements of the 1960s, hip-hop channeled the angst of a generation into a communal site of play. This exhibit explores hip-hop as a site of play, as well as its cultural impact on playthings. 

Technics Direct Drive Player System (1971) by TechnicsThe Strong National Museum of Play

“DJ’s spinnin’ are savin’ my mind” Blondie

Using two synchronized LPs on matching Technics SL-1100a turntables, Clive “DJ Kool Herc” Campbell developed the blueprint for hip-hop. By “looping,” or repeatedly playing the same portion of a song, Campbell transformed the turntable from a media player into an instrument.

Breakin' Promotional Photograph (1984) by  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/ United ArtistsThe Strong National Museum of Play

“Now poppin’ and lockin’ is a new way of talking” Irene Cara

DJ Kool Herc’s performances were said to have inspired new ways of dancing. In tune with the communal ethos of hip-hop, moves like popping, locking, top rocking, headspins, and windmills expressed creativity and let crews compete through dance moves rather than violence. 

Custom Grafitti Subway Train (2023) by Alex PriceThe Strong National Museum of Play

Making a Mark

The youth of New York City used spray paint, along with microphones and turntables, to express themselves through art. Tagging, as it became known, let hip-hoppers proclaim the inherent worth of their systemically devalued lives. Photographer Martha Cooper documented their work. 

Sugar Hill Gang Promotional Materials (1979) by SugarHill RecordsThe Strong National Museum of Play

“What you hear is not a test” Wonder Mike

While the DJ centered early hip-hop bands, over time the lyrical complexity and showmanship of the MC (Master of Ceremonies) came to dwarf the importance of the DJ’s orchestration.

Sugar Hill Gang Promotional Materials (1979) by SugarHill RecordsThe Strong National Museum of Play

Crafting a Hit Song

Recognizing the potential of the culture sweeping New York City, Black music producer and Sugar Hill Records owner Silvia Robinson hired some neighborhood boys to produce a hit. In 1979 The Sugar Hill Gang released Hip-Hop’s first commercially successful song “Rapper’s Delight.” 

MC Hammer's Rap A Round (1991) by Tiger ElectronicsThe Strong National Museum of Play

Face the Music

For decades, artists have offered their likenesses for their fans to vicariously experience their success. One of the earliest examples, MC Hammer, was everywhere in the early 1990s. A cartoon show, action figure, and this game were just a few items to bear his image.

Plush figure | mechanical figure:M3 Master Moves Mickey (2012) by Mattel, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Is Mickey Mouse... Breakdancing?

Hip-hop had a firm grip on children’s attention by the early 1990s. To keep pace with the intensity of hip-hop’s growing cultural significance, manufacturers repackaged established icons. Known as hip-hopification, this trend continues to this day with the likes of Mickey Mouse. 

Pharrell Williams In My Mind Promotional Skateboard (2005) by UnknownThe Strong National Museum of Play

“They call me Skateboard P.” Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams’ persona as a skateboarder coincided with a mass shift toward acceptance of skateboard culture within the Black community. His success as a producer and singer helped legitimize previously unacceptable forms of culture like skateboarding. 

Cactus Jack by Travis Scott x McDonalds Smile Clutch (2020) by Catus Jack, Travis Scott, and McDonald's CorporationThe Strong National Museum of Play

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” Jay-Z

Like McDonald’s Golden Arches, some hip-hop artists have transcended the need for a name. Instead, their impact can be understood through symbols. The Cactus Jack symbol associated with Travis Scott’s many collaborations, like this Happy Meal purse, are totemic of his success. 

Eazy-He Action Figure (2016) by Trap ToysThe Strong National Museum of Play

By the Power of…Compton?

Can hip-hop stars be heroes? In 2016 British toymaker Trap Toys styled the late twentieth-century gangsta rap icon Eazy-E as an action figure similar to National Toy Hall of Fame inductee He-Man. 

Karma’s World Rap Star Doll (2021) by Mattel, Inc. and Karma's WorldThe Strong National Museum of Play

“[The] sky is the limit and [kids] can go after their dreams and make changes no matter how young they are, starting in their own neighborhood.” —Chris Ludacris Bridges 

Karma’s World Rap Star Doll (2021) by Mattel, Inc. and Karma's WorldThe Strong National Museum of Play

Inspiring the Next Generation

Karma's World is a television show from the mind of producer, rapper, and actor Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. Inspired by his real-life daughter Karma, Bridges developed the fictional Karma’s journey as an aspiring rapper to encourage Black girls to pursue their dreams. 

Vidiyo Hiphop Robot Beatbox (2021) by Lego Systems, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Producing the Future of Play

Toys often provide young people with opportunities to mirror grown-up roles safely. These toys allow children to pretend playing at hip-hop careers such as rappers, videographers, or DJs. The possibilities are endless when the tools are presented early enough. Stay tuned…

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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