Jared Brown, Cloteal Horne, and Kadahj Bennett (left to right) in Company One’s production of “How We Got On” by Idris Goodwin

Idris Goodwin‘s How We Got On is more than just a play about hip hop, it’s a poetry infused hip hop album in itself. An album that tells the stories of 3 suburban hip hop geeks like interweaving verses overlaying an increasingly complex beat. Every act a track on the album, the characters evolving across them, occasionally laying down their own raps and at other times playing off each other or jumping in with a hook.  The result is one seriously dope album.

The story follows Julian, Hank, and Luanne, growing up in the 80’s as hip hop is taking over urban centers nationwide, but these kids are from the ‘burbs, and though the suburbs were rocking to a different beat at the time, these youths were nodding to the beats of Boogie Down Productions and Big Daddy Kane as they struggled to find their own rhythm in a community that doesn’t quite get it.

But you don’t have to be a hip hop expert or an 80’s baby to get with the vibe of this coming-of-age story.

With an MC who calls herself “Selector” (played by Miranda Craigwell) smoothly “toasting” over the play’s scenes and beats, offering bits of insight into 80’s hip hop culture, even those who didn’t grow up to the sounds of beatboxing and dubs can get with the groove.

Selector first introduces us to Hank (Kadahj Bennett), who is the brains of the operation. With a true passion for hip hop, he’s got his lyrical genius down to a science. But he lacks significantly in the “cool” department. This is where Julian (Jared Brown) comes in, bringing the heart of the matter. With something of a troubled family life and a deep insecurity that expresses itself as bold confidence, Julian fits the bill of the hip hop poster child. Luanne‘s (Cloteal Horne) passion for rhyme brings the spirit, showing both boys how joy absolutely has to be part of the equation.Indeed, for much of the play, she even appears as a sort of apparition, briefly haunting the stage between scenes with a quick solo rhyme or two.

Spoken word poet and hip-hop playwright Idris Goodwin is a rapper himself, and his own passion for the music shines through these characters. Under the smart direction of Summer L. Williams the play boasts a stunningly visual rendition, at  times of a hype local concert, at others of the simple mechanics of a private turntable session. In fact, in my favorite scene, Hank and Julian share the stage in a split scene, each engaged in private conversations with their fathers (as voiced by the multi-faceted Miranda Craigwell), and it’s staged such that the two scenes are physically and lyrically mixed like a couple of records on a turntable. Company Ones production of this fun and poignant play captures the reach of hip hop’s influence and it’s impact on a generation.

Oh and did I mention the music is hot?

And if you’re like me, you’ll now want a little of this…