On September 30 at the Lang Performing Art Center, a pounding beat broke through the murmur of the audience as a man walked out in a nondescript white t-shirt and athletic pants. Leaning into the microphone, he shouts, “This is a Public Service Announcement. OK… HIP-HOP IS NOT RAP.”
Danny Hoch, hip-hop performer, actor, playwright and director, had arrived and he had a bone to pick. Throughout the night, Hoch performed a combination of poetry such as his opening number “PSA” and sections of his one-man show “Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop” that drew the distinction between the hip-hop you can “buy off a shelf at Coconuts” and the hip-hop that is “the passing down of stories, love, healing and justice.”
According to Hoch, hip-hop is a culture of protest, one with a “whole generation of Hip-Hop teachers, lawyers, doctors, social workers and people in jail. And they’re all emcees.” Hip-hop, Hoch argued, cannot be bought or sold as merchandise. By assuming personalities from his life, Hoch attempted to reveal what is and isn’t “hip-hop.”
With a carefully tilted baseball cap, Hoch conjured up the character of the wannabe rapper Flip who desperately wants to leave Montana and move to the projects where people just “chill in their BMW’s, and rap, and all the girls got on bikinis, and everybody just parties and raps.” A squinted expression and simulated crutches evoked Victor, a young man permanently disabled from a drive-by shooting, still trying to get a date. The mixture of humor and serious issues stayed throughout the night as the audience shifted from laughter to dead silence in response to Hoch’s words.
With a skit involving a record producer in the typical “thug” get-up dissolving into tears asking “what happened to hip-hop?” Hoch showed how hip-hop had degenerated to idolized rappers dripping in diamonds talking about being poor. However, by recounting of a young boy in a poverty-stricken rural community that identified with Funk Master Flex, Hoch expressed the hope he had for the new hip-hop revolution that was springing up in countries such as Cuba and South Africa.
Themes of the performance that emerged from his skits and the question and answer session that followed were the death of hip-hop as a culture in America although the source of repression and protest that gave birth to it was still alive. Hoch also touched on the political censorship of positive hip-hop and the failures of the American government in ending violence and poverty. Mingling his alternately hilarious and sobering sketches with his hard-hitting poetry, Hoch changed the way the audience thought about hip-hop, whether or not they agreed with his views.
As Hoch put it to thunderous applause, “Hip-Hop is locked up in prison and Hip-Hop is free. Hip-Hop is poor, and Hip-Hop is also rich. Hip-Hop is art. Rap costs money but Hip-Hop does not.”