Cipha Sounds On The Power Of Hip Hop: “It Made Me Who I Am.”


Tonight, the new series Hip Hop Treasures, which follows the search for lost Hip Hop memorabilia, premieres on A&E.  Led by LL COOL J and Ice T alongside collectors and museum curators, they will tell the story of some of  the genre’s greatest artists and the artifacts they made famous.

One of the show’s field collectors, Cipha Sounds, spoke with ESSENCE about the importance of A&E’s new series and how he became involved with it, 50 years of Hip Hop, and more. “The same way The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, all that stuff is celebrated, hip hop needs to be celebrated the same way,” he says.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame actually has some hip hop memorabilia in it, but we need our own thing, that’s why they’re building the Universal Hip Hop Museum,” Cipha adds. “This culture has been so powerful, it’s made billions of dollars worldwide – it’s a global phenomenon, and it should be heralded the same way rock and roll is.”

Hip Hop Treasures will provide viewers with a behind the scenes look at the people that gave birth to the cultural phenomenon that is Hip Hop. Items such as The Notorious B.I.G.’s iconic jersey from the “Juicy” video, Flavor Flav’s clocks, DMX’s Aaliyah car, and more, will be featured, and attempted to be found by the Cipha, the show’s hosts, field collector Yo-Yo, and Chief Museum Curator Paradise Gray and curator Pete Nice.

Many of these elusive items are brought back to the archive and will be put on display at The Universal Hip Hop Museum, which will open to visitors worldwide in 2024. While many people will have the opportunity to celebrate the history of Hip Hop at this one-of-a-kind museum, For Cipha Sounds, Hip Hop is more than just music – it’s a way of life.

ESSENCE: So with today being the 50th anniversary of hip hop, I want to start with this question – in what ways are you celebrating hip hop today?

Cipha Sounds: I’m having trouble with it because I’m hip hop every day, all day, to the core. Hip hop is my culture, my life, my religion, right? So it’s hard for me to celebrate it today because everybody who’s not even involved with hip hop is celebrating it today. Every major corporation has their hip hop 50 incentive and their hip hop 50 initiative. So it’s almost like I’m not protesting it, but I just feel weird partaking in any of it because it’s like, “Oh no, no, I do this every day, not just August 11th, 2023.” You know what I mean?

Right. Right.

But obviously I’m going to go to the Hip Hop 50 live concert at Yankee Stadium, and then tomorrow I’m DJing for Talib Kweli at the block party that KRS-One has, in front of the Sedgwick Avenue place where hip hop started. So I’m in it, but I don’t know, man, it feels weird to me.

But honestly, I’m super excited that my show is coming out tomorrow. And it’s going to be past the day where I feel like a lot of this hip hop 50 talk is going to stop. I feel that it shouldn’t stop – we should be talking about hip hop every day, and make sure we celebrate 51 years the same way we celebrate 50 years.

So how did your collaboration with Hip Hop Treasures come about?

So I was on Drink Champs one day, just visiting, and EFN told me he has this deal with LL, where he was shooting this TV show. And he said he did it with this woman, Claudette. And I know Claudette from back in the day, at Violator, and now she runs Rock the Bells, LL’s company. So, I just reached out to say, “Hello,” and I was like, “Hey, Claudette, I haven’t heard from you in so long. I hope you’re well.” And she goes, “Oh my God, I’m so happy you hit me. I got this idea for you…” After that, the clouds opened up for me.

She was like, “I have this idea for you, for this show with LL, where he collects these hip hop treasures or whatever.” And then it just started from there. I had to do a little audition, but that was easy. I’m such a collector anyway. I brought out all my collectibles when I did the Zoom call and they were like, “Oh wow, you got a lot of stuff.” I was like, “Yeah, I’m perfect for this show.”

When you say that you’ve collected different things. Where did that passion come about it? Were you always a big collector of things or did it start later in life?

Always. Since day one – I still have all the original vinyl I bought when I was like 15 years old. I still have my mom’s record collection from even before that, that I stole from her. I have every backstage pass I ever got, every concert ticket, photos. I have autographs from Premier, Guru, A Tribe Called Quest, Organized Konfusion and OutKast. Like I was saying before, hip hop is such a part of me. I don’t care if it’s valuable to the world, it’s valuable to me, all my collectibles. So I still have clothes, all my cassettes, all my CDs, posters, everything.

You said you had to “audition” for the show – what was that process like?

It wasn’t really an audition, I think they just wanted to see if I had TV charisma, you know what I mean? It was literally just a Zoom call with a couple people and they were asking me the same thing you just asked me, “Do you actually like collectibles? Are you into it?,” and “how much do you know about hip hop?”

Now during the show, was there any particular artifact that was difficult for y’all to track down?

Yeah, yeah. Biggie’s crown.

What made it so hard to track down?

So Biggie’s crown – from the iconic picture – we found out it was sold in an auction. But we didn’t know that when we were shooting, so we were trying to figure out where it was. We talked to the photographer who took the picture, we talked to Lil Cease, we talked to T’yanna, his daughter, we talked to C.J., his son. And we found all these other Biggie artifacts but we couldn’t find the crown. Then later on we find out it was sold.

But there was a lot of other stuff that was hard to find as well. There was a lot of Run-D.M.C. stuff. Because people will say,  “I think I have it in my garage,” and then they go in the garage and it’s not there. Or they think they have it in their attic or something. We found a lot of artifacts, but a lot of stuff we were looking for we didn’t find. But really, to be honest with you, the stories are the real treasures. When you watch this show,you’ll see people talking about Biggie, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, OutKast, CeeLo Green, Goodie Mob. It is really dope.

So for my last question, what does hip hop mean to you?

Oh man, it’s an impossible question. I could go on for days and days. Hip hop, it literally changed my life. When I was a kid, I just wanted to be a Marine, that’s it. And then I found hip hop, and I was like, “How do you do this?” I tried to rap and I sucked; then I was like, “Okay, I’m going to get some turntables, because that seems like something you could just keep practicing and get good at.” You know what I mean? Unlike rap, where I feel like it’s like a natural talent. But this is 15-year-old me thinking these things.

It’s my provider, it got me out of the hood. It provides for my family, it takes me around the world. And now I do standup comedy, but it’s always in the guise of hip hop. I’m always hip hop no matter what. The way I dress, the way I walk, the way I talk. And hip hop has just honestly saved my life because it gave me a focus when I was young, where I could have easily gone down the wrong path like a lot of my friends did at the time. And it just literally just gave me a focus, it gave me a point, and it made me who I am.


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