Detroit Hip-Hop Through the Eyes of Collectors

Book Review: The Center of the Movement

by D. Sands

Khalid el-Hakim is a traveling scholar in a very literal sense of the phrase.

El-Hakim operates a museum-on-wheels known as the Black History 101 Mobile Museum. It’s a 30-foot long, 12-foot wide trailer packed with historical artifacts that he uses to educate people around the country on subjects like the life of Malcolm X and the ugly legacy of racist memorabilia. El-Hakim also has a vital connection to Detroit’s hip-hop community. Along with having been a promoter and producer of local events, he’s also served as Proof’s manager and is the vice-president of the late rapper’s record label, Iron Fist Records.

Both these sides of his life come together in his new book “The Center of the Movement: Collecting Hip-Hop Memorabilia,” which he co-authored with Dr. Derrick Jenkins, a former Africana Studies instructor at the University of Cincinnati.

Weighing in at more than 250 pages, the full-color book is chock full of photos and info about hip-hop albums, fine art, movie posters, toys, political items and all kinds of other related objects. It also features essays and interviews from some hip-hop heavy hitters like Professor Griff of Public Enemy and KRS-One and even a reproduction of Eminem’s first featured Q&A. Critical Moment readers should be especially pleased about the inclusion of  socially conscious local artists like Awesome Dre, Jessica Care Moore, Invincible, and 5 Ela.

Released this past September, “The Center of the Movement” is more than just a guide to hip-hop memorabilia, though. It’s also a journey through the history of the art form, a primer on collecting artifacts and a call for fans to safeguard their own history.

“My goal is to reach, first and foremost, readers who are fans and part of hip-hop culture,” el-Hakim told Critical Moment. “I want them to appreciate the 40-year history of the culture that many people have dismissed as not having any historical impact. Our community must be celebrated.”

Although the idea for the book had been simmering in el-Hakim’s mind for some time while he completed a master’s degree at Western Michigan University, the project didn’t really get to a rolling boil until after he had conversation with Jenkins about how to contribute to the hip-hop community’s knowledge base in October 2012.

“It was his suggestion and the timing was perfect for a book like this,” he said. “His eagerness and persistence really made me focus. Once we got started on it, it was pretty much a smooth process because I was very familiar with the material in the archive and the people I interviewed for the book were people that I had relationships with for quite some time.”

The book was assembled out of items from the archives of el-Hakim’s mobile museum (some of which will eventually be on display at at the 5E Gallery in the Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood).

Named after a song featured on J Dilla’s album “Rebirth of Detroit,” it’s not surprising that the book focuses heavy on the Motor City and Southeast Michigan’s hip-hop scene.

El-Hakim said it’s intended to have a Detroit slant and reflect his personal involvement in the culture.

“I basically tell my personal story of how I was first introduced to hip-hop culture. When I was in middle school and high school my classmates were Detroit pioneers like Silveree, Dice, Frogger D, Gabe Gonzales, J to the D and others. I was a promoter, booking agent, manager as well as a Vice President at Iron Fist Records. So there is memorabilia that represents my history wearing those different hats. There are flyers, photographs, clothing, and even business cards that help tell that story.”

His favorite objects in the book are items connected to Proof— like flyers from the artist’s last international tour through Australia and Europe and his first flyer from a 1998 Magic Stick show where Eminem opened for the hip-hop group 5 Ela.

As a historian, el-Hakim stresses the importance of the artifacts in his book. He believes the objects are crucial to preserving the collective memory of hip-hop culture and urges other collectors to play their part in preserving this history.

“Hip-hop developed in different ways in different areas so everyone has a slightly different story to tell,” he said. “I want people from different hip-hop communities around the world to see the value in the material objects of the culture and produce similar books.”

 “The Center of the Movement” is published by Moore Black Press and is available online through Amazon, Ebay and at