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What Is a Hip Hopera?

By Marco Sumayao
Updated May 23, 2024
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"Hip hopera" is a slang term for rap opera. This art form uses rap and hip hop music to tell a story, much in the same way as a traditional opera. Experts believe that this variation on opera began in the 1970s, when rock opera became popular in mainstream media. Some critics consider hip hopera to still be an experimental medium serving to integrate contemporary music into classical theater.

Themes in hip hopera vary widely, given the broad appeal of the medium. While some directors choose to "update" classical operas such as Carmen with contemporary rap and hip hop, others deal with themes familiar to the music genre, such as middle-class struggles and racism. Some critics argue that the vast difference between hip hop and traditional operas as art forms allows newer and stronger ideas to be generated. Violence, for instance, is a common theme in rap songs that can be utilized to more deeply illustrate classical operatic themes of life, love, and death.

The manners in which a hip hopera can be produced are also quite varied. Theater companies most often choose to stage theatrical numbers for their rap operas, but more unconventional producers have been known to use the art form as a supplement to other creative works. A comic book, for instance, can be paired with a hip hopera to provide a soundtrack to the illustrated story. Popular musical acts have also been noted to dabble in hip hopera, producing experimental records with tracks revolving around a single unifying story. Rap opera has previously been presented as a feature-length television special.

Amateur and independent companies are among the main proponents of hip hopera, as more conventional companies have reservations about the art form. Some opinions criticizing rap opera state that the use of rap music serves only to lower the standards set by tradition. Others feel that rap is simply too crude as a music genre to create enjoyable drama on stage. Arguments supporting rap opera claim that the art form serves to expose more people to opera by including more accessible music into the repertoire. Supporters also state that incorporating contemporary music into opera is the natural evolution of the art, since art serves to reflect society at large.

Reviews for hip hopera performances are usually mixed. While some favor the incorporation of rap into classic forms of musical story-telling, others believe it is an affront to such an established medium. Regardless of critique, however, hip hopera has been noted to revive a number of individuals' interest in opera in general.

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Discussion Comments

By FirstBase — On Jun 09, 2011

People seem to be so suspect of a classic being tampered with, like Carmen, the hip hopera, being born outside of 'wedlock'.

I, for one, admire the ability to meet people where they live.

Yes, I love Shakespeare and his words. But I also love the vibrant changes in language that stems from teenagers bending the normal usage of words, of words born of new technology, of words being exchanged in different languages...I love the trek and surprise of classic blended with the new.

Hip Hopera deserves a place in the spotlight. Really, why not?

By lapsed — On May 05, 2011

I saw something on TV about an updated hip hop orientated version of what I think was a Shakespeare play. I guess I can see the appeal of it; making classical operas more accessible to a younger audience, a fresh take on an old story, seeing how much of the story or message is still relevant today (which I suppose is the true test of any great work of art). Personally though, from what I saw it looked very amateurish and gaudy. The rewritten lyrics came off as corny as opposed to clever.

While it may not be for me, I'm definitely interested in the correlations between rap lyricism and other more traditional styles of poetry and I think the idea of hip hopera is an extension of that. However I think they'd most likely benefit from straying from the story even further instead of just updating the dialogue for modern slang, in the same way TV shows like Sons Of Anarchy are known to carry very similar story elements and themes as Hamlet while in an entirely different time and setting.

That's just my two cents though, maybe someone who's seen a hip hopera live could share their thoughts on it?

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