LETTER TO THE EDITOR | The Importance of Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip-Hop Legacy

To the Editor:
Some years ago, when I introduced a unit on hip-hop in a course I was teaching in the English department, a visiting musicologist at Cornell came to my class and spent 50 minutes discussing the complexity and richness of a single track, Afrika Bambaataa’s  “Planet Rock.” At the end of the hour, he hadn’t finished. That session alone was enough to convince me that Bambaataa’s mixing of musical fragments, shouts from a crowd and other background noise into a seamless whole exemplified a whole new approach to music and to listening that assured him a place in the history of urban music. When Cornell acquired the world’s largest collection of  early hip-hop materials, I was therefore proud to become a member of the hip-hop advisory board. If asked about the significance of the acquisition, I would have said something like this:
Cornell’s collection not only preserves these materials for history but also dramatically re-defines what a rare manuscript library can be. Katherine Reagan’s activist curating has gone beyond simply preserving the material, incorporating it into the Cornell educational experience.