Rap legend Masta Ace has evolved into a playwright. The Juice Crew alumni has developed a play called The Falling Season, which made an informal debut this week in the form of a reading. It all happened in front of about 150 fans, family and industry titans such as DJ Mister Cee, Datwon Thomas, Marco Polo and me—Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur—at Theatre Fiave at Theatre Row in Manhattan.
In conjunction with theater collective Rhymes Over Beats, Ace is currently refining the already captivating rendition of the Hip-Hop play. This production musical draws inspiration from three of Masta Ace’s most notable albums: Disposable Arts, A Long Hot Summer and The Falling Season. It also stars rapper NEMS, battle rapper Duchess, Calvin Thompson, Angella Katherine, Leschea and Jeremiah Packer as the lead, “Avis.”
The Falling Season chronicles the arduous journey of a young man (Avis) striving to shape his desired identity amidst the challenges prevalent in his Brooklyn neighborhood, all while navigating through a series of tumultuous relationships. Set in the summer of 1988, just before his final year of high school, Avis aspires to become the first member of his family to attend college—Morehouse. However, unforeseen circumstances suddenly threaten to undermine all his hopes and dreams for a better future.
The musical transitions between four primary settings that symbolize distinct aspects of Avis’s life: a classroom, bodega, his grandma’s living room and, of course, the stoop. Through Avis’s perspective, we encounter the diverse array of individuals inhabiting the neighborhood—both virtuous (good influences) and malevolent (street)—who inadvertently influence Avis’s behavior, forcing him to adopt a persona he vehemently rejects. Amidst a backdrop of potential romances, complicated friendships and the allure of risks and rewards, Avis finds himself in a place where everything can be lost in a New York minute.
Avis’s unwavering and loyal companion is his best friend, FATS (played by NEMS), a high school dropout who recognizes and safeguards Avis’s potential. Additionally, there’s June, a young woman whose future is as bright as Avis’s. The juxtaposition between Avis’s determination to remain focused on his future and his struggle against the adverse effects of his neighborhood permeates the entire musical. No character is entirely good or evil. Take, for instance, Rock and Gunna, the dreaded drug dealer and his loyal henchman that give Nino and G-Money vibes (a good thing). On stage, the pair are a lethal combination, but there is so much more to them than their intimidating facade. Without giving away too much, Duchess as the temptress “Lisa” gout a rousing applause from the audience on numerous occasions. For Avis, this long, scorching summer blurs the boundaries between the classroom and the streets.
Masta Ace in the music world is renowned for his exceptional lyricism and masterful storytelling. Having written 11 critically acclaimed studio albums, Ace and Rhymes Over Beats adapt his ability to seamlessly weave together compelling narratives and bring them to the stage. Previously, he said: “I’m so excited about this new chapter in my writing career. And I’m really just appreciative of a company like Rhymes Over Beats that’s giving people like myself—other artists, writers, talent—the opportunity to realize a dream, realize something that they maybe never thought they’d be able to do. I’m working with Cate right now on what will be my first stage play. This is an exciting time—I’m looking forward to seeing what this turns into.”
Rhymes Over Beats comprises a collective of Hip-Hop and theater artists who seeks to highlight Hip-Hop complex, seldom shown depth. With deep passion, the organization understands the true breadth of Hip-Hop greatness. Founded in 2015 by Patrick Blake, Cate Cammarata and Donna Hart, the collective includes MCs, DJs, producers, actors, playwrights, directors and theater producers from across the United States. Inspired by the successful impact of Hamilton, Rhymes Over Beats strives to bridge the gap between popular music and musical theater, fostering a new generation of theater enthusiasts.
Here are some images taken from this sneak peak of a future classic, The Falling Season.