By Chris Zuver, Staff Writer
From April 7 to April 10, Idris Goodwin’s play “How We Got On” was performed at the University of Missouri—St. Louis (UMSL) in the Touhill Performing Arts Center. Many students and locals attended to see the hip-hop focused performance about youth in the late 80’s and their struggle for success in the blossoming rap music scene.
The cast, consisting entirely of UMSL students, featured: Andre Williams, freshman, nursing; Rob White; Nicole Keithley, senior, theatre; Alexandria Johnson, junior, theatre.
Directed by UMSL’s Jacqueline Thompson of the theatre department, the play tells the story of three teenagers in 1988, living in a neighborhood known as “the Hills,” a fictional place set somewhere in the Midwest. It opens with the Selector (Johnson), who acts as the narrator/DJ and the voice of extra characters throughout the play. She begins by discussing the setting and some background on the state of hip-hop in the late ‘80s: young and energetic, but mostly limited to the inner cities.
Hank (Williams), a boy who has just come to the Hills from the city, finds no one around him who shares his passion for hip-hop and rapping. This changes when he goes to basketball camp and meets Julian (White), another youth. They agree to a rap battle and afterward decide to make hip-hop music. Along the way, they meet Luann (Keithley), a girl from the Hills who also wants to be a rapper. To achieve recognition, they must overcome their fears, rise above their disagreements, and even deal with parents who have no respect for their new music. The actors were emotional and highly animated, creating a play that demands attention.
For those who are not aware of the history of the genre, many important events—such as the beginning of “Yo! MTV Raps”—are explained. The play also explains the concept of rap battling, core elements of the song construction, and the advent of drum machines, all of which were important to the evolution of the genre. Other issues touched upon include breakbeats, ghost writing, and rhyming methods. Many musicians who made hip-hop or influenced it are referenced and played throughout the presentation, including Grandmaster Flash, James Brown, Slick Rick, David Axelrod, and Ice Cube.
Another interesting part of the play was the audience involvement. While the Selector provides most of the sound effects, the audience is asked to root for the rappers at certain points, such as when they are about to take the stage. It was a nice addition to an already great performance.
“How We Got On” is inspiring, humorous, and educational. Better yet, this is only one of Goodwin’s many works. He is also a breakbeat poet, recording artist, and educator. He has appeared on “Def Poetry Jam,” The Discovery Channel, and NPR, and in the past year has released his latest album of poetry, “Rhyming While Black.”
For more information about the Touhill, including upcoming performances and ticket prices, visit the venue online at touhill.org or call the box office at 314-516-4949.