When photographer Joe Conzo reflects on hip-hop’s early days one word comes to mind: innocence. During the late 1970s he began to document the birth of hip-hop in New York City prior to the culture becoming a global commercial force that would be celebrated for its innovations in music, dance and fashion, while simultaneously criticized as promoting violence, misogyny and materialism.
For Conzo all of that means nothing compared to his fond memories of hip-hop’s beginnings.
“Back then we were just hanging out in the street doing what we wanted to do and it was beautiful and innocent,” he said. “It wasn’t about the next record deal or the bling. It was about the next park jam and MC battles. I miss the innocent times.”
Conzo and fellow photographers Janette Beckman and Martha Cooper are reviving those memories for viewers in the exhibition, Hip-Hop Revolution, curated by Sean Corcoran. On display now until Sept. 13 at The Museum of the City of New York, the photos document hip-hop culture from 1977 to 1990. Included are hip-hop icons such as Afrika Bambaata, Kool Herc, the Cold Crush Brothers, the Rock Steady Crew, Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah.
It is the history captured within those images that Conzo wants today’s youth to become familiar with as hip-hop continues to have widespread mainstream appeal.
“If you love hip-hop, you need to know about the pioneers who laid the foundation. The youth need to see the humble beginnings of the culture from those who struggled and did the hard work of putting it together,” he.said.
Meet the Bronx Museum’s new deputy director
By sheer coincidence or perhaps not, selections from Conzo’s collection are simultaneously on view at The Bronx Museum of the Arts in the exhibition Three Photographers from the Bronx. With Jules Aarons and Morton Broffman rounding out the trio on display, the exhibition looks at pivotal moments in the Bronx’s history from the 1950s to 1980s that address the issue of urban and social change.
To read the entire column click here.