If you go
› What: “The Hip Hop Nutcracker”
› When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23
› Where: Memorial Auditorium, 399 McCallie Ave.
› Admission: $25, $35, $45 plus fees
› For more information: 423-757-5580
› Online: tivolichattanooga.com
For many artists, creating even one memorable piece of work that becomes so iconic that it is reintroduced to new audiences regularly is a rare success. For Kurtis Blow, it has happened twice. Maybe even three times, and it might be happening again.
An early pioneer of rap, Blow scored with "The Breaks," a track that finds its way into films and rap retrospectives fairly regularly. His "Christmas Rappin'" is a holiday staple and his track "Basketball" gets played at arenas and on sports shows quite a bit as well.
Now, he is involved in "The Hip Hop Nutcracker," a mash-up of Tchaikovsky's famous score and New York-style hip-hop dance moves. It was created by Jennifer Weber and and Mike Fitelson, and makes a stop at Memorial Auditorium on Friday, Nov. 23.
"They thought the classic 'Nutcracker' story would be perfect to update and make more contemporary," Blow says in a phone interview.
"They decided they could achieve their goals through the modern self-expressive gaze of hip-hop culture."
The show involves a dozen dances, a DJ, a violinist and digital scenery, plus, of course, the familiar music. The New York Times wrote "It turns 'The Nutcracker' on its head, in the coolest possible way."
Weber, who has taught dance at Girls Preparatory School on several occasions in the past, says the Tchaikovsky piece works "very well" with the contemporary dances.
"It is the full Tchaikovsky score with a couple of sections that we've added," she says."You will hear all of the parts that you know."
The challenge for her, she says, is the many styles of movement within hip-hop and deciding which to use where.
"Breaking is very different from popping, which is very different from locking. With ballet, all of the dancers are working from the same vocabulary, so it was a little different."
She used the different styles of movement to help tell the story of the young girl who dreams of a Nutcracker prince and battle against the Mouse King.
"Hip-hop has battles, as well, so we did it with costumes, with the mice wearing baseball caps and bandanas on their tails. The soldiers have these very fresh soldier-type jackets and use lockin' movements."
Blow got involved about five years ago through some mutual friends who came to one of his shows.
"They said, 'You would be great as the emcee and host of this new show.' I was like, 'What? 'Hip hop Nutcracker?' When I saw it, saw all the dancers and I saw what it was all about, this incredible fusion of break dancing and ballet, I thought this is incredible, something special, and I had to be a part of it.
"Taking that Tchaikovsky classic and modernizing it is incredible."
Weber says Blow does an old-school set at the beginning of the show "that really gets everybody fired up and into it. He's great."
Venturing into new worlds is nothing new for Blow. He is credited as the first rapper to be signed to a major label, to release a certified gold rap album ("The Breaks"), tour the United States and Europe, record a national commercial (for Sprite), use the drum machine, sample, sample loop, release a rap music video and become a millionaire, according to his biography.
He was there at the beginning of rap and hip-hop and has watched it become one of the most-streamed genres in the world.
"It's an awesome, awesome feeling," he says.
"It's kind of hard to explain, but I was there at the beginning. I remember going out to hear Kool Herc. I was a b-boy break dancer myself in the early '70s. I was going to the parties and standing with my head in the speakers and hearing that bass."
Herc, along with guys like DJ Hollywood and Pete DJ Jones are credited with creating the two-turntable style of DJ'ing we know today. They were known for isolating the drum beat, or "break" in a song, and playing it against the break of another song, or for playing two copies of the same record on two turntables to make the break longer. Herc and Jones often had DJ battles at parties thrown in the Bronx.
"I remember learning the difference between Kool Herc and Pete DJ Jones, another DJ that was incredible, and learning the difference between the two styles. It was something I hold dear to my heart and no one can take away from me."
Blow is proud of where hip-hop has come and proud to have been a part of it.
"I often find myself telling this same message to my contemporaries, the old-school guys and those who didn't get the credit. They were the ones standing in line all the way around the block at Club 371 and checking out DJ Hollywood. I say, 'Keep your head high, man, and know in your heart that you were part of something special that changed the world. It's because of your involvement there are people like me.
"We should all feel proud we were around when hip-hop was created. It's now the No. 1 music in all the world. The world, man. It's an incredible story."
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.