In two previous performances for the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, hip-hop artist Rachard Dennis emphasized his mellow side, whispering his life experiences and philosophical observations on stage in a poetic and disarming style. It was as if he was having a conversation with a friend in a cafe.
Dennis’ brief appearance in 2020 was charming enough to win him the SRAC’s Critical Mass 8 performing arts competition, entitling the rapper to an hour-long set in the basement space of the hall. board machines in front of a live audience. Delayed by the pandemic until this fall, it was a revelation worth the wait as Dennis broadened his palette, including raising his voice if necessary without giving up his quietly charismatic approach.
As in his other SRAC showcases, Dennis created a theatrical environment as a backdrop: an ottoman-like armchair covered with a blanket he never sat in, a stuffed animal wearing a pink hat and his lamp. brand office. He often rapped a cappella, occasionally bringing in minimalist rhythm or a recorded voice for support.
Strolling through the black box, Dennis used clever rhymes and haunting repetition in a singing cadence, swinging between anecdotes from his life and commentary on lessons learned. At the same time, he questioned authority, our penchant for self-destruction and other obstacles we face while celebrating the sheer joy of what it means to be alive.
God and the devil are almost constant presences in Dennis’ spiritually informed perspective, but so is the daily human drama, as he intoned in the opening issue, “Blades of Grass”:
Life was passing me by / Now I have different projects
Maybe that’s why / I was too shy to get Christina’s attention
At the Christmas Dance / 6th grade Junior High.
Years later, he’s a married man with a young girl and a laundry room full of a certain hue, which led him to dub the first half of the “Favorite Color Pink” show. He described his upbringing in “Keith”, named after his father, invoked the predecessors of Marvin Gaye to Andre 3000 in “The Kornerstone” and during the second section, “7 Going on 8”, threaded a needle full of hope in “Children of the Ghetto”. “:
Ghetto kids freaking out on a mattress
The children of the ghetto sleep in a coffin
Ghetto children thrown into a basket
Children of the ghetto, you are the masses
Ghetto children don’t worry about your darkness
You talk like you talk, little ghetto child, that’s your accent
Children of the Ghetto, you are the future
I was 3/5 now a ghetto child, you’re a ruler
Maybe need this .45 might even need this Ruger
But every ghetto child ain’t gotta be a shooter
Dennis confidently knows who he is and what he is thinking. Accused of being a carpetbagger, he announced in “Lost: In Translation Pt. 2” that it is not his birthplace or his hometown that matters but much older roots:
They always ask, “Are you imported? “
Like, “Are you from Bossier?” You look like you from New Orleans.
Let’s focus on what’s important; My roots planted near the Jordan.
Taking the artistic license by exaggerating to get his point across, Dennis declared hip-hop dead although the evidence on stage said otherwise. “I don’t have party songs,” he protested in a similar vein even as his songs get festive. He has witnessed shootings and racial injustice, but realizes that life is a gift. His ability to convey complicated feelings of helplessness and triumph is his.
Manuel Mendoza is a freelance writer and former staff critic for the Dallas Morning News. He has been an arts journalist covering music, television, theater and dance for 30 years.