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Believe the hype

Company One’s ‘Hype Man’ Takes on race in hip-hop

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Believe the hype
Kadahj Bennett as Verb, Rachel Cognata as Peep One and Michael Knowlton as Pinnacle, in Company One Theatre’s production of “Hype Man.” (Photo: Paul Fox)

If there was any question that Idris Goodwin is an unstoppable playwriting force, “Hype Man” at Company One Theatre expels it. The latest in Goodwin’s “Break Beat” series about the hip-hop industry, “Hype Man” follows a music trio navigating the racial dynamics of the business and the world around them.

Author: Paul FoxCognata as Peep One.

Author: Paul FoxBennett, Knowlton and Cognata.

Author: Paul FoxKadahj Bennett stars in “Hype Man.”

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The group of three musicians consists of Pinnacle, a white rapper à la Macklemore, played by Michael Knowlton; Verb, the black hype man, played by Kadahj Bennett; and Peep One, the mixed-race female beat maker, played by Rachel Cognata. A police shooting sparks division in the group when Verb wants to protest the act in a song and Pinnacle insists he doesn’t want to get political. It begs the question, what responsibility do white rappers have in a music genre born from black culture?

Knowlton, Bennett and Cognata, all Boston Arts Academy alums, don their characters like second skins. Their chemistry is palpable as a musical unit and a group of friends. The relationships are complicated, and made further so by their work. The group is on the brink of its big break with a spot on the Today Show. Verb wants to use the opportunity as a platform; Pinnacle worries about rocking the boat. But ultimately, the music and their shared passion for it brings the team together. “We are a unit,” says Peep. “Let’s act like one.”

In a Company One interview, playwright Goodwin says, “The theater has always been a place for illuminating and humanizing our ethical struggles. Because of the nature of the form itself, you have the opportunity to take people on a journey in real time and wrestle with it in a unique way.” The production, playing through Feb. 24, goes well beyond the framework of a traditional play, offering live performance and beat mixing on stage. Audience members can find the mixtape on Bandcamp after the show.

Feminism plays a role in the show as well. Peep One is the musical foundation of the group as the beat maker, but also provides much-needed perspective and level-headedness to the dynamic. While mediating Verb’s and Pinnacle’s disputes, she fights to make her own values and goals known.

Goodwin says, “Let’s exemplify civility, let’s exemplify risk-taking, let’s exemplify the best intentions. I am extremely excited to do our part, from our side of things as makers of space and storytellers. Let’s go, let’s get to it.”

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