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Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop

A single image can define a moment, creating an instant icon. 

They say a picture’s worth 1,000 words, and that’s especially true of one of music’s most language-conscious genres: hip-hop. Contact High explores four decades of photography, from the late 1970s to today, documenting a revolution not just in music, but in politics, race relations, fashion, and culture. Through more than 170 iconic images of hip-hop's most influential artists (Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Queen Latifah, Tupac, and more) — including contact sheets that give us a rare glimpse into the creative process of a photo session — Contact High examines the evolution of hip-hop, connecting us with the experiences, identities, and places that have shaped the world’s most popular music genre.

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Exhibition Details

See how artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Aaliyah, Wu-Tang Clan, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and so many more defined themselves to the public.

Explore hip-hop throughout the United States, including the regional cultures that flourished in different parts of the US.

In addition to photographs, experience artifacts from MoPOP's permanent collection such as early rap battle flyers, Tupac Shakur manuscripts, Flavor magazines, and costumes from Sha-Rock, The Notorious B.I.G., and MF DOOM add to our understanding of hip-hop culture.

Exhibition made possible by the Annenberg Space for Photography + International Center of Photography. Curator Vikki Tobak, Creative Director Fab 5 Freddy. Based on the Book CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop by Vikki Tobak.

Become a MoPOP Member

Become a member today and get access to see Contact High free as part of your membership.

Exciting Benefits of Membership

• Come back and see Contact High and your other favorite exhibitions again and
again for free for the entire year of your membership

• Early access to tickets for opening weekends

• Join a community of passionate pop culture fans

• Support the important work MoPOP does in our community and more!



Buy the Book

Can't make it to the exhibit? Purchase the book that inspired it CONTACT HIGH: A History of Hip-Hop by Vikki Tobak.




Through collaboration with community partners, talent featured in the exhibit, and local artists, guests:
• Were introduced to (and celebrated) the amazing photographers that documented the rise and dominance of hip hop in pop culture.
• Learned how photography played a critical role in bringing hip-hop’s visual culture to the global stage.
• Learned about the cultural, societal, and artistic impact of hip-hop.
• Got to explore their own creativity as they join us for some Hip Hop inspired art activities.

Sha-Rock Conversation

A Conversation with Sha Rock: Mother of the Mic

Sha Rock began her career as a breakdancer (or b-girl) but made her name as a skilled MC and battle veteran. A member of the Funky 4 + 1, she is the first female MC to receive a record contract and is often referred to as the Mother of the Mic. The Funky 4 + 1’s 1980 hit “That’s the Joint” was named the greatest Hip Hop song of all time by Rolling Stone. A Washington State Hip Hop History Month Celebration event.

Paint & Sip with Claudia Villalobos

About Claudia Villalobos 

Born and raised in the 206, Claudia couldn't be any prouder of her PNW roots! She is passionate about introducing all Youth to the ARTS community and the possibilities of all art mediums. Claudia hosts Creative Art sessions for underprivileged youth and out-of-the-box thinkers to explore the possibility of incorporating art into their lives in hopes that it could be a positive outlet for our Future Youth. Her love of art encouraged her to create Glow Girls. Glow Girls is a nonprofit that empowers young ladies to express themselves through hands-on art activities, inspiring them to be creative in their own unique way.

Instagram: @claudiavdesigns

Megan Thee Stallion photo by Sam Balaban

About the Photo and Photographer

The Megan Thee Stallion photo that inspired our paint-and-sip activity was taken by Sam Balaban, a photographer and director based in New Jersey who's has not only been featured n the International Center of Photography, the Annenberg Space for Photography, and select exhibits in New York City and Los Angeles, but will also be in our Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop exhibit.

Fab 5 Freddy's Playlist

To ready yourself for an intimate glimpse into hip-hop's history, check out this playlist curated by Contact High’s creative director, hip-hop pioneer, and the original host of Yo! MTV Raps, Fab 5 Freddy.

Contact High Updates

Learn more about Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop and check out even more content about your favorite pop culture topics!

Exhibition made possible by the Annenberg Space for Photography + International Center of Photography.
Curator Vikki Tobak, Creative Director Fab 5 Freddy. Based on the Book CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop by Vikki Tobak.

Exhibition made possible by

International Center of Photography

This project was supported, in part, by 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax