Lonely Planet Writer

Legendary hip-hop pioneer donates vast personal archive to NYC

The full archive of hip-hop ambassador Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Braithwaite – which includes personal photographs with Dr Dre, the Notorious B.I.G and Blondie, as well as taped interviews with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat – will soon be on display in Harlem.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has acquired the archives of the hip-hop and art pioneer Fab 5 Freddy. Image by NYC Public Library

The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem has acquired the full archive of Fab 5 Freddy, the original host and producer of Yo! MTV Raps, the channel’s highest-rated show at the time. The whole collection, which spans more than 120 boxes, provides a panoramic glimpse into the early days of hip-hop as a revolutionary cultural movement and showcases the ways in which pioneers like Freddy helped it to become a mainstream global phenomenon.

Fab 5 Freddy and Blondie. Image by NYC Public Library

“In Fab 5 Freddy’s collection, the Schomburg has acquired an archive from a hip-hop ambassador, historian, and pioneer, who saw the value in capturing those early years when so little has been preserved and available to the public,” said Shola Lynch, curator of the Schomburg Center’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division. “This is significant and important. Our founding curator, Arturo Schomburg, referred to his collection as ‘vindicating evidences’ of black history and culture. Fab’s collection sets the same foundation for the early days of hip hop. You can feel the 1980s. You can feel the charm. It’s very real.”

Scripts in the Fab 5 Freddy Collection. Image by NYC Public Library

Long-time Harlem resident Freddy started off as a graffiti artist in the late 70’s before becoming a filmmaker and music producer. Much of the collection is dedicated to the early days of his career with Yo! MTV Raps memorabilia and rare VHS recordings of rap music videos, personal photographs of artists like Dr. Dre and Queen Latifah; original scripts and screenplays from early hip-hop cinema like New Jack City, and the cult classic Wild Style. There’s even a taped interview with the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Personal photographs of P Diddy and the Notorious B.I.G. Image by NYC Public Library

“Fab 5 Freddy’s contributions to the worlds of art, music, and film—bringing hip-hop culture to the forefront—are certainly historically significant and almost too numerous to name,” said Schomburg Center director Kevin Young. “It is not overstating to say that without Fab, hip-hop as we know it, graffiti as a visual art as we know it, and bridges between various musical genres would not exist.”

VHS content will be updated to digital format. Image by NYC Public Library

The research centre, which is located in Harlem and is part of the New York Public Library, has previously acquired the archives of the likes of James Baldwin and Sonny Rollins. For more information on when the collection is open and on upcoming events related to the collection, please visit here.