The Nutcracker is a holiday classic and it's been reinvented, glammed up, dressed down and even got a little sexy, but 12 dancers are laying down cardboard and spinning Tchaikovsky's classic on its head.
And special guest emcee Kurtis Blow (ya know, the hip-hop pioneer who mentored Rev. Run from Run DMC?) will guide the audience through a night of breakdancing, modern beats and dance mashed with the classic.
On Thursday at 7:30 p.m., the United Palace of Cultural Arts will host the fourth annual national tour of The Hip Hop Nutcracker at the United Palace before performing at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey and The King’s Theatre in Brooklyn on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Boston, you’ll get your turn when The Hip Hop Nutcracker’s tour stops at the Schubert Theatre. You can check out the tour dates online.
We spoke to hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow ahead of the show’s 2017 New York City open about the upcoming show, his favorite holiday traditions and even some of his old friends, like Russell Simmons.
Kurtis Blow on The Hip Hop Nutcracker
Kurtis Blow told Metro how he first fell in love with the show’s mix of classical sounds with hip-hop beats through a mutual friend. And the place for a man like Blow? On stage, of course, getting the audience into the groove.
“The play starts out in 1987 and I give them that old-school feeling,” Blow said about his role in The Hip Hop Nutcracker.
“The theme of the show is ‘love’ and some of the original [Nutcracker] from Tchaikovsky is about poor people fighting the establishment using love that will beat evil in the end,” he explained. “The Hip Hop Nutcracker has that same thing — creating love, and it’s for the holiday season with that spirit of love in the air.
While Blow had nothing but love-filled shout-outs and high praise for his fellow cast and crew members, including choreographer Jennifer Webber who co-created the show with Mike Fitelson in 2014, the Harlem-born and raised emcee knows how rough touring can be.
“I feel for the dancers because they’re out there dancing for an hour and a half,” Blow said. “They’re young and have the energy to get through it, but it’s still grueling.”
Check out the photo gallery above for a glimpse into The Hip Hop Nutcracker.
Kurtis Blow's holiday traditions and Christmas rap
While born and raised in Harlem, Blow passed through Queens before eventually making his way to Los Angeles, mainly for the weather. “You can’t beat 80 degrees on Christmas,” Blow said.
Blow’s favorite holiday tune is Christmas Rappin', but he might be a bit biased. "[Christmas Rappin'] was my very first song and my favorite out of 190 songs.” The family and friends that gather at his home for the annual Christmas party insist Blow follows up his karaoke standard, Sinatra’s New York, New York, with his own Christmas standard he released on a major label when he was 20.
Kurtis Blow on Russell Simmons and the wrath of God
Another hip-hop icon, Russell Simmons, accused of sexual misconduct along with countless other powerful men in the entertainment industry, is an “old college buddy” of Blow’s. Blow said when the allegations resurfaced recently, he texted Simmons to let him know prayers were on the way to him and his family.
“I have compassion for him,” Blow explained, “[and] I have compassion for the victims that have come forward. I think this is a spiritualist thing, where the wrath of God is coming down.
“Be mindful, if you’re on a spiritual level, in order to receive forgiveness from God, you have to give [forgiveness].”
Blow said he believes the key is returning to traditions and the 10 Commandments to stay out of trouble.
“Just try. God knows your heart,” Blow added. “If you’re trying to right the wrongs and do the right things and spread love, this is what is needed from everybody.
“It just seems the entertainment industry, politics and everything is being sucked into this vat of immorality and we need to move back to the spiritual way of life.”
Kurtis Blow, “the son of Kurtis Blow” and the son of Martin Luther King, Jr.
We might refer to Kurtis Blow as “OG” or “old school,” but the hip hop icon is keeping it fresh with a new Christmas rap album dropping in December 2018.
However, the most meaningful production for Blow was when he and Dexter King, the son of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. created the single “King’s Holiday,” which featured Whitney Houston, Ricky Martin, Bobby Brown, Menudo, Run DMC, The Fat Boys, Grandmaster Melle Mel and Whodini.
And Blow said the 1986 project was funded by a $90,000 donation from the late, great purple one himself, Prince.
As for “the son of Kurtis Blow,” that’s what Joseph Simmons, aka Rev Run, called himself while a protégée of Blow’s in the early days of the 1970s. It was common for DJs at the time to call themselves “sons” of their mentors.
“[Joey Simmons] tells the story all the time about how I brought him into hip hop and he brought me into the kingdom,” Blow said of becoming an ordained minister.
Kurtis Blow on racism and just doing “the right thing”
Throughout his life, Blow has spoken out against racism. He worked with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton and said he was especially proud to be a part of the Artists Against Apartheid record “Sun City.” But when asked if he has always taken social consciousness into his music as he has his life, Blow gave a humble reply.
“I never really thought about it like that,” he said when asked about activism. “I just thought I was trying to do the right thing.”
Blow must be doing something right; in 2016, he was unanimously elected chairman of The Universal Hip Hop Museum that will open in the Bronx within the next few years. The museum is still gathering donations from the past, present and future of hip-hop, but Blow said it’s a “very important, meaningful project, not just for the city of New York and the Bronx, but for hip-hop as a culture to have a brick and mortar location.