How Hip-Hop Benefits From Shakespeare

altAs the Summer Festival comes to a close at Georgia Shakespeare, plan to take the family or hook-up with friends to catch the last few performances of Sabin Epstein’s poignant production of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. The tragic tale is about a failing king who loses his grip and eventually his power when he attempts to make his three daughters engage in the passé “she loves me, she loves me not” game. It seems that the adoration that Lear sought the most is that of his youngest daughter, Cordelia, who refused to participate in the pubertal display of affection to prove her love. Cordelia’s slighting instigated the king’s demise.

Shakespeare was a playwright who was deemed the most influential poet in the English language. The entire production of his work as seen on this stage is awe-inspiring as the cast recites his elegant libretto with grace and passion. The storylines developed by the brilliant bard — a term that designates Shakespeare as a lyricist — clearly resonate within the African American community, from hip-hop to the bourgeoisie.

altThe hip-hop community is the segment of popular culture which can benefit most from productions like King Lear. Rap music by nature uses Shakespeare’s preferred verse form, iambic pentameter, to deliver social and economic commentary. The use of rhythmic poetry to convey a message and tell a story is not only used by Shakespeare, but also rappers like Kanye West, Common, OutKast, Lupe Fiasco, Eminem — must I continue? Both Shakespeare’s writing and the hip-hop art form are full of poetry, word play and lyricism.

The rich history of Shakespeare’s works transcend race, because they address the issues of power — whether you’re powerless or powerful — the themes he explores are universal. When this writer attended the King Lear production, I was both surprised and disappointed that there were few if any audience members who looked like me, leading me to take up a new mantle. Here’s my charge: stage a revolution via Twitter and Facebook and tell our followers and friends how important it is to take full advantage of the creativity and remarkable language skills of Shakespeare by supporting community theater. It provides another vehicle for our browner thespians to express their creativity, but only if we show an interest and offer our support.

Also in rotation at Georgia Shakespeare are Shrew the Musical and Love’s Labour Lost. –yvette caslin

(Photo Captions Top: Carolyn Cook and Neal A. Ghant. Bottom: Daniel May and Brian Harrison. Credit: Jen Hofstetter Photography)

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