Somehow I missed the news that one of Maya Angelou’s last projects before her death in May was to collaborate on a hip hop album, but I would have been interested. The official music video for “Harlem Hopscotch”, above, has certainly caught my attention.
The album, Caged Bird Songs, is a collaboration between Angelou and producers RoccStar and Shawn Rivera, blending Angelou's words and vocal performances with hip-hop beats. Some of the vocal tracks were previously recorded, but others were made specifically for this album. The album gets its name from Angelou’s 1969 classic, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
Back in September, Colin A. Johnson, Angelou’s grandson, told Billboard of Angelou’s attitude to the project: "Grandma loved it from the beginning." He also went on to explain the connection between Angelou and the hip hop artists: “These guys were inspired by grandma's work, which many people are, and felt like giving it a different medium of delivery to make it more obtainable to a larger group of people."
Angelou collaborated on musical projects in the past, and won three Grammys for her spoken word recordings. Johnson said his grandmother “saw (hip-hop) as this generation's way of speaking and conveying a message." I think it is, too.
To me, much of hip hop, and rap in particular, is basically spoken word poetry with a beat (though it’s not really as simple as that). And I love everything to do with spoken word, and Angelou is one of my favourite poets, and her work often had what her grandson called “street-wise commentary”, so this project sounds promising to me.
I think that the video itself is visually stunning, too. The YouTube description says of the video:
The song is about encouraging everyone, especially young people to persevere through life despite any obstacles! The game of hopscotch is symbolic of the difficulties of life and the obstacles that some face, whether they be wealthy or poor.The description also notes that the video has “choreography from Emmy award-winning duo Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo, a/k/a NappyTabs, best known for their work on the hit television series So You Think You Can Dance.”
I love seeing artists branch out in new and sometimes unexpected ways. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but there’s never fault in the trying.
And, it’s great to hear one last project from Maya Angelou.