Perhaps moreso than any other genre of music, hip-hop is shaped by its environment. The genre’s origins date back to one sweaty summer night in the Bronx in 1973, when DJ Kool Herc debuted a new style of spinning records at his sister’s back-to-school party. And as the style became more popular and took off, one thing linked the artists who shaped it: they were often influenced by what they saw in their own neighborhoods.
For example, in Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s 1982 hit “The Message,” the group raps about its South Bronx home: “Broken glass everywhere / People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care / I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise / Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice.”
Though the connection isn’t made explicit, those lyrics, about a part of New York City that came to epitomize urban blight, also underscore the planning decisions that severed the South Bronx from the rest of the city. Even though the song is more than 30 years old, one thing hasn’t changed: Thanks to the lack of diversity within the field of architecture, decisions that impact neighborhoods like the South Bronx are often left in the hands of people who don’t come from them.
But one architect wants to change that: Mike Ford has spent the past decade working to connect the seemingly disparate fields of architecture and hip-hop by highlighting how both seek to address urban and social issues. Ford, who has been tapped to design the forthcoming Universal Hip-Hop Museum in the Bronx, is now using the lens of hip-hop to stimulate an interest in architecture among children in underrepresented neighborhoods.