Traveling Exhibition Celebrates Five Decades of Hip-Hop

Iconic memorabilia will be on display for three months at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.

customized sneakers and a RIAA gold record
Customized sneakers and RIAA gold records are part a traveling hip-hop exhibit at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. Photo courtesy of the National Hip-Hop Museum.

Hip-hop is more than just a genre of music. It’s an important component of African American culture, says Key Fletcher, executive director of Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.

“Hip-hop is just so apart of the culture, I never really think about it, it just is,” she says.

The Little Rock museum is hosting a traveling exhibit from the National Hip-Hop Museum’s Pop Up Experience that explores the impact of hip hop on everything from fashion to music to language. And the Beat Don’t Stop: 50 Years of Hip-Hop opens Apr. 7 at MTCC.

Selecting pieces for the show was difficult because hip-hop expands everything, Fletcher says. Ultimately, she chose items she felt were important, relevant and would connect with Arkansas audiences. Memorabilia on display include RIAA gold and platinum records and tapes from well-known artists, sneakers boomboxes and turntables. 

“It started with turntables, with music, and so we thought there’s no way that we could tell the story of hip-hop without bringing in those traditional turntables,” Fletcher says.

In addition to exploring West Coast and East Coast styles of hip-hop, the exhibition also incorporates Arkansas artists and performers.

“Because we are Arkansas’ state museum of African American history and culture, we got to bring the Southern influence in,” Fletcher says. 

Arkansas contributions to the exhibit include items donated from Ugly Mike’s Records, a record store she says has been part of the African American community for some time, and artwork from Adaja Cooper. Philander Smith College students are also working on graffiti art that will be incorporated into the show. 

A grand opening celebration at MTCC is scheduled for Apr. 7. Doors open at 5 p.m. to the free event, which will feature dueling DJs, a 360-degree photo booth, breakdancing and light refreshments. 

Hip-hop is “a great connector of generations and of families,” says Fletcher whose earliest experiences with the genre include memories of her dad singing a song by The Sugarhill Gang. Over the next three months, Arkansas families can create their own memories by participating in a series of special events based on the exhibit. 

Saturdays with the MCs will offer kid-friendly performances by local emcees sharing their skills and talents, while Chat and Chew — the museum’s hybrid virtual and in-person lunchtime event — will feature a music influencer. Special programs also include a rap workshop for kids and a sneaker customization class for adults. 

“I hope that people can walk away from the exhibit seeing how hip-hop and African American culture has influenced the world and the fact too that hip hop is more than just music, that it truly is culture and that it is something to be celebrated,” Fletcher says.

And the Beat Don’t Stop: 50 Years of Hip Hop will be on display at MTCC Apr. 7 through July 1. Admission is free. More information is available at www.mosaictemplarscenter.com

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.