And What!? proves hip hop is alive at Oberlin
“Tip-toppin’ lyrics we droppin’ but styles can be forgotten, so we bring back the raw hip-hoppin’.” This was the goal of And What!?, Oberlin’s only hip-hop performance and educational troupe, composed of seniors Rachel Gardiner, Nabilah Talib, Asha Kaufman, Treva Lindsey, Karla Victum, juniors Morgan Shelton and Alesha Washington, who is also the group’s choreographer. The ladies rocked the house this past Sunday April 25 at Finney Chapel with their show, Looking for the Perfect Beat.
Deemed a representation of the struggle to define themselves in the male-dominated hip-hop aesthetic as women and individuals within a group, the performance contained several heartfelt and energetic pieces created by Washington.
The show opened with the pulsating title piece, exciting the already very-hyped crowd and setting the tone for the following numbers including “Lost … Frustration … Found” and the more politically focused “War.” The latter began with a moving spoken word piece performed by talented seniors Amber Coleman and Vida Vazquez. The duo’s presentation, a very well-executed and masterfully articulated joint poem, provided one of the more thoughtful moments in the show.
The solemnity of the mood was soon broken, however, when fictional arch rival group Now What!?, whose members include seniors Sederia Badgett, Dazlynn Pinkston, Netisha Currie and sophomore John Orduna, took the stage and proclaimed that they were the true originators of hip-hop on Oberlin’s campus. They boasted that they had been the inspiration for many of the dance moves that And What!? founder Ni’Ja Whitson and others like Rock Steady Crew original member Crazy Legs have used in their respective groups.
The comedic troupe proceeded to demonstrate their stellar dancing abilities and popping and locking skills with a short exhibition performed to the Run DMC song “Peter Piper.” They were interrupted, however, when And What!? came back to reclaim the stage and Now What!? begrudgingly left, though they did assert that their rivals had been “served.” And What!? did not take this challenge lightly and proved that they would not be outdone with their own incredible performance to “Peter Piper” before going into intermission.
After a 10-minute pause in the show filled by the musical stylings of DJ Vinylfiend, the group returned with “Scenario.” This piece was clearly a crowd pleaser, both because of its status as one of hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest’s most popular records and because the troupe seemed to emanate the spirit of the song so well with their awe-inspiring choreography.
They were just as compelling as they went into the next piece, a sequence in which each member danced solo in front of the audience while the other members watched and supported from the background. The piece not only showcased the fact that each member brings something unique to the unit, but that it is their sense of unity and camaraderie that sustains their dynamic.
The final piece of the show was appropriately titled “And What!? Defined (Phase 2),” for indeed that was the aim of the entire show. The purpose of the troupe was defined for all those who perhaps had never seen or heard of And What!?.
The presence of hip-hop on Oberlin’s campus was definitely acknowledged by their performance as well as by the presence of the “originators” Now What!?. This “rival” group did not pass up the opportunity to again cement their existence in the minds of the audience members with their hilarious antics in the closing dance “battle” against And What!?, joined by sophomores Lewis Martinez and Ramaesh Bhagirat, who were part of the Graffitti Crew during another piece in the show. The dance-off between the two groups proved to be a memorable ending to what had already been an unforgettable evening. For one night, at least, it appeared that Oberlin could end its search for the “perfect beat” and recognize the gift that And What!? is for the campus.