Bling doesn't mean a thing: A new play puts hip-hop and its image problems centre stage

Jonzi D has had enough. As one of the pioneers of hip-hop in the UK, he can fondly remember when the genre was more sincere in its artistry, reflecting the core elements of DJing, rapping, breakdancing and graffiti art.

But ever since Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" was marketed as the first mainstream rap record in 1979, a growing number of hip-hop artists have taken commercialism to a new level where it's not uncommon for rappers to endorse products or violence in their lyrics and to prioritise their business model over everything else. "As a lover of hip-hop music, just seeing what's happened over the last 15 years has really been hard for me to take," says Jonzi, now 40. "The way rap has become a product as opposed to a culture; I wanted to do a piece that comments on that."

His new play, Markus the Sadist, is an insightful exploration of this phenomenon, following a talented young rapper who gets caught up in the commercial hip-hop game. "A lot of this production is about the music's desire to come with, in my opinion, genocidal messages, such as 'how many people am I going to merk [murder]?'," he explains. "The question is, why is that form of expression in the fabric of people's minds? I know lots of rappers and most of them are not trying to talk about how many people they can kill."

The production is weighty but wry – the title is inspired by the life of the Marquis de Sade, the French aristocrat known as the "original pornographer", who would, according to Jonzi, be a "nasty, slackness-talking MC" if he was around today. The 24-year-old rapper Bashy plays the lead role, battling over personal integrity and easy money. "This happens to a lot of artists," he says. "It's not as extreme as this, but it's a good metaphor. A lot of artists sell their soul or let go of certain rights that they should really keep."

Brit school alumnus Bashy – real name Ashley Thomas – released his debut album Catch Me If You Can independently in June after years on the pirate circuit, so he can relate to Markus. "I've gone down the path of putting my dreams first and not really caring what's the best thing for me," he says. "When you're a young musician or entertainer coming into this business, sometimes your naivety blinds you – and people exploit that."

Jonzi has been on a mission to educate the masses about hip-hop, with a keenness to marry the genre with theatre, since graduating from the London Contemporary Dance School in 1993. Two years later he developed Lyrikal Fearta, a multimedia production that paved the way for him to tour and produce engaging shows such as Breakin' Convention, London's annual international hip-hop event at Sadler's Wells.

In Markus the Sadist, the majority of the narrative is delivered in rhyme, while rapper/saxophonist Soweto Kinch provides the music. "I wasn't interested in just giving people scripts," says Jonzi. "I wanted people to find things themselves. The lyrics come from the cast."

"I'm very happy with people coming to see the show and being entertained. But my agenda is for people to look at the show and then look at whatever bullshit music video channel they're watching and see through it. It's presenting a very one-dimensional image of mostly young, black people. I'd just like this show to challenge some of the reasons why these images exist."

'Markus the Sadist' opens tonight at Arts Depot, London N12 and tours to 31 October (www.markusthesadist.com)

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam