The stream of folks walking up the Grand Concourse from the 4 station near Yankee Stadium is a curious one for the neighborhood—mullet- and leg-warmer-sporting female hipsters, dreadlocked intellectuals, B-boy college kids, art nerds. Their destination, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, sits on a mature strip of the borough’s primary residential thoroughfare, thick with austere, decades-old apartment buildings. It’s only a handful of home runs away from the House That Ruth Built, but is decidedly less trafficked, even when the Yanks are on the road.
“One Planet Under a Groove: Hip-Hop and Contemporary Art” hopes to change all that. At the BxMA through May, “One Planet” examines the mark hip-hop—the music and methodology—has left on the visual arts. Turntables, microphones, hip-hop videos, seminal lyrics, and a break-dancing tableau all figure in the work that fills the two upstairs galleries; in fact, the exhibition’s opening party was DJ’d using the turntables in Nadine Robinson’s installation piece Big Baby Blue.
To their credit, the folks at the museum are using the occasion of the show to expand its community outreach programs. “Bounce,” a free monthly club night, is a welcome play to bring late-night appeal to a neck-of-the-‘hood sorely in need of it. This is a neighborhood that shouldn’t be lacking for hip-hop—despite the odd territorial quibble, it’s well known that hip-hop was birthed in the South Bronx. Around the holidays, the museum held a series of open workshops for young people to learn the fundamentals of hip-hop: break dancing, DJ’ing, graffiti, and rapping. And “Bounce” lures the older generation already reared on the music, giving them a reason to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace, or at least nearby.
But rather than risk the art to souped-up creativity thugs—there is, after all, an open bar—the BxMA directs revelers downstairs, into a cavernous, dark recreation space littered with beanbags and intense spotlights. The monthly’s debut, on a chilly December night, paired the art-about-rap upstairs with decidedly obtuse art-rap downstairs. Anti-Pop Consortium, known for their esoteric, irregular flows and cosmic lyricism, delivered a typically dense performance, and with an eye to the exhibition’s wanton mixing of media, DJ collective Hop-Fu created a live soundtrack to kung fu films they projected on the wall, using only their turntables, the records on them, and a host of clever hand manipulations. At January’s session, Brooklyn poet Rha Goddess brought her trademark bombastic verse, and Bobbito Garcia, lion of the hip-hop underground, spun a set that lasted well past the party’s 10 p.m. close (that’s right—it’s a public building, so no all-night benders).
This Friday, DJ Lobo of Latino Mix 105.9 FM makes an appearance, nodding to the Latin influence in hip-hop and spinning an eclectic but diasporically linked set of salsa, merengue, and r&b. Alex Rivera will man the visuals, mixing videos live. In March, the Black Lily Jam stops in for an evening of sista grrrl riot.
One of the central questions that “One Planet Under a Groove” asks is: Can you have hip-hop art without hip-hop? This impressive, interactive club night is a robust reply, positing that you couldn’t possibly have had hip-hop without art in the first place.