Hip hop; the culture and the activist toolkit

Ted Nielsen




Crouching BBoy, Hidden Dreadlocks is an engaging mix, a guided tour of the grassroots of hip hop that comes disguised as a workshop for violent offenders. The structure seems a little creaky at first, functioning less as a frame and more as a dodgy alibi that allows Morganics to yoke together the various elements of the performance. But at the same time, there is a logic to it, since much of the material is loosely anecdotal and draws on his several years experience running hip hop workshops.

We’d been promised an evening of hip hop theatre, and I wasn’t the only one who found that a somewhat uncertain prospect. “Aw, what?” some hulking homeboy asked uneasily at the bar beforehand, “Is it gonna be like a play?” Well, actually, no, not really. Morganics appeared on cue, checking our security passes and ushering us upstairs. Suddenly we’re in Long Bay Gaol, participants in the violence prevention program (and if the numbers tonight are any indication, overcrowding is rife in the NSW penal system). People jam onto windowsills and floor, and there’s a short pause as everyone squeezes together to make room for the performance.

So what is hip hop theatre? A little bit of everything, really. We get a brief lesson in beatboxing that culminates in a simply jawdropping virtuoso demonstration of the possibilities of the art. We’re shown some basic bodyrocking moves (not enough space for us to try it ourselves) mixed up with some documentary video clips on a tiny television that’s really too small to see from the back of the room, but which perfectly fits the hip hop poetic of making do with whatever you’ve been dealt.

Morganics is full of energy, and he and the show move with a nice sense of pace and timing and impressive verbal and physical dexterity. There’s a prepared rap, some freestyling and breaking (the under-subscribed audience participation segments are saved when the littlest bboy grabs the mike and busts a move), and some amazing monologues performed as a range of characters that pack a deep emotional punch. If anything seems slightly downplayed, perhaps it’s the music, but that might be part of the point. The basic premise of the show (maybe of Morganics himself?) is that hip hop isn’t simply a musical genre but something between a culture and a cultural toolkit.

Seen like this, the frame starts to make more sense—for Morganics, hip hop is about empowerment at the community, not the record or clothing company level, and in one sense the show is a personal history of hip hop activism. There’s a layered poignancy here, a sense of frustration, anger and sadness (a kid from one of his workshops yelling “Morganics!” from the back seat of a police car in Redfern) laced with positive action, humour and hope (“never seen so much rayon in the bush”) and if the evening sometimes veers from hip hop theatre to hip hop evangelism, it’s also infectious and deeply real.

Crouching BBoy, Hidden Dreadlocks, Morganics, The Performance Space, Redfern, April 16-26

RealTime issue #55 June-July 2003 pg. 46

© Ted Nielsen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2003