(The following is a guest post by Steve Leggett, program coordinator for the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.)
In the weeks since announcing the annual 25 additions to the National Recording Registry the Library has been asked a few questions about rap and hip-hop and its representation on the list. These questions are valid and important to explore.
The 2013 list of 25 additions announced earlier this month did not include a recording in the rap and hip-hop genre. However, the genre has been represented on the registry since the registry’s very first list of 50 recordings was announced in January 2003. In that year, “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was among recordings including Orson Welles’ radio drama “War of the Worlds” (1938), President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s D-Day radio address (1944) and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (1963).
The fact that those important and diverse sound recordings stand shoulder to shoulder on the same list is indicative of what the registry is about, and indeed illustrates the very important role sound recordings have played in our collective memory and consciousness since the very first recordings were captured in 1853.
With respect to rap and hip-hop, in addition to “The Message”, the registry also includes Sugar Hill’s 1979 “Rapper’s Delight” – widely credited with launching the genre – plus three others for a total of five. That means of the 17 music recordings in the Registry that date from 1979 or later, about 30 percent represent the rap genre, including the most contemporary recording in the entire registry, Tupac Shakur’s 1995 “Dear Mama.”
It is important to understand that the National Recording Registry is not a “best of music” list. Although much attention each year tends to focus on popular music, the registry is about sound recordings of all kinds – from political speeches to historic firsts, all deserving recognition and preservation.
Of course the registry includes music, but it also showcases Thomas Edison’s recording of 1888 for a talking doll prototype; 1890 recordings of Passamaquoddy Indians – considered the first field recordings; Booker T. Washington’s 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech (1906 recreation); 1917′s the Bubble Book – the first book/record recorded especially for children; the first transatlantic radio broadcast (1925); the first official transatlantic telephone conversation (1927); Charles Lindbergh’s arrival in Washington, DC (1927); FDR’s fireside chats (1933-44); Neil Armstrong’s broadcast from the moon; and many other historic recordings.
You can view the entire list here.
The process for selecting new additions includes review of public nominations, and active discussions and review by the advisory National Recording Preservation Board, featuring representatives from the recorded sound, preservation and music industries. The Board advises the Librarian of Congress on national preservation policy as well as the National Recording Registry.
Of course, selecting the recordings each year involves a lot of discourse and argument about current representation of various genres, time periods, artists and key cultural and historical themes.
Keep in mind, the National Recording Registry represents a very small slice of the Library’s collection of more than 3.5 million sound recordings or the 46 million recordings held in U.S. public institutions according to a 2005 survey. Many of these recordings are in dire need of preservation, an alarming fact highlighted in the 2013 landmark national recorded sound plan published by the Library. The good news is that virtually any published recording of a song registered for copyright with deposited copies is in the Library’s permanent collections: so much, however, yet remains to be preserved and made available
But the registry, in essence, represents a special category of recordings the Library would seek out and ensure are in our collections in the most pristine form available. So we do like to think of it as an “honor” or recognition of the best of the best in addition to spotlighting countless other worthy recordings. From that standpoint we welcome the fact that critics are looking, well, critically at what is on the list and what is not. Keep that dialogue going!
With only 25 additions each year, the selection process is mighty challenging. And there is no doubt the number of recordings that should be on the registry far exceeds the number of recordings already on the registry.
Along with rap songs that have been mentioned in recent blogs and the public – works by artists such as Lauryn Hill, Run-DMC, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, Eminem and Kanye West — this vast treasure trove of cultural importance awaiting recognition consists of radio broadcasts, technological breakthroughs, advertisements, ambient sounds and well-known standards by a stunning litany of music legends.
If you believe rap or hip-hop – or any other genre – is under-represented on the list, please nominate a recording…or several. We are accepting nominations for the next list here.
Remember the recordings must be at least 10 years old. We look forward to hearing from you!