After listening to the Topdog/Underdog soundtrack, one can’t help but have a better understanding of the black man’s long struggle in America. In Suzan-Lori Park’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, hip-hop and blues tracks add tension to the story of two brothers in search of their identities. The stage show, which just ended its acclaimed run on Broadway, starred Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright, both of whom contributed original pieces to the soundtrack. Wright closes the CD with “Lincoln’s Blues,” a song penned by the playwright. Mos Def, a jack-of-all-trades (he raps, acts, hosts Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry on HBO and owns a bookstore), contributes “3-Card,” a ferocious verbal attack.
Topdog/Underdog showcases a wide range of styles, featuring everyone from godfather of soul James Brown to jazz virtuoso Wayne Shorter. But its most impressive achievement is establishing the similarities between hip-hop and blues. DMX barks, When you pass me, nigga, look me in my eye/Tell me to my fuckin’ face that you ready to die. Then blues legend Son House bellows, Just bear this in mind/A true friend is hard to find/Don’t you mind people grinnin’ in your face. These men, who represent two distinct generations and who have experienced two completely different eras of American life, are essentially talking about the same thing. The juxtaposition of Robert Johnson’s “Hell Hound on My Trail” and the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Let My Niggas Live” further proves that hip-hop is the blues for today’s urban youth, a theory that has often been discussed but never presented this clearly.