The story of women in hip-hop could fill a thousand volumes, and continues to be written by consumers and creators of the culture, from Young M.A to Cardi B. Although, neither of those rappers were a blip on the pop culture radar when D.C.-based playwright and director Goldie Patrick debuted her stylized chronicle of women in hip-hop Herstory: Love Forever, Hip Hop at the D.C. Hip Hop Theater Festival in 2005.
In keeping pace with the evolution of what is still a male-dominated field, Patrick is reviving Herstory for the Kennedy Center’s ongoing Hip Hop Culture season, and has updated the script to include — and speak to — the next hip-hop generation. Representing that generation of Millennial hip-hop fans both in real life and among the play’s all-female ensemble, actress Billie Krishawn portrays “Eve,” a character who “is just a culmination of everything that hip-hop is right now.” Notions of what hip-hop is right now are, of course, subjective, and the play explores thorny topics like sexual objectification and misogyny, along with the question of what might be killing the culture. But Eve sees hope.
“She is everything that is beautiful with Millennials,” Krishawn says. “How we have technology and are able to use that to our advantage, the optimism, the light, being able to not be so bogged down or jaded about what’s going on with the world, but being able to see all that’s gone on with the world with a sense of optimism. I think she, in a lot of ways, is the light that’s keeping hip-hop alive.”
Not all of the play’s characters reflect such an optimistic point of view, but all appear united in the purpose of acknowledging the contributions of pioneering women like Queen Latifah, Sister Souljah and MC Lyte, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, and Spinderella. The play “is beautiful in that way,” says Krishawn, noting, however, that Herstory isn’t about “just the people who are behind the mic, [but] we also acknowledge other people who came along the way that were a big part of hip-hop itself but weren’t necessarily putting out albums or records.”
The choreographers, stylists, reporters and behind-the-scenes players who built the culture also are given a voice in a story that’s still unfolding. Meanwhile, out queer D.C. native Krishawn will continue to write her story as one of the region’s exciting young talents in the theater. Fresh off her first Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in Constellation’s Melancholy Play, the performer says, “I definitely feel ridiculously grateful that so much has happened between my first show, Jumanji, at Adventure Theatre, to now. I’m just grateful to have so many opportunities to create work that reflects me naturally. And I’m excited to continue to be a part of things where I get to tell stories.”
Herstory: Love Forever, Hip Hop runs June 14-15, at the Kennedy Center, Family Theatre. Tickets are $25-$35. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.