I don’t listen to hip-hop anymore. There. I admit it.
And I’m not just talking about mainstream hip-hop. This isn’t an anti-auto tune, “hip-hop has lost its way” act of protest. I don’t listen to any hip-hop anymore. I’ve got no idea what’s hot in the streets these days. I don’t even know if people say “hot in the streets” anymore. I’ve gotten soft in my old age.
I listen to NPR – talk radio programs, mostly. At thirty-three years old, I’ve firmly turned the corner into…well, I have no idea what you’d call the kind of person I’ve become, but I know it’s a readily definable type. I know the local wine merchant by name. I have way more conversations about real estate that I imagined possible.
If seventeen-year-old me could see thirty-three-year-old me, he’d probably laugh, call me a sell-out, and then spend the next four hours cursing his fate to a soundtrack of Red Alert pause tapes.
And still…anytime anyone asks me “so what kind of plays do you write?”, I always answer exactly the same way: “hip-hop theater.” It’s the right answer. It’s the only answer.
I learned the “hows” of play-writing at New York University’s Department of Dramatic Writing. I learned the “whys” through the Hip-Hop Theater Festival. Every HHTF artist I’ve ever been around has been deeply invested not just in his or her art, but in the social context for and the social consequences of his or her art.
To put it bluntly: hip-hop theater artists know that art needs to matter. I haven’t necessarily loved every hip-hop themed play I’ve ever seen, but I’ve never walked out of one without knowing that the artist cares deeply, passionately, and madly about his or her art.
And that, ultimately, is why I never want to be anything other than a hip-hop theater artist. I want to make art that moves people out of their seat, forces them onto their feet, and allows them to be part of the action.
I want to complicate the idea that it’s okay for nine out of every ten new plays produced by a major theater company to be by and about rich white men. More importantly, I want to continue to stand besides the men and women who are doing this kind of work.
And that’s the secret of this hip-hop theater thing, really: it doesn’t matter what kind of music you listen to. At all. Never has. When I talk to folks about the most exciting hip-hop theater I’ve seen in the last few years, the two shows that pop immediately to mind are Passing Strange and Fela!.
Neither one has the slightest overt connection to hip-hop in terms of form and content, but both are deeply enmeshed in that same kind of spirit. And when I’m seventy, and my knees won’t let me dance, and my ears make me turn down the thumping bass that defined my youth, and I’ve completely and thoroughly sold out to enter the world of not-for-profit fundraisers and opening night galas at the opera…I’ll still be hip-hop.
Because I’ll still care.
– Kris Diaz
Check Hip-Hop Theater Festival on Twitter: @HHTF
For more information check out our website: HHTF.org
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