Arts & CultureHip-Hop turns 50 with Fotografiska’s Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious

Hip-Hop turns 50 with Fotografiska’s Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious

The 65th Annual Grammy Awards took place Sunday. The biggest takeaway for many this year was the widespread representation of hip-hop on the award ceremony’s stage. It all culminated in a performance that brought together hip-hop’s past, present and future, featuring artists like Run-DMC,  Missy Elliott, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah,  Salt-N-Peppa and Lil Uzi Vert. Perhaps the greatest example of counterculture going mainstream, this moving production was in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the genre.


This milestone anniversary is being celebrated right now at the Fotografiska museum in New York, in an exhibition called Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious. Fotografiska worked in collaboration with Mass Appeal to create “the definitive destination to celebrate hip-hop’s global impact on visual expression.” The exhibition spans the five decades of its history, exploring themes like the role of women in the genre, the regional and stylistic differences that lead to new sounds and well-documented rivalries, a humanizing lens to the 1970s-Bronx street gangs who helped the genre come to be, and the eventual mainstream breakthrough that “saw a grassroots movement become a global phenomenon.” It displays images that range from the iconic visual staples of hip-hop to the rare and intimate images of legendary pioneers. 


“We’re celebrating the 50th Anniversary of hip-hop in the city that started it all,” explained Amanda Hajjar, Director of Exhibitions at Fotografiska in New York. “Fotografiska is proud to be a part of what surely will be a multitude of celebrations throughout the city.”


Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious features over 200 photographs, demonstrating the rise of one of the most influential pop culture movements of all time. Scroll down to see our top five images from the collection:


An image of Frost Freeze breakdancing in-front of a graffiti wall featured in celebration of hip-hop turning 50.

Frosty Freeze of Rock Steady Crew – (Martha Cooper, 1981)


This image shows Frosty Freeze, a member of Rock Steady Crew, a hip-hop and breakdancing group originally formed in the seventies in The Bronx, the birthplace of hip-hop. In this image, Frosty is rehearsing against a backdrop of graffiti painted by T-Kid for an event called “Graffiti Rock.” This is significant because of the impact Rock Steady Crew has had in the world of breakdancing, being credited as one of the best breaking groups ever.



An image of Salt n' Pepa in front of a store, featured in celebration of hip-hop turning 50.

Salt ‘n Pepa – (Janette Beckman, 1986)


Here is an early picture of the revolutionary rap group, Salt ‘n Pepa. The group, made up of Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa) and Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella), is one of the most important musical acts in history, helping to break down barriers for women to exist in hip-hop.  Now commonly known as the ‘First Ladies of Rap’ for their contributions to the genre and aid in breaking it into the mainstream, the group is pictured here in New York’s Lower East Side, a year before their mega-hit “Push It” broke through.



An image of Tupac in a straight jacket, looking over his shoulder, featured in celebration of hip-hop turning 50.

Tupac – (Shawn Mortensen, 1993)


One of the genre’s most influential figures ever is Tupac Shakur. Representing the prominent West Coast hip-hop scene, Tupac’s work in ushering in new sounds and elevating conscious rap lyrics to the mainstream helped position him as not only one of the pioneers of the genre, but one of the most important musicians to have ever lived. He has gone on to become the subject of academic appraisal, and the central fixture in multimedia releases decade’s out from his untimely death. This photo of him in a straightjacket is one of Hip: Conscious, Unconscious’ more well-known images in wider popular culture.



An image of Nicki Minaj sticking her tongue out in a bar, featured in celebration of hip-hop turning 50.

Nicki Minaj – (Angela Boatwright, 2008)


One of rap’s most prominent current figures, Nicki Minaj is photographed here two years before the release of her breakthrough debut album Pink Friday. The image was originally shot for Vibe magazine in Nicki’s hometown of Queens, documenting the now-regarded, “Queen of Rap” in the earliest of early days. Nicki’s bridging of pop and dance music alongside complex rap lyrics and varying personas paved the way for countless rappers to come up in later years, and helped position her as one of the century’s most enduring pop culture fixtures.



An image of Tyler, the Creator in a navy jacket, featured in celebration of hip-hop turning 50.

Tyler, The Creator – (Campbell Addy, 2022)


One of the most recent images to be included in the exhibit features one of the last decade’s most rebellious, and often controversial, artists: Tyler, The Creator. A boundary pusher from the start, Tyler established himself as part of the music collective Odd Future, eventually transitioning into solo work that culminated in him becoming a queer icon within the hip-hop community. He’s also celebrated as an artist who walks the line of genres, dipping his toes in jazz, R&B, funk and more, all to great success. 


The selected images only cover a small portion of the vast history being bridged within the exhibit. Fotografiska will be displaying Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious from now until May 21st. 


Enjoyed reading this piece? Read Studio Session // A Conversation With Myst Milano on Glossi Mag. 

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Thomas Publow is a contributor at Glossi Mag. Currently finishing his degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University, Thomas considers himself an expert in all things VMAs and Beyoncé.

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