Like Shakespeare, Kendrick Lamar touches on the political and the personal, is a master of complex rhyme, and a pop-culture player in his time. Musically, his allusions, his samplings, are ironic, layer meaning, and recall jazz and modern poetry.
In the words of Biggie: “If you don’t know, now you know.”
Studying and preserving the work of Lamar and other hip-hop giants has been the focus of the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute, based at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, since its founding in 2002. The organization’s mission is to document the genre’s mushrooming influence on culture and society.
“What we try to do here is not run away from hard questions and hard ideas and things we disagree with about hip-hop, but to celebrate what it’s doing for us and what it’s doing for generations of Americans and also people throughout the world,” said Marcyliena Morgan, the archive’s founding executive director.
Through the years, the institute has established, along with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship for academic research in the field — named after rapper Nas whose poetic and prolific storytelling has immersed decades of fans in the reality and mentality of street life. It’s hosted artists, courses, programs, and events to explore hip-hop’s core elements — deejaying, rhyming, graffiti art, and b-boy and b-girl dance. And it’s collected stores of historic memorabilia and artifacts — classic vinyl records, vintage magazines, and scholarly articles and books on the subject.
The archive occupies a sleek space decorated with graffiti-lettering, boom boxes, sneakers, a lit mini disco floor, and a turntable. Displays honor influential figures, like the late Tupac Shakur, Jay-Z, Queen Latifah, and Lauryn Hill — amid a constant soundtrack of background beats and raps.