Hip-hop playwright embodies voice of a generation

Danny Hoch talks about his solo work, the health of hip-hop and a new genre of theater.

You might not recognize Danny Hoch. He tends to spend more time behind the curtain or off camera than in front of it.

“Taking Over”

WHEN: 7 p.m., Dec. 6-8
WHERE: Playwrights’ Center, 2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $20, www.walkerart.org, (612) 375-7600

But hopefully you are familiar with some of Hoch’s work. His plays, after all, are some of the most influential pieces of theater for the hip-hop generation. He also starred in many recognizable films, like “Black Hawk Down” and the new “We Own the Night.”

Although more instantly associated with the blockbusters he acted in, his plays have garnered him more accolades. He has won two Off-Broadway Theatre Awards, multiple fellowships and grants, and a CalArts/Alpert Award in Theater for his plays, which have helped carve out a whole new subgenre of theater: hip-hop theater.

“Hip-hop theater is really theater that is about the hip-hop generation,” Hoch said. “And the hip-hop generation is the post-civil rights generation; a generation that has grown up with polyculturalism as a reality; a generation that has grown up in Reaganomics and suffered the effects of it; and a generation that has suffered through the crack epidemic and the AIDS epidemic.”

His past works include plays like “Jails, Hospitals & Hip-hop” and “Pot Melting,” which both delve into some of these sociological, political and economic issues that our generation is forced to confront.

Now, Hoch brings his newest work, “Taking Over,” to Minneapolis. Performing a series of monologues, Hoch aptly outlines the gentrification of urban areas.

“The issues that are happening in this play are happening all over the country,” Hoch said. “Certainly in Minneapolis.”

Hoch embodies an array of characters in “Taking Over,” from hipsters and land developers to small business owners and longtime neighborhood residents.

Hoch’s ability to stealthy transition from one well-developed character into another is one of his more unique abilities that bring every piece he writes to life.

“I draw from a whole bunch a people I know,” Hoch said. “I find that the more different people that I layer into each character, there’s a more universal outcome.”

Beyond, or perhaps as a result of, Hoch’s work with hip-hop theater, he has become a leading voice of the hip-hop generation.

“Hip-hop definitely isn’t dead but it will never be what it was in this country,” he said. “Hip-hop has allowed itself to be defined by commercial success. And if we allow it to be defined by commercial success, then hip-hop is dead.”

Hoch, who grew up in New York City during the birth and maturation of hip-hop, has absorbed that culture into his being and organically reflects hip-hop culture in every work he does. Whether he is writing an article for the New Yorker, starring alongside a top Hollywood actor in a blockbuster flick, or standing alone at center stage while he delivers a self-composed monologue, he embodies hip-hop culture.

So, even if you have never heard of Danny Hoch before, in a way, you have. You’ve heard of him because Danny Hoch is hip-hop.