New Book Details Collecting Hip-Hop History

Collecting Hip-Hop History

What’s the best hip-hop show you ever attended? Did you hang on to your ticket stub or maybe the flyer from that night? That desire to have some physical reminder of your experience is the basis of hip-hop preservation and memorabilia collecting. What may be a memento of a moment in time for you, is big business for some. An ebay search of “Rap Memorabilia” brings up items from an autographed picture of Stevie J. ($10) to a ticket stub from a 2Pac concert in Hawaii on July 23, 1994 ($40). “Jam Master Jay had the foresight to save laminates, concert tickets, and flyers. It’s a damn shame that I didn’t collect any of my history. At the time, all I cared about was rhyming and deejaying,” says DMC, “Every time I’d step on stage I thought about the albums, tapes, and flyers but didn’t collect it.”

As hip-hop ages, mementos from past shows, film posters, vinyl records, etc., grow in value. As artists pass away, items with their signatures increase tremendously in value and are usually forged. Hip-Hop collecting is growing as both a business and an opportunity to hang on to the treasured golden era. If you are interested in building a collection of hip-hop history, where do you start? How do you tell the real from the fake? How do you save and store your items to last for years? How do you know what will eventually be worth more money and what is just junk?

hip hop buttonsFor the answers to these questions we turned to one of hip-hop’s most reputable collectors, Detroit’s Khalid Hussein El-Hakim. An educator, lecturer, and founder of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, El-Hakim has turned his love of hip-hop music into a full-time profession. He took his collection and placed it inside of a renovated RV which travels around the country treating people to an amazing black history experience they otherwise may not have. -He started his collection as a member of the Detroit hip-hop community, with a habit of holding on to old articles, flyers, and personal artifacts. His hoarding habit has led to a strong collection of personal items from that scene, including pieces from the deceased rappers Proof, J. Dilla, Bugz, and Baatin. El-Hakim, a former Detroit Public Schools teacher, also has artifacts from slavery and the reconstruction era in his museum, although hip-hop is his true love.

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Khalid El-Hakim and Dr. Derrick Jenkins have written– Center of the Movement: Collecting Hip-Hop Memorabilia, a book about how and why hip-hop collecting is important and how to build your own collection. The foreword of the book was written by Bakari Kitwana, author of The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture. Center of the Movement features essays, interviews, and chapter after chapter on how and why to collect hip-hop memorabilia.

We talked to Khalid El-Hakim about the book and broke it down by chapter about how to build a collection that will make ’em envy. How did you start collecting?

Khalid El-Hakim: Initially I began collecting comic books and sports cards in my early teens.  That laid the foundation of my passion for collecting.  That desire was sparked again as a college student at Ferris State University.  I began collecting Jim Crow memorabilia in 1991 after taking an Intro to Sociology class with Dr. David Pilgrim who later founded the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.  Dr. Pilgrim taught many of his lessons on the impact of race in America by using artifacts he’d collected over the years. Why do you feel it is important to collect memorabilia?

Khalid El-Hakim: It’s very important to collect the artifacts of culture because it’s the evidence that proves what took place.  It sets the record straight.  For example, how do we know that Dr. King made an early version of the “I Have A Dream” speech in Detroit two months before the March on Washington if it happened before we were born?  Well one way we know for sure is because Berry Gordy recorded it and released The Great March to Freedom album on Motown Records.  There are also people who have photographs or even programs from the event.  These artifacts are significant to history. As hip-hop gets older, what will be some of the important “next steps” for preservation?

Khalid El-Hakim: First and foremost, people need to understand the value of the material artifacts of hip hop culture.  The way the culture responds currently is that we discard a lot of the material things we produce.  For example, we throw away flyers, ticket stubs, albums, magazines, and clothing when it goes out of style. But it’s these items that help tell the story of hip hop, so they are historically valuable.  There are foreigners that comb thrift shops in urban areas purchasing hip hop clothing and selling it for lots of money to hip hop heads in places like Japan and England.  A vintage Cross Colours shirt or an old concert t-shirt of  Run DMC is worth hundreds of dollars to some people but can be found for a few dollars at your local Salvation Army.  So we must know that it also has financial value so that we just do not give our material away.  Beyond that, we should begin to open museums around the country that represent the contribution of hip hop culture in different regions.  This is extremely important because hip hop takes on the unique flavor of different cities and that is what makes hip hop culturally rich and that needs to be celebrated.  Also people who are interested in preservation should go to school and learn the profession of archiving and preservation.  If not, then people who don’t have a love of hip hop will be in control how our story is told in museums. If you are purchasing at online auctions, how do you know what is real or fake?

Khalid El-Hakim: I never encourage people to purchase memorabilia with online auctions.  You never know what’s real or fake until you get it.  However, if you do purchase online you want to look at the reputation of the seller.   Make sure they have positive reviews from other customers.  In regards to memorabilia, magazines, newspapers, toys and clothing are probably the safest.  I definitely would stay away from autographs from online auctions.

AllHipHop: I know you are an educator, do you teach about hip-hop music and culture? How do your students respond?

Khalid El-Hakim: Yes, when I taught in the Detroit Public Schools I always found a way to incorporate hip hop culture into the classroom setting.  It’s a great way to get students inspired and motivated to dig a little deeper into the school curriculum.  Over the years I was known for bringing “cool” guest speakers to class with visits by people such as Proof, Jessica Care Moore, The Last Poets, Professor Griff, and Brother J of X Clan.  Two years ago, the demand for the Black History 101 Mobile Museum gave me the opportunity to make this work a full time commitment so hip hop is incorporated into every exhibit.  People are always immediately drawn to the hip hop artifacts because its something that is familiar to them and they appreciate how it is tied into the larger historical context of the Black experience. How does someone start a collection?

Khalid El-Hakim:  I encourage people to start collecting things they are passionate about.  Different things resonate with different people.  For some its clothing or shoes, for others it might autographs or photographs, and then some people collect magazines or albums.  What ever you are feeling collect that.  In regards to finding these items, I’d start looking in used record stores, used bookstores and thrift shops.  You’d be surprised at the treasures that are hidden in these places.  Also, hip hop hasn’t stopped and won’t stop so collect the things that are around right now like flyers, posters, clothing, and you can get autographs from many of the legends that are around.  The best thing about the newer items is that they are free.

The new book, Center of the Movement: Collecting Hip-Hop Memorabilia is available online today (July 9) at Tell us about your hip-hop collection in the comments section.