Magazine article The New Yorker

New Kid

Magazine article The New Yorker

New Kid

Article excerpt

Lincoln Center Theatre has never had a rapper on its boards, but this month, as part of a new program to encourage emerging playwrights, it is taking under its wing--and stashing twenty blocks south, at its new two-hundred-seat Duke--the one-man hip-hop show "Clay." Matt Sax, the show's twenty-four-year-old author-composer-performer, took a breather one afternoon recently, in the rehearsal studio under the Vivian Beaumont stage. Sax is just under six feet tall, with close-cropped dark hair and a tiny gold sapphire-studded hoop in his left earlobe. "My eyes are extra big, like Buster Keaton's, one of my comic heroes," he volunteered, against the faint strains of "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame" coming from the sold-out "South Pacific" matinee (1,041 seats) overhead.

"I was just fitted for my costume, all black," he said, fingering his hoodie. He lifted his feet, exposing rainbow colors on the soles of his sneakers. "But this is for my rap. The show is billed as a one-man hip-hop musical, but it's a drama with hip-hop music. It's about a young man trying to make something of himself."

Bernard Gersten, "Clay" 's executive producer, wandered in. He said that he had just left a production meeting for "Dividing the Estate," by Horton Foote. "Our oldest playwright!" he said. "His is the one-hundred-and-twenty-second show I've executive-produced since we started here, in 1985. You're our youngest playwright, bringing in No. 123."

Sax smiled. "I named the show 'Clay' to give a sense of the molding of all possibilities in my life," he said. "The first rapper I heard, when I was thirteen, was Biggie, probably the best rapper ever. Angry. Like me. I had teen-age angst. I went right out and bought Biggie's record 'Ready to Die.' At the end of it, you hear him kill himself. Very dramatic."

"I write very fast," Sax continued. "Want to hear me create a rap for you?" He hunched his shoulders, still seated, and chanted, to the usual 4/4 beat:

As I grow up

I question what it

Means to be a man

'Cause I'm wrestling with messages

And doing what I can

And may I say

Shit has gotten out of hand--

And I'm stopping when I can

Take a breath to understand

Damn--role models quicken into sand

And I'm looking at the brand of man

society demands. …

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