Culture  /  Museum Review

On 50th Anniversary, Hip Hop Rises Again in the Bronx

The Universal Hip Hop Museum is poised to bring an economic and cultural infusion to the borough where the genre was born and bred.

The cultural forefathers of Hip Hop are not known for seeking permission. When the pioneering DJs needed power for their turntables and speakers to ignite block parties, they plugged into the streetlamp posts to use the city’s electricity. When the graffiti writers needed a canvas, they just used the city’s subway cars and any blank building wall that looked ripe for a burner. When the B-boys and breakers needed a venue to showcase their latest dance styles, they just took over a city corner and got busy. Any one of these acts was and still is a violation of New York City ordinances, but asking for permission wouldn’t have been Hip Hop.

For the past few years, however, Rocky Bucano has been mired in permits by the pound, sought and granted by New York City and the Bronx borough to build the Universal Hip Hop Museum, perhaps the largest monument and institution dedicated to the culture to date. The 530,000 square-foot building will house two floors of exhibit space, a theater and over 500 apartment units priced well below market. It will live just a couple miles down the Major Deegan Expressway from the 1520 Sedgwick Ave. apartment complex where Hip Hop is said to have been born 50 years ago on Aug. 11. 

Still under construction, it sits directly across the street from the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market, a massive retail and restaurant depot, and just a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium. The original plan was to have the museum open this month, just in time for Hip Hop’s 50th birthday. However, the pandemic and all the usual construction hiccups — delayed financing, supply chain shortages and, you know, permits — pushed the opening back to 2024. 

In the meantime, the UHHM occupies space across the street, in the Bronx Terminal Market, where it’s currently running an exhibit called “[R]evolution of Hip Hop,” which is flush with relics and memorabilia of the 1986-1990 “Golden Era” of the culture. It’s just a small taste of what’s to come in the museum, which Bucano, the founder and executive director, is hoping will become the cultural and economic catalyst for the oft-maligned Bronx borough where the birth of Hip Hop happened 50 years ago.