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July 23rd, 2014

“Holler If You Hear Me” Is A Story Far Too Familiar

Lillie Howard

"Holler If You Hear Me" is a play that our own Saul Williams was starring in at the Palace Theater on Broadway in New York City. As of Sunday, July 20th, the play will be closed down after only one month. Wow! After reading excerpts from "Broadway Was Made For Tupac" a review of the play written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. & Marcyliena Young you’ll reach a better understanding as to why it was shut down.

The excerpts read: Holler depicts the experiences of youth who are the descendants, the grandchildren, of playwright August Wilson’s generations, descendants who remained in those same neighborhoods, "trapped in a living hell," as Tupac rapped on his 1991 album," 2 Pacalypse Now". Then and now, as the lyric goes, "they can’t keep the black man down." At least not all of them. Hip-hop continues to influence how experiences of black life are written and performed for the stage. Hip-hop spoke truth to the establishment about the frustrations that come with being "hungry" for so long while others eat. Pouring through him, and now onstage at the Palace Theater on Broadway in "Holler If You Hear Me" was the musicalized poetry of concrete hoods, of gangland and violent cops, of the tragedy of early prison and social (and literal) death, of impoverishment -a poetry of empathy and indictment, excusing and prosecuting the New World for what it had robbed from so many for so long. John, the lead character in Holler, brilliantly portrayed by Saul Williams, wants more, but is bound to the images, jobs, stereotypes and limited perspectives of an environment that reduces his humanity to what he does for a living or the mistakes that he made in his life. Like Tupac, John wants empathy and understanding. He wants America to look and see, listen and hear and change-now.

In Tupac’s lyrics there is an embrace of the past. But since there was no justice, there is no peace. In Tupac’s "Me Against the World" he says: "With all this extra stressing the question I wonder is after death, after my last breath, when will I finally get to rest through this suppression? They punish the people that’s asking questions and those that possess, steal from the ones without possessions. The message I stress is to make it stop, study the lessons. Don’t settle for less-even the genius ask his questions. Be grateful for blessings, don’t ever change, keep your essence. The power is in the people and politics we address. Always do your best, don’t let the pressure make you panic. And when you get stranded, and things don’t go the way you planned it, dreaming of riches, in a position of making a difference. Politicians and hypocrites, they don’t wanna listen. If I’m insane, it’s the fame made a brother change. It wasn’t nothing like the game, it’s just me against the world." Tupac said in an interview that his raps spoke "truth" to the establishment about the frustrations that come with being "hungry" for so long while others eat.

"Holler" insists that one never give up hope. In fact, the honesty and language of the play allows the audience to experience the raw anger and frustration as well as the belief that if one doesn’t give in, if one "keeps their head up," life, ultimately, will get better. Consequently, "Holler’s" job is to tell a story of loss and conflict while maintaining Tupac’s belief that, to quote Dr. King, "the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice,"...sooner or later. The review ended with a quote from playwright August Wilson which reads, "The greatest tragedy of black American life for Wilson, was the trauma of the black past in order to love fully in the present. Wilson believed that trauma was inherited (not genetically, but socially, through one’s immediate environment), so the black community cannot move forward until they confront and transcend even the most painful details of the past. And one arena in which to stage that confrontation-with madness, apathy, family dysfunction, poverty, etc.- is the theater.

Let me end my column with this: "it’s very clear why "Holler If Ya Hear Me" was shut down after only one month. It had the power to awaken what seems to have shut down or been lost in our country and that is "Genuine boycotting and activism!" We don’t see this on the college campuses that much anymore, neither in our communities. We don’t hear the songs like "What’s Going On" or "Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud", "He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother", "Makes Me Wanna Holler and Throw Up Both My Hands". All we see and hear are videos displaying sexual content or hearing rap music with foul language. It’s wonderful that our own Saul Williams had the lead role because taking into consideration what the play was all about he was definitely the one to bring the needed fire to it. He saw it all in the city that he grew up in which was Newburgh. Sad to say but all that was expressed in that play is still going on in Newburgh and throughout the country and that "Makes Me Wanna Holler." I want Newburgh, the city that I was born and raised in, to look and see, listen and hear and change now. I want you to "Holler" if you hear me. This is Lillie’s Point of View and I’m just having my say!

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