December 19, 2018

Review: A Hip-Hop Sidekick Eyes Center Stage in ‘Hype Man’

As important as they can be to a hip-hop act, hype men are supporting characters: They are there to valorize the M.C. and are meant to stay in their lane. A few, like Jay-Z, went on to fame but mostly nobody ever thought Flavor Flav had more to say than Chuck D in Public Enemy.

What happens when one of these sidekicks steps forward sets in motion the plot of “Hype Man: a break beat play,” Idris Goodwin’s likable but overstuffed new show at the Flea Theater in Manhattan.

For years, Verb (Shakur Tolliver) and his best friend, Pinnacle (Matt Stango), have had an arrangement: Pinnacle rhymes, and Verb gets the crowd going. This works for both of them, but left unsaid is that the presence of Verb, who is black, legitimizes Pinnacle, who is white. In the middle is their beatmaker, Peep One (Tay Bass), a woman of mixed race — in this show, you don’t have to squint too hard to read messages.

Just as they are about to hit the big time with an appearance on “The Tonight Show,” Verb is shaken by an instance of police brutality, in which a black teenager is shot 18 times. Usually a party-happy guy, he wants to take a stand on national television.

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