This past March, Hub peace advocate and longtime hip-hop supporter Cindy Diggs called on the local rap community to unify and help calm Boston's most tumultuous streets. With two beloved rap artists murdered in the first few months of the year, Diggs, who has earned the nickname Mother Hip-Hop through her activist efforts, reinvigorated the anti-violence campaign that she's been pushing one way or another for two decades.
In practicing what they preach, this Saturday Diggs and her Peace Boston comrades will present Hip-Hop 9.1.1. — an interactive play at Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center that will feature contributions from more than 80 teens, teachers, parents, youth workers, city employees, and voices from the Bean rap scene. The production will examine the history of hip-hop — from a New England perspective — and, as importantly, will highlight the fractured relationship between rap music and social activism.
"A lot of the roots of the culture have been lost as hip-hop has become more industry," says Diggs, who plays the lead character, Ebony Scrooge. "People are taking less responsibility and giving back to their communities less, so we're re-instilling that original purpose."
Hip-Hop 9.1.1. is a contemporary interpretation of the play Hip-Hop 2010, which was written and staged by Boston Zulu Nation delegate Queen Vivian in 1998. For this run, she updated the script and soundtrack with a Dickensian flair, telling stories of the ghosts of hip-hop past, present, and future. Vivian's original show illustrated what would become of hip-hop if artists abandoned progressive values to chase commercial carrots. The new version pays dues to the old school as well, but also covers what's happened since Vivian first wrote the play. Finally, by revisiting heroic moments — like the Can We Talk 2U? peace-and-music summits that Diggs brought here in the late '90s — Hip-Hop 9.1.1. is geared to inspire scenesters to pay forward the work of those who cared before them.
"We believe that hip-hop culture is youth culture," says Vivian, who describes the production as an intergenerational affair. "In my experience as a youth worker, the biggest challenge is that young people feel like they're not being heard . . . so here, they have a voice."
"The big message is that people really need to get involved," says Diggs, who will also host a meeting to discuss future action on May 15 at Club Choices in Somerville. "You can't just make a song and keep it moving. The violence won't go away by itself."