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August 5, 2005 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Found in translation: Much more than / Hip hop Chaucer, and it don't stop / Hip hop Aeschylus, and it don't stop / Hip hop Shakespeare, and it don't stop / Yeah [3.4MB .wmv], and it don't stop, and it don't quit.
posted by fatllama (15 comments total)
From the first article:

"There's an intergenerational dialogue that's going on with hip-hop theatre, too. Sometimes it's a screaming match, sometimes it's a passing of the torch, sometimes it's an active collaboration. But it's a dialogue that is entirely welcome, and it has to do with the conscious relationship that hip-hop has always had to the past."
posted by fatllama at 9:44 PM on August 5, 2005

American Theater magazine did a series of articles about hip-hop theater. Some were purely celebratory, but this article is a well-reasoned critique and defense of hip-hop in the theater.

You can find the rest of the articles by clicking through the links.
posted by geryon at 10:32 PM on August 5, 2005

I am a bit divided on this. I am all for the adaptation of dramatic works into modern settings, even abandoning the Shakespearean dialogue altogether and just focusing on the themes (Kurosawa does some of the best Shakespeare, IMO). On the other hand, I don't think that some kid is going to hear a rap version of Chaucer and then run out to read it in Middle English. I guess it's the difference, in my mind, between adaptation and dumbing down. King Lear set in feudal Japan? Adaptation. Comedy of Errors done in rap? Probably Adaptation too. Hip hop summaries of the Miller's tale? Sounds like dumbing down. Another reason why I hate the "No Fear" editions of Shakespeare that feature the original side-by-side with modern English translations. You either read the stuff or you don't.
posted by papakwanz at 11:21 PM on August 5, 2005

geryon- that's a great article you posted, by the way. Thanks for that.
posted by papakwanz at 11:34 PM on August 5, 2005

Kickass! Now the kids will get it!

.anytime now...

.Well, I'll let you know when it happens.
posted by sourwookie at 12:23 AM on August 6, 2005

Geez, it's not like the books will go out of print.

And besides, a great story is a great story, but how many of you detractors have seen movies with an all-black cast?

And hip-hop = dumb?
posted by black8 at 2:31 AM on August 6, 2005

And besides, a great story is a great story, but how many of you detractors have seen movies with an all-black cast?

Er... what?

And hip-hop = dumb?

Hardly, but I was appalled by quotes like this: "The Miller's Tale in particular contains a lot of references to genitalia and body humour. Some of it had to be censored to make it suitable for children." And this: "It was a painstaking process to convert Chaucer into a rhyme scheme that young people would like."

That sure sounds like dumbing down to me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:12 AM on August 6, 2005

> That sure sounds like dumbing down to me

Have you *read* the Miller's tale?

It's about a student who shags the Miller's Wife,
and in his attempt to pay him back, the Miller
ends up sticking a red hot poker up somebody's arse.
(I can't remember whether it's the wife, the student,
or someone else, but they're taking a piss out of a
window at the time.)

The original may be arcane and difficult because
of the language of the period when it was written,
but it's hard to see how you could dumb the story

It's medieval Benny Hill, ferchristsakes.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:49 AM on August 6, 2005

Speaking personally though, I like my hip-hop to classics
translations the other way around.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:53 AM on August 6, 2005

That sure sounds like dumbing down to me.

I agree with PeterMcDermott: why is that any more "dumbing down" than Chaucer taking a Boccaccio story, cutting it to a fraction of its length, and putting it into a rhyme scheme that young people would like? (I can just see Boccaccio sneering: prose was for sophisticates; if you wanted the hoi polloi to get it, you had to make it rhyme.) Methinks I sense the vile aroma of an unearned cultural superiority complex.
posted by languagehat at 7:18 AM on August 6, 2005

black8 - I don't think anyone here ever said hip-hop = dumb.

And as for the "a great story is a great story" argument... well, most of these AREN'T great stories. Most of Shakespeare is pretty formulaic, which makes sense considering he ripped off the vast majority of his material from other playwrights and histories. And of course Chaucer ripped off most of his material too. Yes, they tinker with the plotlines and so forth, like giving King Lear a tragic ending rather than happily reuniting father and daughter, but what has made these writer's last is the WAY they wrote it, their use of language and so forth, and the themes that emerge from their tinkerings and use of language.

Now, I'm speaking mostly here from admittedly unfounded assumptions, and truth be told, we can't really judge either the Chaucer or Shakespeare adaptations until we hear/see them, but based on the articles it seems like there is a difference between the two projects. The Bomb-itty of Errors sounds like a "re-imagining" of Shakespeare, to take Burton's unfortunate terminology. It's taking his ideas and themes and placing them in a different cultural context to see what emerges from the juxtaposition. That could be an interesting artistic experiment.

The Chaucer bit sounds like, "those kids sure do love that hippity hop! Maybe if i do some wack rap, they'll be down with my krunk!" Who knows, the guy could be really inventive and clever with his rhymes and bring something new to the work, and thus make it a worthwhile endeavor. However if it's just "Nick stuck his ass out the window and queefed / Absolon got mad and gritted his teeth / Took a hot poker and burned Nick's ass / said 'that's what you get for passin gas!'" then I'm sorry, that's dumb. No kid is going to hear that and say, "Wow, medievel literature is so cool, let me go out and read some middle english poetry!"
posted by papakwanz at 9:47 AM on August 6, 2005

I guess what it comes down to in my mind is interpretation/adaptation vs. summarization. A hip-hop Cliffs Notes is still Cliffs Notes.
posted by papakwanz at 10:44 AM on August 6, 2005

As you say, we can't judge the versions until we see at least samples of them, so I'm not sure why you're trying. To make up some wack rhymes and use them as a stick to club an attempt to popularize Chaucer seems pretty pointless to me.

Here's a quote I dug up from The Bomb-itty of Errors:

And as the brothers grew up on opposite coasts
One night they were visited by their father's ghost
And he told his sons of their hip-hop history
And said in a voice that was filled with mystery
"One day you will find your missing link
When you look in the mirror and see yourself blink."

And here's a review, for what that's worth.
posted by languagehat at 11:46 AM on August 6, 2005

I never made an attempt to "judge" them. I was just giving my impressions based off of the articles and my own personal experience with adaptations and alterations to these works.
posted by papakwanz at 2:22 PM on August 6, 2005

I've seen the bombity of errors..and while it's certainly easy to say that they're dumbing down Shakespeare by removing the elements of the performance (the language) that make it great, it still was incredible to watch and extremely entertaining.
This thread is probably dead, but if we're going to have a discussion of hip-hop theater, the important thing is to examine the role of it in society, whether or not it's being used as "a cool way to get kids to learn shakespeare" or as a viable art form, rather than trying to debate whether the plays were adaptations or "dumbing down" the great works of literature.

Also, I'm sure I've seen a snippet of video of a version of Twelfth Night adapted by Wyclef Jean when he was 17. Can anyone find video of it on the web?
posted by geryon at 11:39 AM on August 7, 2005

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