Celebrating 40 years of hip hop at Cornell

By Matt Porter
By Amy Lipman

April 5, 2013 Updated Apr 5, 2013 at 7:22 PM EDT

Ithaca, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Dozens of artists descended on Cornell University for hip hop's 40th birthday.

Cornell marked the anniversary with a weekend-long celebration about the evolution and culture of hip hop.

A new exhibit, "Hip Hop: Unbound from the Underground," opened this weekend displaying the largest single collection of hip hop memorabilia. The exhibit will be opened until June 7.

Visiting artists including Charlie Ahern describe hip hop as a way for an underclass in America to find its voice.

"Hip hop culture is about empowerment," said Ahern, "It's about people taking something by themselves and it's about creativity."

Lisa Counts, better known in the hip hop world as Zulu Queen MC Lisa Lee, was one of the first female hip hop artists in the 1970s.

She didn't expect hip hop would become a mainstream phenomenon.

"Never did I see this coming," Counts said, "And it's amazing the way the world embraces us for hip hop. When we did it it was just for the love of what we were feeling."

Hip hop isn't just music and performance art. Graffiti became a major way for hip hop artists to express themselves.

Cornell invited world-class graffiti artists to show off their skills and imagination.

Bio Feliciano has worked with a can of paint since he was a teen. He's been painting walls for more than 35 years.

"It's kind of loose -- everybody's doing their name," Feliciano said. "We kind of back up, see if we can add some accents of color, and how to make the colors pop and give it some life."

Growing up in the Bronx, Feliciano learned a wall could be his canvas.

"I started maybe when I was 14 years old," he recalled, "Grew up in New York watching it, seeing it on the subways, and it was something that we wanted to do."

Carlos Mare, also from the Bronx, said painting subway trains in the 1970s brought him into the arts. He travels the world as a sculptor.

"I jumped right in and realized it's not just graffiti going on," Mare said. "There's big social changes going on too with music and dance and all this was coming from the neighborhood."