Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop

Rakim. Public Enemy. A Tribe Called Quest. Gang Starr. Ice Cube. The Wu-Tang Clan. Mos Def. Lupe Fiasco. Jay Electronica. To many, these are some of hip-hop’s most significant artists. But few know that these artists, like many others, identify as Muslim and/or are connected to the global religion of Islam. Through the influence of figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, hip-hop culture was dominated, if not deeply influenced by its relationship to Islam, from the foundation of Zulu Nation in the early 1970’s, to the “Golden Age” of hip-hop (1986-1995), and onto the present. Return of the Mecca will showcase how Islam deeply impacted the world of art and culture, creating an alternative Black consciousness, one where Black people imagined themselves not as a national minority, but as part of a global majority.

Return of the Mecca showcases a chronology of over 400 items documenting a nearly 70-year history that at its root and beyond interweaves the social movement history of Black Islam with the arts, including jazz, poetry, soul, and hip-hop. “The Changing Same” section of the exhibit is dedicated to hip-hop’s foundations, from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali to the jazz and spoken word artists of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s who were influenced by Islam. Included here are early Nation of Islam materials such as Muhammad Speaks newspapers, flyers and photographs, as well as rare album cover art on Yusef Lateef, Art Blakey, Ahmad Jamal, Amiri Baraka, and others. Notable is a handwritten letter from Malcolm X to Alex Haley, and a 1974 Nation of Islam “Black Family Day” archival concert poster.

The main section—“The True School”—is dedicated to hip-hop’s relationship to Islam, spanning the Golden Age to the present, including the resurgence of Malcolm X, the influence of the Louis Farrakhan and the Million Man March, and the Nation of Gods and Earths. Included here are over 300 record covers and cassette J-cards and shells, photos from legendary photographers Jamel Shabazz, Ernie Paniccioli, B+, Katina Parker, and others, a four hour loop of classic videos, rare flyers, a never before seen short film of Jay Electronica at the Pyramids in Egypt and performing in the Middle East, as well as rare footage of a benefit concert that includes Mos Def, Jurassic 5 and others for Jamil Al-Amin.

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Jamel photo