The Hip Hop Nutcracker celebrates its 10th season

Ask Kurtis Blow what Christmas means to the ambassador for hip-hop culture and watch his heart melt with love.

“I am just smiling from ear-to-ear just thinking about the answer,” the hip-hop pioneer shared with UMOJA. “I’ve had so many great Christmases that I have experienced in my life. Man, my mom, she was the best. I mean, growing up in Harlem we always had a Christmas tree. It was just a glorious, fun time of the year.

“Our tree was always filled with an enormous amount of toys. That’s what I remember. The Christmas lights, the Christmas trees, the snow, the cold air, the singing, the love, the joy, and the spirit of the birth of Christ,” the timeless artist gushed.

Blow was in Madison in November to help kick off the start of the holiday season as he performed in the cast of The Hip Hop Nutcracker. It was the hottest ticket in town. The Hip Hop Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s 130-year-old ballet reimagined as a holiday dance spectacle, travelled to the Overture Center for the Arts for its Madison debut as the show celebrates its 10th season.

Blow has much to celebrate this holiday.  On Dec. 6, 2020, he had a heart transplant that has given him a new life. Now 63, Blow is acclaimed for paving the way for generations of hip-hop artists and fans. Beyond his own hits, he contributed to the success of The Fat Boys and Run DMC. 

Blow, born Kurtis Walker, is the first rapper to be signed by a major label in 1979 and affectionately considered one of hip-hop’s founding fathers. He performs as the MC of The Hip Hop Nutcracker. The tour includes a cast of a dozen all-star dancers, an on-stage DJ and an electric violinist who’s said to turn the beloved Nutcracker score on its head. 

Adapted from “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” an 1816 story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the ballet tells the tale of a girl named Clara, sometimes called Marie, who befriends a nutcracker that comes to life as a prince on Christmas Eve and battles an evil Mouse King.

Among other notable characters is Drosselmeyer, the magic trick-performing uncle of the Nutcracker prince. The ballet’s best-know scenes also include the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“It’s two young people that fall in love, and their love creates a special magic that can defeat evil. And we need that nowadays more than ever,” Blow told Spectrum News 1.

The holidays have always held special meaning for Blow. The New Yorker’s first single, “Christmas Rappin,” was initially rejected by over 20 label executives before being released on Mercury Records in 1979. The song has since become a radio staple during Christmastime. The following year, Blow made history again as the first rapper to have a gold single with the hip-hop classic “The Breaks.”

“People call me the Christmas rapper,” said Blow. “I have to tip my hat off to radio stations and the open-air personalities who played my record. I think that is my legacy, and is still relevant today, because that song has been playing all around the country every Christmastime, like Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song.”

Growing up in Harlem, Christmas traditions abound. From singing songs to watching the original Nutcracker on the television as a family, those are the memories Blow cherishes.

He’s humbled knowing that The Hip Hop Nutcracker is now a holiday tradition for families across the country.

“It’s such a wonderful experience to see the generations coming out,” said Blow. “Grandparents bring their children and their children’s children. And you see them all partying with the grandparents … It’s a wonderful situation to see that this has the potential of being a yearly classic time.”

When he’s not performing in the Hip Hop Nutcracker, Blow is focused on preserving hip-hop’s history. The rapper is chairman and co-founder of the forthcoming Universal Hip-Hop Museum, along with Ice T, LL Cool J and other rappers and entrepreneurs. Scheduled to officially open in the Bronx in 2024, the institution will examine the legacy of hip-hop.

“It’s so vital that our youth know how this whole thing got started, and the elements of the culture,” Blow said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed the hip-hop legend to the new Nightlife Advisory Board in June 2018. Blow will advocate on behalf of music venues and clubs, continuing to shape the influence the industry – this time at a policy level.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker is executively produced by three-time Tony winner Eva Price and it features an exciting group of performers who bring her imaginatively modern show to life.  Just like the classic Nutcracker story, in The Hip Hop Nutcracker Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker Prince go on a dream adventure battling a gang of mice, visiting the land of sweets and learning the lessons of the holiday season. 

Through the modern, self-expressive gaze of hip-hop culture, the dynamic performers of The Hip Hop Nutcracker celebrate the magic of the entire holiday season on the most inclusive holiday of them all – New Year’s Eve, a time for new beginnings.