Written and performed by Psalmayene24
Directed by Kamilah Forbes
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Never considered yourself to be a hip-hop aficionado? Not familiar with the ever changing lingo, look and style? Couldn’t bust a move if your life depended on it? No problem. Psalmayene24 (pronounced Psalm-ah-yé-ne) breaks everything down into clear artistic expressions, busts enough moves for all of us, and ratchets up discussions about life, race, class, and the power of expression to blast far beyond the latest Idol chatter –thankfully. Free Jujube Brown, now playing at the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC) is his latest incarnation that simply rocks the house and will blow your mind.
Psalmayene24 (a.k.a. Gregory Morrison) is that rare performing artist who can seamlessly blend literature, creative writing, insightful self-expression, dance and hip-hop movement, into a whirling, swirling mixture that makes sense. His authentic characters have resonated with so many over the years of development because we know them, we see them, we are them.
The play begins with a character performing a basic task of brushing his teeth – sounds simple enough, but in Psalmayene’s hands, the act takes on a life of interlocking movement that spins deeper into the story. His writing is filled with mesmerizing insights that can set up entire characters, including their back stories in moments. As such it would be easy to assume that he lives by the word, and in a way, in the beginning is the Word, but he is also a love child of movement and has mastered that form so artfully that they become inseparably intertwined, the word and the movement.
While his earlier piece, the Hip Hop Nightmares of Jujube Brown was written and performed in collaboration with poet Toni Blackman, this one is all Psalmayene’s take and introduces not just Jujube Brown, but an assortment of others who knew him. We learn about the multifaceted Jujube through the eyes of such diverse characters as the insightful, neighbor crack-addict with a.Pan-handling (P.h.D) degree, a preppy roommate at the Ivy League school he attended, and the conflicted white laundry owner down the street. Each has his own signature movement style and vocals, and all are depicted with Psalmayene’s razor sharp insight, wit and care.
Categorizing his performance as hip-hop theater might be an understatement. Yes, the work is recognized as a seminal piece in Hip-Hop Theater and will soon be published in a forthcoming Hip-Hop Theater anthology. But, we have a tendency to categorize things to simplify definition, and as far as I’m concerned the Hip Hop box is not large enough to exclusively contain the full extent of Psalmayene’s offerings. Perhaps it’s time to recognize the expansiveness of Hip Hop altogether. And it’s ongoing evolution. One fascinating segment refers to the entire family of music, Jazz as father, Grandma Blues, and older sibling, Rock and Roll. But in this rendition, a young, vibrant Hip Hop has been disfigured through being maligned, targeted, misunderstood, as well as deformed by its own negative portrayals of misogyny, materialism and violence. Psalmayene slowly distorts his facial muscles, palsies his limbs and hunches down with immobilized twisted legs barely shuffling along to reflect the current problematic state of Hip Hop culture. . The scene also alludes to the constant evolution of music, (noting the dead cousin disco), and hints at yet more young siblings to come. Such creative imaginings need to be shared outside of the confines of Hip Hop.
Psalmayene’s vision has expansive universal appeal. For the storyline, a gifted though anxious young writer is provoked out of fear to accidentally shoot and kill a police officer. But, that doesn’t unfold until near the end of the show. It’s the young man’s life, his experiences, imaginings, loved ones and, acquaintances that is the heart and soul of this piece. Told in words and stories of passion and rhythmic fluidity that defy description, Psalmayene24 weaves a universal and literary tapestry of mankind, complete with reference to Lorca, Anais Nin, and to specific works of Vincent Van Gogh. Stunning.
Speaking of stunning, although he is solo artist on stage, for a piece like this, the role of sound and music cannot be overstated; his collaboration with sound designer, identified as "Munch" and sound operator Andrew Nelson produced stellar effects. For example, the several moments of him writing and tearing up sheets of paper from a notepad must be seen to be believed.
So go, see it, experience it for yourself. Psalmayene24 is Brooklyn born and raised—the residual brownstone accent is still there– but he’s adopted Washington, D.C. as his home base. Free Jujube Brown deserves a heartfelt welcome home.
(Running time: 1:20 minutes). Free Jujube Brown runs through April 14 at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th Street. Washington, DC. $20. This Thursday and Saturday at 7:30 pm. Note: Only 2 performances left in the run. For tickets call: 1-800-494-TIXS or www.musefire.org
Listen to Debbie’s interview with Psalmayene24 here.