Universal Hip Hop Museum The Official Record of Hip Hop

The Universal Hip Hop Museum, the small idea that has steadily blossomed into a bonafide cultural institution, is just a few months away from the start of construction at the Bronx Point. The Bronx Point is the largest affordable housing and mixed-use real estate development project approved for construction in New York City for 2020. But before the Official Record of Hip Hop begins construction of the leading-edge smart museum at the Bronx Point, the story of how the Universal Hip Hop Museum came to be must be told.

UHHM renderings courtesy of Ralph Appelbaum Associates and S9 Architects

The story of the Universal Hip Hop Museum is nothing short of amazing. The UHHM would not be where it is today without the perseverance and dedication of Rocky Bucano and a small group of the museum’s founding members and volunteers, who have bonded together over the years to support the museum's mission and vision. The success of the museum has much to do with faith, timing, perseverance and commitment.

The Making of the Universal Hip Hop Museum

The Kingsbridge Armory

The year was 2011, when Rocky Bucano who was then the Executive Director of the Mott Haven Bronx-based New York Gauchos basketball program was asked to join a real estate development bid to transform the dormant Kingsbridge Armory (the world’s largest armory) into a sports and hospitality complex. The proposed offer by Mike Green, Director of the National Cycling Association would create an opportunity for the Gauchos program to expand its legendary South Bronx operation to another section of the Bronx and reach many more underserved youth.

The development proposal for the Kingsbridge Armory presented by the NCA real estate group that had hoped to help the Gauchos expand was short-lived. The city of New York rejected the proposal, but some city officials were keenly interested in keeping the Gauchos program a part of any future development plans for the Kingsbridge Armory. New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera whose district covers the Kingsbridge Armory would take the lead and introduce Rocky Bucano to New York City real estate magnate Young Woo of Young Woo Associates, whom he believed stood a good chance at winning the city RFP process.

Korean-born real estate developer Young Woo spent most of his childhood living in Argentina. His family migrated to America and the Grand Concourse section of the Bronx when he was teenager. Young worked as a delivery boy delivering groceries to the local community before attending Pratt Institute to study architecture. Young Woo’s real estate firm has developed some of New York City’s most interesting properties including the luxurious sky garage condominium located in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. Young Woo’s story appealed to Rocky’s real estate development plan for the Gauchos, because the Gauchos program was founded by Advertising Executive and Philanthropist Lou D’Almeida, whose roots were also connected to Argentina. The three men (Lou, Young and Rocky) and the organization’s board of directors would agree on a joint collaboration to support Young Woo’s bid to take over the Kingsbridge Armory.

Several months into the new relationship Rocky presented Young Woo with the idea of adding a Hip Hop Museum to the development proposal for the Kingsbridge Armory because he realized that Young was in need of a strong cultural or entertainment program component for his project. Rocky Bucano, a former DJ and music executive knew that the residents of the Bronx would embrace a Hip Hop Museum. The Kingsbridge Armory is located less than two miles from 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, the home of the first Hip Hop party back in 1973 and during the armory’s days of operation in the 70's had hosted a few legendary Hip Hop events. Some years later it would serve as a men’s homeless shelter where DJ Scott La Rock would meet Kris Parker (legendary emcee KRS-One) and form Boogie Down Productions (more on that story later). The armory’s cultural connection to the roots of Hip Hop made it uniquely suited for a Hip Hop Museum. But getting a Hip Hop Museum off the ground would not be a slam dunk for anyone; there were two other groups who had unsuccessfully attempted to establish a Hip Hop museum in the Bronx years earlier. But this time would be different; Rocky knew the timing was now right. The addition of the Hip Hop Museum would strengthen the project and would also help Young Woo Associates gain critical support from local community stakeholders. The battle for control of the Kingsbridge Armory was in full swing.

Young Woo would later agree to include the Hip Hop Museum into his proposal after meeting with Rocky Bucano and a few legendary Hip Hop pioneers that Rocky invited to Young’s Chelsea Manhattan based office. The museum would officially become part of his company’s Kingsbridge Armory development project called Mercado Mirabo (a market you can see) for artisans and restauranteurs with sports, entertainment, and other community spaces.

First meeting to discuss the proposed Hip Hop Museum with Young Woo

Rocky and the museum's founding members (Shawn Thomas, Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Mickey Bentson, and Joe Conzo, Jr.) would spend nine months advocating for Young Woo’s Mercado Mirabo to elected officials and various local community leaders. The choices for the community were Young Woo’s Mercado Mirabo with the museum or an Ice Skating Palace favored by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg. The community was split down the middle. It would be an uphill battle to sway the political will of key politicians and community leaders. It was hard to imagine that the city of New York would pick an Ice Skating Palace over a community market that would have a new museum for Hip Hop in the borough that started a global phenomenon.

Mercado Mirabo vs. The Ice Skating Palace

The local political climate was not ready to support Young Woo Associates' ambitious vision. The New York City Economic Development Corporation would later vote to award the Kingsbridge Armory to KNIC Development Group backed by NHL Hall of Famer Mark Messier and Olympic Skating champion Sarah Hughes.

Kingsbridge Armory Ice Skating Palace Rendering

The press and media coverage generated from the Kingsbridge Armory would provide the national public interest needed to keep the dream of a Hip Hop Museum alive. Rocky found national public interest for the museum growing and would be convinced by his close friend and first museum advisory board member Gary J. Harris to dedicate all of his attention and business acumen to building a permanent home to celebrate Hip Hop history and culture. Gary would not live to see the dream fulfilled, he sadly passed away on January 15th, 2018, from complications of pneumonia.

Rocky would spend the next eight years defining and refining the museum’s mission and vision. The first step in the process was to build out the museum’s leadership team and advisory board. The Universal Hip Hop Museum would name Kurtis Blow Chairman of the Board of Trustees in 2015. Rocky assumed the role as President and Executive Director to guide and direct the museum's fundraising and brand strategy. Together, Rocky, Kurtis, Cutman LG and other museum advisors would spend the next three years building awareness and recruiting accomplished business leaders to join the UHHM team.

Gary J. Harris - (April 26, 1960 - January 15, 2018)

In 2015, approximately one year after the museum’s first setback, the museum became an official non-profit tax-exempt charity of New York State, operating as the Universal Hip Hop Museum. The museum was now registered as a 501(c)(3) charity and took one step closer to becoming the official repository of Hip Hop history and culture.

Although the dream to make the Kingsbridge Armory the permanent home of Hip Hop had ended, the life of the Universal Hip Hop Museum was just getting started.

Rocky would seek the advice of friend Phillip Morrow, Cheif Executive Officer of the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBro) in 2013 to help form the Universal Hip Hop Museum and get started. He would ask Phillip to help him establish the museum’s founding Board of Directors. SoBro would serve as the museum’s fiscal sponsor for a short period of time and would assist with fundraising and finding the museum’s pro bono legal counsel. During the next two years SoBro would become the unofficial office of the Universal Hip Hop Museum to host meetings with board members and potential backers. Donna Davis, Director of Development and Communications for SoBro would become a key supporter and ally of Rocky and the museum internally at SoBro.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum’s operating structure was now beginning to take shape. The museum now had a mailing address, legal counsel (David Miller attorney at Proskauer LLP, formerly of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft LLP) and had its founding Board of Directors (Rocky Bucano [Executive Director], Shawn “Cutman LG” Thomas [Secretary], Phillip Morris, Wesley Ramjeet [Treasurer] and Rachel Cheeks Givan). The real work to start branding the museum was ready to begin.

From 2013 to the present, Rocky and Donna would work together on various grant applications and fundraising concepts that would prove to be very fruitful in the museum’s latter years of development. Now that the museum had become a formal business, it was time to build brand recognition and public support.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum began to collaborate with SoBro and other local community groups, nonprofits and elected officials on public events to celebrate the Bronx and the pioneers who paved the way for Hip Hop culture to thrive. The UHHM began producing shows locally in the Bronx and recruiting more advisors across the country to help archive, document, and curate the history of Hip Hop in other parts of the country and the world.

Casita Maria Music Festival

The logos...Hip Hop’s most recognized brands (i.e. Adidas, Gucci, Def Jam Recordings, RUN DMC etc.) have distinctive logos. It was important for the Universal Hip Hop Museum to have an equally distinct logo that appropriately represents the mission and the spirit of Hip Hop Culture. The Universal Hip Hop Museum fuses the use of two uniquely designed logos.

The museum’s turntable platter logo design appeals to the DJ culture and the global vision of the museum. The logo references DJ turntable slip-cue pads used by many well known DJs and is supported by both Serato and Rane equipment manufacturers. The museum’s main 5-bar logo represents the five elements of Hip Hop Culture (DJ'ing, MC'ing, B-Boy'ing, Graffiti and Knowledge). Each bar symbolizes the culture's continued progress and importance to the local and global aspects of the museum’s mission.

UHHM logos designed by Jade Milan
From New York To Los Angeles, the mission and vision of the Universal Hip Hop Museum was beginning to gain traction.

In 2014 The Universal Hip Hop Museum’s first public event was The Living Legends featuring Hip Hop icons Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, The Soul Sonic Force, Grandwizzard Theodore and Ice-T.

The legendary Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers performing at the South Bronx Ignites block party to support the Universal Hip Hop Museum. He and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Grandmaster Melle Mel performed a medley of hits from the Furious Five.

Mr. Biggs and MC G.L.O.B.E. of the Soul Sonic Force with UHHM Executive Director Rocky Bucano backstage at the South Bronx Ignites annual block party. The Soul Sonic Force’s song “Planet Rock” is one of the top selling Hip Hop songs of all time.

Kurtis Blow Krush Groove Reunion

Krush Groove Reunion August 2014 (photo credit by Joe Conzo, Jr.)

In 2014, The Universal Hip Hop Museum in association with the Aquarius Boys (Cutman LG, Jamil Flores and Mickey Bentson) would produce its most successful public event and fundraiser The Krush Groove Reunion, which also served as a birthday celebration for the museum’s chairman Kurtis Blow. Kurtis took the lead on recruiting the talent and securing an event sponsor to help with radio promotion and online marketing. The event at the legendary B.B. King's Bar and Grill night club in the heart of Times Square was the museum’s first sell out show. Rocky Bucano who had promoted many shows in the past had not seen another event at that time that drew so many people to one spot. The line to get in the venue wrapped all the way down and around 42nd street. It was a great night to further the museum’s mission and bring on more Hip Hop legends to support the cause.

BB Kings Bar and Grill

From this point forward the Universal Hip Hop Museum would produce more than 30 public events ranging from free outdoor concerts to documentary screenings from New York to California. Audiences of all ages and ethnicities were now a part of the UHHM experience. Advisory board members on both sides of the country were actively working on producing branded events.

UHHM Branded Events

The Universal Hip Hop Museum pushed its mission westward in 2016. With the addition of new advisory board members and formation of local partnerships with cultural organizations, the museum would be able to navigate the complex politics of curating the history of the country’s Hip Hop history. The Universal Hip Hop Museum's first test outside of the New York City area was as the co-producer of Radiotron’s 33rd Anniversary in 2016. Radiotron is an iconic venue in Los Angeles that played an important role in the history of the West Coast Hip Hop scene. The film Breakin' was filmed at the venue.

Adolfo Quinones aka Shabba-Doo who is one of the original Pop Lockers of the west coast received a lifetime achievement certificate from the Universal Hip Hop Museum for his contribution to the culture’s global growth. Shabba-Doo would tell Rocky Bucano afterwards it was one of the proudest moments of his life, giving Rocky more confidence in the museum’s mission.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum would further its presence in the tri-state area in 2018, when it would team up with Emmis Communications’ radio station Hot 97 to co-curate 25 years of the Summer Jam Music Festival at MetLife Stadium in Secaucus New Jersey. Hot 97 would donate the station’s entire 25th Anniversary exhibit to the museum.

Hot 97 Summer Jam 25th Anniversary
Making The Virtual Museum

With no physical real estate space in the museum's immediate future after the loss of the Kingsbridge Armory, Rocky began to focus the museum's development on starting out as a virtual museum. The idea of making the museum accessible to the public via any internet enabled mobile device would add a new dynamic story to the museum's early mission that would resonate with donors and supporters.

Virtual Museum Accessible By The World

Rocky knew that if the museum would make any progress as a virtual experience that he would need the help of the best application developers and mobile content designers to breathe life into the vision. Rocky would present the museum's virtual idea to Michael Carnevale principal owner of Carnevale Interactive who loved the museum’s mission and without hesitation offered to have his firm take on the museum's digital design and development. This was a huge victory for the museum's virtual mission, Carnevale Interactive had just produced the Grand Theft Auto video game for Rockstar Games, which was the most downloaded mobile game application in the history of mobile gaming. But it wasn't until when Rocky would meet Ed Young former principal owner of The Source Magazine that he would learn about new emerging virtual reality (VR) technology and how VR could be used for immersive storytelling to support the museum's mission. Ed and Rocky shared a mutual level of enthusiasm for developing a VR platform for the museum. Ed Young would join the museum’s advisory board to assist Rocky with business partnerships and strategy. The UHHM Virtual Museum was now moving from idea to the conceptual design phase of development. Having a working VR asset that was produced by the museum to showcase the museum’s concept would become one of the best marketing resources of the organization.

Ed would introduce Rocky to Google Cardboard - a low cost VR headset designed for Android mobile phones. Rocky and Ed would later gain interest from Google and YouTube to support the museum's virtual concept. YouTube would provide a list of preferred VR studios who they believed would be willing to support the museum's mission. They were 100% correct, every studio that Rocky and Ed contacted from the list would express interest in working with the museum, the only dilemma was that they were all based on the west coast except for one - Framestore a British immersive design and production studio whose work is seen on silver screens, mobile devices and television sets around the world. Framestore was the best of the best when it came to VR content production.

UHHM Google Cardboard VR Device

Rocky, Kurtis and Ed would share the museum's VR ambition with the VR development team of Framestore led by Mike Woods a true fan of Hip Hop. Mike and his team would agree to produce the museum's first VR demo - The Kurtis Blow Experience. They hit the jackpot! The UHHM's first VR project was filmed at the legendary Rawlston Recording Studio in Brooklyn New York where Kurtis produced hit songs for the Fat Boys and many other groups. They now had a marketing asset produced by the top VR and visual effects studio in the world to showcase to sponsors and donors.

UHHM team members would finally have a tool to help present the museum's vision to corporate partners, educators, politicians, and museum designers in a unique way that was not being done by other museums at the time. Rocky and founding member Shawn "Cutman LG" Thomas would begin sharing the new VR demo with everyone from within and outside of the Hip Hop community.

The VR Road Show
The Old Bronx Borough Courthouse - “Merging Immersive Technology with a Physical Space”

A new physical location emerged in 2016 when Donna Davis suggested to Rocky that he should go see the No Longer Empty exhibit at the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse located in the Melrose section of the Bronx. No Longer Empty transforms abandoned and non-occupied spaces into immersive art experiences. Rocky took Donna’s advice and went to see the No Longer Empty exhibit and during his visit, he met Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, the organization’s Executive Director. Rocky was impressed with how Naomi and her team had transformed the landmark courthouse into an immersive art experience.

No Longer Empty @ The Old Bronx Borough Courthouse

Rocky would tell Naomi about his ambition to build a Hip Hop Museum and that he was actively looking for a space that would be suitable to become the new home of Hip Hop history and culture. Naomi immediately introduced Rocky to Henry Weinstein the building’s owner. Henry had purchased the city landmark on auction for $300,000.00 and was actively making renovations to his new real estate acquisition with the hope of drawing new tenants to rent and occupy the space.

Old Bronx Borough Courthouse

After a brief tour of the abandoned space, Rocky fell in love with the rawness and rich history of the building and believed that with the right team he could covert the courthouse into the museum’s new home. Rocky shared his vision of the Universal Hip Hop Museum with Henry who also thought his building would make a great home for the museum. Over the next year, the UHHM team and Henry would work together to produce a few public programs in the space to generate press about the potential of the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse becoming the location of the Universal Hip Hop Museum. Rocky, Shawn “Cutman LG” Thomas and other UHHM board members would begin mapping out ideas to activate the space.

It was time to add a few more team members. Rocky reached out to friend and Hip Hop promoter Paradise Gray to speak with him about the curatorial needs of the museum. Paradise would share information about his personal collection (The Paradise Collection) of Hip Hop artifacts and memorabilia and expressed his interest in becoming the museum’s curator. The UHHM board would agree to make Paradise the museum’s Chief Curator. There were other people that the board were considering for the job, but Rocky and Adam Silverstein felt confident that Paradise was the right person for the position.

Slowly but surely, the museum’s team was growing with experienced people from the culture, whose knowledge of the history was steep.

Rocky Bucano with (Dr. Tanji Gilliam, Andre LeRoy Davis, Ernie Pannacioli, Cutman LG, Ralph McDaniels and Paradise Gray)
The Mission

The Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx celebrates and preserves the history of local and global Hip Hop music, dance, art and culture to inspire, empower, and promote understanding.

Building The Pilot Program

Bringing Life to The Old Bronx Borough Courthouse

Now that the Universal Hip Hop Museum had access to a physical space, it was time to build support with pioneers of Hip Hop, local elected officials and sponsors. It was time to put the vision to work, but the museum still lacked visual elements that were important to support Rocky’s vision. Having conceptual images of the museum would make it easier for the public and others to understand the museum’s cultural and economic impact for the Bronx and the global Hip Hop community. Within a month of promoting the museum’s Women of Hip Hop event led by cultural ambassador MC Sha Rock, Madison Wisconsin based architect Michael Ford would reach out to the museum’s information page to express interest in working with the museum. Mike Ford would soon connect with Executive Director Rocky Bucano and within a few weeks, Mike Ford and students from his UW-Madison class would come to the Bronx to lead an architectural design cypher for the UHHM. The cypher would bring together a group of varied ideas and opinions from Hip Hop pioneers, local students, community residents and the top African American architects in the country.

Photos from the Design Cypher and the Women of Hip Hop

With Mike Ford’s architectural direction during the design cypher and afterwards, the UHHM team was able to get the most respected names in Hip Hop to share their creative input and contribute to the museum’s design. The cypher was a great resource for everyone to learn more about the museum. The three day design cipher produced the museum’s initial renderings, the missing piece to the business plan and vision.

The Vision

Anchored in the birthplace of the culture, the Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx will provide a space for audiences, artists, and technology to converge, creating unparalleled educational and entertainment experiences around the Hip Hop culture of the past, present, and future.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum was one step closer to becoming more than just a lofty dream. It was becoming a project worthy of actual funding.

Celebrating The Women of Hip Hop
Showcasing The Old Bronx Borough Courthouse

The Old Bronx Borough Courthouse was built from 1905 to 1914. The Bronx officially became Bronx County in 1914, the same year the courthouse was completed. The courthouse closed its doors in 1977 and remained abandoned until it was sold to developer Henry Weinstein in 2011.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum would need the support of local elected officials in order to move to the next level of development. Michael Blake, the newly elected New York State Assemblyman of the 17th District, which includes the courthouse would become a strong advocate of the museum and push to keep the project from moving away from his district.

New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake with former Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl

Building a unified consensus about the importance of the Universal Hip Hop Museum's mission and vision among local elected officials, community leaders and Hip Hop pioneers was a critical part of the museum's early growth.

Although the courthouse seemed like the ideal location for the Universal Hip Hop Museum, it would take Rocky Bucano and the UHHM a tremendous amount of effort to try to sway Henry Weinstein's perspective, that the museum was a perfect fit for the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse. Henry was seeking a paying tenant and Rocky was only interested in a long-term business partnership where the two organizations would share revenue.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum had gained critical momentum with its development. It was time to restructure the museum’s Board of Directors with new members Young Woo, Dedra N. Tate, Adam Silverstein, and Reggie Peters in 2016. Keith Clinkscales, former CEO of Vibe Magazine, would join the board in 2018.

Adam Silverstein, an attorney and avid Hip Hop collector, would assume a new role as Director of the museum’s archive and collection department. Adam would begin working closely with Rocky to build the necessary infrastructure to start accepting donations of historical artifacts and memorabilia. Robert Reid, Managing Director of Vistrada and close friend of UHHM board member Wesley Ramjeet, would join the team in 2016 as an advisory board member and work closely with Rocky Bucano on strategy and economic development plans for the museum. Renee Foster, a former music industry associate of Rocky’s would join the team as the National Fundraising Chairwoman for a few years and then later take on the position as the museum’s Director of Communications.

The UHHM Team Socializing
The First Major Donation Of Hip Hop Artifacts 2016
From the Bronx To Billions by Zack Greenburg

The Universal Hip Hop Museum had reached Forbes Magazine, the premier business and finance magazine, another important milestone for the upstart organization. The relationship between the magazine’s Sr. Editor of Hip Hop Zack Greenburg and Rocky Bucano would grow over the years. The two men would collaborate on various events and Zack would use his journalism and publishing platform to help Rocky Bucano further the museum’s story.

Lit Bar Zack O’Malley Greenburg A-List Angels Book Signing

Getting the mission of the museum in front of the masses became the organization’s top priority. Rocky read a story online about NETFLIX preparing to release a new Hip Hop series called The Get Down about the emergence of Hip Hop circa 1977 and noticed that author Nelson George was named as a writer and associate producer. Rocky immediately thought that the courthouse would be the perfect venue to host a special VIP screening because of the building’s raw aesthetics and historical connection to the time period that the new series was based on. The museum’s story was received well locally, but it was still in need of a national story that would generate awareness within the Hip Hop community outside of the New York region.

Rocky took a chance and sent Nelson an email to pitch the idea of hosting the screening in the courthouse and Nelson agreed to present it to the NETFLIX Team. Within 10 days an agreement was reached and the UHHM would host the first major Hollywood film studio A-list celebrity event in the history of the South Bronx.

The museum’s development trajectory began to ascend rapidly with large public events and increased media coverage. The Universal Hip Hop Museum’s mission was now resonating with pioneers of the culture and also with new corporate partners. The museum would produce the first major social event at the courthouse in association with NETFLIX. The UHHM would become the host of the VIP sneak preview of the Baz Luhrmann series The Get Down.

Nelson George came through and helped Rocky Bucano pull off the museum’s most important social event with the special screening of NETFLIX’s new series The Get Down at the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse.

The UHHM team worked with NETFLIX over a ten day period to transform the abandoned courthouse into a world class theater and social lounge that drew A-list celebrities and the elite from the music & fashion industries.

Director Baz Luhrmann and the entire cast came out to attend the once in a lifetime event in the middle of the South Bronx. This was the borough’s first premiere of a television series from a major film/TV streaming service.

Rocky Bucano had more than proved to Henry Weinstein that the museum would be a valuable partner to have for his landmark building. The celebrities who were in the space would not have been there without the museum and Rocky’s vision for activating the building.

Despite the amazing turnout, Rocky Bucano and the UHHM team would not be able to come to terms with Henry Weinstein. Henry did not want to commit to a long-term option for the museum. He had always thought that his building would be more suitable for a school.

The success of The Get Down screening elevated the museum’s national awareness and public interest in the Universal Hip Hop Museum. The museum’s social media pages on Facebook and Twitter exploded after the event!

The Universal Hip Hop Museum would continue having discussions with Henry Weinstein over the next two months to push one last time to see if there was a possible solution that could make the museum a partner of the building.

Despite Rocky Bucano being able to demonstrate the clear advantages the UHHM would bring to Henry’s property, the two men would not be able to come to terms on any solution that either one could agree upon.

It was time to leave the courthouse behind and pursue other real estate development opportunities that began to present themselves due to the national media attention the museum had generated.

The national press coverage was gaining momentum, public awareness about the museum was beginning to turn the corner. The Forbes documentary, and the NETFLIX screening would stimulate other featured stories about the Universal Hip Hop Museum in national newspapers such as the LA Times, New York Times, USA Today; as well as being highlighted in national music and entertainment industry trades and popular culture magazines such as Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, Vibe, The Fader, Billboard and NME. The only item left for Rocky Bucano and the UHHM team to accomplish was to find a permanent home for the museum.

The Bronx Point- Making The Dream A Reality
Ralph McDaniels, Reggie Peters, Michael Ford, Marq Hawkins

The Universal Hip Hop Museum would have no loss of momentum from exiting the plan of making the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse the UHHM's future home. The UHHM Team worked on producing more public events with organizations such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), The Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) and with the University of Southern California (USC). The team did not have time to take its foot off the public marketing gas pedal. It was to the UHHM's advantage to keep the museum's brand and mission in front of as many people from across the country and around the world as possible.

UHHM Advisory Board Member and West Coast Hip Hop Pioneer DJ Cli N Tel

At the same time that the UHHM was producing public events for Mental Health Awareness and Community Empowerment, it was also exploring new real estate development opportunities in the Bronx and nationally. Although Rocky Bucano's focus was mainly to find a permanent home for the museum in his beloved borough of the Bronx, he also knew that other municipalities in other states were interested in exploring alternative location options for the UHHM. He would be open to locating the future museum elsewhere. Rocky Bucano had studied the development process of similar music museums such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) in Cleveland Ohio and the Experience Music Project (now known as MoPop) in Seattle Washington and understood the value that the UHHM would bring to any city that would support his vision. Rocky would speak with RRHOF CEO, Greg Harris to discuss his development options and was told to go where the funding is to support the museum; that was the absolute best way to determine the true value of the museum. There is nothing wrong with creating a little competition between cities. Rocky had considered options from Washington D.C., Newark NJ, Compton CA and as far away as Tokyo Japan.

UHHM Cares Mental Health Awareness Forum

The Universal Hip Hop Museum that began its journey with less than 10 volunteers, had now grown to more than 25 volunteers from New York, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Chicago, Atlanta, California and Europe working day and night to reinforce the museum's mission and spread the vision.

The Bronx Point Proposal

Less than a month after Rocky Bucano decided it was time to walk away from the Old Bronx County Courthouse, he would receive the call of a lifetime from Josue Sanchez of L&M Development Partners, who wanted to know if the museum was still searching for a location to build the museum. Josue did some research on the museum prior to the call and was impressed with the UHHM's progress. Rocky told Josue the museum was still actively looking for a new location but was curious to learn more about what he had in mind. Josue explained that his organization specialized in commercial real estate development and that they were exploring a new RFPEI (Request For Proposals Expressed Interest) opportunity that the New York City Economic Development Corporation had opened for a city-owned lot in the Lower Grand Concourse section of the Bronx (Mott Haven). When he told Rocky about the location and his company's plan to build affordable housing which would include a cinema and a cultural arts institution, he was sold. Rocky had an intimate knowledge of the location from his many years of working for the New York Gauchos Basketball program, which is located in the same neighborhood. It was the best call that Rocky Bucano would receive to move the museum's real estate search efforts forward. The location of the lot that L&M would hope to develop was the most ideal location for the future museum. But Rocky would have to temper his enthusiasm, because he knew the RFPEI was only exploratory and there was no guarantee that the city of New York would make the process an official RFP. Rocky would agree to allow the Universal Hip Hop Museum to join L&M Development Partners and Type A Projects in the RFPEI process. It was worth the shot!

Within two months, Rocky had received word that the city of New York had made the RFPEI process an official RFP. Could this be the opportunity the museum was looking for? Within four months the L&M/Type A Proposal/UHHM proposal had prevailed. The group was granted the green light to proceed with their development plan, the project was called the Bronx Point.

Mike Ford was now officially the museum's architect and project development lead. Mike was now guiding a large-scale development project that he could actively begin promoting. It was time to ramp up the museum’s fundraising and marketing and bring on new board members. Mike and the UHHM team had new renderings from L&M to use for outreach and business presentations.

First Rendering of The Bronx Point 2017

Mike Ford had begun to open up a line of communication with a director of inclusive design at Microsoft, who found an interest in the work that Mike was doing for the museum. In just a few months from that initial conversation, Rocky Bucano and Mike Ford found themselves in advanced discussions with Microsoft's Directors of Strategic Partnerships and Brand Marketing Ryan Gaspar and Amy Sorokas about the museum’s vision. Not long after those conversations Rocky Bucano and Ed Young would meet with Amy Sorokas and Sean Hanratty of Listen in Microsoft’s New York City office to discuss support for an inclusive design tour to help the museum with its external research and development. A few weeks later Microsoft would become the UHHM's first corporate sponsor to underwrite a four-city tour (Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta and New York) for UHHM team members and Mike Ford, to gain design ideas and important feedback from Hip Hop artists, educators, students, industry executives and content creators of all ages and backgrounds. The data from the various design sessions would later be used by the museum's architects and exhibit design team, to determine the best visitor experiences for Hip Hop's future home.

UHHM Inclusive Design Tour (Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta and New York)

Now that the UHHM had the input from key members of the national Hip Hop community and Hip Hop scholars, it was time to present the museum's case for funding to city and state officials to generate the necessary support for its future construction at the Bronx Point. It would not come easy, there were still many unanswered questions about the economic viability of the museum and some skepticism existed due to prior failed Hip Hop museum projects. It would take the UHHM two years to finally break through the uncertainty and gain the confidence of both New York City and New York State elected officials.

Rocky Bucano would go back to New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, one of the museum's early supporters to collaborate with his office on a street co-naming ceremony. The corner of Kingsbridge Road and Jerome Avenue would be named in memory of DJ Scott La Rock, who worked as a social worker for the Franklyn Armory Men's shelter which was then housed at the Kingsbridge Armory. Scott was tragically shot in the neck while trying to diffuse an altercation at Highbridge Houses. At Lincoln Hospital he was pronounced dead at just 25 years of age on Wednesday, August 26th, 1987, only five months after the group’s first album release.

Scott La Rock Jr and Friends
Rendering Courtesy of Ralph Appelbaum Associates

UHHM Chairman Kurtis Blow and Rocky Bucano would take the museum's story to radio and television airwaves from New York to California to gain public support and interest in the new Bronx Point project.

It would take a full year from the initial announcement about the Bronx Point by the New York City Economic Development Corporation to get the New York City Council to give L&M Development Partners and Type A Projects the final approval to move The Bronx Point construction plan forward. The group would need another year to get community board support and land use approvals from various city agencies to officially prepare for project financing and construction. The pressure was now on the museum to ramp up its own fundraising.

With the Bronx Point now ready to move forward, Rocky Bucano and Donna Davis focused their attention on applying for city and state capital grants to support construction of the museum's core and shell. Ed Young, Robert Reid and Rocky Bucano would spend the next two years building the museum's economic development plan and negotiate a long-term sublease agreement with L&M and Type A Projects.

The UHHM team recruited the services of Lord Cultural Resources and Ralph Appelbaum Associates to help with the creation of the museum's feasibility study and a vision book to help with fundraising. In 2018, New York City Council Speaker allocated $4 million in capital funds to support the museum. It would be the first major funding achievement for the museum. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in the following year would subsequently allocate $2 million in capital funding for construction. The museum's fundraising began to gain traction, but there was still a long way to go. Museum Trustee Reggie Peters along with his sister Robin Esannason, would take the lead on hosting an annual Black Tie fundraiser to help generate more community support at the local level.

The UHHM Black Tie Fundraiser

UHHM advisory board member Rachel Weingeist would initiate discussions about the museum's digital content and archiving aspirations with David Lipsey, who is well known as a Founder of the field of Digital Asset Management (DAM) and an innovator in defining – and redefining DAM and its relationship to business strategy, rights, valuation and growth. The UHHM's innovative vision would need a world class DAM to bring it's immersive online and offline experience to life. The UHHM smart museum team led by David Lipsey, Rachel Weingeist and Adam Silverstein formed the framework to execute the vision. David Lipsey would later form a partnership with Neal Bilow, managing partner for Toronto-based Chromata Solutions to begin development on the museum's future DAM. 

SMART Museum Meeting New York City
Streaming Live

The Universal Hip Hop Museum began pushing its messaging via streaming programming on April 7th, 2018, with the launch of its new streaming radio channel Universal Hip Hop Radio on Live365. The new 24-hour streaming channel would allow the museum to reach international listeners in more than 100 countries. The UHHM would expand its radio distribution footprint with a new agreement formed with Dash Radio on March 1st, 2019. Dash Radio is available in all GM manufactured vehicles. The UHHM's show WildStyle is streamed bi-weekly (Tuesdays and Fridays) at 7:30 PM EST. Both streaming services are programmed by Shawn "Cutman LG" Thomas with co-host Milwaukee Lateef. The UHHM uses each of its streaming radio platforms to celebrate local and global music with a special emphasis on classic and underground Hip Hop music.

New board member Peter Bittenbender, CEO of Mass Appeal would take the lead on organizing The Founding 50 and recruit his Mass Appeal partner and Hip Hop icon Nas to help drive the museum’s messaging and large donor campaign.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum would host a few other design ciphers at YouTube Studios in the Chelsea Market and at the Microsoft midtown offices to get final input from board members and key influencers of the recording industry. The dream that began in 2012 had taken its final step toward reality. Construction of the museum’s future home would be scheduled to start in 2020.

YouTube Design Cypher
Outside View Rendering of the Universal Hip Hop Museum (courtesy of S9 Architects)

The museum's board of trustees would make the Smith Group the architectural firm of record after Mike Ford decided to join the Washington D.C. based firm. The Universal Hip Hop Museum would name Nana Carmen Ashhurst the museum's new Chairwoman after the unfortunate departure of Kurtis Blow from the board due to health concerns. Ed Young, Peter Bittenbender, Mike Ford (Smith Group) and Rocky Bucano would work for the next nine months finalizing the museum’s architectural plan. Careful base building coordination between S9 Architects and the Smith Group would ensure that construction of the museum’s core and shell would deliver the best visitor experience for the museum’s future patrons.

Mass Appeal Museum Design Session with the Smith Group

It had been quite some time since the UHHM completed the design envisioning tour and Microsoft had not been actively involved in the museum's recent progress. But early in 2019 Rocky and Ed Young were able to re-engage with Microsoft's Ryan Gaspar to bring him up to speed and discuss the museum's new plan to open a temporary exhibit space at the Bronx Terminal Market in partnership with The Related Companies. Ryan would invite Rocky, Ed and Kurtis to a VIP event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where Microsoft and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were previewing their new AI project for the MET. The Microsoft and MIT collaboration would open up a brand-new opportunity for the UHHM. Rocky, Kurtis and Ed would receive an invitation from Sanjay Sarma, Vice President of the MIT School of Open Learning to visit the school to meet with Dr. Fox Harrell, Director for the Center of Advanced Virtuality at the school.

UHHM Chairman Kurtis Blow, Ryan Gaspar and Rocky Bucano
Ed Young, Rocky Bucano, Dr. Fox Harrell and Kurtis Blow

The meeting at MIT with Dr. Fox Harrell would blow Ed Young, Kurtis Blow and Rocky Bucano away! The advanced virtuality work that Fox and his team at MIT had produced for other cultural institutions and the university aligned perfectly with the museum’s future plan. Dr. Fox Harrell would join the team to lead development of the future Breakbeat Narratives project for the new [R]Evolution of Hip Hop exhibit at the Bronx Terminal Market. The Universal Hip Hop Museum was now working with the world’s leading authorities (Microsoft and MIT) for immersive technology, cloud computing and artificial intelligence to bring its unique cultural, education and entertainment vision to the general public.

Soho House of New York

During the fall of 2019, Renee Foster the museum's Director of Communication uncovered a new branding opportunity for the museum to explore with the Soho House of New York. The Universal Hip Hop Museum received a message from Joey Stevenson, Head of US Events & Programming for the Soho House to inquire about an opportunity to collaborate on an upcoming special event that would celebrate four decades of Hip Hop History. Joey and her team were preparing to produce their annual private party for all of the New York City members; the theme for the party was 40 years of Hip Hop History with performances by Fat Joe, Lil' Kim, DMC, RZA and Grandmaster Caz on the turntables.

Joey and the Soho House production team rightfully knew that the party needed a respected person or organization from Hip Hop to curate the evening and design the experience. It didn't take much for Rocky and Renee to convince Joey that the Universal Hip Hop Museum was best suited to curate and oversee the member experience for the Hip Hop history themed party. Rocky would ask Hip Hop journalist Harry Allen (The Hip Hop Assassin) to assist as the museum's project manager. Harry would be the museum's eyes and ears in production meetings and offer a final historical and design critique to ensure that each installation met the museum's curatorial requirements. Peter Bittenbender and Mass Appeal would bring an additional layer of creative oversight. The collaboration with the Soho House of New York was a huge success. Soho House generously donated the event's entire installation including a replica subway car to the museum's archives.

SOHO House of New York Hip Hop History Halloween Party 2019

The Universal Hip Hop Museum would form a partnership with Martha Diaz, a Hip Hop Scholar and Archivist, to formally make the Hip Hop Education Center a core component of the museum’s operating structure. Martha would take the lead on building the museum’s Hip Hop history timeline which was produced by Michael Goldstein, a longtime friend and business colleague of Rocky Bucano. Martha, Chief Curator Paradise Gray, Prime Minister Pete Nice, Jorge Fabel Pabon, Kylerr Bucano, SenYon Kelly, Mark Green, Joe Conzo, Jr., Cutman LG, Reggie Peters, Asya Blue, Renee Foster, Bill Adler and Adam Silverstein would spend the next 8 months planning for the opening of the museum’s first public exhibit. The [R]Evolution of Hip Hop Experience would open at the Bronx Terminal Market on December 6th, 2019. A week after opening the [R]Evolution of Hip Hop, Rocky Bucano would receive an early Christmas gift for the museum from the Empire State Development Corporation, with news that Governor Cuomo had approved a grant for $3.75 million to help with construction costs and job creation for the museum.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum entered the new year 2020 firing on all cylinders. Every aspect of the museum was functioning as planned. The museum’s executive committee and the Smith Group ramped up plans for the start of construction and new fundraising strategies were being floated around. And then, warning signs of a global pandemic began to emerge, just as the museum’s programming was hitting full gear. Rocky Bucano and the museum’s board would have no choice but to temporarily close its Bronx Terminal Market operation. But before closing, the exhibit welcomed more than 10,000 visitors from around the world, Hip Hop celebrities, educators, foreign dignitaries, museum curators, researchers and film stars further proving the UHHM’s business case.

The [R]Evolution of Hip Hop at the Bronx Terminal Market

The global COVID pandemic forced a national economic shutdown and would have a devastating effect on New York City, which would become the epicenter of the deadly virus. The Bronx and other marginalized communities of the city would be the hardest hit. The Universal Hip Hop Museum like other cultural institutions in the U.S. and across the world was forced to move its programming to virtual platforms to keep its global patrons engaged. As the deaths from COVID-19 began to escalate in New York City, Rocky Bucano received a call from museum Chief Curator Paradise Gray who told Rocky that the museum should consider hosting an online telethon to support front line workers. Rocky thought the idea was good but did not know if the museum had the resources or was in position to host such an important benefit. Rocky Bucano a native resident of the Bronx would see the daily devastation that the virus was having on his borough and shared Paradise's idea with the board to see if they thought it was a good idea to pursue. Everyone thought it was noble and that the museum was a good platform to host such an event. After Rocky made a few phone calls to some of his closest music industry friends, he became convinced that the museum's virtual benefit would work. Rocky asked fellow board member Peter Bittenbender if Mass Appeal would be interested in participating. Mass Appeal agreed to co-produce the show which was now called Hip Hop Loves NY a charitable event to support local nonprofit organizations who were seeking support for frontline workers who were courageously risking their lives to fight the virus. Mass Appeal would bring on YouTube and secure large sponsorships to produce the show. Hip Hop Loves New York hosted by Ralph McDaniels founder of Video Music Box was supported by the biggest names in Hip Hop including Nas, LL Cool J, Ice-T, Kurtis Blow and many others. The online benefit earned $73,000.00 in charitable donations to support SOMOS Community Care and the Bronx Community Relief Effort.

Hip Hop Loves NY Live Benefit Event

The success of the Hip Hop Loves NY online benefit (3 billion media impressions) would give credence to the UHHM's capability for producing virtual events. The UHHM team would produce five additional online events, including a COVID-19 think-tank with leading museum curators and cultural institution executives from New York City and around the country. The virtual symposium was led by UHHM advisory board members Warrington Hudlin, Ed Young and Dr. Fox Harrell. The UHHM and Video Music Box would co-produce a virtual show to celebrate The Last Poets 50th Anniversary of the debut album The Last Poets released in 1970 featuring performances by KRS-One, Doug E. Fresh, Erykah Badu, Mumu Fresh, Black Ice, Sonia Sanchez and others.

The pandemic would continue to disrupt the museum's normal course of business. The UHHM had planned on breaking ground on its state-of-the-art museum at the Bronx Point in July but would be told by L&M that the city of New York had to push the start of construction back to the fall of 2020. The disappointing news would be taken in stride by the UHHM team who were busy at work planning for the re-opening of the [R]Evolution of Hip Hop and finalizing the museum sublease agreement with L&M Development partners.

Hip Hop Gets A Stamp Of Approval
USPS Hip Hop Forever Stamp

A few days after receiving the disappointing news about the delayed start of the museum's construction, Rocky Bucano received a call from David Wynn a former music industry colleague who produced the smash hit "Rump Shaker" for Teddy Riley's group Wreckx-N-Effect. David was now working as a marketing executive at the United States Postal Service and he told Rocky about a new Hip Hop stamp series that was being released by the USPS. He thought that the museum needed to be a part of the stamp's release to bring more credibility to the ceremonial event being planned by the postal service. After a few days of internal research, David found the people who were in charge of the new stamps. David introduced Rocky to Artis Montgomery who was the project lead for the USPS Hip Hop Forever Stamp release. After speaking with Rocky Bucano about the museum and its history, Artis was convinced that the Universal Hip Hop Museum needed to be affiliated with the release of the Hip Hop Stamps highlighting the culture's four artistic elements. The USPS and the UHHM team would collaborate on the release and work on the messaging to ensure that it celebrated the culture's history with integrity and respect. The Hip Hop Forever Stamps marked another milestone for the Universal Hip Hop Museum. Hip Hop had received the U.S. government's stamp of approval, once again.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum is a new member of the Association of African American Museums and is among the esteem group of title sponsors of the 42nd annual AAM conference on August 5th, 2020. The UHHM has recently teamed up with the United Nations for the International Day of Peace on September 18th, 2020, and is producing the Hip Hop 4 Peace benefit to lead a new generation toward peace, unity and equal justice. UHHM advisory board member Tina Marie Tyler is the Executive Producer.

Rocky Bucano extends his sincere appreciation and love to all board members (both past and present), team members, legal counselors, development partners, cultural ambassadors, volunteers, corporate partners, elected officials, donors, and patrons. The Universal Hip Hop Museum would not be where it is today without the support of so many great people and organizations who are committed to the cause. For those of you are just learning about the museum's journey, welcome! Now let's finish the job!

Created By
rocky bucano


Created with images by stephan sorkin - "untitled image"