Landmark: Preserving, Producing, and Shaping the Legacy of Hip Hop

Written by Tiwa Neo
Photos by Hideki Aono & Robert Adam Mayer

The reflection of hundreds of bodies in lengthy street puddles glistened underneath the electric green light emanating from The House of Cannabis. Once the doors finally opened, the line of people dissolved into a steady swarm that eventually took over all five floors. Art by prominent artists, DJ sets, and merch tables seduced participants into a self-guided journey based on what lured them. The maze provided a multidimensional experience that was only exacerbated by the sheer volume of bodies; characters clad in winter gear whilst moving shoulder-to-shoulder quickly transformed the indoor climate into one of intimacy where the love for hip-hop and art could be felt.

In a city that offers countless cultural events and activities, Landmark, curated by Kate Storch, cuts through the noise. Her third and biggest Landmark event just culminated in early spring 2024 and with her sharp observing eye, strong instinct, and love for hip-hop, she only plans to elevate the Landmark series with each event. With over 1000 people in attendance, the opening night of her third Landmark event in January demonstrated the appreciation people have for stories untold. Hip Hop 50 washed over the cultural landscape in an embracing takeover in 2023, but there are only so many ways to tell certain stories. The beauty of the landmark theme is that it’s about locations, but it’s also about them being pivotal moments.

Art by Peter Paid / Photo by Robert Adam Mayer @photorob

“I think what got people this year was they knew a lot of the companies and people that were putting out hip hop events were not fans of hip hop…But, this past year proved that a lot of elements that certain places thought were not palatable, may be the most palatable part. People want to know the origins, they want to know about the gritty part. It’s at the Smithsonian, it’s at the Kennedy Center Honors, and it’s in the White House. But, everyone knows hip hop was not something that was welcomed. But, there are spaces that welcomed it.”

Landmark celebrates and memorializes influential locations in Hip Hop culture through a lineup of celebrated artists with a fresh twist. Effectively bringing the background into the foreground, Landmark shines a light on history while adding a new entry to the timeline.

“I think what got people this year was they knew a lot of the companies and people that were putting out hip hop events were not fans of hip hop…But, this past year proved that a lot of elements that certain places thought were not palatable, may be the most palatable part. People want to know the origins, they want to know about the gritty part. It’s at the Smithsonian, it’s at the Kennedy Center Honors, and it’s in the White House. But, everyone knows hip hop was not something that was welcomed. But, there are spaces that welcomed it.”

By nature of the theme, the artists are doing locations that are personal to them. But, they’re also personal to other people. And the ones who haven’t had that direct experience get to experience it through the lens of people who were there. “There’s something very unique about that, and it makes it so even though there’s this great lineup of super great artists, it’s not about them. It’s about everybody,” Kate shares. The all-star artist line-up includes Joe Conzo, Pharoahe Monch, Danny Cortes, Peter Paid, BlusterOne, André LeRoy Davis, Shiro, El Da Sensei, JERMS, and TTK.

The elements of hip-hop include breakdancing, MCing, DJing, graffiti, and knowledge. Kate has always infused music and art into her events, but she has been able to display the peripheral elements with the Landmark festival and exhibitions. “There’s all these things that sprung from hip hop that are all over. They might not be in the elements, but they’re a huge part.” For example, at the Landmark festival in July of 2023, there was Eddie Plein, the inventor of the grill, doing customs. “There is a period where hip hop and New York were inseparable” Kate recalls. So, when miniature artist Danny Cortes shrinks his memories into realistic ice boxes and bodegas, it’s still hip hop art.

Art by Shiro / Photo by Hideki Aono @hideki.aono.media

“There is a period where hip hop and New York were inseparable” Kate recalls.

Within the larger culture of hip-hop, participants from each element have the opportunity to interact with and learn more about the other elements. Despite the variety of talents and events scheduled in the programming, intention and respect for the culture is the backbone of Landmark’s success. “It’s about including all the events, all the elements, and not necessarily piling them all, but making sure each one is highlighted in the right way,” Kate shares. Making sure there’s something for everyone, she encourages curiosity through exposure where “the goal is to have as many people see this exhibit as possible.” Through the programming, she can continuously bring in different audiences.

“There is a period where hip hop and New York were inseparable” Kate recalls.

“And there’s people who have been involved in hip hop for so long and when they say something like, ‘yo, that was one of my favorite days.’ You just be, like, blown away. You keep all that.”

Admission into Landmark has always been free – a treat for long-time hip hop heads and new. On opening night, the legendary Pharoahe Monche performed against an immersive performance art piece that he created. It examines the late 80s growing up in South Jamaica Queens through his lens. Pioneer of the scratching technique, Grand Wizard Theodore, had a set on opening night as well. Amidst the rich aural textures of chatter, laughter, and performances are the unheard sounds of the walls graced by artist BlusterOne. “Some people capture the moment, some people capture a certain feeling, but Bluster captures music and art. The more you look at them, the more you hear,” Kate shares.

Art by Blusterone / Photo by Robert Adam Mayer @photorob

Although the elements overlap, they still remain disparate. The elements used to inform each other more frequently; it was not uncommon for a b-boy to also have the affinity and skillset to hop on the turntables or try their hand at lettering. Large Professor, the musical director of Landmark is a constant variable in the shows. “And when you have a legendary producer and MC-DJ as your constant, that’s a great ingredient for success,” Kate says.

Community as her ultimate motivator, she shares how it has been a “beautiful thing to have him involved where he gets to work with these artists who have looked up to him…This man has done everything and is the embodiment of hip-hop. He break danced, he wrote, he’s done everything right musically.”

“And there’s people who have been involved in hip hop for so long and when they say something like, ‘yo, that was one of my favorite days.’ You just be, like, blown away. You keep all that.”

Peter Paid, another frequent collaborator of both Kate and the Landmark shows, was a DJ before he got into sign painting. To him, there is not one art form that trumps the other. He keeps a list of different songs that speak to him throughout different parts of his day or week, which eventually become the beloved canvases we know him for.

Hip hop culture has the in-built element of competition. Before there were text messages, FaceTime, or reels, you had to be face-to-face with somebody, and the neighborhood or people in your crew would be watching. There was no faking the funk and “that’s what kept people honest back in the day,” artist Jeff Henriquez shares. He goes on to say that whatever the crew politics was, you would handle it using the creative tools of hip hop because that was the only available voice. The line-up of artists is incredible and carries that Hip Hop competitive spirit, but the artists are also appreciative of taking a seat at the table with the others. The respect amidst the camaraderie is real.

Art by Danny Cortes / Photo by Robert Adam Mayer @photorob

Working with the right people is crucial, especially with pulling off a series such as this. As Kate put it, “Collaborating with the wrong person will want you to go home and sleep.” She has faith that at the right moment, the right people will come into play. But above all, she makes sure the artists are happy, calling it the biggest cheat code for anyone who does events. Viewing pressure as a privilege, Kate is motivated by the energy and the caliber of the artists she works with. The challenge of configuring the space into an experience was a challenge that Kate welcomed: how could she create a different experience in every room, but keep them connected? As artist BlusterOne put it, to pull an event like this off you had to have done 100 things right. Since she started doing events, she wanted people to feel like they were a part of something. Everyone involved with the show loves Hip Hop and art and this mirrors Kate’s own story of using her talent to contribute.

Growing up in NYC, she held a natural affinity for both of these elements and utilized her crafts to be involved with what she loves. She’s not a b-girl and she’s not a DJ, but what she can do is write and create seats at the table. Landmark is a special series in the way it builds a niche community concerned with celebrating Hip Hop in a certain light. Her collaborators span from the barbecue guy to Boxwater to the Bronx Brewery. The culmination of her years of hard work has paid off in the form of trust where the artists know that their best interest is at heart. An artist herself, her medium is putting different hip hop elements and people together to create in-depth experiences. A perfectionist, she knows something as little as one piece not hanging right will disrupt an immersive flow.

Hip-hop has crossed cultural boundaries and permeated all corners of the world beyond its birthplace. Naturally, in the grand scheme of things, Kate has plans to have the show travel to continue to memorialize landmarks.

Hip-hop has crossed cultural boundaries and permeated all corners of the world beyond its birthplace. Naturally, in the grand scheme of things, Kate has plans to have the show travel to continue to memorialize landmarks.

“I just want this to be something really special that continues the legacy of hip hop and hip hop culture and always puts it in the best and right light. And offers something fresh and new so that it’s a way for younger generations to be a part of it and work with the older generations. Where it’s not even about the age thing. It’s just the common love of hip hop.”

Photo by Robert Adam Mayer @photorob

Tiwa Neo is a freelance creative with her favorite storytelling mediums being: fashion styling, culture writing, and photography. Using the subway to take her all over NYC, she can be seen at gallery openings, working on set, pop-ups, catching a vinyl set, or maybe perusing the archives at the NYPL. What drives her work is a recently discovered passion for telling stories much different from her own experience. Pulling inspiration from a mosaic pool ever changing, she celebrates community, art, and the future while holding a deep reverence for history.

Instagram @tiwa.neo

Website tiwaneo.com