African American playwrights are writing about difficult topics that affect the hip-hop generation. In this paper, I will focus on the transformation of hip -?hop through theatre in the work of Robert Alexander, A Preface to the Alien Garden, and the work of Camilla Forbes, A Rhyme Deferred. These playwrights reflect the evolution and different elements of the hip-hop culture. There are many similarities and differences between them regarding themes, Intent, deflation of hip hop generation and black theatre, the impact each play has on the hip-hop generation, and the historical context of each play.
Both playwrights do an amazing reflecting an accurate depiction of the hip-hop generation, which embodies gangster rap, regular hip-hop music, dance, and music. Kampala Forbes Is an actress, director, and playwright who wrote and directed Rhyme Deferred. She Is the Founding Artistic Director of the HIP Hop Theatre Junction where she focuses on producing and creating works reflecting the hip-hop generation. Her thoughts and passion for hip hop and theatre and the Idea that the new hip hop generation was not reflected through theatre, sparked her to began her story and write the play Rhyme Deferred.
This highly energetic play engages the audience through dance and breaking down the “third wall” between the actors and the audience. Rhyme Deferred is the story of two brothers, both rappers. The older brother, Akin, is a mainstream rapper and becomes successful. The younger and more talented brother, Gave, struggles In the hip-hop underground as he attempts to develop his skills. As older brother Kin’s popularity begins to fade, he returns to the streets to try to regain his credibility.
Haunted by a greedy record label constantly pushing for more product, Akin resorts to stealing younger brother Gable’s notebook of rhymes in a desperate attempt to come up with fresh material (Drumming). The common good-brother-vs.. -evil-brother motif here Is couched In specific hip-hop terms. Gable’s Journey reflects that of unsigned rap artists worldwide, and Kin’s flamboyant similarity to Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs is none too subtle. Some common themes throughout this play Include defining “hip-hop theatre”, energy, performance, homophobia, generational hip-hop, and fashion (Drumming).
All of these themes contributes to Forbes goal to direct a play to reflects the new enervation of hip hop as well as educate individuals on the progress that needs to be made with the hip hop culture (Drumming peg. 4). Robert Alexander Is a playwright, dramatic. And author of 29 plays. Including A Preface to the Allen Garden. This dramatic and cut-throat play takes place in a crack house in Kansas city in which a group of young gangsters tell a story. This gangs rap agitprop has a strong impact and is expressed through lots of provocative, profane language and rapping.
Alexander Incorporates Shakespearean, Western, and gangster ideas Into one play. Some common themes throughout this play are aliens, hip-hop culture, gangs rap, and the Book of Ezekiel (Outlaw Blues). There are many similarities and differences between Forbes’ and Alexander plays and they both have a common goal to transform hip-hop through theatre. In Rhyme Deferred, hip hop is defined as movement and an engaging expression of the personal struggles African Americans 1 OFF through music, rhythm, beats, and rhymes.
Because Forbes defines this hip-hop generation as engaging she makes the play come alive. She initially does this by having live deejays on stage throughout the play. These deejays provide music and beats throughout the play to help tell the story between the brothers. They also encourage audience participation. Forbes also has true music artists and poets play the main characters, Akin and Gave. Akin and Gave freestyle throughout the play, not only does this make the play come alive as a performance but it also accurately reflects to hip-hop generation described in the play.
The a-boy dancers also contributed to play coming alive. In A Preface to the Alien Garden hip-hop is defined differently than that in Rhyme Deferred. This play focuses on gangster rap music which is much more profane and hardcore than regular rap music. Alexander defines gangs hip-hop as a reflection of a lifestyle of gang involvement, violence, drugs, sex, women, and music. All of the characters are involved in the Kansas City Crisp called Slanting Zulus and they all have different roles in the “set” relating to the definition of gangs rap.
G Rock is a drug dealer, Crazy Mike is the hit man and the public relations person for the set, Candid is the “slut” of the gang, Slick Rick is a ex-gang banger who is looking to settle his life, Lisa is a member who loves the Book of Ezekiel ND believes she’s been abducted by aliens, B Dog is the physical imposer, Ice Pick is a “stone-cold killer”, and Shelia is also a drug dealer (Elan). Historical context is very significant when comparing these plays. Rhyme Deferred was written in the late sass’s and performed in the early sass’s.
The hip-hop generation at this time was similar to that of the sass’s. In this play, it is defined through what they wear, music style, and dance. Akin is wearing a flashy chain throughout the play reflecting the hip-hop generation, the dance style is a-boy, and the music style is rap music. The historical context is significant when discussing how a hip-hop generation is defined because it helps the reader put the play into perspective. A Preface to the Alien Garden was performed in the late sass’s, early sass’s but it was written much before it was performed.
This play accurately reflects this time period through music and situation. Situation meaning that during the late sass’s there were many gangs and gang related activity. In the hip-hop world during this time, two of the greatest gangster rappers were murders Biggie Smalls and Outpace. The play, A Preface to the Alien Garden, encompasses the ideas of gang affiliations and violence into his play. Forbes and Alexander define hip-hop theatre very similarly in both of their plays. It is defined as the transformation of hip-hop through theatre.
In Rhyme Deferred, since the focus is on generational hip-hop it is transformed through music, dance, and rhymes. The story of Akin stealing his brothers book of rhymes is another avenue in which hip-hop is transformed because it occurred frequently in hip-hop during the late sass’s. Since Forbes does not use many props in this play, she uses the actors to ransom the scene. For example in the notes of the play she says “using dance movement, the ensemble takes Akin through a mystical transition to the underworld of “the streets. ” (Fire This Time). This quote shows how bodies were used to create the scenes.
While in A Preface to the Alien Garden, the focus is on gangster rap therefore it is transformed through music, the characters lifestyles and roles, and rhymes. Alexander uses props to transform the scenes. For example, Lisa does graffiti plays have on the current hip-hop generation is very different. Gangster rap is not ere common although the language and the degradation of women in current gangster rap songs still exist. Therefore, there is less of an impact on the new hip- hop generation. Although the language in Alexander play was very profane, it would not shock the new hip-hop generation because that language is normal.
Forbes play would have a larger impact on the hip-hop generation because it is engaging and depicts some of the same elements important to today’s hip-hop generation. Because it is so initially engaging with the deejays and a-boy dancers, the hip-hop generation old be more responsive. This play could have a positive impact on the hip-hop generation pushing them to enjoy hip-hop, reconsider negative thoughts regarding homophobia, and finally it encourages poets and rappers to continue to pursue their passions.
The author’s intent in both plays, A Preface to the Alien Garden and Rhyme Deferred are very different. Forbes intentions were to make her play for the hip-hop generation, engaging, and for her play to become a performance. She accomplished this by not relying on props and the setting but relying on bodies to create the scene. She also wanted use “hip-hop performance elements as theater conventions or theater tools. ” (Elan). She definitely achieved her goal by having the dual deejays at the end of each side of the stage.
The beats and music were used as cues for the actors. “I’m most comfortable making others uncomfortable. To be comfortable in my world is to be complacent. Therefore my desire as an activist and an artist to provoke the complacent and to upset those with viewpoints that differ from my own. I live for a good fight, no matter how outnumbered or outgunned I may be. ” (Elan) This tote explains Alexander intent in a nutshell. He wanted this play to be very profane and dramatic to accurately reflect the lives of individuals involved in gangs.
His intentions were to “stir the pot” and anger some of his critics. To my knowledge, there are not many plays that reflect gangster rap culture, use vulgar language, and show elements of gangster rap that are often overlooked in theatre because of the backlash they might receive from it. Some of the elements of gangster hip-hop culture that most directors want to overlook in plays are the realistic language, lenience, and degradation of women. Alexander takes a risk and depicts this in a dramatic way.
Alexander intention was also to reinvent a play about the Black Panthers. “l wanted to chart the course of what happened with the guns in the ‘ass and ‘ass and what’s going on with Black folks with guns now, with these young kids right now who are the descendants of these radicalized, revolutionary idealists who failed to pass the baton on to them, the next generation” (Rodriguez). The youth that Joined the Black Panthers learned tough love and the Panthers became an extended family, it revived them with a sense of belonging and power through violence.
He also did not want the readers or audiences to believe that the plays intent was to glorify the gang culture. He made this clear in throughout the play; there were no heroes and the play ended with death. Another difference between Alexander and Forbes’ plays is the biblical reference. In A Preface to the Alien Garden, Lisa, also known as Fly Girl, often references the Book of Ezekiel. In Fire This Time (p 414), Lisa discusses the visions the Ezekiel had in will come back for her. She also draws a connection between Ezekiel wheel is the gig flying saucer that comes down from space.
In Rhyme Deferred, the biblical reference made occurs between the main characters Akin and Gave. Their relationship and problems mirrors the biblical story of Cain and Able because they represent two sides of hip-hop; greed and ideals. There are many limitations in both plays that can affect my personal critique. Some limitations include sound, rhythm, movement, and the use of space. In Rhyme Deferred, Forbes says “This piece in particular is not meant to be read (nor is any theatre piece), but even confining the ice o the page does it quite a disservice. (Fire This Time). Reading this play is limiting because the reader cannot see or hear some of the most important aspects of the play, movement, dance, and the music. This limitation is also true in A Preface to the Alien Garden because the reader must imagine the music and the actors rhyming versus actually hearing the play. Reading the plays is also limiting because these plays are never performed exactly the same. More specifically in Rhyme Deferred, the main characters freestyle throughout the performance and that is not omitting a reader gets to witness.
Since the characters in Forbes play create the scenes, the reader cannot see this but must read the stage directions to imagine it. Personally, I really enjoyed reading both plays. I was surprised at how accurately both plays defined hip-hop. From reading and researching both plays a personal critique that I have is regarding the audience. Since both plays are about hip-hop they don’t appeal to all audience and should be produced mostly in community theatres. Alexander had many difficulties receiving aid and help producing his play because of it’s content.
Another critique I have is the use of space in A Preface to the Alien Garden, I believe that it would have been more effective to use more body movement throughout the play because hip-hop is about movement. Unfortunately, I only read the play, which can skew my critique, and the stage directions did not suggest much movement. Laurence Sassy reviewed A Preface to the Alien Garden describing it as “the soaring poetry of some of the rap duels and the plaintive speeches of Lisa and Rick as they bid to discover a way to escape their fates are testimony to Alexander authentic talent, expressed with an authentic voice” (Amazon peg 2).
This review is significant because it highlights the significance of rhymes in the play and Alexander skills as a playwright. Lauren Smith reviews Rhyme Deferred describing it as “spiritual and Shakespearean, a street-savvy, tradition-rich portal to the soul. Rhyme Deferred is a powerful performance piece that argues for Hip Hop’s higher purpose. ” (Amazon peg 5). This review is significant because it highlights how Forbes incorporated many different elements into a wonderful production. In conclusion, both plays are very significant as they take a chance by creating a play about hip-hop.
Although done in different ways, both subtle and profane, both playwrights accurately depict the hip- hop generation and transform hip-hop through theatre. This is significant because hip-hop is a huge reflection of African American culture because it gives African Americans an avenue to express themselves and show off or develop rhyming skills. These plays are also important to hip-hop culture because although it is changing the basic elements of hip-hop, music, expression, rhymes, beats, dance, are reflected hill Alexander play focuses more on the dark side of hip-hop.