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Discover Over 1,700 Photos and Ephemera from the Early Years of Hip-Hop Online

The Sugar Hill Gang, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, and other hip-hop pioneers feature in the newly digitized material from Cornell University.

<em>Word Up! Presents Rap Masters</em> (August 1989) (courtesy Cornell University Hip Hop Collection)
Word Up! Presents Rap Masters (August 1989) (courtesy Cornell University Hip Hop Collection)

Cornell University has an incredible archive of over 50,000 objects in its Cornell Hip Hop Collection, but much of it is only accessible on-site at the Ithaca, New York, institution. Recently, more than 1,700 images from the collection’s Adler Hip Hop Archive were released online. They range from a 1980 record label bio for the Sugar Hill Gang, to a 1988 press release for Public Enemy’s benefit concert at Rikers Island (Chuck D stated, “We’re doing this to show brothers on the inside that being a victim of the system doesn’t mean you have to be a loser”).

Concert poster featuring Gwen Guthrie, LL Cool J, TLA Rock, and Word of Mouth (courtesy the Cornell Hip Hop Collection)
Concert poster featuring Gwen Guthrie, LL Cool J, TLA Rock, and Word of Mouth (courtesy the Cornell Hip Hop Collection)

In an April article for the Cornell Chronicle, Melanie Lefkowitz, a writer for Cornell University Library, shared the new resource, stating that the “newly digitized materials represent about 5 percent of the Adler archive, all of which is physically accessible to researchers on the Cornell Ithaca campus.” The Adler Archive was received in 2013 from music journalist and publicist Bill Adler, who was director of publicity at Def Jam Recordings from 1984 to 1990. It includes photographs, correspondence, news clippings, press packets, and other related items.

In the Cornell Chronicle article, curator of rare books and manuscripts Katherine Reagan said that “Bill’s files are a rich and deep resource for the study of hip-hop’s emergence in the popular press and as a force within the music industry, and they enrich our understanding of hip-hop’s 40-year history.” In particular, they highlight how hip-hop burst into the mainstream from an underground movement, with material going back to the 1970s.

Photograph of Chuck D of Public Enemy with fans (courtesy Cornell University Hip Hop Collection)
Photograph of Chuck D of Public Enemy with fans (courtesy Cornell University Hip Hop Collection)

hand-drawn flyer for a March 17, 1978 show at the Bronx’s Webster Avenue PAL (Police Athletic League) — a pivotal early venue — promotes an “Uptown vs. Downtown” face-off between DJ Afrika Islam and DJ Ed La Rock. Such artifacts of the DIY roots of hip-hop are joined by newspaper clippings like a 1979 Billboard article crowing “Rapping Records Flooding Stores in N.Y. Market.” By the 1980s, several stars had emerged, many of whom Adler worked with. In a 1985 interview in the pioneering hip-hop publication The Hip Hop Hit List, LL Cool J is asked “What are your future goals?” He confidently responded: “To be the prince of rap.” By 1986, People magazine declared: “L.L. Cool J Raps to the Beat of His Box, While His LP Does Better Than Dow Jones Stock.”

In a 2014 NPR story on the planned digitization, Adler said, “I want to believe there’s a hunger — really a global hunger — for these materials.” The Adler Archive is just part of the Cornell Hip Hop Collection, which also features the work of hip-hop photographer Joe Conzo, Jr., the archive of Charlie Ahearn (director of the 1983 Wild Style), and the archive of archive of Buddy “The Flyer King” Esquire. Over the coming years, Cornell plans to continue digitizing the Adler Archive, making its rare material available to anyone interested in this essential era of music.

Ad for Def Jam in <em>Dance Music Report</em> (December 13, 1985) (courtesy Cornell University Hip Hop Collection)
Ad for Def Jam in Dance Music Report (December 13, 1985) (courtesy Cornell University Hip Hop Collection)

Explore over 1,700 digitized items from the Cornell Hip Hop Collection’s Adler Archive online.

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