Believe the hype
Company One’s ‘Hype Man’ Takes on race in hip-hop
Celina Colby | 2/7/2018, 12:41 p.m.
If there was any question that Idris Goodwin is an unstoppable playwriting force, “Hype Man” at Company One Theatre expels it. The latest in Goodwin’s “Break Beat” series about the hip-hop industry, “Hype Man” follows a music trio navigating the racial dynamics of the business and the world around them.
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For tickets and more information about “Hype Man,” visit: https://companyone.org/production/hype-man-break-beat-play
The group of three musicians consists of Pinnacle, a white rapper à la Macklemore, played by Michael Knowlton; Verb, the black hype man, played by Kadahj Bennett; and Peep One, the mixed-race female beat maker, played by Rachel Cognata. A police shooting sparks division in the group when Verb wants to protest the act in a song and Pinnacle insists he doesn’t want to get political. It begs the question, what responsibility do white rappers have in a music genre born from black culture?
Knowlton, Bennett and Cognata, all Boston Arts Academy alums, don their characters like second skins. Their chemistry is palpable as a musical unit and a group of friends. The relationships are complicated, and made further so by their work. The group is on the brink of its big break with a spot on the Today Show. Verb wants to use the opportunity as a platform; Pinnacle worries about rocking the boat. But ultimately, the music and their shared passion for it brings the team together. “We are a unit,” says Peep. “Let’s act like one.”
In a Company One interview, playwright Goodwin says, “The theater has always been a place for illuminating and humanizing our ethical struggles. Because of the nature of the form itself, you have the opportunity to take people on a journey in real time and wrestle with it in a unique way.” The production, playing through Feb. 24, goes well beyond the framework of a traditional play, offering live performance and beat mixing on stage. Audience members can find the mixtape on Bandcamp after the show.
Feminism plays a role in the show as well. Peep One is the musical foundation of the group as the beat maker, but also provides much-needed perspective and level-headedness to the dynamic. While mediating Verb’s and Pinnacle’s disputes, she fights to make her own values and goals known.
Goodwin says, “Let’s exemplify civility, let’s exemplify risk-taking, let’s exemplify the best intentions. I am extremely excited to do our part, from our side of things as makers of space and storytellers. Let’s go, let’s get to it.”