Hip-Hop Museum Coming To The Old Bronx Courthouse?

No Longer Empty asked visitors what they would like to see happen to the Old Bronx Courthouse after their residency was over.
No Longer Empty asked visitors what they would like to see happen to the Old Bronx Courthouse after their residency was over.

After No Longer Empty’s residency and exhibition at the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse, ‘When You Cut Into The Preset The Future Leaks Out’, and over 6,000 visitors—over 75% from the area and not counting youth programs who graced the halls of this hallowed landmark—many have asked what now?

Well one possibility is that The Universal Hip Hop Museum—the only and official Hip-Hop museum chartered by the State of New York—may in fact call the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse Home. A fitting tribute given the fact that The Bronx is the birthplace of the global phenomenon that is Hip-Hop.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum was founded by such legends like Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Grand Wizzard Theodore, and Grandmaster Melle Mel.

The national landmark edifice has stood vacant for almost 40 years through government neglect and disinvestment in The Bronx but in recent years, new life has been creeping into the building slowly.

New elevators have been installed. Mezzanines added to create over 30,000 additional square footage in the building bumping it from 82,000 square feet to 115,000 square feet. The facade is slowly being restored and cleaned too not to mention new windows scheduled to arrive within a month.

Hundreds of visitors to the exhibition left behind notes on what they would like to see happen to the building after No Longer Empty decided to set up a table at the entrance asking visitors simply, “What would you like to see this building become?”

There were many answers such as haunted house, community center or community space but the one that kept coming up was a museum of some sort—33% of respondents to be exact with 11% calling for one for Hip Hop.

Rocky Bucano, President of The Universal Hip Hop Museum said, “After getting a tour of the building this past weekend, I was very impressed with the building’s history, architectural structure and space.”

“The courthouse is a beautiful space that would be perfect for a project with the scope and cultural importance like that of the Universal Hip Hop Museum. I would say that we’d seek to obtain a minimum amount of 40,000 sq ft and maximum of 55,000 sq ft.” added Bucano.

UHHM also sees the potential to attract as many as 1.2 million people per year through their doors.

And it’s not just simply a museum that would be housed in the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse if it were to happen.

The museum would feature exhibit halls with interactive rooms representing the 5 elements of Hip-Hop, art and gallery space for photography, paintings, sculptures and artifacts, archive and collection storage space and even a performance theater with a seating capacity of 300, Bucano told us.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum at the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse would also house a production studio for audio recording of original programming, dance studio for instructional classes, community space, research library and even a restaurant.

All of this would create jobs—jobs that are much needed in our borough—from audio engineers, video editors, software and application developers, to curators, historians, and dance instructors.

Joe Conzo Jr, who is not only a founding member of UHHM but also named by David Gonzalez of the New York Times and The Seis del Sur collective (which Conzo is also a member) as, “The man who took Hip-Hop’s baby pictures” said that the prospect of  UHHM being located at the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse, “is a phenomenal opportunity for the residents of The Bronx to have it there. We’ve been trying for many years but Rocky and company, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, and myself have worked to make this come into fruition but it’s long over due and given the opportunity it would be amazing to have it located at the Old Courthouse.”

Joe Conzo, Jr documented the early days of Hip-Hop and is considered to be the "Man Who Took Hip-Hop's Baby Pictures" by New York Times reporter David Gonzalez
Joe Conzo, Jr documented the early days of Hip-Hop and is considered to be the “Man Who Took Hip-Hop’s Baby Pictures” by New York Times reporter David Gonzalez

Even the owner of the building thinks so.

“I think it’s a great idea because it will bring a lot of tourism and more people to the area with all the revitalization that has happened. I think there will be a trickle down effect in form of jobs and stores in the neighborhood doing more business as a result of more people coming to area.” said Henry Weinstein, developer and owner of the courthouse.

Weinstein added, “I think it would make a wonderful cultural center and certainly enhance the existing cultural history of the community and spaces in the area.”

During the closing events at the Old Bronx Courthouse by No Longer Empty, Hip-Hop was already being celebrated within its walls:


Bronx resident April De Simone and co-founder of Designing The We sees the benefit of the the museum but also is prudent about how to make sure something of this nature doesn’t end up negatively impacting the neighborhood and how we, as a community, can work towards mitigating any such negative effects. “UHHM would be a tremendous anchor asset to the area, complimenting many existing and upcoming projects.”


De Simone said.  “However, it is important to ensure, unlike so many other examples (Atlantic Yards, Harlem, etc…), this project does not generate a speculative real estate frenzy that expedites the already massive commercial and residential displacement occurring; particularly to indigenous economies and stakeholders.”


April De Simone is a life long resident of The Bronx and according to her bio, she is, a Dean Merit Scholar, and recently completed her Master of Science in Design and Urban Ecologies from Parsons the New School for Design. She continues to be recognized for her leadership and dedication in supporting frameworks that promote a just and equitable society.”


In the meantime, The Universal Hip Hop Museum is getting ready to launch a virtual museum in the Fall with a partnership with Google using their virtual reality technology called Google Cardboard. According to the website:

“Designed for desktops, notebooks, tablets, smartphones, and other devices, The Virtual Museum will give access to groundbreaking virtual reality exhibits powered by Google Cardboard. And, because it will operate in the cloud, you’ll be able to kick back and enjoy seamless multi-media experiences all day, and all night.”

Legendary rapper and also a founding member of UHHM, Kurtis Blow also expressed excitement in the possibility of The Old Bronx Courthouse housing the Museum. Of UHHM, Kurtis Blow told us that “UHHM is imperative in securing our legacy and preparing for the future of hip hop.”

Regarding having the museum located in The Bronx and in that particular building he said that, “In documentaries when you talk about history, history is best told by the people who lived it and so in the place where it was created you get the best atmosphere, reliving the moments and feel it when you’re in the actual place where it happened it’s like a site-seeing tour where it happened more  or less; you feel more nostalgia.”

He added with laughter that, “The Bronx is known for two things, the birthplace of Hip-Hop and 26 world championships, those two (Yankee Stadium) would be within walking distance.” Many residents have also expressed interest in the possibility of a Salsa museum to be housed at the Old Courthouse, another major music genre born in The Bronx.

Hip-Hop and Salsa were already combined this weekend at The Old Bronx Courthouse thanks to No Longer Empty’s closing ceremonies but more importantly by the residents who came and attended the shows.


When we asked Kurtis Blow what he thought about that he simply said, ” It’s a no brainer, I think it’s the greatest idea, we’re like distant cousins and it happened around the same time so why not. That would be an incredible idea.”

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.