By: Skeeta Diggs
The majority of the rap songs you hear today on the radio, are about Bentleys, bottle poppin, groupies, the come up, the throw down and anything else that states “ I’ve arrived’. And although rap is a part of the hip hop culture- its voice is not as fruitful as it used to be. In the early days, it was not centered on drugs and violence. It was more socially and politically conscious.
Now, we hear about the beefs and the retaliations. We hear about the drug dealers who picked up a mic and started flipping rhymes. Oh and let’s not forget about the bling and the rims.
To many of us hip hop is cool, the clothes, the slang and the swag. We heard of it. We were drawn to it.We learned it. And we let the record labels decide how it should be known. But then there are those who were born into it. There are people who really understand the true meaning of the struggle because their still in it and those who genuinely embrace the movement-the progression of the culture.
Featured at the Public Theater in New York, Lemon Anderson’s ‘County Of Kings’ is a one man play that gives you a much deeper view than the struggles we have heard over and over again on the radio. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Lemon shares his journey through poetry. We got a chance to speak with him about the process of telling this story.
Knowshi: What is hip hop to you?
Lemon: How I view hip hop is very different than the average hip hop fan nowadays because I was born in it. It wasn’t just about the music. Growing up, I listened to everything from heavy metal, to house and grunge. It’s definitely a lifestyle. I didn’t read a book to become involved in the culture. I don’t know what the elements are. I think people set rules. When actually I don’t think there are no rules. It is what it is.
Knowshi: What made you choose poetry as your outlet? Why not become a rapper?
Lemon: I knew how to get in where I fit it. I was taught that at an early age. As a kid I loved theater. I would watch PBS with my mom. I went to ballets. I was exposed to the arts even though I grew up in poverty. And I mean poverty not the ghetto. My friends were ghetto. I was poor. That’s a big difference- which made me very different.
To be become a rapper would be the norm. I’m not used to that. Being a poet is what I should be doing because I can relate to it. I can’t find the struggle in rap these days because everybody’s rich. That’s what I love so much about theater. You can be flawed. In most rap music there is no space for that. It’s all about what you have and how you want people to perceive what you have. In acting and poetry you can have nothing and it’s beautiful.
In my household there was an addiction to take care of before we even ate. I can relate to someone who wants to eat. But I can’t relate to someone who wants to buy rims.
Knowshi: What is your message within your story?
Lemon: I try to preserve something. Behind this music and this culture there’s some type of humanity and character. There’s a kid that grew up with his mom who’s sick. By me telling my story, I realize that I wasn’t alone. All over the world I wasn’t alone. I went to South Africa to tell my story and they totally related. The audience will walk away with a better understanding of what a kid is thinking on the train. Or how a mother takes care of her kids while she is addicted to methadone. Rather than looking down on people, they will have a better perspective on what they are going through. You see human beings .There’s a mother in this culture, a father, a kid who smiles behind the pain and sometimes there’s a teacher who is drawn in. You see hip hop evolving as a character and not just music.
Knowshi: Describe your experience on Def Poetry Jam.
Lemon: That was my first taste of commercialism. I got on stage and spit in front of cameras and the next thing you know the world started recognizing poets. We traveled and got to perform Def Poetry on Broadway and won Tony Awards. That was amazing. I learned a lot about production and how to work with a team. I used the money I was making to take acting classes. I progressed with each season which broadened my horizons. While studying Shakespere, I realized that characters like Portia were no different than some of the girls I grew up with. Studying acting methods like Meisner and Stanislavski allows me to project a better story.
Knowshi: Let’s pretend ‘County of Kings’ is a recurring show with five new characters. Name five people who you would like to hear speak their stories.
Lemon: I would want hear and an interns story; someone like Jay-Z’s assistant. Rakims’ mother; I would like to hear what she thinks about her son. Russell Simmons’ father; A broke distant cousin of T -Pain and it would be interesting to hear what New Orleans thinks about Lil Wayne. I know each of their individual stories but I don’t know their families story. Sit down on the porch and tell me about it. (Laughs)
To find out more about this play visit: www.thecountyofkingstheplay.com