Like it or not every TBA performance begins with a paragraph description in a little portable catalogue. In the first weekend of the festival when word of mouth is scarce we measure this writing against all other potential priorities and make a decision. I will go. I will not. So when I read the words “planet Hip-Hop” in Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s paragraph I read, ”Art Institution’s self-conscious, conscience soothing attempt at DIVERSITY” and I decided, don’t go. I went.
Joseph, it seems is equally suspect of what he describes in the break/s, as something akin to the golden ticket of festival programming: the magic word “Hip-Hop”.
Mos Def interlude 1:
People talk about Hip-Hop like it’s some giant livin in the hillside
comin down to visit the townspeople…

But “Hip-Hop” like “Black” like “American” is just another flag on a ship in an ocean of “Performance Art.” Strip away the categories. A man stands on a stage. He is saying something. It is an authentic language and the rhythm of it, the bop boom of his feet, the bop boom of his words, the bop boom of his microphone falling against his shoulder tell us, THIS IS IMPORTANT. Not because it is Hip-Hop, but because it is Life.
Mos Def Interlude 2:
We +are+ Hip-Hop
Me, you, everybody, we are Hip-Hop

And there is nothing that taps our collective insecurity more than a person who has to be honest not because his fingers are strapped to a polygraph but because his heart is chained to a present past. His heart is chained to a present passed to us.
Mos Def Interlude 3:
So Hip-Hop is goin where we goin
So the next time you ask yourself where Hip-Hop is goin
ask yourself.. where am I goin? How am I doin?
Til you get a clear idea

Through Joseph’s telling it becomes clear that prejudice at its most dangerous, is an action inward. The magic word in this performance was not, Hip-Hop. It was Word, word. Joseph encouraged audience response to the work. It is “in progress” and applause is more than helpful. At one point he ended a statement, word? like, you know what I’m saying? This prompted the audience to reply in their best white try, word, like, I got you but why does it sound so smooth in your mouth and so round in mine. So he encouraged us, say, “Word, word.” And by that we new he meant Amen. And we said “word. word.” And by that he knew we were trying, but honestly, we sounded like sick parrots with balloons in our mouths. He repeated, Amen! and we repeated Cookoo Cookoo. And we were exposed.
Mos Def Interlude 4:
So.. if Hip-Hop is about the people
and the.. Hip-Hop won’t get better until the people get better
then how do people get better? (Hmmmm…)

Joseph might suggest we start in the middle, the break. This is the place where we break, the place where something of ourselves is let out, the place where we get through.
Mos Def Interlude 5:
Well, from my understanding people get better
when they start to understand that, they are valuable…

And from my understanding people get better when they start to understand they are vulnerable.
That is the power of the break/s
posted by: Marty Schnapf
(Mos Def Interludes from his track Fear Not of Man on the album Black on Both Sides)