In The Future of the Funk, playwright Najaa Young chronicles her 20-year passion for hip-hop. “It’s like that relationship that you can’t figure out why you’re still in it,” she says. “Some days, it’s just not good for you.” The performance premieres this weekend as part of Cleveland Public Theatre's Big [Box] series.

Young, 34, says she “truly grew up with hip-hop.” She was a music-devouring teen when many of rap’s pioneers were revolutionizing pop music. She fell in love with the beats and rhymes of Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim. “It was socially conscious,” she says. Then something happened. “Now, it’s odes to bitches,” she says. “The majority of today’s hip-hop is about money and girls. It all sounds the same. And the really creative things never get on radio’s playlists.”

The Future of the Funk, which the Clevelander wrote last summer, searches for old-school salvation, just as hip-hop marks its 30th anniversary. “This is about the rise and decline of hip-hop and its globalization,” says Young. “It’s impacted fashion and the way that we speak to one another.” A DJ spins tunes onstage, while dancers, rappers, and poets take turns chronicling the history of the music. All the while, Young -- an actress who’s staying behind the scenes this time -- wrestles with her love-hate relationship. “I continue to listen to hip-hop, and I continue to purchase it,” she says. “But it’s so hard to find something that’s unique.”

Still, she’s hopeful. And The Future of the Funk is an optimistic piece. Like a mother who pines for the return of a wayward child, Young -- a self-proclaimed pop-culture junkie -- looks forward to the day when rap’s bling era winds down. “I still love hip-hop, and I still see all the redeeming qualities,” she says. “That’s why I’m sticking with it.”
Sat., Jan. 20, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 21, 3 p.m.

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