20 October 2015




Is there a more natural pairing than Drake and Renaissance art? It’s not a typical duo, but late last month the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York City launched an online project that melded the two, combining their digitized collections with hip-hop lyrics.

The Hiphop Project, part of the Met’s media lab, uses the main words from hip-hop songs as key terms to search the museum’s digital collections. The songs were chosen from 13 artists, including the Notorious B.I.G., Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, and Kanye West.

Homepage to the Hiphop Project. Source.


The project was the brainchild of Regina Flores Mir, a grad student at Parsons School of Design in New York. She was inspired after discovering that students in the Bailey Housing Project in Jamaica, Queens had never visited the Met despite being a subway ride away.

The hope is the website will engage nontraditional and younger audiences with the Met's collection. Sure, the search results don’t always match lyrics exactly but, as the website states, it’s getting viewers to explore the collection and view pieces they wouldn’t see otherwise.

Tea service or public service? One of Jay-Z's objects. Source.

I’m sure some would bock at this model – tying Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” to images of tea services doesn’t seem to quite mesh. On top of this, none of the objects have captions to explain the connection to the lyrics, raising some concerns about reducing a single word from a song and attaching it to an un-associated art piece.

But, regardless of the critiques, is the Hiphop Project the new wave of what should be done with collections? We’ve known all along there is no such thing as the “general public”, but this really hits home in reaching out to those nontraditional audiences.

So, perhaps new communities require radical new narratives.


Most of us are familiar with the unorthodox tours run by Museum Hack. As founder Nick Gray describes in his TEDx Talk (everyone should watch it), museums are boring… for most people, anyway. Personalized narratives are needed to engage audiences – a trend echoed in the Centre for the Future of Museums 2015 TrendsWatch guide.

Gray gives the example of delivering tours at the Met to “Finance Bros”. These are usually young guys in finance with a lot of disposable income, often dragged to the museum on unsuspecting dates. For these tours, Gray starts off by showing the art piece the museum paid the most money for.

Some Museum Hack people. Source.
As Gray states in his TEDx Talk, “Today’s audiences have to be entertained before they can be educated.”

Could hip hop be another entry point for a community to access the museum, providing entertainment before the education begins? Are there other entry points we’re missing out on that we’re just afraid to try? Or are these new narratives inadvertently oversimplifying our collections?



  1. Got the museum goin' up, on a Tuesday...
    This is a really neat idea! It does remind me of the "math raps" we had in elementary school to make learning "fun!", but I like the sound of museum collaborations with the music industry. Music is so often a reflection of current culture, and it would be really cool to see singers and musicians buying in to these projects and maybe even creating content that relates to both museums and their audiences. Maybe not about tea services, but definitely about key themes or historical events that are still impacting the communities that museums wish to serve.

  2. Nice post Jenny!
    This is an interesting concept. As you mentioned, it's a little disappointing that it completely decontextualizes the meaning of the song and of the objects. This makes the project irrelevant to me. I am literally just looking at photos of the collection with no framework as Drake sings to me in the background. I think using musical genres/the music industry as a gateway to connect different audiences to museums and their collections is super clever. The method, however, is a little unsettling to me. Museum professionals need to think about how they are approaching projects and how they will affect audiences. It would have been beneficial if they chose objects that related to the context of the song or vice versa. Although, I understand that the broad choice of objects relating to the word could have been intentional in order to expose users to as much of the digitized collection as possible. All in all, I think that the concept could be a great entry point, it just needs a bit of polishing (aka it's missing links).

  3. Thanks for the comments! Agreed. I love having music as an entry point and using different forms of art to connect to art. But there perhaps needs to be more to create more learning and engagement out of the experience.

    I think this is the pilot version of the site right now, which doesn't selectively choose objects from the catalogue. I'm interested to see if this concept gets more refined in future.