I was thrilled when my solo play Kenya made it into the 3rd Annual Hip Hop Theater Festival. Previously, Kenya had a short run at Dixon Place in NYC. But after reworking parts of the play, I couldn’t wait to share it in the home of a burgeoning arts movement- one that challenged the conventions of theater and celebrated the voice of the Hip Hop generation.
Kenya, told the story of a tortured b-ball phenomenon- the only girl on all-boys basketball team. As Kenya spit rhymes and tagged grafs, she would contemplate love, loss, femininity (or lack thereof) and the misogyny she suffered from her teamamtes- all in one hour-long locker-room rant to her dead mother.
Like Kenya, I had my own struggles, trying ‘to get in where I fit in’. As a young actor, snagging roles came down to my sexual appeal or how well I could interpret ‘BLACKNESS’.
As an emcee, it felt like my rhymes had to accommodate male contemplation and commercial aesthetics. My exploration of both industries left little room for my growing voice as an artist.
So, I created Kenya. It was my way of telling these industries ‘f*ck waiting on your call or your validation!
Though Kenya began as a show to advance my visibility as an artist, it became social commentary, reflecting my very own relationship to Hip Hop culture- could a young woman exist and excel in a male-dominated genre without compromising her female spirit?
For me, the answer was yes because of the Hip Hop Theater Festival. At the 3rd Annual HHTF, I not only had a place to bring all the parts of my voice together, I could unapologetically be female, be hip hop and be a storyteller, connecting with an audience who saw value in my new brand of storytelling.
Today, as a writer, I am constantly pulling from various elements and hip-hop remains one of my most treasured. It’s influence, from style and genre, to the generation as a whole, have become parts of my storytelling. I no longer feel the need to justify or explain my use of hip-hop culture as a resource because there now exists a place and audience for it.
And I don’t know if I could have proclaimed that if it weren’t for the tireless work of the festival founders all those years ago. Surely Danny, Clyde, Kamilah and the rest of the HHTF fam had their share of detractors, who balked at the idea of fusing the worlds and sentiments of these cultural industries.
But the Festival founders knew that this community of artists raised in a music-is-the-weapon culture, would be the next plateau in theater. That hip hop as a culture was remained as a viable platform to reflect what was happening with our generation and that the stage was a natural progression for these ideas and expressions.
The festival continues to provide a space for us to reclaim under-valued, often demonized aspects of hip hop culture of hip hop, push boundaries of genre, fuse elements of the culture in more theatrical expressions, and validate our expression in a landscape where our generation is more absent then not. But where we will continue to tell our stories.
So it’s quite prophetic, after beginning my journey as a solo artist in the festival all those yea