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words by Ali Raymond / photography Romain Kedochim
‘A must for anyone who claims to be a Hip Hop fan.’ - BBC 1Xtra’s, DJ Semtex
Manchester welcomes to their Urbis centre an exciting major exhibition: Homegrown. The first of it’s kind, Running from 15th of October 2009 to 27th of February 2010, it’s one thundering, giant, Air Jorden wearing leap for the story of UK Hip Hop and one further small step for the worldwide impact of the culture.
An in depth chronicle of three decades in the development of UK Hip Hop, it’s been beautifully put together by Hip Hop enthusiast and journalist James McNally and Urbis curator Andy Brydon.
James McNally has been a follower and influential writer for UK Hip Hop since its inception. Regularly bringing the flavour to our lives as a main voice for HHC – UK’s longest running Hip Hop Magazine.
Leaning exhaustingly on research and a list of contributors running longer then a plane ticket from Manchester to NY, James has worked with the most influential figures in music to bring together rare, remarkable and irreplaceable Hip Hop photography, music, film and fashion from the best private collections.
We managed to put a few needed questions about the exhibition to James himself and the brief interview can be found below.
Packing an army of jam sandwiches along with DJ Mentat’s Director’s cut – produced especially for our friends over at Big Smoke Magazine – Beatnik had to get in on the action. So we travelled the M1 in search of something special.
And Oh how special it is.
Whether a passionate disciple of the growing scene over the years, a person belonging to hip hop culture in general or simply an enthusiast of artistic expression, it’s hard not to walk through the Urbis walls, decorated with rhyme and reason, without dragging your open jaw.
Visually brilliant as it is informative you absorb a real sense of the dynamic movement that has touched so many and continues to do so today.
What’s further heartwarming is that the exhibition highlights how UK Hip Hop holds claim to UK Music as much as homemade genres like Drum N Bass, Dubstep or Garage.
Just like the British Hip Hop generation related to the Bronx block party and spirit, they adopted and adapted the subculture with it’s art, politics, rhyme, dance and music turning it into their own. This cross Atlantic individualistic interpretation was made even stronger by it’s influence from other music in the UK like UK Reggae, Jungle, Garage, and Neo-Soul – Meaning Hip Hop truly became ours, it became homegrown.
Don’t miss a remarkable exhibition. GO NOW!
A few words with James McNally:
Where did the idea of the exhibition come from?
I would love to take full credit for having had the idea, vision and tenacity to birth the concept of HomeGrown, but unfortunately I can’t. That’s down to Andy Brydon, the permanent curator at Urbis. Being a specialist in exhibitions about different cultures in city life, a Hip Hop exhibition was always going to be hovering on the horizon, but to Andy’s credit he thought it would be interesting to do something off the well-beaten track of early New York Hip Hop.
So, initially he had the idea of an exhibition of hip-hop outside the US, which is when I came onboard as a consultant on the UK side of things.
Then a few weeks of research on and it was clear that even in a big gallery space like Urbis’ that was going to be near impossible to do justice to – I mean, we could have taken up the whole space just on the first five years of British Hip Hop, or on the early genesis of French Hip Hop, so he decided the sensible thing to do would be to just focus on the UK scene – which was brilliant, because it’s been so neglected.
How long did it take to research, gather contributors and put up?
We only had a relatively short space of time to put this all together, which was daunting at first.
I mean, major gallery spaces often have a big team and a two year lead-in to put together a major historical retrospective like ours, but we had six months and three people: me, Andy Brydon and Kid Acne.
That involved everything: tracking people down, interviewing them to find out what the shape of the story was, and then what we may be able to borrow from them to help tell that story.
Eventually we had to actually persuade them their invaluable stuff was going to be safe with us, gather it all together and make those very hard decisions about what got in and what didn’t.
Then we had to get it all designed – by Sheffield’s incredible Peter & Paul – write the narrative and captions, and put the whole thing in. All still in that six months.
Any other commitments pretty much got ignored for those months, but it was great fun nevertheless.
Why do think the exhibition is so important?
Well, so far, it’s probably the proudest achievement in my entire working life. I’ve spent a long time documenting the British Hip Hop scene, and it’s absolutely been my passion since god knows when.
When you’re writing about something in the piecemeal form of magazine articles, you wind up with lots of small bits that hopefully add cumulatively to some kind of coherent whole; and then you have to hope against all probability that people have been paying close enough attention to join the dots.
Whereas with an exhibition, suddenly there’s this opportunity to put it all together in an experience that people can digest in one sitting.
It was both an immense privilege and a priceless opportunity, because nobody had ever done that before. There isn’t a British Hip Hop museum you can go to, there isn’t a British Hip Hop version of ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’ or the ‘Rap Attack’ that you can read, and there isn’t a feature length documentary you can watch.
This is an almost totally lost history, which, to me is a complete travesty.
The people who deserve credit in British Hip Hop and in all the off-shoots it’s helped shape have gone all but unacknowledged. So to be able to draw people’s attention to some of that history, to be able to give a few nods to some of the right people is hugely important to me.
My only regret is that we couldn’t have had more space to put even more in.
It’s great that props are finally getting giving where due. But are there any plans to tour the UK?
I would really love to get this to cities across the UK, but it’s a long, winding and ultimately highly unpredictable process.
So, yes, there are plans, but if you want to be sure that you get to see it, please get to Manchester before February 27th!