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LACMA's next big project: L.A. hip-hop

May 16, 2012 |  6:00 am

 3 Melancholy Gypsys
Murs had a revelation while waiting in line to see the Louvre Museum in Paris. A longtime staple of L.A.'s underground hip-hop scene, Murs had a day off while on tour in Paris last year. Spotted by museum workers, Murs and his wife were pulled from the line and told to bypass the crowds.

"Some fans came up to me and gave us some free passes," said Murs, who was born Nick Carter. "That's when it hit me that we're old enough to be involved with the arts. I have fans who work at the Louvre? That's crazy."

Not, perhaps, as crazy as collaborating with a similarly world-renowned art institution.

This week, Murs and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will launch a six-month exploration of L.A.'s hip-hop culture with the series Through the Mic. On Thursday night, Murs' own group 3 Melancholy Gypsys will stage its first performance in about five years; monthly concerts will follow, each presented in front of the 200 vintage lamp posts that make up the museum's "Urban Light" installation on Wilshire Boulevard. The goal, said Murs, is for "the Los Angeles hip-hop scene to get some validation as art and not just gangsta rap or pop music."

"Even in the past, in traveling to New York, my friends think a lot of the gangsta rap is just made up," Murs said. "They think it's a product and they think it isn't real hip-hop. They think it's entertaining, like everything else in this city. We're known here for entertainment, but not necessarily known for our art scene and our hip-hop scene. I aim to change that."

'Through the Mic' will return June 21 with Koreatown's Dumfounded and pioneering female MC Medusa. While LACMA is no stranger to live music, showcasing bands as part of its events-focused Muse membership program in addition to hosting a jazz series, the museum's hip-hop ambitions will be the first step toward turning the outdoor area near the "Urban Light" exhibit into a venue.

"We want that venue in front of 'Urban Light' to emerge as one of the best outdoor concert venues in Los Angeles," said Jason Gaulton, coordinator of the Muse program. "We'll never be able to take anything away from the [Hollywood] Bowl, but 'Urban Light' makes for a stunning backdrop. It's an intimate experience but creates a unique experience."

Murs said he has acts lined up through much of the series. The artist, who now lives in Tuscon, Ariz., has been programming the annual Paid Dues hip-hop festival  since 2006, and that event's promoter, Guerilla Union, will be handling stage setup and sound for 'Through the Mic.'

"I have relationships with everyone from Snopp Doog to Kendrick Lamar," Murs said. "When I first started meeting with LACMA, I was telling them about Kendrick Lamar, and I said, 'By the time we get this started, he'll be the biggest rapper in L.A.' Now we won't get him to slow down enough to do this.

"But who doesn't want to be a part of presenting their art at LACMA?" Murs continued. "If it doesn't mean anything to you, it means something to your mother and your grandmother."

Gaulton believes the events will target those who don't usually come to LACMA, and he hopes it's the first of many music-focused happenings. "When we first started talking about the series, we were talking about an eclectic series, where each installment would reflect a different genre," Gaulton said. "We felt like the strength of being a museum, and what you find in exhibition, is an exploration of one topic."

LACMA's Urban Light
For each concert, LACMA will open its doors to a the contemporary art  exhibit, said Gaulton, although there are currently no plans to curate any hip-hop-related artworks on the museum's walls. About 1,000 tickets will be sold to each concert, the first of which is sold out and cost $15 to non-members. Also running will be "Metropolis II," a mini-city installation that features 1,100 Hot Wheels-sized cars, 25 large buildings, 18 lanes of traffic and 13 trains.

Murs hopes visitors will explore not just the museum but also the history of L.A hip-hop. "Medusa has been around for a long time," he said. "She's worked with everyone. She was with Outkast for quite some time. For me, she was my introduction into the more Afrocentric side of the L.A., the Leimert Park area. She's worn a giant Afro since '92, and I remember seeing her and being in love with her."

The artist has another goal as well: "It's time for our generation, the hip-hop generation, to become patrons of the arts," he said. "When some of us have ancillary money to invest, it's important to be a part of a museum."

Murs practices what he preaches -- sort of. He's not currently a LACMA member. "I'll definitely become a member after the show," he said.


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Images: Scarub, Eligh, and Murs of 3MG in front of LACMA's "Urban Light" installation. / Photo courtesy LACMA; Visitors to LACMA take in "Urban Light." Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.