This weekend, Jecorey Arthur, aka 1200, brings his latest collaboration to the Kentucky Center for the Arts with the Louisville Hip Hopera. Organized and conceived by the local musician, Hip Hopera showcases some of Louisville’s best talent across a range of genres.
Though Arthur is a talented solo act, Hip Hopera is the latest effort in which he has served as a curator, collaborator or community organizer. In Saturday’s performance, he’ll meld all those aspects and help raise awareness and funds for Athiri, a nonprofit he started last year.
“I wanted to create an organization where these artists could not only be hired to do their art and showcase and practice what they love and are passionate about, but also to use their influence for positive — use that influence for our youngsters, use that influence for our community,” Arthur tells Insider.
So he created Athiri to do exactly that.
The artists involved with Hip Hopera include musician Jacqui Blue, poet Lance Newman, dancer Josh Ford, reporter Renee Murphy as the narrator, DJ Kym Williams on the ones and twos, Kevlan “The Illest-Strator” Goodner, and TV anchor woman Dawne Gee.
Regular Insider readers will notice that many of those collaborators have familiar names from our frequent coverage of their artistic endeavors.
Despite that team being made up of self-starting artists who run their own projects and initiatives outside their work with Arthur, he says he didn’t run into any ego problems throughout the project.
“When you have creatives at the caliber of who we’re working with, it’s like we’re in a Lyft and somebody else is driving,” he explains. “And that somebody else is a higher being, a spirit bringing us together to create, and we’re just sitting in the back enjoying the ride.”
In other words, the collaboration just flowed, and what emerged was organic, though not always chronological. Instead, the evening will focus on sense of place and social justice.
“The Louisville Hip Hopera is going to be an artistic expression of stories from the streets that the different artists grew up in,” says Arthur. “So most of my stories will revolve around Parkland in west Louisville.”
Since the Hip Hopera is a multidisciplinary effort, these stories will be told in different ways. Arthur offered a description of how visual art will be used to tell a story, describing Goodner’s onstage role.
“He’s going to be sort of the OG sitting on the porch watching everything happen throughout the evening and illustrating it live during the show,” says Arthur. “At the end, you’re going to have almost a mural of what’s happening.”
The “OG,” essentially somebody who has already seen a lot of life and is content to watch the youngsters hurry around, is a fixture in many neighborhoods. Goodner’s role reinforces the community aspect of the Hip Hopera.
Several of the event’s artists grew up in inner-city environments, in underserved neighborhoods much like the communities in which hip-hop was born. Because of hip-hop’s humble origins, its artistry is still ignored in some circles.
Arthur explains that’s often reflected by how hip-hop is described.
“They say ‘urban music,’ which doesn’t make sense, but they say urban music is from the gutter, it’s grimy, it’s hard-core. Or it’s just entertainment. Well, I don’t make music for entertainment. And none of these other artists do either. We make it because we want to share our stories. We want to share the stories of the people around us.”
Sharing those stories is important to Arthur, in part because when he was young, he didn’t see those stories being told in places like the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
“I come from Parkland, and I never dreamed of performing at the Kentucky Center for the Arts,” he says. “That’s not a place that, at least when I was younger, we looked at and identified with.”
He says that’s changing, and he gives credit to the Kentucky Center’s leadership.
“Now you can have a show where there is hip-hop happening at the Arts Center. There’s also orchestra, there’s Broadway. It’s everybody’s Arts Center to go to and create,” he adds.
No doubt Arthur deserves some of that credit, too, as does Newman, Goodner, Gee and many other artists who are leading the way for kids who will hopefully grow up thinking that they belong at the Kentucky Center.
“And that’s essentially what Athiri is — artists leading youth,” says Arthur.
The Louisville Hip Hopera drops on the Bomhard Theater for one night only on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m. Tickets to the all-ages show are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. The Kentucky Center is located at 501 W. Main St.
This post has been updated to remove a photo provided by the subject.