- Say Word! Voices from Hip Hop Theater: An Anthology
“I am part of a generation of artists born under the sign of Hip Hop” (vi), states Daniel Banks, theatre scholar and editor of Say Word! Voices from Hip Hop Theater. Whether or not you believe in the zodiac, hip hop as a sign is an ideal metaphor to encapsulate the cultural phenomenon and its influence on a global scale. Hip hop was born out of necessity for change, and now, as the necessity for innovation and hyper-creativity in theatre is on the rise, Banks offers a unique anthology that begins to fill this gap, positioning Hip Hop Theater as a fresh, viable intercultural vehicle to practice and promote social activism in the arts. Say Word! ushers this relatively new genre out of the margins and into an American theatrical center begging for ingenuity and works that reach various demographics. Complete with a concise history of hip hop, eight Hip Hop Theater pieces, a wiki-discussion with Hip Hop Theater artists, and several glossaries (to decode the often coded language), this anthology is essential for arts practitioners, professors, and activists to use in- and outside the classroom.
An anthology of Hip Hop Theater necessarily must begin with a definition of the term itself, as it has come to represent a multitude of modes of artistic expression. Fittingly, Banks provides a solid foundation for the anthology’s content by offering his definition of hip hop: “My Hip Hop is one that unites people around the globe under the banner of creative collaboration, using all its performance elements as a common vocabulary to share our stories with each other and with our audiences” (viii). Thus Hip Hop Theater, inheriting these same qualities, can be used to offer a voice to the marginalized and voiceless, strengthen communities, and highlight various modes of language, textuality, and vocality. Banks states that the works in this anthology have a “rigorous understanding of how to meld Hip Hop and theater into a genre that can speak to a wide audience” (viii). He does not suggest that these are the only examples of Hip Hop Theater available; rather, he highlights these works due to his involvement in their productions or admiration for their artistry. Although many other works could have been included, Banks notes that there are playwrights working in this genre who do not classify their work as Hip Hop Theater, simply because a succinct definition for this type of theatre does not exist. Thus Say Word! allows playwrights the opportunity to locate their work within this genre, adding to the canon of identifiable Hip Hop Theater.
The introduction is subtitled “Hip Hop Theater’s Ethic of Inclusion.” Here, Banks discusses the ethnic plurality of hip hop, providing a brief overview of the different ethnic groups that are enmeshed in the cultural phenomenon—three of the eight contributing authors do not identify as African American. Banks delineates hip hop culture from hip hop music by highlighting the pivotal role that hip hop has played in transnational agendas and the arts. With a deft hand, Banks covers several key aspects of hip hop (the cipher, rap, break dancing, and so on) and credits such pioneers of the genre as Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash.
The eight Hip Hop Theater pieces in the anthology are separated into three sections determined by the way in which they appear, both on the page and onstage. The sections are: Spoken Word Theater, Hip Hop Theater Plays, and Solo Performance. These three categories nicely frame the anthology, because it allows both the practitioner and the student to easily locate material that complements their pedagogical needs. The Spoken Word Theater section is comprised of three full-length works, in which the writers meticulously play with language by conflating poetry, prose, and chasmal rhythms—an essential signifier of hip hop language. For example, Goddess City by Abiola Abrams and Antoy Grant employs three characters that use “call and response and overlapping verse” (25...