Interview: Breakin’ Covention With Jonzi D (@Jonzid) !


“Hip Hop theatre is theatre that uses the artist­ic dis­cip­lines of Hip Hop to cre­ate the­at­ric­al devises”- Jonzi D (10/03/17)

Jonzi D. Where do I begin. The legend. Cer­tainly not a myth. That guy you go to when you’re a bit lost and need a pick up or a torch shone for the way. He is con­sidered as one of the God­fath­ers of UK Hip Hop. He’s not only a pion­eer but still a key play­er in the Hip Hop game at present. He cre­ated Breakin’ Con­ven­tion in 2004 — The UK’s biggest Hip Hop fest­iv­al. As a young dan­cer from East Lon­don, I spent my early years try­ing to fol­low in his foot­steps. I will spend forever try­ing to impress him. Here’s a little insight into his world and how he cul­tiv­ated his dreams, to provide more trans­its and plat­forms for Hip Hop.

So how did this all begin?

That is a ques­tion I can answer! This star­ted as a desire to expose Lon­don to the devel­op­ments in Hip Hop theatre. That was the first reas­on. An off­shoot of that would be to cre­ate and attract a more diverse audi­ence because I was very aware of the lim­ited Con­tem­por­ary Dance audi­ence that there was, as well as the com­mer­cial audi­ence. There were also the music audi­ences and the poetry audi­ences so I always thought, ‘there’s a new audi­ence for this. This is a new form. We don’t see Hip Hop in the theatre. This could attract a whole bunch of dif­fer­ent people.’ So, that was really import­ant. I con­nec­ted to Alistair Spald­ing when I did ‘Aero­plane Man’ (1995), my pre­vi­ous show at the south­bank, and I told him, ‘we need to a Hip Hop fest­iv­al’! So, as soon as he got the job here (Sadler­’s Wells), that was his first thing he did. I remem­ber his first press conference…there was Sidi Larbi Cherka­oui, Akram Khan, Wayne McGregor and me. And the big prob­lem was… WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?!!! But that’s changed over the years.

What is Hip Hop Theatre?

It’s a term I coined in 1995. My reas­on for com­ing up with that term was because, again, I wanted to get the audi­ence. For me the idea of say­ing:

“this is a theatre show” 

just did­n’t sum up the grav­ity of what doing Hip Hop in a the­at­ric­al con­text is because I grew up in dance schools say­ing:

“Hey I wanna do hip hop theatre”

and people would always snub it as though Hip Hop isn’t neces­sar­ily made for the the­at­ric­al space. When I went to Lew­isham Col­lege we would always do a ‘street’ piece and it was always be seen as an aside and not neces­sar­ily cent­ral to the vis­ion of art and cre­ativ­ity. How­ever, for me it was cent­ral to my art and cre­ativ­ity because I love Hip Hop cul­ture as well as Hip Hop artistry. I took it as dis­respect. It seemed like they were regard­ing my whole cul­ture, who I am and what I am as sec­ond­ary to this ‘clas­sic stuff’. So, I was already hav­ing fights because it becomes a high art versus a ‘low art’ thing. Even using the term ‘high art’ is prob­lem­at­ic, with the pro­tec­tion it affords this class of artists. It emphas­ises divi­sion, cul­tur­al apartheid. For me, Hip Hop is the oppos­ite of that. Hip hop is about every­one. It just brings every­one in. Hip Hop theatre uses the artist­ic dis­cip­lines of Hip Hop to cre­ate the­at­ric­al devises, in the same way that Con­tem­por­ary Dance uses tech­niques like Gra­ham or Cun­ning­ham. We’re cre­at­ing dance from the tech­niques of Rock Steady Crew and Pop­pin’ Pete. We’re still doing a tech­nique. We’re still doing a dance form. We’re still using a codi­fied lan­guage but our pion­eers are dif­fer­ent.

How is Hip Hop cul­ture import­ant to the world?

I think it’s import­ant because Hip Hop as a cul­ture is like a gas, whatever space or struc­ture exists, Hip Hop can find a way of mak­ing sense with­in that. For example, with­in the idea of lit­er­at­ure, Hip Hop clearly has a place with­in because of the amount of writers. In terms of music, Hip Hop clearly has a place through the advance­ment with sampling tech­niques, scratch­ing, spoken word, rap and obvi­ously Dance. It’s entered all of these dif­fer­ent realms. You look at advert­ising and the amount of Hip Hop that is used. A lot of graph­ics artists have roots in graf­fiti. So, Hip Hop has a real effect on society’s cul­tur­al under­stand­ing. For that reas­on, if we’re going to present a soci­ety that has cohe­sion, then these art ven­ues have to present the arts that come from all dif­fer­ent sides of the com­munity, par­tic­u­larly an art form that does­n’t say this is only for this type of per­son. Hip Hop just does­n’t say that.

Could you talk about Hip Hop as an umbrella term in terms of Dance?

As far as Hip Hop Cul­ture is con­cerned, Breakin’ is the only form that was devel­op­ing at the time peri­od in The Bronx. How­ever, with­in the dis­en­fran­chised black com­munit­ies in the West, the same type of dance form, which was used as a lan­guage of the people, was sim­ul­tan­eously devel­op­ing and that is what con­nects these forms togeth­er. Now for me, I’ve nev­er been to a Hip Hop jam and seen dan­cers there that are only Bboys or Bgirls, I’ve always seen Pop­per­’s or Krump dan­cers. I’ve nev­er been to a Pop­pin’ jam and not seen break­ers throw­ing down. So for me, the segreg­a­tion of it is detail but the real­ity does­n’t sum it up for me. I see Break Dance, Pop­pin’ and Lockin’ all in the same place because it’s the same gen­er­a­tion. The roots of one form might be from one side of Amer­ica and anoth­er form from the oth­er side of Amer­ica, but actu­ally, to only think of those two places in the whole world of the dance cul­ture of the dis­en­fran­chised, I think it lim­its the poten­tial of what we can do when it comes to uni­fy­ing our lan­guage.

Who are your favour­ite Hip Hop artists?

His­tor­ic­ally, Ken swift, who is a Bboy. He will always men­tion. Megus. He’s a Cana­dian Bboy. He has some incred­ible thread­ing tech­niques. KRS ONE. No doubt he will always be a major influ­ence  for me being a MC. Black Thought from The Roots. I con­nec­ted with Black Thought when he first  came to Eng­land and their first show in Lon­don they invited me on stage to be apart of their set (the first ever gig they did in Lon­don). Where graf­fiti writers are con­cerned, I really love DAIM from Ger­many. He’s got this dope 3D style. I also like ODEITH he did a piece at Breakin’ Con­ven­tion three years ago. He’s got this really unique spe­cial effects style which involves doing a piece on a corner and depend­ing on where you stand it looks like its com­ing out. It’s incred­ible. In South Africa there’s a MC called Hymphat­ic Thabs. He’s onto the next level. Very under­ground but I think he’s an incred­ible MC. Audio/Visual which were a col­lect­ive of MCS that were push­ing the form in the mid to late 90’s. Kendrick Lemar mainly for that bril­liant album and MF DOOM because he’s just always push­ing the bound­ar­ies lyr­ic­ally. He’s got a very mono­tone style, which makes him a bit like mar­mite. You either love him or you just don’t get it.

What do you think is the future of Hip Hop?

I am going answer this ques­tion how I feel every­one should answer this ques­tion — like what Mos Def said:

‘Don’t worry about what Hip Hop is doing, worry about what you’re doing’

and it makes me then say Hip Hop theatre is going to go glob­al just like what we’re doing with Breakin Con­ven­tion. We’re doing four dates in Amer­ica. We’re also doing Canada and Lux­em­bourg. Sweden and Hol­land are both inter­ested. So, there is a glob­al thing going on with Breakin’ Con­ven­tion. I also think that the forms of Grime for example will have an influ­ence, which I think are Hip Hop. Again, we’re are just try­ing to divide and make everything super detailed when we have so much more in com­mon than we do apart. I’m quite keen to say that it’s part of the world, how­ever you want to say it. I would like to think that it’s all con­nec­ted. I think that in this increas­ingly fas­cist sys­tem that the world is going through, not just Eng­land and Amer­ica, that a lot of the media is pres­sur­ising us to fight amongst ourselves. I think this is in response to the obvi­ous imbal­ance in resources. The rich are get­ting rich­er and the poor are get­ting poorer, so it does­n’t sur­prise me that the media will try to enforce on us things that make us start arguing amongst ourselves. Hip Hop is the anti­thes­is of that so I believe that Hip Hop is going to be respons­ible for help­ing to heal soci­ety.

 It’s because of people like Jonzi D that Hip Hop is allowed to grow, influ­ence and inspire people old, young in the UK and now around the world. Thank you.

Catch Jonzi D in the 2017 Breakin’ Con­ven­tion  tour! For details vis­it


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Valerie Ebuwa

Valer­ie “wing girl” Ebuwa is a freel­ance dance artist and yoga teach­er from East Lon­don. She is cur­rently dan­cing for 3 con­tem­por­ary dance com­pan­ies and is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.