March 11, 2004

World's a Stage

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I’m starting to think rappers are taking over the world. Picture this: The year is 2050, Lil’ Romeo has just ousted Bow Wow from the Oval Office. It is a critical time for the United States. Canada, the last remaining country on Earth to not have a hip-hop CEO as leader, is threatening people everywhere with their global speaker-system (a deadly weapon that blasts sound waves of the “Nashville Idol XLVII” winner worldwide at a near-deafening sound). Secretary of Defense, Lil’ John, and the joint chiefs of staff — Ol’ Dirty Bastard, DMX, and Juvenile — have decided to deploy the newly issued No Limit fighter jets into Canadian air space in a last chance, do or die, mission. The course of world history hangs in the balance.

Ok, so this is just a little far-fetched, but it is clearer by the day just how far the world of hip-hop has come since the primitive beats of Grandmaster Flash. The growth of hip-hop artists in American culture — from limited market music sellers to clothing line initiators to pro-sports team (part) owners — made the news of a rapper on Broadway not so surprising to me. MTV news announced this past week that Sean “P. Diddy” Combs is to star on Broadway in Lorraine Hansbury’s classic A Raisin in the Sun.

The announcement marks another momentous milestone in Combs’ career, one that has seen him go from being a dancer in rap videos to creating and producing for Bad Boy Records, becoming a platinum-selling artist, opening his own restaurants, and of course, creating the Sean John clothing line.

But why should this success translate over to acting on the stage?

Well, first and foremost, acting isn’t totally foreign to Combs. He has appeared on the big screen in two movies (Monster’s Ball and Made) and, to be fair, did a pretty good job. He also has a role in the upcoming HBO movie Love in Vain. But still, even some of the best actors are uneasy about proving their might away from the safe world of cuts and edits.

Combs said in a March 10 interview with E!, “I never imagined how hard it would be and how hard it’s been … I have so much respect for people in the theater.” But despite his obvious struggle, I honestly see no reason why we should doubt him succeeding in this challenge. I’m not saying it will be an award-winning performance, but certainly one that merits a great deal of respect and admiration. Furthermore, I don’t imagine for a second that Combs believes he will out do the great Sidney Poitier in the role of Walter Lee Younger; no, to him this is about proving, once again, that he is capable of achieving anything he puts his mind to. If you put the East Coast-West Coast/gangsta lifestyle behind him — which I believe he did since escaping a jail sentence in the December 1999 nightclub shooting fiasco — what you have is a fine role model. Combs has scaled the corporate ladder with faultless determination, turning internships into ownerships, creating Bad Boy with his own hands and initiative. In 2003, Combs ran the New York City marathon in just over four hours with no prior experience, raising over $2 million for children’s education programs. Remember, this is the man that has sported a t-shirt that read, “I Am The American Dream.” This isn’t ego-tripping … this is the truth.

The critics and cynics will inevitably be lining up when A Raisin in the Sun opens in April (as well as at some proposed sneak preview shows later this month), but I hope they remember to hold up Combs in comparison not just with the likes of Poitier, or Gielgud, but also with some of his hip-hop peers. Combs is definitely not the only rapper to try his hand at acting, but out of those others who have been featured in movies, he is the only one I believe could go out and make the transition to the stage on his own accord. Just imagine a director seeing Busta Rhymes’ awkward, poorly timed performances in Shaft and Higher Learning, and then casting him as Albert in The Color Purple. I don’t think so. LL Cool J, Ice Cube, and Ice-T take acting seriously enough, but quite simply, they won’t be making the jump from stage to screen.

Combs has done a lot outside of the rap world that should be valued, and it doesn’t seem like he is going to stop. In an interview with he said, “I said I would not run again, but if there’s any billionaires or private corporations that would like to see me hurt myself next year, my starting price for the kids of New York is $10 million. I will do it, and I will come in under 3:45 for that check …. as long as the money goes to the kids.” Come November, we’ll know whether any of those big wallets have opened up or not to match Diddy’s donations, but that’s a column for another day.

Archived article by Tom Britton