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Roots of rap: ‘How We Got On’ explores the 1980s beginnings of hip-hop scene

To understand the roots of rap and hip-hop music, it’s best to have lived through the times.

To get a glimpse, Idris Goodwin wrote the coming-of-age story “How We Got On.”

Frank Green was so inspired by it he decided to gather a group of actors and stage a production.

It will happen at 7 tonight at the African American Performing Arts Center. It is part of the Albuquerque’s Juneteenth celebrations.

“The reason I enjoy this piece is that it’s very indicative for what the arts is like for black actors,” Green says. “There’s not an outlet for us. When we think of black actors and about the black experience, it does run a parallel. I’ve found a group of actors to help shift the paradigm.”

“How We Got On” tells the story of three suburban teens growing up in 1988, right about the time “Yo! MTV Raps” was making its way into mainstream.

“They are running into cultural isolation,” Green says.

Green, director of the production, is a member of Duke City Repertory.

He says the production is a powerful piece of theater, visual art and music highlighting African-American actors.

The cast consists of Benjamin Eagle, Khalil Ekulona,  Anjo Stewart and Thandi Sinandile.

“The actors that have come into this project aren’t actors by trade,” Green says. “Each one of them has grasped what we are trying to do. It’s about starting the conversation and pushing it forward.”

Green is excited to present Goodwin’s work because it harks back to music’s era of empowerment.

“There’s a line about ‘hip-hop finds a way to create,’ ” he says. “Another thing about this piece is that it shows and complements the strength of women in hip-hop. Thandi is the key that unlocks their potential and it allows them to create better art.”

Goodwin has spent the last decade telling stories inspired by 1980s hip-hop culture and has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation and, most recently, the Blue Ink Playwrighting Award. “How We Got On,” nominated for an ACTA Steinberg New Play Award, premiered in the 2012 Humana Festival and is being produced in theaters across the nation. This production is its Albuquerque premiere.