One of the best things about The Hip Hop Museum is how the movement inspires and draws people to our community. This is how we link with MCs, teachers, leaders, and all kinds of uplevelers. Alignment and timing are crucial for the creation and development of every form of art, particularly music and especially Hip Hop.
It was alignment and timing that drew actor, writer, and producer Nasser Metcalfe to The Hip Hop Museum. He met co-founder Rocky Bucano in July 2016 in the Bronx at the premier of Netflix’s “The Get Down.” They had a great conversation, Nasser saw the museum’s specs, and heard about the build. Nasser offered to help however he could.
While THHM’s development continued, Nasser pondered where to deposit his remarkable collection of the magazines key to Hip Hop as an artistry and community: VIBE and The Source. Nasser collected the issues of each publication between 1995 and 2008.
I asked him why these were the magazines he chose to read, immerse in, and save for 13 years. Nasser replied, “Since they began I looked forward every month to seeing them on the stands, to learning about the artists I liked and their music. These publications kept their ears to the ground, paying attention to the streets, [and] what was happening in the culture.” We discussed what set the content apart from other industry mags and glossies. Like Hip Hop, it was about the voices of the content makers: “Cheo Hodari Coker, Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, Dream Hampton, Kevin Powell, and Michael Gonzalez spoke in a language I could relate to, they discussed things I would want to know, and asked questions I would ask if I could.”
Nasser stayed in touch with Rocky and met the museum’s Archivist Adam Silverstein. It occurred to Nasser that The Hip Hop Museum was a good place to donate his collection. When our space at Bronx Point became official, the transfer of these iconic periodicals began.
Everyone collects at least one thing. Why we collect what we do tends to be part of who we are and what we believe. In other words, our character and our soul. When we discussed why Nasser collected magazines and how he collected for a purpose, he told me about an icon in his family: his grandfather, Olympic medal winner (he was a sprinter), world record breaker, Democratic member of the House of Representatives, and co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ralph Metcalfe.
Congressman Metcalfe ran with Jesse Owens in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. He won 16 national titles in addition to three Olympic medals, one of each metal. He went from being a world-renowned athlete to a political game changer. While serving as Democratic Committeeman of Chicago’s 3rd Ward, Congressman Metcalfe led and mentored the community which included Cook County Board of Commissioners first black president and the Illinois Supreme Court’s first black Chief Justice. He went on to serve the First District of Illinois as a Representative. He co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus, overturned bad policies and politics at the city, state, and federal levels, and introduced a Congressional Resolution to turn Negro History Week into Black History Month in 1977.
Nasser and his father chose to unveil The Metcalfe Collection and share with the world what they had preserved: his grandfather’s history, contributions, and the profound archive. The organization launched in 2000. Nasser stated passionately, “Doing this opened my eyes to the value of historical preservation.” I asked him what roles did VIBE and The Source play here. Nasser was emphatic: “While reading these magazines, it wasn’t lost on me that there was a culture emerging, something that I felt would be definitive for my generation. I felt that the artistic contributions and accomplishments were significant enough to be seen in the future as historical. My kids could learn from these.”
While Nasser and I discussed what he wisely called his “self-imposed responsibility” to sustain and share Hip Hop’s history, cultural impact, and artistic magic, we touched on the power of paper (what we read) and the power of sound (which we hear). I asked him how the written and the heard can co-exist in Hip Hop. He replied, “While I have a collection of CDs which I still listen to, the value of the magazines lies in how we learn about the artists, their history, and where they came from. The work – the songs – will stand on their own merits.” In other words, to know about the artists – from their perspectives – gives their work deeper context.
Before we could learn about entertainers via social media, Nasser reminded me that “[when] the artist was going through turmoil with their manager or agent, [we] could learn about that, deals, getting advances, publishing, copyrights, access, and bootlegs.” We could witness the bootstrapping and storytelling of urban artists thanks to the magazines’ reporters.
The authenticity and integrity communicated by these magazines were heard, seen, and felt in what Nasser calls “pivotal moments.” Those included when A Tribe Called Quest disbanded in 1998, when Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were murdered in 1996 and 1997, and the so-called feud between East Coast and West Coast Rap artists. Where mainstream media was unclear or absent, accuracy was delivered by VIBE and the Bible of Hip Hop, which is what The Source was called.
What it means to Nasser, in the context of Hip Hop history and culture, to be a collector is “to preserve something of value.” His definition of value “is rooted in being able to share with people who are on the come up.” We discussed how entertainment educates and inspires, no better than by the artists covered in VIBE and The Source. Where these magazines are concerned, “time [was] encapsulated. These magazines not only reported about the culture, they were born of the culture.” Nasser does his part to inspire up-and-coming artists in film and theatre and has done since attending Morehouse College.
Nasser and I discussed the artists, albums, and songs that resonated the most with him. His favorite band (A Tribe Called Quest), his favorite Rap artist (Nas), and most loved groups and MCs (including Outkast, The Roots, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim, Slick Rick, EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Lupe Fiasco, and Farrah Boulé) demonstrate the complexity, skills, and leadership for which Hip Hop’s community is known.
We are truly grateful to Nasser for sharing his epic collection of magazines with us. They will be one of the exceptional components of The Hip Hop Museum’s donations.
Hat tip, Nasser.