“Virtually back in the day”A

hip hop exhibit comes to a desktop near you

Look, Seattle, 1999

Museums are like icebergs: No matter how enormous they may appear, most of their mass is actually invisible. The bulk of the modern archive’s holdings typically remain in storage, hidden from public sight. Which is why museums are increasingly using the Web as virtual floor space where they can display their aircrafts online.

Yet while many of our most esteemed cultural institutions are doing this, the Seattle-based Experience Music Project (EMP) is in a class by itself. Upon opening this summer, EMP will possess something that neither the Louvre nor N.Y.C.’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will ever have: the distinction of being the first major museum conceived from the bottom up with the Internet in mind and with enough data cable to stretch-literally-around the Earth at the Equator. That, and a pair of Grandmaster Flash’s turntables.

Through emplive.com, EMP’s Webby Award-winning site, and its Virtual Library, patrons can browse many of the museum’s 80,000 artifacts- say, handwritten lyrics by Kurt Cobain or Tupac Shakur- while listening to oral histories by Ice-T, punk innovator Exene Cervenkova, Steve Winwood or Bootsy Collins. Visitors to the site can also take interactive guitar lessons.

EMP’s digital pedigrees is due in no small part to founder Paul Allen’s original gig as cofounder of a small company called Microsoft. When he left the firm in 1983, he held on to his stock- today worth about $22 billion- the just started buying stuff: the Portland Trail Blazers, the Seattle Seahawks memorabilia. Needing a place to house the bruvva’s smashed guitars, Aleen and his sister Jody Allen Patton arrived at the idea of a Hendrix museum (Jimi was from Seattle). Finally they landed on EMP: 140,000 square feet of intellectual soundstage capped off with a radical exterior design by architectural superfreak Frank O. Gehry for “a rare and technologically advanced journey into the … creativity, innovation, and rebellious expression that defines American popular music,” according to the museum.

“Hip Hop Nation”, one of the several grand-opening exhibits, will be accented- on and offline- by the museum’s holdings of battle trophies, handbills, stage costumes, and other items from Dr.Dre, Afrika Bambaataa, Snoop Dogg, and, appropriately, Seattle native Sir Mix-a-Lot, of “Baby Got Back” fame. Now, if only they could find a way to upload that giant butt…

Photo: Two EMP exhibits: Right, the Hip Hop Nation Exhibit Graffiti Subway Car. Erni Vales, artist, 1999.

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