Late at the Library: The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company at the British Library
As Shakespeare continues to be celebrated in the year that marks the 400th anniversary of his death, audiences are presented with a vast array of inventive reinterpretations confirming that his works are an inexhaustible source of inspiration. The latest event saw the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company animate the British Library in an after-hours show consisting of song, poetry and storytelling.
The concept behind the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company is to bring together two worlds that would not ordinarily meet. A number of young artists presented songs inspired by Shakespeare’s plays or particular famous scenes, each keeping true to his or her musical style. The result was an interesting blend of cultures that interweaved surprisingly well in heartfelt and sometimes amusing ways. Rapper Kayne Anthony rocked the house with his Claudius Must Die, a piece on Hamlet’s infamous dilemma, in which he ponders the possibility of revenge by asking himself whether “to beef or not to beef?”.
In between acts, the crowd were kept entertained by the host, who challenged the audience with a game in which he presented a series of quotations and asked them whether the words in question were written by Shakespeare or a famous rapper. There was much hesitation and many misattributions, which brought about surprise and amusement. The phrase “sleep is the cousin of death”, for instance, was attributed by many to the Bard, when it is in fact a song lyric by Nas.
Apart from providing entertainment, the mix-ups revealed something deeper. While Shakespeare’s writings and hip hop music seem to be the two farthest points on the cultural spectrum, they in fact share the same urgency to express visceral emotions, while paying particular attention to the words’ rhythm and structure. As a result, the seemingly odd match has a strong link at its base that allows room for very interesting experiments, as the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company can demonstrate.
It always feels special to have a late-night event in a major institution like the British Library, but unfortunately the space is not very well suited for sound. Most of the audience surrounded the stage but many were awkwardly scattered on different levels of the library’s spacious floors, which perhaps affected the atmosphere and took something away from the intimacy that such an event requires. Nevertheless, the content of the show was rich enough to entertain the crowd and the work of this company represents a portal through which many exciting projects can come about.
Late at the Library: The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company was a one-off event on 13th May 2016, for further information about the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company visit here.