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Kurtis Blow does some Christmas Rappin' in "The Hip Hop Nutcracker"
Forty years ago Kurtis Blow scored big with his first single, "Christmas Rappin'."
Now the hip-hop legend is rapping every Christmas with "The Hip Hop Nutcracker."
Conceived and directed by Jennifer Weber, the production — which launched six years ago — puts a modern dance and musical twist on the Tchaikovsky ballet. Blow was invited to see it during his first year and was impressed enough to accept an invitation to be the show's host, opening the night with a medley of his hits and then joining the cast for a finale of his signature hit "The Breaks."
"It was just incredible," Blow (nee Walker), 60, recalls by phone. "It was awesome to see how these kids were actually doing their thing to classical music, the music of Tchaikovsky, and watch the fusion and the connection with (hip-hop) and how they worked so incredibly well together. I just had to be a part of this thing."
Blow adds that since 2014 he's enjoyed watching "The Hip Hop Nutcracker" — which was written by Mike Fitelson — evolve and grow. "The choreography has gotten tighter, and (Weber) has some incredible moves in there," he says. "They've assembled an all-star dance crew from all around the world, and these kids are out there giving 150 percent. It's awesome to see."
For New York native Blow the production is also a mark of how the deeply renegade music he helped launch back in 1979 has become ingrained into the culture. Blow was actually the first rapper to be signed to a major record label, with "Christmas Rappin' selling more than 400,000 copies and his sophomore album "The Breaks" certified gold in 1981. Blow also mentored act such as the Fat Boys and Run-DMC (whose Joseph "Run" Simmons started his career calling himself The Son of Kurtis Blow) and worked on films such as "Krush Groove," "Knights of the City" and others.
So having an annual touring holiday musical rooted in hip-hop is a validation for the foundation he laid four decades ago.
"It's pretty incredible," he says. "As one of the elder spokesmen, I guess, I've seen rap evolve from the embryonic stages to where it is now. You look at rap today and the raps are wittier. They're more complicated. They're faster. We have mad flavors, as we used to say a few years ago — so many styles, such a variety from the Dirty South to the new trap sound and the West Coast doing their thing, Kanye and Common over in Chicago, traditional in New York...."
Blow claims to "like everyone" in rap and to stay on top of new artists and trends. He specifically shouts out Cardi B, Future and Kendrick Lamar and offers "big ups to Jay-Z for keeping it going." He also wants to hear more from Detroit’s Eminem. "We need him to come back," Blow says.
"The most incredible thing about rap nowadays," Blow adds, "is you travel outside of the country and you go to places like Germany and they rap in German, in France and they rap in French, in Japan and they rap in Japanese. It's incredible to see how the countries outside of America have embraced hip-hop and made it their own culture. And these cats are the top artists in their countries as well, so it really has taken over all over the world.
"It's awesome to see what's come out of this little street music thing we started back home, y'know?"
"The Hip Hop Nutcracker" featuring Kurtis Blow will be staged on Monday, Dec. 23, in the Masonic Temple's Cathedral Theatre, 500 Temple St., Detroit. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $35-$79.50 at 313-638-2724 or TheMasonic.com.
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