Turn History into Hip-Hop with the Library of Congress

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The Library of Congress is home to a vast collection of archival audio and video recordings—and now, thanks to the innovative Citizen DJ project, musicians of all skill levels can remix this extensive historical material into unique beats and songs.

After debuting as a demo in May, Citizen DJ is now fully launched and available to the public. The project website features an intuitive interface for combining video and audio samples: you can cue, solo, and mute tracks just with a click of a mouse.

In addition to an enormous library of archival music clips from a variety of genres, you can also sample from radio interviews, movie dialogue, political speeches, advertisements, oral histories, and more. Every audio clip on the site is free to use and distribute (even commercially), so the creative possibilities are truly endless.

Citizen DJ is brainchild of Library of Congress 2020 Innovator in Residence Brian Foo, who brought the project to life with help from LC Labs. A long-time fan of hip-hop, Foo calls the genre “an artform and culture that weaves together references, quotations, and history into something brand new and culturally significant in its own right.” Citizen DJ celebrates rap’s rich history of sampling, allowing creators to dive deep into the Library of Congress collections and recontextualize their findings into contemporary music.

While developing Citizen DJ, Foo worked closely with the experts at Library of Congress to identify copyright-free samples and develop a guide to intellectual property laws relating to sampling. He also partnered with hip-hop–focused non-profit organizations across the country, engaging the music community in vital conversations about identity, creativity, and social justice.

“I hope Citizen DJ can represent just one of many technologies in the long line of innovations that has pushed hip hop into new and exciting spaces throughout the decades,” Foo shared in a blog post. “I hope it inspires younger generations to ask what their Library, the Library of Congress, has that speaks to them.”

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