When artists of the Universal Hip Hop Museum roll into NJPAC to perform at the Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City outdoor concert series, they check in early to drop some knowledge on the next generation.

About 20 preteens from NJPAC’s Hip Hop Institute were invited to meet-and-greet the hip-hop greats during a pre-show workshop on July 21. Visible through the windows, two stories below, streams of fans began to stake out their spaces on the Theater Square lawn for the free event.

Visibly awed by the cast seated before them, the students listened with laser-focus as Universal Hip Hop Museum President Rocky Bucano introduced such innovators as Roxanne Shante, Grand Wizard Theodore, Original B Fats, Chip Fu, Miranda Writes and Claude “Paradise” Gray. Each offered their perspectives on the elements of hip-hop culture, from graffiti and beatboxing to DJing and MCing.

The participants unfolded personal stories of how this creative culture kept them in the studios and off the streets. Grand Wizard Theodore recalled how he invented the technique of scratching in his Bronx home as a 12-year-old and went on to become a world traveler and film actor. Original B Fats shared some cold reality: “There are times when hip-hop doesn’t bring in the money you need, so you get a job.”

Chip Fu is a self-described shy guy, whose childhood respiratory ailments prevented him from playing sports. “Hip-hop gave me a voice,” added the lyricist, who teaches hip-hop music appreciation. Paradise, a kahuna of hip-hop culture and Bucano’s longtime “chief curator,” grew up under the mentorship of Disco King Mario and listened to superstars like James Brown, Kool & the Gang and Sly Stone.

“Those are the backs we built hip-hop on,” he said. “Hip-hop is something you live, something you do, not just something you listen to.”

Shante led the young audience in a freestyle rap, with one of the students providing the beat, then all the artists autographed mural-size graffiti canvases created by the class. The program was organized by the Department of Arts Education and the Hip-Hop Institute’s artistic director, Sheikia Norris (aka Purple Haze).

The mission of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, based in New York, is to educate a worldwide audience about the art of hip-hop through exhibits, live events and educational programs.

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