Over the weekend I got to check out this amazing one-man show titled County of Kings, written and performed by Def Poetry mainstay Lemon Andersen. I know what you’re thinking, “Def Jam Poetry, I don’t fuck with that incense burning, drum circle, crochet pants shit.’ Well, while that’s not exactly my cup of tea either, this was nothing of the sort.
First of all the play was produced by none-other-than Spike Lee, so there’s your co-sign. Secondly, whereas Def Poetry carries Russell’s brand in namesake alone, this show has hip-hop in its DNA. And as far as stories go, it really doesn’t get more gangsta than this.
County of Kings tells the true story of an underprivileged kid growing up in Brooklyn’s poor Sunset Park neighborhood in the ’70s. A victim of circumstance – Lemon’s heroin addicted mother and stepfather die of AIDS when he’s just a child –the narrative follows the main character from a young thief to crack dealing teen to an ex-con, with hip-hop as his co-defendant; his loyal partner-in-crime all the way.
When Lemon first gets caught stealing with his graff head friend from Harlem, it’s so he can score some pin striped Lees and Addidas like Run-D.M.C. When he drops acid for the first time, he envisions the streets of BK as Dr. Dre and Snoop’s gang infested Los Angeles. When he travels to Columbus, Ohio to sling crack, he’s bumping Bone-Thugs and when he picks up his first book in jail, he references the teacher, KRS-One. The entire story follows Lemon and hip-hop as they both grow older.
But, don’t get it twisted; this is not a metaphor for the evolution of rap music. This is the real-life tale of a kid whose hard-knock life led him to pick up the pen and eventually get on stage. Not to become a rapper, but to become a hip-hop poet.
Told through both monologue and rhyme, the play, which clocks in at almost two hours, keeps your attention throughout. Best described as a modern day Basketball Diaries (Jim Carroll R.I.P) meets John Leguizamo’s one-man shows, Mambo Mouth and Freak, County of Kings is hip-hop theater at its finest. -Jesse Gissen
To find out more about the show visit The Public Theater’s website here.