YO! A closer look at BOZAR's first hip hop exhibition.

Pictures by Maïté Renson, Caroline Lessire & Guillaume Kayacan


Breakdance and graffiti were the first hip hop expressions in the eighties to develop in our country. At the end of that decade, we saw the rise of the first Belgian crews like BRC (Brussels Rap Convention) who made one of the first French speaking rap records. The nineties were represented by big crews like Starflam and De Puta Madre. Those early days form the base for the first exhibition on Brussels’ hip hop culture. “I know it’s late, and that this could have happened 15 years ago, but I thought let’s do it. It’s important to show that there’s a history,” says Benoit Quittelier, curator of the exhibition.

Bozar had the image of a bourgeois art center, and their program reflected that. But since the early 2000’s the institute changed gradually, and kept their promise to develop more projects around subcultures and movements - including electronic music. “Hip hop lacked recognition for a long time, but it’s finally changing, because more people grew up with it. Now, we have journalists and politicians listening to hip hop.” says Benoit. The man is a respected name in Brussels' scene, who made a PhD on hip hop culture in Brussels, focusing on public spaces and how they integrate in the cultural network of the city. Not only does he have the street cred, he also has the ability to translate that into something intellectual - that’s what Bozar liked about him. He went on to create a bond between the streets and high art institutes. No question that he and his colleague Adrien Grimmeau are the right guys to give Belgium and it’s capital their first big exhibition about hip hop culture. 

The exhibiton features everything: breakdance, rap, DJ-ing and graffiti, from 1980 till now. How are you going to tell all those stories?

“Some places in the exhibition are reserved to one artistic expression, but when you take the tour it’s fluid. You don’t feel like you pass from one story to another. We built the exhibition in collaboration with the artists who also own collection: hundreds of handwritten lyrics, jewelry, jackets from 1980 B-boys, … Everything we picked has had its impact on the history of Brussels’ hip hop culture.”

Only from Brussels?

“Only Brussels. Well, you know, French rapper Grems lived here for about 5 or 6 years, but we included him because he made 2 albums here. It would have been interesting to do something for all of Belgium, but the whole project is financed by the city of Brussels, so that would’ve been difficult (laughs). I can tell you that Bozar is already planning another big hip hop exhibit in 2019, so I feel that the interest in the culture is real here.”

There’s this thing with Brussels that people really want to show that they’re proud of the city. With songs for example, like Bruxelles Vie and Bruxelles Arrive.

“Yeah, and that pride is something that we try to show. There have always been really good artists in Brussels who - in my opinion - didn’t get the attention they deserved, by the way. Yassine El Toufalli was world champion breakdancing in 2002, but a complete stranger out here. His job was picking up garbage, and now we made him come back from his job at Cirque De Soleil in Las Vegas. So things are changing for the better now, and we want to celebrate this turning point in history.”

What’s the main difference between the old and the new-school?

“People that rap now don’t start rapping for the same reason like they would've in the nineties. Starflam used to be politically inspired back in the days, and when I listen to Jeanjass & Caballero, it’s more about giving off a good vibe. However, the latest track of Jeanjass & Caballero 'Sur Mon Nom' shows best of both worlds: "Tu peux être blanc, vendre des kilos. T'auras moins de soucis que si tu t'appelais Mohamed" That little verse says something about how society is at this moment.”

Who do you think the target audience is nowadays?

“I’m 32 years old and I love listening to Roméo Elvis, but I think it's more for the younger people who grew up with the internet. That’s a good thing, but the downside is that you can get lost in all this information, which is not only a challenge in rap music but with society in general. We have a room with projections on all walls, where we try to recreate that feeling.”

How is the balance between old and new?

Bozar's regular crowd wants to learn something new and look at real pieces of art, so we made it an experience by having graffiti artists make original pieces on the walls for example. There’s also this room where you get drowned in the underground energy of the nineties, with music playing from that era. We also have 2 rap booths where you can rap in an application called KEAKR. The app masters it and afterwards you get the full track so you can share it on the social networks.”

So, basically, people can come in and record an album for free?

“Yes, exactly! If you are 15 years old, and you want to try dancing, rapping, writing graffiti, ... you can come and do your thing in Bozar every day for free. If there’s one thing we want to introduce people to, it’s Flow. We made a film that will be shown at the beginning of the exhibition: featuring rappers like Damso and dancers like Tirock. Flow is the main dimension of hip hop culture. It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it. It’s not about the moves you make, it’s about how you combine them. It’s not about the sample you use, it’s how you cut it. All this pure energy is the main component of hip hop culture.”

You can watch the film in the free access zone of the exhibit. Bozar will stage more free events like beatmaking battles, debates, meet & greets with artists, dance performances, cyphers, etc. on nearly every Thursday and Saturday afternoon during summer. There’s also a wooden floor - ideal for breakdancing - open at all times.

ATTENTION: On Tuesday, June 27, we're hosting the opening event for the exhibition, featuring Lefto, Smimooz, DJ Vega, UMI and Jr. Goodfellaz! Grab your tickets here.

 More info at the Bozar website.

Entrance fee: €10 (If you're younger than 26, you pay €5 and on Wednesdays only €2)