The Monetization & Preservation of Hip Hop Culture

Recently, Samuel Berkowitz, the owner of a house on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Quincy Street in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood made headlines as he is preparing to renovate his building. The only problem is that the building is home to a mural of the late great Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace painted by artists Rocko and Zimer in 2015. The homeowner’s renovations will add windows on the side of the building where the mural is located. The owner of the home is clearly not a fan of Hip Hop or Rap music and does not understand the importance of the mural and only sees it as a nuisance. Neighbors of Mr. Berkowitz have complained about the mural drawing crowds of fans since it was painted two years ago. Although there are other murals of “the Black Frank White” in Brooklyn the question the owner is asking is why should he keep it? Sometimes with murals like these there is no guarantee that it will last forever. Just like graffiti some murals are only temporary but usually art of this caliber is maintained over time for generations to come.

Initially when I read multiple articles about the landlord wanting $1250.00 a month just to maintain the mural I immediately thought it was a scheme or that someone was trying to capitalize off of such a great piece of art but it isn’t up to the landlord to preserve the culture it is up to us. The mural artists gave the landlord cash to keep the mural up however the mural itself could easily be removed from the building and moved to a more suitable location such as a museum, a pop-up event, tour, or an outdoor art installation. If Sam Berkowitz wants $1250 every month I know a few Rappers and emcees that could afford it. Shoot, a lot of Rappers could take turns throughout the year and write it off on their taxes or something. The permits to renovate the building were acquired by the homeowner in March and I’m sure his motives were public knowledge if you spoke to him regularly. Maybe if we the Hip Hop community maintained a relationship with Mr. Berkowitz we’d have a little more influence and he may not be so defensive. If he realizes that $1250 is relatively cheap he may go up on his asking price. Why? When you own your property it is yours to do with as you wish.

This man does not seem to be money hungry he seems to be asking to learn more about the culture. Why should he keep the mural if it is of no importance to him? Would you keep a mural of Madonna on the side of your home? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t care about the money if I didn’t understand the importance of the mural and I probably wouldn’t be able to see the monetary or the cultural value of the mural itself. 5 Pointz was an outdoor graffiti mecca that was demolished in 2014 to make room for condos. The owner(s) of that property didn’t even give a second thought to making it an outdoor museum and monetizing it in order to offset any costs. They did not understand the importance of the property to the culture so they were unable to see the possibilities of growth moving forward. Monetizing the culture is not always a bad idea it depends on variables like intent, affordability, and availability. Martin Shkreli owns a coveted piece of music art but misuses his leverage of ownership to manipulate and exploit others and the artists involved. It will cost you a decent dollar to preserve a piece of history but it has to be worth it.

“Live from Bedford-Stuyvesant, the livest one.” –Notorious B.I.G.

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