Back in 2017, I came across a Kickstarter that had one goal: bring to life a project entitled The Smithsonian Anthology to Hip-Hop and Rap.
The aim was to create a comprehensive package that included a 300 page coffee table book dedicated to hip-hop’s origin, influence and legacy, along with nine CDs full of iconic rap songs loved around the world.
This project was a joint venture between the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. And with an advisory board that included rap legends like Chuck D, MC Lyte and 9th Wonder, I jumped on the chance to make this dream project into a reality.
So in 2017, I donated about $100 to the project, which insured that I would receive the fully produced Anthology prior to its release to the general public.
While the Anthology was supposed to come out years ago, a variety of circumstances (along with a worldwide pandemic) delayed production significantly.
But they say that good things come to those that wait. And finally, after years and years of waiting, the Anthology safely arrived on my doorstep.
So, in this Smithsonian Anthology to Hip-Hop and Rap review, I wanted to unbox this package and give you better insight into what you’ll get for your money (if you’re interested in purchasing it for yourself or a friend).
You can also watch my video review of the Smithsonian Anthology to Hip-Hop and Rap below, as well.
The Packaging of the Smithsonian Anthology
The packaging for this Anthology is something special. The book comes encased in a foil slipcover, and the way the light hits it makes it appear like platinum.
The cover practically shimmers in the light and definitely left an excellent first impression on me.
There are nine CDs in this package, with three discs housed inside three individual foldout sleeves. Each CD contains a variety of iconic hip hop songs that have become entrenched in pop culture.
What I really like about the packaging is that, while the Smithsonian Anthology to Hip-Hop and Rap has no vinyl records, the sleeves that hold the CDs are clearly meant to resemble a gatefold jacket or inner record sleeve.
They’re virtually the same size as a vinyl record, and with hip-hop’s origin being so directly tied to turntables, DJ’s, and vinyl record scratching, it only makes sense that the CD packaging would look like this.
Despite being a backer to this Kickstarter campaign, I’m not sure why there was no option to include vinyl records in this project. My guess is that it was deemed either too expensive or too impractical, given the average person who might purchase the Anthology.
But it would’ve been nice to have seen some kind of variant or exclusive option offered here—one that included one or two black or even colored vinyl records.
Deep Knowledge of Hip Hop History
One thing I like about this anthology is how it’s structured.
As mentioned earlier, there are 9 CDs in the package, and each CD contains various songs by known hip-hop artists.
Each CD focuses on a small handful of years in hip-hop history (for example, disc one covers hip-hop from 1979 to 1982, and disc 9 covers covers 2004 to 2013).
The book itself is structured very similarly. Each artist and song that’s on every CD gets special attention, as you’ll learn great historical information on countless artists and songs.
Another thing I enjoyed about this anthology is how deep into hip-hop and rap it goes. You expect a book like this to cover big names in hip-hop pioneers like Run DMC or Public Enemy or Big Daddy Kane or Africa Bambaataa.
And you also expect coverage of hip-hop artists and acts that have been relevant for decades, like The Wu Tang Clan or Jay-Z or Snoop Dogg.
But I think where this book shines is in its appreciation of the rest of hip-hop that lives in that vast, deeply important middle ground.
You’ll see artists and acts like Arrested Development and Positive K get shine here. The book even discusses artists that shot to fame like a rocket before flaming out shortly afterward (Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer).
In all, I like the breadth of knowledge and attention paid to the long, winding history of hip-hop and rap.
The Huge Influence of Hip-Hop and Rap
Another thing I appreciated about this Smithsonian Anthology is how well it puts the world surrounding hip-hop into focus.
What you get here is a better understanding of the influences hip-hop and rap were born out of, as well as insight into how hip-hop and rap entrenched itself into American popular culture.
This anthology covers topics like graffiti culture, the break dancing scene, hip-hop heroines, and the influence of fashion and jewelry in rap music.
You’ll also learn about the many people behind the scenes (like the Godmother of hip-hop Sylvia Robinson) that were involved in producing some of your favorite rap hits.
The book also succeeds in emphasizing how hip-hop culture and rap isn’t homogeneous. It has a distinctly different flavor depending on where in America the music is coming from.
In fact, there’s a nice section in the book entitled “The South Got Something to Say” that’s dedicated to the likes of OutKast, The Hot Boys, Trina, and the massive rise of southern rap.
If you are a big fan of hip-hop and rap, then perhaps you didn’t really need to read this Smithsonian Anthology to Hip-Hop and Rap review. Maybe you were already sold the minute you saw the title or viewed the striking images.
But this is an anthology package that costs about $160, so for anyone that’s on the fence, hopefully this helped you better understand what you can expect out of this product.
With that said, I’ll also provide a complete track listing for all nine CDs below, as well.
Overall, for anyone that’s looking to get an education on the birth of hip-hop and rap, as well as how it’s morphed and adapted over the past couple of decades, then this Smithsonian Anthology needs to be on your radar.
You can purchase this Anthology at various locations, including the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website.
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