'Bars Medley': Classic Literature Remixed Into Hip-Hop And Verse Hamilton's Daveed Diggs and accomplished poet and performer Rafael Casal have taken scenes from classic literature and reworked them in contemporary style. "We haven't dumbed it down," Casal says.
NPR logo

'Bars Medley': Classic Literature Remixed Into Hip-Hop And Verse

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/505848034/505967299" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Bars Medley': Classic Literature Remixed Into Hip-Hop And Verse

Review

Music

'Bars Medley': Classic Literature Remixed Into Hip-Hop And Verse

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/505848034/505967299" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A group of actors at New York's Public Theater have taken passages from literature and given them a hip-hop twist. It's in the vein of "Hamilton," the hit Broadway musical. In fact, Daveed Diggs, who was in "Hamilton's" original cast, is one of the project's co-creators. NPR's Jessica Diaz-Hurtado tells us more.

JESSICA DIAZ-HURTADO, BYLINE: A group of actors stand on stage in front of a camera. And they start reciting scenes from works like "Pride and Prejudice," "Frankenstein" and "Death Of A Salesman." But it doesn't sound quite like the original. Listen to a passage from Toni Morrison's "Beloved" when 30 women march to Beloved's exorcism, followed by the Bars remix.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) Sethe is running away from her, running. And she feels the emptiness in the hand Sethe had been holding. Now she is running into the faces of the people out there, joining them and leaving Beloved behind.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "THE #BARS MEDLEY VOL 2")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing) Any minute now, salvation. Any minute now, Lord, Denver be patient. Any minute now, salvation.

DIAZ-HURTADO: The actors themselves wrote the pieces. Ryan Nicole is one of them. She says they followed a prompt from creative director Rafael Casal.

RYAN NICOLE: So the very simple way that Rafa (ph) explained this to us was if you had to create a minute-long YouTube video to explain the meat of a novel, what would it look like? What would it sound like? How would it feel? What's the emotion you would capture?

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "THE #BARS MEDLEY VOL 2")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing) Blue-stone road, righteous women, strong black bones - fight within them. Bibles, crosses, palms to the sky. What my boss going to say when he arrives?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Singing) Brought it home on wounded feet.

DIAZ-HURTADO: A few minutes dedicated to each book in a 37-minute performance all in one take. You can see the transitions, the props flying around, actors changing for their next scene and cameras flowing back and forth across the stage. Here's "The Great Gatsby." It's the scene where Nick Carraway walks into one of Gatsby's parties. And Jordan Baker introduces Nick to her friends. First the original then the remix.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once. A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly. I don't think it's so much that, argued Lucille skeptically. It's more that he was a German spy during the war.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "THE #BARS MEDLEY VOL 2")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: (Singing) Who is it, really? How do you acquire these riches?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Is that your business?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: (Singing) No, I don't suppose so. But I stick my nose where I please. It's how it goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) You think it's tech money?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: (Singing) No, I heard it was booze.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Booze? Damn, man. You sure that's the truth?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: (Singing) No, bro. He was a spy, sold tips to the enemy, killed a hundred men.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) For reals?

DIAZ-HURTADO: Rafael Casal says the goal isn't to dumb the originals down. It's to make them relevant to new audiences.

RAFAEL CASAL: These texts that are getting assigned a lot in school - but students don't always have an easy entry point to the material. And so we wanted to reimagine them in a contemporary way that we felt would be more accessible.

DIAZ-HURTADO: Actress Ryan Nicole says even she wants to go back and reread the originals.

NICOLE: I found myself in high school, in college relying a lot on CliffsNotes and SparkNotes to get the notion of what these books were about. Having seen these productions from Bars, I'm intrigued to go back and reread many of the books. "Catcher In The Rye" - I had no idea it was about what it ended up being about.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You know that song, if a body catch a body coming through the rye? I'd like it's if a body meet a body coming through the rye, old Phoebe said. It's a poem by Robert Burns.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "THE #BARS MEDLEY VOL 2")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) If a body catch a body coming through the rye. If a body...

DIAZ-HURTADO: Bars Medley Volume 2, America's stories remixed on YouTube. Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "THE #BARS MEDLEY VOL 2")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) If a body catch a body coming through the rye. If a body catch a body...

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.