Capital funding revs up for Hip Hop Museum

Rendering of Bronx Point Plans. Illustration courtesy of the Universal Hip Hop Museum.

Bronx Point will also include 600 apartments, a movie theater and a food hall

A museum dedicated to hip-hop and its international influence on music has been approved by the city as part of a massive development near Yankee Stadium. But with three years to go before the scheduled opening, capital funding for the project has just begun. Organizers expect the Universal Hip Hop Museum, which has been promised 60,000 square feet of space in the project called Bronx Point, to cost between $60 and 90 million.

“We are just beginning capital campaigning, we haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” said Rocky Bucano, the museum’s executive director and a licensed insurance broker.

Organizers have already begun collecting artifacts for the museum. A bicycle ridden by a 22-year-old Snoop Dogg in the 1993 music video “Gin and Juice;” photographs from the Bronx born-and-raised “Baby Photographer of Hip Hop” Joe Conzo Jr.; and speakers from 1980s hip hop nightclubs where legendary groups got their start are part of the collection, according to Bucano.

Bronx Point is being developed on one of the largest remaining city-owned areas of land in the Bronx, located on the Harlem River just north of the 145th Street Bridge. According to Type A Projects, one of the partners in the project, the first phase of development (out of two) will include 600 units of housing, the Universal Hip Hop Museum, a movie theater, a local food hall, and educational spaces – all completed by 2020. There were some in the neighborhood who opposed the project, largely due to access to waterfront parkland that the neighborhood was promised with the creation of Yankee Stadium. But the City Council voted to approve the development just last month.

“Our four years of hard team work has paid off. I thank God, as I am elated to know that this mecca devoted to the cultural phenomenon of Hip-Hop will preserve not only my legacy, but also the legacies of many others for the world to see,” said Kurtis Blow, chairman of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum in a press release issued by the Bronx borough president. There are eight members on the board of trustees, 27 advisory board members and more than 56 honorary advisory board members, but to fund the ambitions of the project, they will need all hands on the DJ decks.

“Hip hop is the most powerful art form on the entire planet,” said Bucano. “It’s more than what you just hear on the radio. It’s a lot deeper and has a lot more meaning than just rap music.”

According to Bucano, the museum will not be paying rent for the space. He described the agreement as a “long-term lease” with the developers, L+M Development Partners.

On the museum’s Spotfund account (a micro donation platform that allows donations as low as $1 to $3), New York rap legends such as Blow, LL Cool J and Ice T ask hip hop fans for donations. On a star-studded board of trustees and donors, LL Cool J is a cultural ambassador of the museum; and Ice T is a founding member.

“I don’t care if it’s $10, $5, $3, $2, donate something to preserve ours,” rhymes rap legend Kangol Kid in his Spotfund video. Donors can target their donation to a specific hip hop star’s promotion.

So far, the Spotfund donations total just above $2,700. The museum also sells both individual and corporate memberships (which for individuals span between $5 to $25,000) and merchandise, such as T-shirts and hoodies with the logos of the museum.

The price tag for the museum may be high, but museum officials are optimistic about the challenge.

“This started from a seed,” said Renee Foster, national chair of fundraising and development for the museum and a public relations professional. “With millions of hip hop fans worldwide we would be able to raise a lot of money on that site [Spotfund] alone. We are looking to create a database of people all over the world.”

According to culture historians, hip hop was born in the South Bronx under the theoretical pillars of rapping: DJing (aural), b-boying/girling (physical), rap (mental) and graffiti art (visual). This has long been defined by South Bronxite hip hop legend (and museum supporter) Afrika Bambaataa of the Zulu Nation. On tax filings, the Universal Hip Hop Museum claims itself to be under the theoretical fifth pillar: education and knowledge of self. Most of the programs the museum aims to provide are educational; museum educators would collaborate with arts and social science educators in the city’s Department of Education.

“Hip-hop was born in the Bronx, and the inclusion of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum as a part of this project will help showcase our role in the creation of that worldwide cultural movement for generations to come,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. in a press release. “Bronx Point is a tremendous step forward for our borough.”

Another hip hop museum is also being developed in Manhattan, and scheduled to open with its first phase beginning in February 2018. The Harlem Official Hip Hop Hall of Fame + Museum to the World (HHHOF) won a bid for a development site on 125th Street and organizers have proposed building a 20-story complex. Founder JT Thompson, an entrepreneur and real estate developer, has been working on the concept since 1992, and this summer launched a $150 million capital campaign.