Hip-hop theater is a form of theater that presents contemporary stories through the use of one or more of the four elements of hip-hop culture—b-boying, graffiti writing, MCing (rapping), and DJing. Other cultural markers of hip-hop such as spoken word, beatboxing, and hip-hop dance can be included as well although they are not always present. What is most important is the language of the theatrical piece and the plot's relevance to the world. Danny Hoch, founder of the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, further defines it as such: "Hip-hop theatre must fit into the realm of theatrical performance, and it must be by, about and for the hip-hop generation, participants in hip-hop culture, or both."
Hip-hop theater productions appear in a wide range of platforms including single performances, week-long festivals, and traveling repertory companies. Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an award-winning spoken word poet and dancer who has been commissioned several times to create and direct single hip-hop theater works. British choreographer Jonzi D is the artistic director of the London-based Breakin' Convention, a week long hip-hop theater festival. Rennie Harris, Mourad Merzouki, and Victor Quijada are artistic directors who run hip-hop theater companies in the U.S., France, and Canada respectively. The Rock Steady Crew, Magnificent Force, and the Rhythm Technicians pioneered this theatrical genre which started in the United States.
Though hip-hop culture has managed to establish itself on film, on television, in fashion, in music, and in the dance industry, it has not gained the same momentum in theater. Stage productions are few in number but growing. The first hip-hop stage shows were 1990's off Broadway musical So! What Happens Now? and 1995's Jam on the Groove which were co-authored, co-directed, and co-choreographed by Jorge "Popmaster Fabel" Pabon and Steffan "Mr. Wiggles" Clemente. Rock Steady Crew, Magnificent Force, and the Rhythm Technicians performed in both shows. Aside from the pioneers in New York City was Lorenzo "Rennie" Harris' Puremovement (RHPM) hip-hop theater company which Harris founded in 1992 in Philadelphia. The company has toured all over the world showcasing its original works such as March of the Antmen, P-Funk, Endangered Species, Facing Mekka, and Rome & Jewels. RHPM also organizes the annual Illadelph Legends Festival which brings together the pioneers—the people who were b-boying, locking, and popping in the 1970s when these styles were developed—and respected practitioners of hip-hop dance to teach master classes, give lecture demonstrations, and participate in panel discussions.
Other hip-hop theater companies were founded in the 1990s. Compagnie Käfig is a French hip-hop theater company of mostly Algerian descent founded in 1995 by Mourad Merzouki. Their performances mix standard b-boying, locking, and popping with capoeira, mime, and gymnastics. They use the same fusion in music by mixing rap music with classical music and Andalusian guitar. While on tour in the U.S. they performed at Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts and at the Joyce Theater in New York. Bintou Dembélé performed at the Joyce Theater in New York with Mourad Merzouki's Compagnie Käfig in 2002. That same year she created her own dance company, which she describes as being mainly inspired by Pina Bausch's notion of 'danced theater'.
The Groovaloos are a hip-hop theater company based in Los Angeles that was founded by Bradley "Shooz" Rapier. They started out in 1999 as a dance crew and eventually developed a stage show called Groovaloo that is a series of stories based on the true life experiences of the dancers. Company members include Edmundo "Poe One" Loayza, Rynan "Kid Rainen" Paguio from JabbaWockeeZ, and Teresa "Rag Doll" Espinosa from Beat Freaks.
RUBBERBANDance Group (RBDG) was founded in 2002 in Montreal by Los Angeles native Victor Quijada. Quijada first started dancing as a b-boy in Baldwin Park, California. He studied modern dance in high school and after graduating went on to become a professional dancer under Twyla Tharp and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. He started RBDG after leaving the Montreal ballet. The New York Times called the style of dance his company performs "post hip-hop" because it's a fusion of hip-hop dance and ballet.
Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an award-winning spoken word poet and playwright who frequently directs independent hip-hop theater productions. Some of his works include Word Becomes Flesh, De/Cipher, and No Man's Land. He collaborated with Rennie Harris in 2007 to create Scourge, a play about Haiti's social-economic struggles. Joseph directed the play while Harris served as the choreographer. In 2008, he created the break/s which is based on the book Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff Chang.
Other solo hip-hop theater artists include Sarah Jones who headlined the first Hip-Hop Theater Festival and award-winning playwright Will "Power" Wylie who collaborated with Danny Hock on his one-man play Flow. Also, West Coast feminist writer/performer Aya de Leon whose award-winning show "Thieves in the Temple: The Reclaiming of Hip Hop" focused on fighting sexism and consumerism in hip hop.
- Rencontres de la Villette is a two-week hip-hop theater festival started in France in 1996. Unlike the other theater companies mentioned, Recontres de la Villette was started with the help of government subsidies from the Ministry of Culture to promote the arts.
- Hip-Hop Theater Festival was founded in 2000 in New York by playwright and actor Danny Hoch. The week-long festival starts in Washington, D.C. and tours annually to New York, San Francisco, and Chicago.
- Breakin' Convention was started in 2004 by playwright and dancer Jonzi D and is housed annually at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. Every year starts off with a three-day festival in London. After the London festival, the convention tours to other cities in the United Kingdom.
- Hip Hop goes Theatre is a theater festival that was started in 2008 by dancers Alexander Wengler and Sergej Pumper in Salzburg, Austria.
- Tavis Smiley (November 23, 2004). "Will Power, Telling Stories through 'Hip Hop Theatre'". NPR (Podcast). The Tavis Smiley Show. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
- Hopkins, Philip (June 3, 2003). "Hip-Hop Takes the Stage". Theater Mania. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
'Everyone has a different definition of how hip-hop applies to theater,' says Valentin, who published the hip-hop-culture-focused Stress Magazine before becoming involved as a producer with some of the genre's bigger names. According to Valentin, 'Every show doesn't necessarily have to include the four basic elements of hip-hop: a DJ, graffiti-based visual art, breakdancing, and an MC or rapper.' But he concurs with Forbes about the importance of 'the language on stage, the story, and the vibe,' adding that 'relevance to today's world, urban or otherwise, is a major part' of the hip-hop theater experience.
- Hoch, Danny (September 14, 2005). "Towards a Hip-Hop Aesthetic: A Manifesto for the Hip-Hop Arts Movement" (PDF). DannyHoch.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 2, 2011. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
- Weber, Bruce (June 25, 2002). "Hip-Hop's Distinct Voice Is Reshaping Theater". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
- Chang, Jeff. "Dancing on the Through-Line" (PDF). Colum.edu. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 30, 2011. Retrieved November 29, 2011.
- Chang, Jeff (2006). Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop. New York City: BasicCivitas. p. 26. ISBN 0465009093.
- Milosheff, Peter (July 7, 2008). "Rock Steady Crew 32nd Anniversary". The Bronx Times. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
- Gardner, Elysa; Eccles, Andrew (September 1992). "Off the Streets and onto Center Stage". Rolling Stone. ISSN 0035-791X.
- Pareles, Jon (November 18, 1995). "Theater In Review". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved August 24, 2009.
- Parker, Janine (August 8, 2009). "Hip-hop dance party at Jacob's Pillow". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 15, 2009.
- Gottschild, Brenda (February 2007). "Prince ScareKrow and the Emerald City: Rennie Harris's Hip Hop Life". Dance. ISSN 0011-6009. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2009.
- "About Illadelph". RHPM.org. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2009.
- "France's Compagnie Kafig exports theatrical street sizzle in the North American premiere of Corps est Graphique at the National Arts Centre". nac-cna.ca. February 5, 2004. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
- Kisselgoff, Anna (May 16, 2002). "Hip-Hop Head-Spinning, but With a French Twist". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved October 17, 2010.
- Mattingly, Kate (January 2000). "Compagnie Kafig And Full Circle Souljahz. - Review - dance review". BNet.com. Dance magazine. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
- Kisselgoff, Anna (2002-05-16). "DANCE REVIEW; Hip-Hop Head-Spinning, But With a French Twist". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-19.
- "Un témoignage de Bintou Dembele, " S/T/R/A/T/E/S. Trente ans de Hip-Hop dans le corps "". Africultures. 2014/3 (n° 99 - 100): p. 250–261 – via Cairn.
- dansercanalhistorique (2014-02-20). "Bintou Dembélé et la danse des sauvages". Dansercanalhistorique. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
- "About the Show". Groovaloo.com. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2009.
- "Based On The Lives Of.." Groovaloo.com. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved October 17, 2010.
- Osterweis Scott, Ariel (August 29, 2008). "Translating the Cipher". ArielOsterweis.com. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
- Schwyzer, Elizabeth (January 31, 2008). "Victor Quijada Keeps Stretching Dance's Boundaries". Santa Barbara Independent. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
- Sommers, Sally (January 2012). "Balletic Breakin'". Dance. ISSN 0011-6009. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
- "Marc Bamuthi Joseph: A Leading Voice in Performance and Arts Education". SpeakOutNow.org. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
- "The Living Word Project: Scorge". YouthSpeaks.org. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
- Vigil, Delfin (April 24, 2005). "Hip-hop theater is a party for the people". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
- McCarter, Jeremy (June 8, 2003). "THEATER; Hip-Hop and Musicals: Made for Each Other?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
- Harmanci, Reyhan (March 15, 2007). "Responding in kind / 'Thieves in the Temple' / Aya de Leon took a stand when hip-hop culture's sexism went too far". San Francisco Gate. Archived from the original on October 9, 2015. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
- Shapiro, Roberta (2004). "The Aesthetics of Institutionalization: Breakdancing in France". The Journal of Arts Management Law and Society. 33 (4): 321. doi:10.3200/JAML.33.4.316-335.
- "HIP-HOP THEATER FESTIVAL". Kennedy-Center.org. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved August 27, 2009.
- Wilson, Timothy (July 16, 2009). "Hip-Hop Theater Festival Reaches Out to All Ages". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
- "About us". BreakinConvention.com. 2009. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
- Will Power, Telling Stories through 'Hip Hop Theatre' podcast at NPR.org