A rap opera or hip hopera is a musical work in hip hop style with operatic form. The terms have been used to describe both dramatic works and concept albums, and hip hopera has also been used for works drawing more heavily on contemporary R&B than other hip hop such as rap.
The word hip hopera is a portmanteau of hip hop and opera. An early use of the phrase was a 1994 album of that name by Volume 10 (although not a concept album). The first dramatic production to use the term was a 2001 telefilm by MTV, titled Carmen: A Hip Hopera. The word received increased use after 2005, in describing R&B singer R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet series.
Rap opera, also known as hip-hopera, is a hybrid genre between rap and opera. Opera is a musical genre that began in the late 16th century. Hip hop is a much newer musical genre that became popular during the 1970s. Historically, both rap and opera have been used as a form of expression and storytelling. Now in popular culture, the fusion of the two genres is being used for the same purpose. Historically popular and classic pieces such as Carmen and Romeo and Juliet have been transformed into hip hop pieces. The story of historical American figure Alexander Hamilton has also been recently portrayed as a hip hop musical, Hamilton.
In popular culture
The use of hip hopera in popular culture began in 1997 when hip hop group The Fugees and Bounty Killer collaborated on a musical single titled "Hip-Hopera." In 2001, the film Carmen: A Hip Hopera, a modern rendition of Georges Bizet's 1875 opera Carmen aired on MTV. The film featured Beyoncé Knowles, as well as other rappers and modern musicians, and was renounced as "the first hip hop musical." Rome & Jewel, a 2006 Rennie Harris film is another hip hop rendition of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda enacts the life of Alexander Hamilton as a founding father through hip hop music. The musical had its Broadway debut in July 2015, and quickly became popular for its unique use of rap and modern day music.
Rap opera is also being used in communities through local organizations such as the Rap Opera Project. Carlos Aguirre, the creator of the Rap Opera Project, teaches rap opera to marginalized and at risk youth in his community. The project's intention is to give voice to individuals who have otherwise felt oppressed. Aguirre, channeling his own personal experience and youth as a minority, is using musical expression as a form of therapy. In the United Kingdom, traditional opera is adopting modern hip hop beats to appeal to the modern youth. The Moon Prince: A Rap Opera, is another community-led rap opera for youth featured in Charlotte and Boston.
There have been mixed responses to the usage of rap opera. Theater critic Steven Oxman gave his feedback on Carmen: A Hip Hopera, stating "Carmen is MTV's first 'Hip Hopera', and while that phrase may be way too cute for its own good, this reworking of Bizet's opera into a contemporary, hip-hop musical works quite well, and represents one of the more original recent efforts to create a new form from an old one." Former president Barack Obama commented on Hamilton: An American Musical, saying it has "become a favorite in the Obama household". Michael Billington reviewed the play in The Guardian and stated that "Miranda has created an invigorating and original musical that, at a time of national crisis, celebrates America's overwhelming debt to the immigrant." The play also received backlash regarding its historical accuracy and biased portrayal. One individual stated, "Hamilton's fatal flaw is its focus on emotions rather than substance. In this, it is emblematic of the wider progressive Left."
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- Graffiti Blues (1992) by Ron Mokwena and Misha McK, rap opera staged at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium
- A Prince Among Thieves, 1999 concept album by Prince Paul, telling the story of a young rapper struggling for a break
- Deltron 3030 (2000), science fiction concept album
- Polarity (2003) by Norman (Onry Ozzborn and Barfly)
- A Grand Don't Come for Free (2004) by The Streets: a man's thoughts, adventures, and realizations while looking for £1000 that he lost
- A Night at the Hip Hopera (2004) by The Kleptones
- Trapped in the Closet (2005–2012), series of songs and videos by R. Kelly, recounting a string of events following a one-night stand
- In the Heights (2007) by Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Clay (musical) (2008) by Matt Sax
- Hamilton (musical) (2015) by Lin-Manuel Miranda
- The Incredible True Story (2015) by Logic
- Splendor & Misery (2016) by Clipping, an Afrofuturist hip-hop space opera.
- Snorton, C. Riley (2009). "Trapped in the Epistemological Closet: Black Sexuality and the 'Ghettocentric Imagination'". Souls. 11 (2): 99. doi:10.1080/10999940902910115. ISSN 1099-9949.
- Sumanth Gopinath (19 July 2013). The Ringtone Dialectic: Economy and Cultural Form. MIT Press. pp. 246–. ISBN 978-0-262-01915-6.
- Derrick P. Aldridge; James B. Stewart (Summer 2005). "Introduction: Hip Hop in History: Past, Present, and Future". The Journal of African American History. 90 (3): 190–195. doi:10.1086/jaahv90n3p190.
- Century, Douglas (2001-05-06). "Noticed; Seen the Opera? Experience the Hip-Hop". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-26.
- Paulson, Michael (2015-09-08). "In the Heights: Hamilton Reaches Top Tier at Broadway Box Office". ArtsBeat. Retrieved 2019-02-10.
- "The Rap Opera Project Helps Young People Tell Difficult Stories Through a Hybrid Art". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved 2019-01-26.
- "Hip-hop meets Mozart". The Independent. 2006-03-14. Retrieved 2019-01-28.
- "The Moon Prince: A Rap Opera". jamesvesce.com. Retrieved 2019-01-26.
- Oxman, Steven (2001-05-03). "Carmen: A Hip Hopera". Variety. Retrieved 2019-02-10.
- Weaver, Dustin (2016-03-14). "Obama: Hamilton is the only thing Dick Cheney and I agree on". The Hill. Retrieved 2019-02-10.
- "The Real Problem with Hamilton". National Review. 2017-01-28. Retrieved 2019-02-10.
- Felecia Piggott McMillan (2005). The North Carolina Black Repertory Company: 25 Marvtastic Years. Open Hand Publishing, LLC. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-940880-74-0.
- Heffley, Lynne (November 7, 1992). "Rap Opera Graffiti Addresses Plight of the Youth". Los Angeles Times.
- "Clipping. – Splendor & Misery Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
- "Daveed Diggs Raps a Human/A.I. Love Story in Hugo-Nominated Hip-Hop Space Opera". Tor. Retrieved 10 December 2017.