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Kenny Leon Still Shining

David Goodson | 7/31/2014, 3:48 p.m.
It’s puzzling how audiences have not been able to definitively quantify what makes someone the “best” in hip-hop. On my ...
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It’s puzzling how audiences have not been able to definitively quantify what makes someone the “best” in hip-hop. On my side of the ledger, it starts and ends with the word. Wordplay, entendres and vocabulary, formatted with a sense of detailed structure that’s both entertaining and thought provoking.

Others like what they like: unfiltered, uncompromising and raw. To that fan, one man embodied what an MC was–Tupac. What’s crazy though is in hindsight, I think Pac couldn’t have cared less. For him, having that voice touch people was his motivation.

As one of his most profound quotes attests, “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”

A new platform was granted for the musical legacy of Pac to expand his brand and reach a few more minds to spark. Unfortunately, one month and 55 performances later, the show has left the building. On paper, it should have worked. The director, Kenny Leon, is just off a 2014 Director of the Year Tony Award win with his last gig, and the subject has moved more than 75 million units in his career. Dope credentials, but can see why it didn’t connect?

For starters, the selection of the theater, located at 47th and Broadway, was an ominous sign. In the know hip-hop historians were aware that steps away, at 723 Seventh Ave., occurred the event that not only put in motion one of the darkest eras of the music industry but also created the climate that made it OK to permanently silence a burgeoning voice.

Coincidences aside, perhaps there was a little more that could’ve been done in the production. For a play that got its inspiration from the music of Tupac, it seems as if the story was built around some popular songs from his catalog. These selections were gonna get placed by hook or crook. Not a good look. Vast body of work left for consumption, maybe delving into a few unearthed jewels would’ve made for a better story, thus making for better theater.

Saul Williams, the lead character in the now-defunct production, alluded to some reasons that were a little stronger than the not-so-good critical responses or the underwhelming audience turnouts, however. As told to Rolling Stone magazine, “I am speaking to that American race psyche; that thing that Harry Belafonte said to me after he saw the play, which is, ‘You took an Afrocentric-themed play and placed it on a Eurocentric stage. The problems you’ll face are larger than you think.’”

A show with an African-American cast having problems reaching its targeted demographic? Say it ain’t so! We know what the code words are about. Do we now need to adapt a new philosophy about the “chitlin circuit route?” I mean, it’s not as glamourous as Broadway, but the chance to get a strong word of mouth, have the cast grow into character and, of course, make some dough doesn’t sound that bad right about now, huh?

Oh, by the way. Not long ago, any R&B artist would take a risk and do a cover version of “Keep Ya Head Up.” Stop by B.B. King’s Blues Club (237 W. 42nd St.) Friday, Aug. 1 to see if you can coax Lyfe Jennings into adding that to his set list.

Over and out. Holla next week. Till then, enjoy the nightlife.