The D.C. Hip-Hop Theater Festival, now in its 12th year, is still a festival, and it still includes hip-hop. The theater part is debatable: Of the 11 events on this year’s slate, none is a traditional theater piece. “Theater is performance, and there’s performance throughout every single event,” says artistic director Kamilah Forbes, a Howard University alum who got involved with D.C.’s hip-hop community while working as an actress. “I want to redefine the language: What is theater? What is storytelling?” To that end, she’s arranged a diverse group of events (Sunday through July 14; go to hi-artsnyc.org for the schedule).
“When we talk about the main elements of hip-hop culture, we’re talking about DJing, MCing, break dancing and graffiti,” Forbes says. “Art in public spaces is a social and political statement, and when hip-hop was a burgeoning culture, art was taken out of the schools and kids were left to create art wherever they could.” “The Walls Belong to Us” pairs muralists (such as Chilean artist Cekis, whose work is heavily inspired by the graffiti culture of New York and by socially conscious street art) with local graffiti artists to create public art throughout the city that’s on view all month.
Various locations; throughout July, free; hi-artsnyc.org.
The first event of the festival makes it crystal clear that hip-hop is a story-telling tool for all ages. Christylez Bacon, above, and other hip-hop artists will take favorite stories for kids 5 and older and interpret them through a hip-hop lens. Forbes says hip-hop can be a great teaching tool. “There’s a whole community of artists focused on children’s hip-hop theater and education,” she says. “And lots of children’s music — that’s what they’re using! That’s what ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!’ is, at its core.”
Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; Sun., 6 p.m., free; 202-467-4600. (Foggy Bottom)
Record producer J Dilla, above, who died in 2006, remains one of hip-hop’s most influential figures — so much so that the city throws a huge D.C. Loves Dilla party every year. “You can’t take a step in hip-hop without running into Dilla — he’s like Kevin Bacon for hip-hop,” Forbes says. “Six degrees of Dilla.” De La Soul, one of the most famous bands he worked with, will perform at this year’s tribute show.
Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW; July 10, 8 p.m., $30-$35; 202-803-2899. (Shaw)