Hip-hop culture : It's both phenomenal and homogenized, and its fans are jaded.
But it may be that way because too few of us push hard enough to locate people like Will Power. The San Francisco-bred hip-hop head was raised in a gumbo of activism, art and education. And his performance style could breathe new life and spirit into the ol' boom-bap.
Power describes his blend of art and activism as "less direct than Gil [Scott-Heron], but more about the human stories."
Power is the latest gem brought to the city by Aku Kadogo, a native Detroiter and artistic wonder who has produced such powerful Wayne State University productions as Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.
Power's performance, Kadogo says, resonates because of the way he delivers on stage; she calls him a "one-man tour de force. He sings, he makes new sounds, he raps, he contorts his body, all to tell a story — and an engaging one it is. The hip-hop form becomes the vehicle for the story and an outlet for his energy."
Kandogo introduced Power to Detroit two years ago, and she's now helping to bring him back for a one-week residency at Wayne State. "The Emergence of Hip Hop Theatre: Takin' It to the Stage" will feature a master class for aspiring hip-hop thespians at 7 p.m. on Sept. 10, at the Hilberry Theatre. Power will also spend time interacting with area artists before his Friday night performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Excerpts from Power's hit productions Flow and The Seven will be the order of the evening.
Power's style is honest. His parents, Christopher and Ginette "Gigi" Wylie, were social activists during the 1960s and '70s in San Francisco. "Mom can break down how you roll when they throw tear gas," he says. He himself became a cultural maven who once enrolled in an acting class led by Sun Ra. While developing his talent in his hometown's Fillmore district, local hip-hop clubs provided a creative outlet. His experiences eventually meshed and molded, and he became immersed in hip-hop theater.
His show The Seven of Thebes, which he now simply calls The Seven, is a hip-hop take on Seven Against Thebes. Power's retelling of Aeschylus' story questions whether we are destined to live out the sins of our fathers. His approach honors hip-hop's tradition of taking something established, and flipping it — the same way De La Soul sampled Liberace.
In a sense, Power is tailor-made for Detroit, a city subsisting in economic conditions similar to the fiscal dearth that laid the groundwork for hip-hop's emergence, where poor kids who had no choir group or music classes learned to rap. Those who wanted to learn to dance used capoeira and gymnastics and created b-boying. Would-be painters started "burning," using the city as a canvas for their graffiti. Flipping shit.
Power's anticipation is palpable. About his upcoming Motor City experience he says: "There are so many amazing artists in Detroit. Man, I can't wait, because this is my second time coming to the city, but my first time performing."
Will Power performs at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-6622. Admission is free.