Hip-hop version of 'Othello' resonates behind bars

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 30, 2013 at 11:22 am •  Published: August 30, 2013
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Kristy Montgomery, a 29-year-old inmate, agrees. She came away from the play believing it had an important message:

"Be careful of who you affiliate yourself with because they might not actually be your friends. They might be somebody who wants to bring you down." It's a lesson, she says, she'll try to heed "because I befriend the wrong people all the time."

Julian Campbell, 19, who swayed with the beat as Iago danced his way down the aisle, found his own meaning in the story. He said it offered two lessons: "Be honest. Always think before you do."

And Kevin Fields, a third inmate, also 19, saw the play as a cautionary tale. "You can't affect what other people do but you can affect what you do," he says. The show was an eye-opener in another way: "In hip-hop," he adds, "I finally found out what Shakespeare really is."

So is it really Shakespeare when Othello briefly dons a blond wig and joins a faux backup girl singing group a la Motown to belt out "It's a Man's World" (shades of the James Brown classic)? And are lines such as "''Othello wouldn't listen, He had crazy tunnel vision" a true reflection of the Bard's greatness?

Absolutely, says GQ.

"Shakespeare was a master storyteller who used musical language and poetry," he says, and the same is true of the best rappers. "So at the very basic level they're doing the exact same thing. ... You're using poetic devices like alliteration and repetition and onomatopoeia. ... They're very similar art forms despite how different they tend to be judged."

The Q brothers say they have chatted with Shakespeare scholars and others who arrive at their shows skeptical and leave impressed. "We're treating the work with respect and we think he was a genius," GQ says. "But our philosophy is you want to live on as an art form 500 years later, you can't do it the same way."

In fact, GQ says, if Shakespeare were around nowadays, "I think he'd be doing this. He'd be a rapper."

The Q brothers are now working on a hip-hop version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and plan to eventually create hip-hop translations of all of Shakespeare's works, including "A Mad-Summer Night's Dream."

They not only admire the Bard, they also think their words measure up to his standards.

"Without trying to sound like we're tooting our own horn," GQ says, "I would like to think that at our best moments ... it's like seeing great Shakespeare in his time."