Do Remember: A Great Day In Harlem (Hip-Hop Version, 1998)

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This week, the esteemed veteran music and culture journalist Michael A. Gonzalez penned a piece for Red Bull Music Academy about September 29, 1998. The day, deemed by XXL magazine “The Greatest Day In Hip-Hop History,” was built around a tribute to Art Kane’s 1958 photograph, “A Great Day In Harlem.”

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Popularized through posters, Kane’s photograph suggests the last days of Harlem as portrayed in its Renaissance. A who’s who in Jazz posed on 125th Street, personalities showing through the snap. The portrait is benchmark moment for music, style, Black History, and just iconic cool.

Forty years later, XXL asked acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks to shoot the tribute, featuring the same building on the same block, only with Hip-Hop stars. I still have the issue in my mail crates over-stuffered with tattered magazines from the 1990s and early 2000s, when magazines were everything to me. When it released, I remember buying it, shocked that guys like Kurupt, MC Eiht, Jayo Felony, and Mack 10 were included. After 1997’s tragic murder of The Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg leaving a crumbling Death Row, and changing popularity of sounds, West Coast Hip-Hop felt like it was uncovered in the scale. That was part of the reason I discovered magazines like Murder Dog.

Beefs were still being perpetuated by the media, and fanned by the rapidly-expanding Internet. This photo though, shut down so many notions to my teenage eyes. Rappers could unify. They could stand together—no matter the changing sounds, styles, views on cursing, Gangsta Rap, or sexuality. De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest would appear. Blondie had not forgotten. Kool Herc was still deeply-present in what he built—and featured, in some small way, on a magazine cover.

Before A3C, before South By Southwest became Hip-Hop, this was a moment of reassurance—and something that showed me that Hip-Hop might mean something 40 years later, as Jazz did to me then.

Sixteen years later… my beliefs are only stronger…

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Read Michael A. Gonzalez’ full Red Bull Music Academy piece on “A Great Day In Harlem, 1998.”

Related: Do Remember: Geto Boys’ Bring It On, The Ultimate Rap-A-Lot Posse Cut (Audio)