THEATER REVIEW: Craig Grant, aka “muMs”, Sets His Life Story to Hip-Hop in “A Sucker Emcee”

“A Sucker Emcee”: Craig Grant, also known as muMs, in his show at the Bank Street Theater. (Credit: Ruby Washington/The New York Times)

Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau set to a hip-hop beat, Craig Grant offers his confessions in “A Sucker Emcee,” produced by the Labyrinth Theater Company. While a D.J. (Rich Medina) moves between two turntables, scratching and spinning, Mr. Grant tells the story of his life in rhymed couplets.

Mr. Grant, also known as muMs, speaks in a gentle growl with just a trace of a native Bronx drawl, though he can send his voice swooping up and down the social register. Dressed in Nikes and a T-shirt proclaiming “The Truth,” he spends most of the show near the front of the bare stage, lips pressed close to a microphone.

Though he’ll occasionally speak as his mother, his father, a friend or a teacher, he spends most of the piece as simply himself, narrating youthful screw-ups with fondness and exasperation.

In some ways his story is standard bullet-point autobiography. He begins with his volatile Bronx childhood, darts through some dissolute college years, chronicles his subsequent ups and down as a rapper and actor (best known for his role in the HBO prison drama “Oz”) and finally returns, with hard-won maturity and grace, to the borough of his birth. So far, so familiar. But what adds urgency and fierce pleasure to the monologue, directed by Jenny Koons, is his debt to music. D.J.’s, it seems, saved Mr. Grant’s life. “Before hip-hop, I couldn’t speak,” Mr. Grant recalls. The music gave him a voice, a place, a future, helping him to “turn all that hate into a dance and a chant.”

Mr. Medina provides backing beats to Mr. Grant’s chants and sometimes helps him pay more direct homage to the heroes of his youth — KRS-One, Rakim, the Sugarhill Gang. Even when the show threatens to turn into some sort of lecture demonstration, it’s still pretty good fun, with Mr. Medina illustrating each style and technique while Mr. Grant narrates and occasionally threatens some B-boy moves.

Even when the story ends with Mr. Grant’s returning to the Bronx and caring compassionately for his aging mother, the beat and the applause don’t stop.

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