Rapper Kurtis Blow leads ‘Hip Hop Nutcracker’ in St. Paul
Fans of Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks,” the first rap song to earn a gold record, will recall that the 1980 trailblazer shouts out to a “girl in green” and a “guy in red.”
Is it possible that, 38 years ago, Blow foresaw the Christmas-themed hip-hop show that will return him to the Ordway Center in St. Paul this week?
Blow’s life has taken many turns since 1980, including more hits, collaborations with Run DMC and Wyclef Jean, social justice work, becoming an ordained minister, founding Harlem’s Hip Hop Church and helping create a Universal Hip Hop Museum, of which he’s the chairman. Blow says all of those things culminate in “Hip Hop Nutcracker,” and his job as the MC who kicks off the show Tuesday and Wednesday.
Q: What is your role in “Hip Hop Nutcracker?”
A: I come out for the intro and get everyone ready for the show coming up. I sing some old hip-hop songs, because the play takes place in 1980, so we go back and relive the spirit and joy of the early days of hip-hop. I sing a song called “New Year’s Eve” and then the play starts on New Year’s Eve. Then, I come back at the end to do “The Breaks” and we all do our thing.
Q: Were you always a fan of dance?
A: I started out as a B-boy in the early ’70s, and then I became a DJ and then an MC. I do a little dancing myself. It’s a surprise at the end. We’re all on stage, taking our bows, and I do a little break dancing.
Q: You’re doing three dozen shows in seven weeks, across the country. How do you deal with the rigors of the road?
A: Once you get over 50 [he’s 59], health should be your top priority. It’s basic diet. I’m a new vegan, for about a year now, although I’ve been cheating and eating a little fish here and there. It is difficult finding my falafel and vegetables on the road. I drink Kangen water, alkaline water, and I exercise. Staying away from drugs is pretty cool, too.
Q: Do you think you get your due as a founding father of hip-hop?
A: I love my life. I can walk down the street and go to a restaurant and people don’t recognize me. Maybe one out of 10 or 15 people might ask for an autograph. So it doesn’t matter to me. I get mine. I’m cool and thankful and I’m having the time of my life.
Q: What would 1980s Kurtis Blow think of 2018 Kurtis Blow?
A: I’ve done some bad things and some good things and, all in all, I probably would say to myself, “Job well done.” Definitely finding my God in my life and becoming a minister is a surprise. I probably would have said, “He will never become a minister.” But God had a different plan for me.
Q: What do your hip-hop peers think about the turns you’ve taken?
A: Some guys are shocked, but then you get Reverend Run, who thinks it’s a normal transition. In college, I majored in communications and speech and we, as rappers or MCs, are orators. In learning about communications, I found out we could go into politics, journalism, public speaking, broadcasting, motivational speaking. Or the ministry.
The greatest orators I’ve studied — the most passionate ones — are ministers and preachers, like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. As an MC, you’re the master of ceremonies and that ceremony can be anything: I can rock a house of 20,000 or a street corner, inside a circle of people. I can do a bar mitzvah or “Hip Hop Nutcracker.”
Q: The show keeps you on the road for an important time in the religious calendar. Are you missing out?
A: It’s a covert operation, to spread the gospel to audiences we see. Just think about it: I am a Christmas rapper. My first song [in 1979] was “Christmas Rappin.’ ” Christmas means the birth of Christ and the theme of this show is all about how these two young people fall in love, with love creating a magic that defeats evil. Is that God or what?
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