Bling doesn't mean a thing: A new play puts hip-hop and its image problems centre stage
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Thursday 01 October 2009
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)
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
'Rebel without a Cause', 'East of Eden' and 'Giant' re-released
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Kylie Minogue quits The Voice UK
Review: Half of A Yellow Sun
Arts & Ents blogs
Game of Thrones season 4, episode 2, TV review: 'Purple Wedding' shock for viewers as King Joffrey marries Margaery Tyrell
The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Game of Thrones season 4 episode 2 breaks torrent record as more fans watch online
King Joffrey: Jack Gleeson retires from acting after season 4 Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones season 4 episode 2 sees fans jubilant over King Joffrey's 'Purple Wedding'
David Cameron: 'Jesus invented the Big Society – I'm just continuing God's work'
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Ukip and Nigel Farage on the up over Maria Miller furore and 'Sexminster' culture
Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 1 Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 2 Naked yoga: the bare truth - it's already big in the US, and has now landed here
- 3 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 4 What's in the safe? Man live-photographs cracking of mysterious locked box on Reddit
- 5 Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline bribed doctors to boost sales, says whistleblower