Sunday, February 09, 2014

REVIEW: Educated Gangster 101: a Spoken Word Hip-Hop Musical

DECATUR, GA: Poet/Playwright Tommy Bottoms' Educated Gangster 101: a Spoken Word Hip-Hop Musical is a glimpse into the radical mind of Dr. Ugly (Tommy Bottoms), an eccentric, schizophrenic professor whose life mission is to socially engineer the “new-nigga” for the new millennium.

Tommy Bottoms, Playwright
Set in 21st century Atlanta at the fictional Nat Turner Institute, this freewheeling social comedy follows Dr. Ugly as he teaches a course to re-engineer the minds of two experimental test subjects: neo-conservative Raekwon Jackson (Cola Rum) and suburban sorority girl Jazmin Love (Theresa tha Songbird). Rounding out the cast of characters are co-faculty members, Nation of Islamist Malcolm Farrakhan (Malik Salaam) and corporate Ivy-leaguer, Madam Beautiful (Tamika “Georgia Me” Harper), along with Dr. Ugly's thugged-out split personality, A Pimp Named Felonius Nigga (Derrick “Abyss” Graham).  The plot is somewhat secondary as Bottoms explores a no-holds-barred conversation on the current state of Black America—one that tickles the funny bone as skillfully as it opens the third eye.

The storyline updates Black Arts movement concepts with a Web 2.0 twist, and provides a slick platform for Dr. Ugly to provide a history lesson for the Crack generation, one that will never appear in any history textbook.  Waxing poetic on subjects including the destruction of the Black family, the legalization of drugs, the economy fueling the prison system, and the media's reappropriation of the Black male image, Bottoms uses comedy as counterbalance to play out Dr. Ugly's well-intentioned aim of awakening Raekwon and Jazmin to consciousness, to see themselves in the context of Black struggle in a way that will ultimately uplift and transform their people.

The spoken word numbers, which range from a cappella solo pieces to musical group poems backed by the complementary CJ Baker Band, are woven nearly seamlessly into the fabric of the dialogue, so much so that you're sometimes transported halfway into a poem before you realize it. While I was familiar with some of the material from the cast's individual spoken word repertoires, the poems were integrated so well into the dialogue that they seemed to emerge organically from the play's text.

Red Summer, Director
Under Red Summer's direction, individual performances were stellar, as dialogue morphed into spoken word cadence, into outright song--from Jazmin Love's bebop-inspired riffs in "Superman" to A Pimp Named Felonius Nigga's hip-hop inspired lyrics to Raekwon Jackson's homiletic, Baptist delivery.  Each performance was a masters class in itself. Malcolm Farrakhan and Madam Beautiful's performances also did not disappoint, setting the audience afire with amens and applause.

The cast carries the torch originally lit by African griots, passed on through the poets of the Black Arts movement, dropping science in the tradition of the best Golden Age era Hip-Hop artists—Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, and KRS1.  This is edutainment at its finest.

Starring: Malik Salaam, Tamika Harper, Tommy Bottoms, Derrick Abyss Graham, Theresa Tha Songbird, and Cola Rum

*This review was of the world premiere performance on 8 Feb 2014 at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center in Decatur, GA.


Unknown said...

Brilliant review. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance last night.

Lisa Nanette Allender said...

Hi Ayodele,
I am very familiar with all of the poets mentioned, and in fact, several are in the film from Henderson Maddox, "Unspoken Words", the film in which I play an abusive foster-mother. I'm so happy to see them doing great new collaborative work! Please DO keep us all updated on this show (will it be running again, soon??) as well as future shows.....

M. Ayodele Heath said...

Thanks for reading, Montoya. Yes, it was quite an enjoyable show!

M. Ayodele Heath said...

Hi Lisa,
I'm not sure of future production plans, but I'll spread the word as soon as I hear anything.

Abyss from the play Educated Gangster said...

Hey Lisa we will be at Center Stage on May 3rd for an Encore Performance and thank you for the kind words

Anonymous said...

any chance of taking this on the Charlotte maybe? They have a great local spoken word scene there...Jaycee and the Legendary Bluz might be able to help make it happen? Thoughts?