BOSTON — Rap music floods the room as a spotlight illuminates Selector, the DJ of the show (Miranda Craigwell). Her booth, decorated with rows upon rows of cassette tapes also holds her vinyl records and turntables that scratch and play the story of “How We Got On” (through Aug. 17 at the Boston Center for the Arts).
The time is 1988, and rap music is the pervasive urban phenomenon that continues to capture fans and converts wherever it’s played. Through the lives of three 15-year-old black suburban teenagers, playwright Idris Goodwin shows us, with uncommon precision and compassion, how the music ignites their passion, creativity and plans for being the best suburban rappers of their home, “The Hill.”
Kadahj Bennett is delightfully earnest as Hank in the Company One production, studiously dedicated to becoming a rap idol until he meets Julian, a fellow rapper, played with a ton of swag by Jared Brown. While Hank is happy having two rappers on the Hill, Julian is focused on being the one rapper who'll take the title.
A rap battle ensues and a powerful collaborating duo emerges, with Hank writing the lyrics and Julian, a dazzling showman, performing them. Their ambition brings them to The Hill’s Battle of the Bands, where they don’t even rank in the top three, though their song exquisitely reflects their reality:
“…We young we restless / Cereal breakfast/ No gold rings/ No gold necklace/ 5-day school week/ work on my technique/ breakin’ up English/ you can’t extinguish…”
Hank devises a clever guerilla marketing tactic. He slips a cassette tape of their single song into every grocery bag through his job at the supermarket. That’s how he meets another budding rap artist. Cloteal Horne exquisitely captures the indefatigable, fast-talking and bubbly personality of Luann, whose skills really surpass both Hank’s and Julian’s. She offers the promise of a fresh and dynamic dimension to their group if they take the chance to make her a member. Her proposition receives a mixed reaction which is Goodwin’s subtle way of demonstrating challenges women face in breaking into the industry.
The acting, under Summer Williams' direction, is uniformly charismatic. Williams orchestrates a world that envelops the audience with the emotional intensity of innocence and promise as these young people navigate the awkwardness of adolescence, the humility of losses, the chagrin of old-school parents, and bouts of insecurity. However, underneath these challenges each person is bolstered by the unadulterated joy that rapping brings to their lives, hopes and dreams. Their rapping may be imperfect at times but the limitless freedom it offers is heady and supreme.
The play delivers high-energy performances that get the audience clapping, laughing and empathizing with the elation that blooms so convincingly from each character.
This program aired on July 25, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.