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‘Art that inspires from an artist I admire’: A pre-show poem for the 50th anniversary of hip-hop

/By / Oct 31, 2023

Jazz met hip-hop and hip-hop met jazz at the Wolf Trap Filene Center Amphitheatre on Saturday, September 9 in Virginia. 

This free-form poem illustrates my experience during the final 10 minutes of pre-show, before Robert Glasper and guest artists took the stage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Robert Glasper is one of those musicians who have deeply influenced, not merely my taste in music, but the very soundtrack to my life. The mellow, mesmerizing melodies and complementing collaborations produced by his hands truly awaken a part of my conscious being that stretches far deeper than I can put to words. 

I was first introduced to Glasper’s music while watching the 2020 film The Photograph, starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield. The music I heard during this movie made me feel like I too was a part of the story. From there, finding his discography on Spotify, I fell deeper into my admiration of his work, noting its consistent effect on me. 

His music has even inspired elements of my own emergence into the Canadian theatre field. In an introductory directing course taken during my undergraduate degree program at the University of Waterloo, I had the opportunity to stage select scenes from my original play, entitled The Inevitable. Within this non-linear, near-future, mixed reality story, I felt inspired to underscore particularly contemplative scenes with the songs that most moved me from The Photograph. The effect that this music had on this short presentation of work made the two realities of my non-linear story all the more clear, in contrast to the rather sharp, electric, and bubbling sounds of the other futuristic feeling scenes. Art that inspires from an artist I admire. So, to have the opportunity to experience the mastery of this musician in person, is truly a dream come true, thanks to my Auntie Lisa and Uncle Rob who made it all possible. 

Welcome to the inside of my mind, right before Robert Glasper’s show begins. Read it aloud for the optimal experience.

A Disc Jockey stands alone on the stage, illuminated by front, side, and back lighting.

As Auntie and Uncle take their seats, I prepare myself for a musical experience I may never forget.

Ba – bum – bum – bum – bum

Out in the street they call it murdaaaaa…

The reggae plays
Oh, my days!
I have never seen so many Black people in one place.
Such a beautiful space
Surrounded by smooth wooden panels and even smoother surround sound.
Three Black ladies embrace ever-so-tightly a few rows ahead of me
Swaying back and forth like we Black people do when we really love and miss somebody.
Here, Black is the Majority.
Here, Black is the Audience.
Here, Black is the Moment.

Ba – dum – dum – dum – dum – dum

Get up! Get on up!

Concert hasn’t even begun, and heads are already bopping.
My left leg begins to bounce.
The excitement builds like the sound of the people singing along to familiar tunes around me.
Who would’ve thought the soundtrack for a film about two people and a photograph
The Photograph
Which I quietly watched, tucked under a blanket in Waterloo, Ontario
Would eventually lead me to a loud festival stage in Wolf Trap, Virginia.
Robert Glasper is the artist I’ve been waiting to see
And the wait is almost over.

Dancing – Dancing – Dancing

She’s a dancing machine…

Soul-ascending sound is Robert Glasper’s specialty.
My expectations float higher than the rhythmic wrists of the man with the silver cornrows seated ahead of me.
The low hum of chatter and anticipation from the crowd grows as we inch closer to his entrance.
I can feel the bass of the music booming into my body.
My heart begins to sync to the beat as the DJ spins track after track.
I wonder if pre-shows are purposely positioned to give time for these two beats to become one.
Musically primed in prime orchestra seating.
Lights Up!
On the audience.
We turn and mentally wave ‘hello’ to our neighbours.
In this moment we are reminded
Tonight is not only about the musical roster
Nor the soul-ascending, culture-defining setlist.
Tonight is about us.
It’s about our connection to the music.
Our connection to the culture.
Our connection to each other.

Ooooo – Oo – Oo – Ooooo

Girls, you know you betta watch out…

Groovin’ Groovin’ Groovin’
I smile and watch the man with the silver cornrows groovin’
Eyes closed
Seated ever so firmly into his seat
Heart rising ever so clearly into the sky.
I know I’m sitting with family but it really feels like family in here.
Black people of all ages
Truly a family affair.
Black hair is the standard
Variety is our style.
Box braids, weaves, Afros, and updos
Lace-fronts, fades, 2-plats, and locs too
Relaxed hair, buns, bald heads, and snapbacks
Headscarves, curls, bucket and sun hats

Yeah, Woo! Yeah, Woo!

It takes two to make a thing go right…

I feel present.
There’s nowhere else I need to be but here.
Even the DJ is rocking out too.
Beats on beats turn to bliss until finally…
“Wolf Trap, what’s up?!”
“The wait is over!”
“Welcome to the stage…”
“Mr. Robert Glasperrrrrr!”

Emily Radcliffe

Emily Radcliffe

Emily Radcliffe is a graduate of the University of Waterloo with a BA in Theatre and Performance and Business. This first-generation Canadian of Bajan and Jamaican heritage is a singer-songwriter, director, performer, playwright, co-host of "the PIGMENTED podcast" and a big fan of theatre creation. She is a member of the 2023 cohort of the IBPOC Critics Lab, supported by Intermission Magazine and the Stratford Festival.



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