hip hop music

June 10, 2003

Clyde's Hip-Hop Theater Festival

Today's Newsday profiles Clyde Valentin, a cool brother who accompanied the Cuban emcees up to my show on Saturday, and also runs the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, taking place here in New York for the rest of the week. I'm gonna do my best to catch some of it and I encourage y'all to do the same.

Of Hip-Hop, Doo-Rags and Free Expression

"...What we're doing here is reclaiming what is the truest, most ancient form of cultural expression. And that is the inherent magical combination of the audience and the storyteller," said Clyde Valentin, co-founder of the 3-year-old Hip-Hop Theater Festival, whose Manhattan run extends through Saturday at P.S. 122 Theater (First Avenue at Ninth Street) and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (236 E. Third St.). The collection of 30 performances includes instrumentation, rap, song and dance, performance poetry, plays, public dialogue on topical issues, some street theater moved indoors, B-boy choreography from a guy whose movement is based on primal instinct and bits of his more formal training.

Valentin has produced, marketed and, with the others who round out the festival's staff, provided context for the days' events. He is 31 and, on the second day of the festival, had a bandana draped around his head. He was weaned on hip-hop, he said, disavowed drugs when he was real young because his mother and father delivered the finest, up-close examples of why one should never touch the murderous stuff.

He left his native Brooklyn to study literature/rhetoric and sociology at Binghamton University, returning home to spend a few years publishing a magazine devoted to hip-hop thought. Somewhere along the line, his father died from AIDS. "My uncle and half of his friends, too," Valentin said.

That pain informs his work. And the broadest work of hip-hop cannot be constrained by those unfamiliar with what is at hip-hop's core, Valentin intimated. It is more than the gangland, sex-obsessed, name-calling stylings that keep a handful in the record business, raking in more money than they've rightly earned, and brings suburban kids, at the sight of idolized 50 Cent, to tears. He has been shot, stabbed, done some dirty-dealing, too, and bankrolls his rapper's account of that life.

"Rise up!" "Resist!" "Build." Those words are pasted across the poster advertising the current festival. Valentin hesitates to call it an underground endeavor. The lineup of its Unity Concert last night uptown at the Apollo was, after all, to feature The Roots, a politicized crew with enough notoriety to be recognized by one completely unqualified to claim hip-hop membership. One for whom the mere sight of a doo-rag elicits an adverse and visceral reaction, something akin to fear and loathing.

Valentin does not seize the chance to enumerate some in the wealth of wrongs inherent in the strain of hip-hop that so dominates the commercial markets. He will agree that it is, in part, angry and uninspiring, a bottomless rehashing of ghetto tales that never call upon people behaving badly to simply cut it out.

"This is an alternative but it's not a reaction to what exists. It's being proactive," Valentin said. "This space exists. That space exists. It's about creating more spaces like this."

I wouldn't agree that popular emcees with negative messages are getting "more money than they've rightly earned".. if people want to spend money on the art you created, you deserve to get that money. But anyway, I'm glad Clyde and his festival are getting some love.

Posted by jsmooth995 at June 10, 2003 6:04 PM

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