Holiday Rapping

Take a trip far into the future for a look back at the history of rap

It's the 28th century. You've valet-parked your hovercraft and are now entering a museum exhibit on the life of Mudbone, an influential rap MC who rose to fame in the late 20th century. Perhaps we should explain at this point that Mudbone is a fictional character, a creation of local artists Jamal Cyrus, Kenya Evans and Robert Pruitt, a.k.a. Otabenga Jones and Associates.

That recording being piped into the room? That's Mudbone's story being retold these many (imaginary) centuries later. Stick with us here, because this is where the story gets a little twisted. Turns out, while Bronx-born Mudbone was freestyle rapping one night, he entered a trance. In the trance he visited New Liberia, which was ruled by his African ancestors.

"His ancestors teach him things. They give him lessons on how the burgeoning hip-hop movement relates to traditional African expression," explains Cyrus. "Nineteen-seventy-nine was the year Sugar Hill came out, and it was a time where capitalism was just beginning to meet the art form of rap and run with it. So at this time that he meets his ancestors, they tell him to keep an eye out for what is about to happen, to look for the true tradition of the music versus the glossy commercialized version."

Along with the spoken word voice-over, modern-day "artifacts" such as Adidas shoes, rhyme books and turntables help tell Mudbone's (and, not so oddly, hip-hop's) story. Together, this historical narrative cast into the far future makes up the "Symmetrical Patterns of Def" exhibition at Lawndale Art Center. Through a combination of fantasy and reality, the artists examine the African-American people's past, present and uncertain future.

The exhibit is part science fiction, part fact. A little history, a little imagination, with sound, artifacts and interactive graffiti mixed in. Can we best understand history through fantasy fiction? You be the judge.

Through January 31. "The Birth of NewBlackness: A Lecture by Mark Anthony Neal" will be presented Saturday, January 24, at 1 p.m., followed by an interactive workshop, "The Art of the Turntable," at 3 p.m. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858, www.lawnda leartcenter.org. Free.

 
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